07 mars 2011

Contra-contrarianism (IFFR) 3

This is supposedly an international panel, set in Rotterdam (Netherlands), and Adrian Martin (Australian), expert on world film criticism history, and his American colleagues, could only namedrop American names as referential figures (either as positive or negative examples) : Armond White, Roger Ebert, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, John Simon, Stanley Cavell, Jonathan Rosenbaum... So that's all there is to Worldwide Film Culture (to them!) for the past 50 years. They think that in a festival like Rotterdam, the Film Discourse ought to be exclusively about the American writers... (that proves a partial understanding of the weight of American contributions to Film literature!) At least Cristina Nord mentions Raymond Bellour (French) and a book on Alain Resnais.
If you talk to an all-American audience (captive and insular) you might entertain the belief that American culture is the center of the world... but don't expect a foreign audience to buy it. When you hold such a panel in an international festival, you should try, at least out of curtsy, if not out of admiration, to vary the origin of your references to show you care for the rest of the world. 
So can you tell me now if the culture delimited by the English language is a comfort zone? This is something that worries me a lot more than the existence of a few contrarian-mavericks within film discourse. To each his own priorities... (see English Fail)

Adrian Martin : "Farber who was a painter as well as a film critic, he basically approached all films with the same eye [..] And for him there was no difference. [..] He never said 'oh this is a low-brow Hollywood film and now we're looking at a severe minimalist whatever film'. He just talked about them in the same sentence, literaly."
I think that film criticism is using intertextuality for quite some time now. Filmmakers do it, scholars do it, insightful critics do it, bad reviewers do it, even the mainstream audience is doing it now. So what's the big deal?  
Are you encouraging Robert Koehler to namedrop "Adam Sandler" in the middle of a review of Tarr Béla's Turin Horse? Does it bring anything insightful to the conversation?  That's the kind of syncretic equivalence  used as an excuse by the bad reviewers to turn film criticism into stream of consciousness. Textbook Cultural Studies.
There is no problem using trans-genre references, when you have a solid point... but it looks stupid if you namedrop pop culture icons just to look cool. Would it occur to any painting critic to mention the name "Snoopy" in an analysis of Van Gogh's Les Tournesols? Nothing prohibits it, but is it PERTINENT? This is trash criticism, if "criticism" it is.

Adrian Martin: "It's been 10-15 years now, critics like most of us here, and some of you here. We've been fighting like hell all these years for these films [Pedro Costa, Lav Diaz, Tarr Béla...] to be recognized, to be seen, to make a  noise about these films. To the point when Apichatpong won the prize in Cannes, it was like our victory, like our birthday, it was like : 'WE WON! THE GUY, HE GOT THE PRIZE, AND HE GOT THE PRIZE BECAUSE OF US! WE WROTE HIM INTO EXISTENCE! WE YELLED ENOUGH, WE SCREAMED ENOUGH, WE WERE AGITATED ENOUGH, THAT SOMEBODY FINALLY, A BUNCH OF PEOPLE ON A JURY KNEW THAT THEY HAD TO GIVE THAT PRIZE TO APICHATPONG CAUSE HE'S GREAT.'"
Self-quote [EDIT: see correction here], again, from his Uncle Boonmee review (Sight and Sound, Dec 2010, long after Cannes 2010!) A review where he says Wong Kar-wai, Haneke [EDIT: Tsai Ming-liang]... are overrated and done for. Maybe that's his idea of baroque references across cinema genres in film writing : use the excuse to review one film to bash other filmmakers you dislike on the side.
A round of applause to Adrian Martin without whom Cannes wouldn't know about Apichatpong!!!
So the fact that Mysterious Object at Noon was selected in Vancouver 2000, that Blissfully Yours was selected in Cannes 2002 (and won the Un Certain Regard award!), that The Adventure of the Iron Pussy was selected in Berlinale 2003, that Tropical Malady was selected in Cannes 2004 (and won the Jury prize!), that Syndromes and a century was selected in Venice 2006, that Uncle Boonmee was selected in Cannes 2010 (before Adrian got a chance to write about it)... none of that shows that festivals were aware of Apichatpong's talent before 2010?
I'm very concerned that he's no longer on Americanized-firstname terms, him and "Joe"... I hope they aren't cross or anything.
I wish I could read Adrian's hypothetical articles on Apichatpong, Costa, Diaz, Tarr... He never notified me of any of them to help complete the Unspoken Cinema database. I wish I could find Cristina Nord's celebration of Lav Diaz too. 

Adrian Martin : "But there is a whole kickback now because of this position and we get all the Roger Ebert of the world saying : 'Oh, the emperor's new clothes, Apichatpong, Kiarostami this is not the great old days of Ingmar Bergman. Something is lost now in modern cinema, the heart, the soul, the human nature, where is it?' And this is the point where we've got to do some new work. It's not enough to say 'hey you've got to pay attention to Apichatpong'.
Yeah, and to the anti-slow cinema last year, he refused to take side, and published in Filmkrant (July 2010) that everyone should calm down. And now he pretends he was on the frontline.
"New work"? Really? What then? Please explain more. You're not implying that your strictly journalistic review of Boonmee was that "new work" you're talking about, right? It wouldn't occur to me to compare Apichatpong's Contemporary Art experiments to the worst period of urbanisation in human history : post-WW2 reconstruction of concrete blocks and sprawling suburbia... Lyotard or not.

Adrian Martin : "The newspaper is truly a dying form. I believe this. And particularly Arts coverage. That is not the main forum. [..] But newspapers have never been friendly to serious film criticism. They're just an extension of the movie industry."
That's why his online journal, Rouge (where most of the articles are his) didn't publish anything in 2 years. That's why he promised since 2006 and never made an online archive site for all his articles... That's how much he believes in the internet (the instantaneousness of internet). I believe what I see. I'm not moved whatsoever by political pandering.
Let's see Rouge's records (2003-2009, 13 issues) on contemporary cinema (from the names cited on the panel) :
  • Pedro Costa = 2 articles
  • Abbas Kiarostami = 2 
  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul = 0
  • Lav Diaz = 0
  • Tarr Béla = 0
  • Lisandro Alonso = 0
  • Lucrecia Martel = 0
"Fighting like hell for these films" he said. I wouldn't call that an oversaturated coverage of these auteurs... yet.
I personally do not consider it revolutionary, let alone "contemporary", to publish books today, in the XXIst century, on Hitchcock, Lang, Keaton, Rossellini, Tourneur, Blake Edwards, Lewis, De Palma, Mad Max... as if these had been "overlooked" by anterior Film Literature. There is a kind of comfort zone indulgence in sticking with the tried and true "masters" whose battles for recognition have been fought and won before you were born! It requires a lot more work to defend TODAY's filmmakers, who lack book recognition, than to bash "festival films" from the comfort of your press-screening armchair where you just wait for things to come to you effortlessly on a silver platter. I think there is even a bit of douchebaggery in that attitude, hypo-critical douchebaggery.

Adrian Martin : "It's the internet where the interesting kind of publishing is happening. Not just individuals, but also groups... You [Fujiwara] mentioned the Cahiers collective group - which is a little bit fascistic the way they do that - Groups of like-minded critics who got to pool their interests and put together their sensibility, their interest in a certain kind of cinema. That's where the future is. It's groups on the internet. It's not individuals in newspapers anymore."     
"Fascist"? If he knew the meaning of this word he wouldn't use it lightly for flare. It's not funny, you're not on Facebook, you're on "TV" at Rotterdam!
And I prefer Cahiers' praxis to the cheerleaders clique. They try to work as a team to show a united front to the readers, and focus their collective efforts on the kind of cinema they defined is most needing their support. When you read Cahiers, you know there is a solid concerted editorial line behind it. Like it or not (and I don't like Delorme's mandate) they defend a certain conception of cinema, like they always did since the Cahiers jaunes, albeit the changing editors changes the line along the way when appropriate. It's a much better method, than to let writers pick random movies without any long-term group coherence.
In every newspaper, articles are chosen by the editor anyway, who decides if it fits their marketing strategy all the same. Or writers are hired based on their identified taste, which defines the same kind of editorial control...

Groups, internet, comfort zone... a whole new bag of worms. Where to start? The idea is interesting in itself, but the application never accomplished anything out of the ordinary, as far as I could witness. Internet SHOULD be the most appropriate place for unlimited collective incentive, and it's not. Internet groups, and especially on Facebook or Twitter do exactly what Adrian Martin opposed earlier : obsessive compulsion of niche interests. Isolationism, self-confirmation, unilateral authority, averse to peer criticism... 

Neil Young : "One of the job of a film critic is to keep film festivals honest, and to really keep an eye on festival programming. Because I think that if festivals show consistently interest in good films [..] Too many festivals get away with showing films that aren't to the level you'd want them to be at. [..] We gotta be tough friends of film festivals. We gotta call it as we see it."
Well, mister critic feels all snobbish and picky. Somehow I don't think a guy whose high standards are Dude, Where's My Car? or Foxes, should be entrusted with an International Festival programing.
Unfortunately, whatever is selected in festivals rarely meets a consensual approval by the film critic community, or the festival audience. And most importantly, they seldom get picked up for distribution in your country, even the critically-acclaimed ones! 
So, you need to realise there are two separate worlds out there. The professional circuit and the public circuit.   If the commercial distribution system doesn't SHOW the best festival films to a public, and that all you write about in the press are titles from the weekly batch the industry has selected as fit for commercialisation... I see no point in festivals making an effort to please critics. If you want to deserve a right to quality control in festival programming, you will need to prove you do your part of the job, downstream, between the audience and the distributors! 

Chris Fujiwara : "If somebody who is supposed to be a film critics is worried about how can I improve the festival, how can I help the audience... [..] it's probably gonna be to the detriment of their writing as a film critic. Cause the film critic is really doing something else in my opinion. To put everything out of his/her mind, except the film and perhaps some relevant things about its context."   
Whaaaaaaa? This guy confuses everything! 

Reviewing a film, which is what they do in the weekly press that follows the commercial distribution, means giving the spotlight to that particular film, and not wasting space on other unrelated topics, like a recount of what happened to you in the theatre, or last week, or some political rant, or digressing on another film. Because this is unfair to the film in question, which deserves your full attention. 
But this isn't the exemplary form of film criticism. It's one formated by the industry of cinema who wants publicity, and by the newspaper routine, who fills the entertainment pages. 
Now if you talk about The Film Critic, how this practice should be ideally... you need to be more ambitious and aim higher. There are better things to do in film criticism than to advertise whatever titles finally come out in a theatre near you... however well you write about them. 
Putting people in theatre seats, selling admissions, is a materialist consideration, that mainly concerns exhibitors, distributors and producers. Everyone else is paid all the same, whether the film bombs or not. 
To give an idea of the best way to produce film criticism, you don't need to refer to the assembly line job of a reviewer! In this case, "putting everything out of the mind" is total bullshit. Think outside the prefab mold the movie industry has prepared for you. Film critics are NOT the film press
It is possible to write about cinema outside of the queued distribution, assembling several films together in the same article, playing on comparisons, or not talking about the film-object at all, but about sub-elements : images, landscapes, gestures,    situations, plot structures, aesthetic ideologies, character traits, background inspiration, influences... or about trends, aesthetic forms, technique evolutions...

Adrian Martin : "And for me the way forward is like Chris said : good writing, but good writing in a new mode. Which is the mode that the internet allows. Words and images. Words and moving images. Words and sounds and music. Trying to get all the resources of the internet to create new ways of speaking about film." 
First, he concurs with Fujiwara's mindless statement, without questioning it at all. They just have to mention "good writing" and they can immediately read eachother's mind!
Second, I'd like to see Adrian Martin's own multimedia attempts he proposes here. He always cites his one all-photos issue of Rouge, years ago. But if it's only photo, it's not multimedia. And I have no idea why my article he published there in 2009 was stripped of most of the photos I illustrated it with. So much for caring about mixed-media! 
Thumbing up the movie The Social Network on Facebook is herd mentality or out of the comfort zone?
Only 200-400 views for the videos of this panel on YouTube? Apparently his 700 Facebook "friends" are not attentive followers???

Adrian Martin : "One thing I truly believe is that real critics and real cinephiles should have absolutely no track with common sense"
I hope they won't take back his tenure when they hear about this anti-intellectual statement... Was it the guy who defined ethics by the word "intuition" and now declares "common sense" is not part of his vocabulary?
Note that he's not afraid to insist "truly", "absolutely", leaving "no" room for nuance.

I don't have a doctorate in epistemology but I will assume he meant "conventional wisdom" or "crowd-wisdom". Contrarians oppose conventional wisdom while still using common sense. Only illuminated gurus discard common sense, to install a new fallacious logic. If we don't have a common sense basis to share with the audience/readers, writers would have to explain every word they use, demonstrate every concept they mention... I doubt you're prepared to walk that high-wire without safety net, where you invent into existence the next meter of wire that will support your weight. Until you become a genius, stick to the tried and true concepts developed by the history of Mankind. 
Actually, "common sense" is insufficient for the discourse of a film critic, of course. But if a critical analysis superceeds "common sense" (with technical knowledge, cultural erudition, aesthetic history, rational judgment...), it does NOT contradict it. I see no reason why critics should NEVER approach common sense... It's just a random posture, without any particular advantages, and evidently a lot of disavantages.
Again, I think there is a confusion between the role of a critic and one of an artist. The latter could perfectly decide to avoid making sense (like Surrealists did), while producing an interesting body of work, which could very well be articulated by sensical critics. But critics rebeling against rationality are coping out of reality, and failing the humility of their mission.

What if these guys were teaching at the university? Oh wait, they do. Poor students inheriting the confusion of their professors... This won't help the future generations in film culture. Anybody can become a film teacher apparently... no need to have a clue or to have didactic skills. Pedagogy is another dying English word.
What's more embarassing? An underexposed blogger "making a name for himself" out of a contrarian posture (OMG stealing fame from the institutional celebrities!) or an institutional celebrity "making a name for herself" educating film students with fallacies? I know the answer. Do you?

7 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Michael Sicinski (Cineaste, spring 2011) :

"It's difficult to explain precisely what it meant for a lot of us when Thai experimental filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for his 2010 masterwork Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. [..] my wife and I let out an involuntary cheer, the way we someties do during a basketball or a soccer game."

HarryTuttle a dit…

Kristin Thompson (18 March 2011): "A final note. If anything I have said here sounds “elitist,” you might consider the vast movement we see occurring in this country’s politics, especially on the far right, where any learning at all is equated with elitism and any experience in public office is equated with being tainted. When our educational system is being systematically downgraded, expecting people to learn things is simple common sense."

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Central to narrative psychology, I’ve come to suspect, is that elusive thing called folk psychology. Folk psychology calls on “common sense”—our everyday habits of attributing qualities, beliefs, desires, intentions, and the like to ourselves and to people around us. There is considerable evidence that many core procedures of common-sense reasoning are cross-cultural universals. [..]
More important, we can embrace common sense at a meta-level. Recognizing that it is in play in narrative comprehension makes it something we need to analyze. We can understand filmic understanding better if we recognize what’s intuitively obvious, and then go on to ask what in the film, and in our psychological and social make-up, makes something obvious."

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory? (David Bordwell, May 2011)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Gilles Deleuze: "Les professeurs savent bien qu'il est rare de rencontrer dans les devoirs, sauf dans les exercices où il faut traduire proposition par proposition, ou bien produire un résultat fixe, des erreurs ou quelque chose de faux, mais des non-sens, des remarques sans intérêt ni importance, des banalités prises pour remarquables, des confusions de points ordinaires avec des points singuliers, des problèmes mal posés ou détournés de leur sens. Tel est le pire et le plus fréquent pourtant gros de menace, notre sort à tous."

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Il faut que la pensée, comme détermination pure, comme ligne abstraite, affronte ce sans fond qui est l'indéterminé. Cet indéterminé, ce sans fond, c'est aussi bien l'animalité propre à la pensée, la génitalité de la pensée: non pas telle ou telle forme animalle, mais la bêtise. Car, si la pensée ne pense que conntrainte et forcée, si elle reste stupide tant que rien ne la force à penser, ce qui la force à penser n'est-il pas aussi l'existence de la bêtise, à savoir qu'elle ne pense pas tant que rien ne la force? Reprenons le mot d'Heidegger: " Ce qui nous donne le plus à penser, c'est que nous ne pensons pas encore." La pensée est la plus haute détermination, se tenant face à la bêtise comme à l'indéterminé qui lui est adéquat. La bêtise (non pas l'erreur) constitue la plus grande impuissance de la pensée, mais aussi la source de son plus haut pouvoir dans ce qui la force à penser. Telle est la prodigieuse aventure de Bouvard et Pécuchet, ou le jeu du non-sens et du sens. Si bien que l'indéterminé et la détermination restent égaux sans avancer, l'un toujours adéquat à l'autre. Etrange répétition qui les ramène au rouet, ou plutôt au même double pupître. Chestov voyait en Dostoïevski l'issue, c'est-à-dire l'achèvement et la sortie de la Critique de la Raison Pure."
Gilles Deleuze, Différence et Répétition, 1981

HarryTuttle a dit…

Oh the irony...

"[..] Best of all, Bordwell and Thompson enjoy, as they put it, "debunking, zeroing in on conventional wisdom". They come up with striking stances: blockbusters are good for the 'economic welfare of the country as a whole'; and sequels are to be celebrated. If this is what cinephiles are today calling contrarianism, then I'm all for it."
Adrian Martin (Sight and Sound, July 2011)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Now none of the preceding observations is particularly new or original. Everything I am saying is really just common sense and conventional wisdom."
Faculty treatment at Boston University (Ray Carney; 26 Nov 2011)