12 avril 2011

Film School for Dummies

"Therefore, 'film school' -and the attitudes and stigmas commonly associated with it- does not necessarily require a new kind of analysis, for no new kind of analysis can exist for a sensibility that has been heretofore hardly been analysed. [..]
Unlike Godard, however, 'film school' wants to reverse the command that 'one should put everything into a film.' The new task: 'One should get a film out of everything' [..]
To become involved with a work of art entails, to be sure, the experience of detaching oneself from the world. But the work of art itself is also vibrant, magical, and exemplary object which returns us to the world."
Notes on Film School By: Ricky D'Ambrose (Undercurrent, Jan 2011)
Is it "good writing"? It doesn't even make sense... Anybody read this article on the editorial board at Undercurrent ? It's like nobody cares... Afterall the FIPRESCI isn't all that. It's a club of wannabe reviewers, it has nothing to do with world-class critical standards.
Are there any ideas? And nobody is scrutinizing this article on the interwebs since January! Everyone who read and linked to that thought it was alright? Where are the critics? You can't re-tweet everything you find and pause to actually read what you link to at the same time... or else you fall behind! Well you would need to understand what is wrong with this article too... Complacency is damaging Film Culture a lot, and even if you think it saves the ego of a wannabe who tries hard, it won't help him get any better! That's what happens when you don't go to school.

So what is the purpose of a Film School according to the International Federation of Film Critics??? (This should be easier for them to grasp than "ethics")
They think that learning filmmaking technique (such as editing, staging, lighting, acting, editing, production...) and deconstructing film screenings for aesthetic analysis (key light, fill light, colour filters, light temperature, focal length, microphone source, budget...) is overrated! Listen, if all this is a problem to you, if you're afraid it might "spoil" your artistic sensibility to acquire "too much" knowledge... one simple solution: DON'T GO TO UNIVERSITY !!! Many directors managed to make films without going to any film school and a few great filmmakers too.
The guy would like to have sex and remain virgin at the same time... He wants to learn how to make movies, without losing the innocence of the illiterate spectator. You can't unlearn filmmaking just to watch films... if you want to make films (or review them), you will fatally notice the technical flaws of a scene in a glance, or else you haven't watched enough films... That's why filmmakers (actors too) can't watch their own films, they only notice the smallest missed opportunities and the never-ending possible improvements. It is physically and mentally impossible to spend a few months (or years) on a project and not keep a highly critical, omniscient scrutiny on your own work. That is if you're any good at your job.

So his long "research" of the film education curriculum consists of an anti-intellectual rant against all the things everyone with common sense is expected to learn in a film university. Maybe what he needs is to go to Werner Herzog's non-school.
Werner Herzog: "You don't need to go to film school. You can learn the technical things in less than a week. All the rest you can learn by traveling on foot."
Masterclass, Thessaloniki Film Festival, Greece, 2009
By the way, I couldn't believe my eyes, the Cineaste magazine is advertising for a 2-day DVD course to learn everything you need to "make" films. And it's not just all technical aspects in 2 days... it's EVERYTHING : screenwriting, casting, budgeting, scheduling, financing, dealmaking, marketing, distributing, product placement... in 16 hours. What a big joke! You might sell a "Filmmaking for dummies" booklet with that, but not issue a "diploma" (included in the boxset!). Cineaste : "America's leading magazine on the art and politics of the cinema" yeah, right.
  • The Rogue Film School will not teach anything technical related to film-making. For this purpose, please enroll at your local film school.
  • The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature.
Excerpts of the Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School "convention" (since 2010)

I agree that what film universities teach today is conformist academism. Student films and debut features show they are more inspired by the commercial fare than by the vanguard of art films. Roger that. But I don't think it is impossible to learn acceptable knowledge and skills in a Film School, or that their teaching should be more sensible and less theoretical. No school will teach you talent, inspiration or genius... either you have it, or you cultivate it yourself. The function of a university is to teach you basic and advanced knowledge that can be taught, like technique and theory. Like Herzog says, the rest is up to you and your life experience (although in 2 weeks you will not learn all the technique needed to make Herzog's films, he's exaggerating!). There is no school for "feelings"! You're responsible to expose yourself to a variety of arts and life experiences to develop your sensibility. 

The main argument of this article is against a mentality called "Film School" by populists. Supposedly it is a snub trend amongst film universities, film students and commercial filmmakers who think highly of technique and aesthetics (allegedly eg. Jarmusch, Lynch, Kubrick, Anderson, Coppola, Coens bros., Tarantino, Wong Kar-wai, Haneke, Almodovar, Kurosawa, Lang's Metropolis, Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg...) Really? You are angry against the quality of cinema they represent? So that's what FIPRESCI wants to trash today? Dude, watch their films... you might learn something.

And the only positive models cited are Akerman, Farocki, Godard and some Bergman. Do you really think everyone should make movies like Godard or Farocki? Yeah that would be a funny school if they only taught these films to film students. First, these are the kind of experimental filmmaking that does not mean to generate copycat disciples : so the idea of a film school teaching their ways to all students in America is a big misunderstanding. Second, this is an area of experimental cinema that would be hard to "teach", precisely because it's unconventional, and in school you learn conventions. A class on Godard would be way more theoretical than all the "technicality" you hate in classes on Scorsese or Wachowski. 
I see, this is probably another deluded fanboy who believes JLG is not a formalist, theoretician, technician but is all about improvisation and sensuousness.

I thought "film school" was a positive denomination amongst educated cinephiles. Reknown reviewer, Acquarello, actually titled her blog : Strictly Film School (since 1997). When I asked her, she said that the expression delimited the spectrum of titles covered by her selection, which excluded the mainstream fair, and pretty much means all "art cinema" (whatever this term means in America) that would be taught in film universities, and perceived as inaccessible/pretentious by the general audience. So it sounds to me like a positive and serious reference for cinephilia (even though it is used as a derogatory term by the mainstream viewers). Why would an article at the FIPRESCI diss that phrase, which is kinda "snob" already? Contrary to acquarello (who I'd rather trust), d'Ambrose made it seem like it represents "commercial", "sensationalism", "amusement", zealousness", "mannerism"... basically anything evil in cinema today. Why the discrepancy? Why the over-snobbery?

doing =
/ = thinking
pragmatist =
/ = intellectual
"common sense" =
/ = complexity
accessibility =
/ = difficulty, didacticism
archetypes =
/ = esoteric-ism
prevalence =
/ = uncommon
excitement =
/ = contemplativeness

"Common sense" opposed to "complexity"? I heard this before... (Contra-contrarianism 4)
I wonder why "good cinema" should be necessarily complex, difficult, esoteric... this is not at all a given. "Deep" opposed to "shallow" : yes; "challenging" opposed to "dumb" : yes; but simplicity, transparency and accessibility doesn't equate to bad, dumb and shallow films, necessarily. "Didacticism" is not the antonym to "accessibility", to the contrary!
And most of all complexity, difficulty and esoteric-ism directly contradicts the "contemplativeness" aspect, you gotta pick a side! For one thing, CCC (if that's what you care about) is not about "seriousness", "intellectualism", "effort", "thinking", "didacticism"... rather it is about evident simplicity and absence of intellectual constructions.
I am the most vocal supporter of contemplative cinema you can find (Unspoken cinema), yet, I'm not preaching to teach "contemplativeness" exclusively in ALL film schools. That would be absurd. CCC is not meant to substitute all other forms of storytelling. Film universities don't exist to format the taste of students and train them to make films only one way (the contemplative, intellectual, challenging way). Don't count on me to support this pamphlet just because it mentions "contemplativeness" (out of context)!
Like it or not, quality or not, traditional narrative is the bulk of film/TV storytelling in the world, and for more times to come, so there better be film schools that teach future directors how to get it right, if they go for the conventional job.
If you're writing a paper on the syllabi in today's film education, you need to be universal and stay objective. Even if you don't like commercial genres, the point of a film school, good or bad, is to teach the whole spectrum of genres and styles available to filmmakers. Film genres are not inherently bad, there are only bad directors. Great filmmakers can make wonders with the silliest genre. So if there is a problem in film education, it's not by limiting styles and techniques you're gonna fix it. You can become snob later, after you learnt the basics in school.

The author is so full of preconceptions about film techniques and stylistics devices... as if a long take had only one possible use, the one defined by Farocki. Instead of blaming BAD DIRECTORS, the article blames the technical devices (BADLY) used by (BAD) directors and rejects them altogether, with the whole generation they belong to.

So I'm not sure what is the mannerism disputed here... it's contradictory.
The talking points say anti-entertainment, by defining the "Film School" mentality with buzzwords such as "commercial interest", "accessibility", "excitement", "sensationalism", "irony", "speed", "fantastic", "shock", "diversion", "passivity", "lack of mental energy", "amusement", "sensation", "intensification of the image", "Mannerism", "edginess", slickness", "lack of interest in contemplativeness and seriousness", "love of aesthetic excitement and polish, of stylisation and velocity"...
Whereas the examples of guilty directors cited above say anti-intellectual, or anti-artsy.

This article doesn't know if it wants to be against commercial Hollywood or artsy cinema, against art filmmakers who became commercial or classic filmmakers who are too formalists, against theory or anti-intellectuals, against complexity or contemplativeness... I don't even know what the guy wants.

[..] More so than Resnais' films, the former [Christopher Nolan's films] easily align themselves with "film school" taste in their possibility for unambiguous advice about narrative structure, in their reliance on assimilability and convention. 
For instance, part of the speech is typical of the anti-Po-Mo arguments (dating back from the 90ies!) : against what postmodern films brought to cinema (recycling, homage, citation, parody, self-awareness, meta-narration, coolness, relativism, hyper-aesthetics, raw sensations, raw pleasure...), which is everything Godard does (yet he's the positive example cited here); since his very first film in 1959, he was a postmodern!

So the underlying repressed ideology I sense behind a discourse that pretends to be "pro-intellectual" is anti-education, anti-taxonomy, anti-technique, anti-form, anti-analysis, anti-criticism, anti-PoMo, anti-Mannerism (albeit a misplaced mannerism), and at least one constructive opposition : anti-commercial.
Usually anti-intellectuals who are against higher education are against high-brow Art and for mainstream entertainment. But there is a new kind of snobs (cultural studies) who have their own definition of "Art", the emotional art that theoreticians and critics don't understand and cannot express with words, allegedly. And they call the intellectual art, the sophisticated aesthetic, the conceptual experiment : "artsy".
Basically they pose as artfilm supporters, as "intellectuals" but they reject all the auteurs who had too much success (Almodovar, Coens, W. Anderson, Tarantino, Lynch, Aronofsky, Haneke, Wong Kar-wai, Fincher...) which is typical hipster oblivion : forward tabula rasa tactic.

At university you learn classics! Long-lived, safe classics. And the best of fairly recent filmmakers. You don't learn to become an experimental artist or the hip trend of next year in a traditional film school! In film school you learn how not to suck at filmmaking, which is already huge, and is apparently not even the minimal requirement to work in Hollywood. If EVERY film student learnt their shit from the lessons of film history, to make sure they don't make bad movies, the quality standard of mainstream entertainment would already raise above mediocre. Then we could turn some of them into artists.
But don't expect to come out of a film school with a know-how to make masterpieces. That would be too easy, don't you think? If you care about deep art and intellectual art, there is no reason to blame universities for not teaching you that. 

I'd agree that film departments in universities suck. Just by looking at what comes out of them. You might want to change the professors or the films studied... but a film school is a film school, it'll teach you technique and theory. Opening film departments to multidisciplinary courses and other arts is a great idea of course... but you still need to teach filmmaking techniques in a film school.

One good thing I note in this whole mess is the cry for more diversity in film nationality for the course syllabi. Too many American films used in American film schools! No wonder they keep repeating the Hollywood model over and over. But if they teach Kubrick, Jarmusch, Lynch, Tarantino, Coens brothers... that's solid material already, and they are not really "commercial" or "conformist".

And suddenly, the "film school sensibility" becomes synonymous with "intensified continuity", "image stylisation", "Mannerism"... in short : "American cinema over the past fifty years"! no less.
The simple mistake to put Lynch, Jarmusch, Coens, even Tarantino in the same bag with the "intensified continuity" that characterises cheap Hollywood spectacle kills the argument right there. Even if you pretend you defend a more intellectual cinema (which is disproven by the sloppiness of the article).

Anyone understands what was the point? There is no single consistent argument that holds everything together here. His examples are contradictory, even though he warns us against "reductio ad absurdum". Good ideas lost amidst ill-informed self-important subjective judgments make a lot of B.S.
I'm guessing that the guy has read a lot of interesting stuff, that were sound arguments in the first place, took short-hand notes he didn't understand and then tried to paraphrase the whole thing into something of his own that somehow justifies his distaste for the styles evoked. Result : fail. 

However bad this "film school mentality" is, I still think it's better than whatever the wrong-headed position this article puts forth. At this point I believe the main problem is bad professors and bad students which could get fixed eventually, without the dismantlement of film analysis, film theory, film technique, film education and films schools.

BONUS CLIP : Ricky D'Ambrose's own student film (2008) : a parody of NYU's student films (typical PoMo!)

Related :

6 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

added: Ricky d'Ambrose's student film about student films from 2008.

Pacze Moj a dit…

I didn't understand most of the d'Ambrose article, but I'm confused by what he means by film school (and I don't mean sensibility, state of mind, etc.):

Is it a school where you go to learn to make films, or a film department within a university where you study films without learning how to make them (in the same way you might study literature or history)?

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Digital video is for people who are afraid of, and unwilling to make mistakes. Video leads to a boring and sterile cinema. Mistakes and failures make your work honest and human. [..] Objective films are inherently dishonest. Stanley Kubrick, who desperately and pathetically tried to make objective films, instead made dishonest and boring films."

Remodernist Film Manifesto; Jesse Richards (28 Dec 2008)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"[..] So, almost arbitrarily, I decided to become a filmmaker, spent a month going to movies at the Clark Street Cinema, which showed 2 different films each day – old Hollywood and European classics, and new European and Japanese art house films – and got my film education. I bought a Bolex in NYC, and decamped for Europe. And that was the end of my academic life. [..]
Back in the early 70′s, along with many other things, these schools began to do “Film Studies” and related courses – history, theory, and making. It was indeed quite fashionable, and in turn it bred a peculiar kind of academic filmmaking, often weighted with theoretical or other ideological baggage – feminism, “minority” tilts, and all kinds of things. In my glancing passages through these institutions I was often asked to look at work and give my opinions, sometimes to PhD candidates who would then enter teaching film. The work I saw was most often mind-bogglingly bad, though presented by the professors or teachers as good work. Usually it was clotted with whatever fashionable intellectual winds were sweeping through, and usually they evinced not even the most basic artistic sensibility. Most of these films seemed to strain to demonstrate some intellectual “thesis,” and they were terrible. And over the decades this kind of “filmmaking” was taught, reproducing itself. It also reproduced the notion in our groves of academe that after such studies, with one’s fresh diploma, a job in the industry – either the actual filmmaking industry or the film studies industry – would materialize. [..]
And indeed the Department did change a bit – it became more Hollywood oriented, more technical, and more averse to creative thinking. In effect it became a trade-school with the little caveat that the industry for which it cranks out techies has no room for them. [..]
One would like to fantasize that universities are pristine exceptions to this rule, but even the most casual look shows they are in reality – with perhaps their sports programs demonstrating it most clearly – paragons of corruption, basically in the service of our corporate overlords. Money talks and bullshit walks. Even in our most respected educational institutions."
My Brilliant Academic Career (Jon Jost; 23 March 2012)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"[..] Public intellectuals are lauded if they talk about (and locate) problems elsewhere in society, but are criticized and punished if they turn their attention to what goes on in universities. The modern corporate American university, like the rest of modern corporate America, puts a premium on unanimity of opinion and homogeneity of expression, and penalizes genuine diversity of points of view. There is of course much lip service given to something called “diversity”—i.e., racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity; however, intellectual diversity, the expression of genuinely new, different, or—God help us—unpopular or controversial ideas and opinions, the only kind of diversity that means anything intellectually—is frowned on. Like other corporations, the educational corporation aspires to speak with one voice—a sanitized, safe, uncontroversial, politically-correct voice—since the goal is never to offend or upset anyone—particularly anyone with money, anyone who wields the power of the purse, like students, grant officers, politicians, or alumni contributors. The goal is to “build a brand” [..] that will upset no one, change nothing, and threaten nothing that really matters—particularly cherished beliefs. [..]
Like many other BU administrators, my Dean spent his entire previous career in corporate America, and has clearly internalized its values, where you don’t ask fundamental questions or raise difficult issues. You “sell a product” to a “customer”—in this instance, a college degree to students. You don’t ask people to think deeply about purposes and values and the meaning of their lives; you just yammer a sales pitch, convincing the customer that the commodity he or she has purchased is worth the tens of thousands of dollars and multiple years of his or her life required to obtain it. [..]
The budgetary—or enrollment—tail wags the educational dog. [..]
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)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Do Film Students Really Need To Know Much About Classic Films? (23 April 2010)
panel discussion held at Ebertfest 2010.

Moderated by Eric Pierson.
Panel Richard Leskosky, David Bordwell, Doc Erickson, Stephanie Ashton, Justin Franklin, Richard Neupert, and Howie Movshovitz