18 juin 2011

Roundtable 2 (PNC)

Project:New Cinephilia/ Roundtable 2
Michael Koresky, Kent Jones, Melissa Anderson, Daniel Cockburn, Genevieve Yue

This time they try to have somewhat of a conversation, although awkward and almost reluctantly. The comments on the Mubi forum engaged with the problematics in a more convincing manner... and the official participants of the roundtable didn't pay a single visit to reply to the questions or clarify certain points, staying in their ivory tower, where they get to publish a unilateral formal speech and don't have to mingle with the fray of the interwebs... Sad. They're talking about a "new" cinephilia of the web 2.0, of the interconnected communities and snub them. they talk about connecting with the viewer's response and are unable to listen to their own readers.

1. Owning the movies (06/06/2011) Michael Koresky

  • "the four of you who have agreed to participate in this roundtable discussion represent the types of people—thinkers— that keep this form we love relevant." No matter what our detractors will say we ARE relevant. End of the conversation. Wish-fulfilling assertion, appeal to authority, to condition readers before a single evidence has been brought forth. That's not a very objective, humble or open-minded foreword.
  • "the idea of a single influential critic makes his [Andrew Sarris] recollections seem like transmissions from a lost continent, no?" You forget about Pauline Kael then as a "second influantial critic", and Roger Ebert now as a "single influential critic".
  • "we’re still in awe of the genius of the Hollywood system even as we position ourselves against it" Speak for yourself. I'm not. The Hollywood system is pavlovian marketing applied to mass consumersim, what's so mysterious about it?
  • good point about the "unifying Bordwellian definition of what constitutes an “art film” (gleaned from Antonioni/Godard/Fellini and carried through to Denis/Hou/Kiarostami)" see: Reality and Representation (Bordwell) 
  • "So if we’re thinking about movies generally the same way—as entities that either a) fit into preconceived notions, or b) bust them open" You use a dichotomy splitting art into an either/or compartimentalisation that complete eachother perfectly, without left-overs, how could it be otherwise? Yes a "preconceived idea" could either be applied as is, or re-evaluated. What does it tell us about mentality changes? This will always be true. If you suggest a change of discourse, maybe you need a model that leaves room for evolution. The proportions of (a) and (b) could change for example, but that's not even the point you are insisting on.
  • "the question of audience is ever more complicated for all of us who aren’t just in love with film but are trying to communicate something about it." Good.
  • not surprisingly, they still believe that by talking about American-only history they are defining the global village of what is actually the "New cinephilia"... is it all they know? or are they intentionally ignoring the rest of the planet that shapes up cinephilia more than they ever did?

2. Beyond the romance of cinema (06/06/2011) Kent Jones

  • "Chris Fujiwara makes an interesting assertion" LOL funniest thing I've heard so far. See: Mandarins vs Philistines 2 
  • "the days of the gentleman film critic, the man or woman of letters or politics who is intrigued by the notion of movies and amused by how seriously people take them, are long over." Again, you're talking about the USA... Have you heard of Žižek, Badiou, Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy, BHL... ?
  • "David Edelstein, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jeff Wells, Joshua Rothkopf and Janet Bergstrom" again 100% American-centric references. At least further down he namedrops "Bazin, Kracauer, Adorno" from a distant past (while he claims New cinephilia should move away from that very distant past).
  • "in the shadow of the holocaust, a movie could be either morally engaged or not, no middle ground." the moral imperative was a concern for film writers in particular (critics), not necessarily for film goers in general (cinephiles).
  • "The obsessives who filed in and out of movie theaters like penitents on holy days of obligation may have looked pale, been socially maladroit and disrupted the smooth flow of social intercourse" The haydays of French cinephilia in the 50-60ies, it was a mainstream phenomenon, a social activity across all demographics, not the asocial nerd attitude you describe (which is a more recent development).
  • "mixture of romanticism, essentialism, and a dogmatism so harsh and punitive" where did you read that??? I know that anything that isn't hyperbolic adoration sounds esoteric to Americans, but come on, no need to overdramatise history for your readers, you're not in Film Comment here, you can speak freely.
  • "a valiant defense of cinema against any and every sign of cultural derision or condescension" I wish. See Dan Kois syndrome (Proud Boredom)
  • "I think that cinephilia is stuck in the 50s" You think? How many "new cinephiles" know about the  50ies? It's not 1950s cinephilia that we see on DVD forums, on Facebook or Twitter... Even David Bordwell forgets who Bazin was at times!
  • "New “masters” and “masterpieces” are found by the hour, films are declared “hateful” or “immoral” or “loathsome” at the drop of a hat, moral condemnations of filmmakers convicted of insufficient love for their characters is rampant, and the cheapest rhetorical ploy imaginable, accusing the people who like something that you don’t like or who love something that you hate of being deluded or morally compromised, is enacted with impunity." Ditto. Keep repeating that until your "new cinephiles" get it and move on to more constructive grounds. Then we'll talk about cinephilia.
  • "preferences for this or that film or filmmaker are routinely declared with all the pomp and circumstance of an explorer planting a flag on virgin territory – and needless to say, nothing can be celebrated without a countervailing condemnation of its supposedly opposite number, and visa versa." very good!
  • "Only in film culture is the act of list-making freighted with such urgency." Go tell that to Film Comment! Where do you work again?
  • "the troubling tendency in cinephilia to see cinema itself as the ultimate fulfillment of cinema" You started right and your conclusion takes the opposite side... Returning film writing to the art of cinema itself (film language, aesthetic, direction, style, film history, film poetry, images, soundscape...) is the goal to reach. Reviewers looking beyond the parameters of the film form (politics, psychology, interpretations, summary judgements, plotpoints, inconsistencies, goofs, star system...) is what bad critics abuse instead of talking about FILM CRITICISM. Transcending a given film with real world political interpretation, sounds positive, for the zeitgeist chattering at dinners, but not for film culture itself.
  • "filmmaking and its critical appreciation [..] they’re like two different planets." in the USA, not in France. If you felt the "whole wide world around it as well", you'd know it.

3. Tastemakers or taste-testers? (07/06/2011) by Michael Koresky

  • interesting attempt at turning a series of juxtaposed magisterial unilateral articles in somewhat of a conversation. Was it inserted after all the pieces were already written though?

4. On advocacy and anticipation (07/06/2011) Melissa Anderson

  • well the film lover ALSO consumes movies for a living, the operative distinction is the words "voraciously and indiscriminately". If we're talking about movie goers (customers), then it's their prerogative to deal with their passion however they want. And contrary to food, abuse doesn't make you obese and give you heart diseases. So it's all fine, they CAN be impartial, immoderate, unfair, excessive, obsessive, hyperbolic, fetishist, demanding, carefree, irresponsible. Now if we talk about another category, film writers, then their relation to glutony is a bit different, they have a certain responsibility, and even a certain deontology if they are actual journalists. That's why talking about cinephilia in general and then suddenly making a point about critic's ethics is disingenuous.
  • The food metaphor is OK for fans, even though it's slightly condescending. But serious academic studies (or serious criticism) are possible without comparing the acquisition of knowledge (like a literary academic would read classics) to gluttony, bingeing and hunger. If you care about words and ideas you should appreciate the hyperbolic prejudice you install here for cinema that doesn't exist for other arts.
  • "I can’t stomach it" With so many critics on this panel (like the editors of the NYT) against the degradation of film discourse, I wonder why they only speak up today, and why bad reviewers can still have a job and support around them... Something doesn't click there. When they talk about criticism, they all say the right things we want to hear. When they review movies, they go back to their indulgent routine... as if they didnt listen to their own advice.
  • Taste-making doesn't mean actual influence on the mainstream B.O. or the "fashionable zeitgeist"... of course film writing is marginal compared to the MOVIE INDUSTRY. What taste-making means is to act as an all-knowing oracle making and breaking fads within the tiny milieu of the film criticism readership. And that's how most film writers with an institutional soapbox pose, talking as if what they said (the expression of their taste) determined what was in and what was out (like seasoned masters, debuting directors, festivals, books, countries, year's or decade's legacies...)
  • "fervent advocate", "hectoring readers"... Two things that we see a lot in film reviewers that have more to do with proselytism and promotional marketing (pushing to consumption in the case of positive reviews). This is the modus operandi of prescriptive reviewing (maintained by newspapers who need sponsors and exclusive interviews). These are bad examples of "criticism". Remember what Kent Jones said about writing without the pressure of evaluation? A GREAT film shouldn't need coersitive persuasion and directive orders to attract an audience. Let the readers decide for themselves, leave the free will to the audience.
  • You're not talking about serious film criticism, you're talking about being a passionate sign post in paper film pages. The old paradigm of film reviewers. Recommanding "good films" or "older films" doesn't change the short term framework within which you operate. Obviously it's a little better than advertising blockbusters, but film discourse goes higher than a mere economic boost for films we love.

5. What is the birdie? (07/06/2011) Daniel Cockburn

  • "an impetus at the heart of more considered criticism: the urge to classify and collect, freeze-dry the living object so it can be “understood and known” before moving on to the next one." Is this really what defines "criticism" or is it fetishm and taxonomy?
  • "how does this film actually have an effect – on viewers one at a time, or on the world at large" Viewer's response theory (Grand Theory), is no closer to cinema studies than gender studies or political studies.
  • "there is no reason for the territorial battles" Dude, have you read Painting theory, Musical theory, Literature theory, Poetry theory, Theatre theory, Architecture theory, Sculpture theory... there are ALWAYS territorial interpretations and controversies! It's not what invalidates the field altogether.
  • "critics would do well to write criticism that (in an ideal world) would provoke filmmakers to respond and engage." See the discussion about this misconception in the Mubi forum 

6. Cinephilia, love and being caught off-guard (08/06/2011) Genevieve Yue

  • What a lot of words for having nothing to talk about... Lots of reminders, little insight.
  • "Why does my training as a scholar, a teacher, and a critic steer me toward critical reserve?" You ask yourself why romanticism and devotion applies to "cinephilia" but not to research, teaching and criticism? Well that's because we use different names to distinguish different sujective/objective, emotional/intellectual activities, or else everything would be called "love".
  • "the best criticism and academic writing happens when we’re caught off-guard, pushed beyond the comforting edifices of taste or aesthetic judgment" That's a very exclusive claim to make. Again this fantasy of the primacy, equating suprise and novelty to absolute greatness. It's not always the discoverers who are the best at the application of a particular discovery.
  • "What amazing things can happen when you don’t know what to do with a film, much less how to talk about it." Is this the apologia of neophytes?

7. Cinema is what we make of it (09/06/2011) Michael Koresky:

  • "Hasn’t cinema always just been what we make of it?" Define "cinema" and "we". You're talking from the perspective of a consumer (availability makes right). That's not quite a reflection on the ontology of the medium dude! Cinema is not contingent to what people who watch it, here and now, wish it to be... Audience response has been wrong many times in history, and relying on THAT is absurd. Think bigger! Be more ambitious for cinema than the idiosyncratic desiderata of a given era and culture.
  • "Maybe we all need to get back to that place where we first felt that rush of cinephilia, before we even knew what that word meant." So you know what it means now?
  • "the stark divisions between academia and the critical community [..] is this a condition of the new cinephilia?" I don't think that, in general, today's cinephiles are more theory literate than in the 50ies! In fact the social media phenomenon is more the kingdom of proud amateur subjectivity, like : "critics are overanalysing, i'm writing with my emotions!"

8. Re-making criticism (09/06/2011) Kent Jones:

  • "the very idea of David Cronenberg being “influenced” by M. Night Shyamalan is ridiculous" In this case, it might be true, but the framing of the statement is wrong. Auteurs don't like to be compared, even if the inspiration was voluntary on their part. What a filmmaker thinks of another filmmaker, or of a potential comparison a critic could bring up, doesn't redefine how criticism works. Bergman hated Antonioni too... is it relevant to us? An artist has the prerogative of territoriality, even if it is unfair or blatantly false. Critics have the duty to challenge this subjective self-definition artist would like us to perceive.
  • "Cinephile-based criticism treats pretty much everyone like an auteur, and this reverts back to a fundamental flaw in auteurism." You equate cinephilia with auteurism, as if it was impossible to be cinephile without abiding to La Politique des Auteurs. These overlap but the former is not the consumerist side of critical auteurism.
  • "these limitations and restrictions and demands are all but ignored by cinephiles intent on seeing every director as if he or she were a Monet or a Stravinsky." limitations and constraints are not what disputes the statute of auteur!
  • "there can’t be such a thing as non-cinephile criticism" that's the rosy view of cinephilia from an American perspective. French critics are a lot more distant from this crave for the label "cinéphile". See Emmanuel Burdeau (ex-Cahiers editor) on not being cinéphile.

9. When a film calls (12/06/2011) Melissa Anderson

  • Me Me Me. My experience, my job, my movies. That's what film criticism is to her. No broader prospects, no overarching insights. She equates the practice of film criticism to the very controversial job of a weekly reviewer. (see Reality Check: Films Critics are NOT the film press

10. The well-tempered critic (13/06/2011) Daniel Cockburn

  • "Some of the most exciting film writing I have read is that which talks about actors (stars or not) and performance in a genuine attempt to articulate what these performances are, and what they do to us." Actorism not Auteurism. By the way, disecting techniques and performances are integer part of "mise en scène", which is the core of Auteurism!
  • "But I doubt I’ll ever feel like rapidity has anything lasting to give us that would counterbalance what we’d lose if we lost slowness." are you saying this at an event that runs a Twitterthon???
  • "taking the film as writ, as some unchangeable essence, and this is childish." So to you, to contrary to childish is for spectators to dream up their own story and write about that instead of the filmmaker's work? lol Anybody can imagine stuff from whichever stimulus. The hard part in criticism is to approach the actual meaning of an artwork. Imagination is a convenient cop out for writers without critical skills.
  • "if you don’t imagine alternate versions of a film you’ve seen, you can’t evaluate it or even really form an opinion of it, beyond liking it or not the same way you like or don’t like mashed potatoes." what you're talking about (and I'm not surprised it comes from an artist) is how you, the artist, wish the work to be appropriated and engaged with at the "reader's response" level (which is legit for the spectator, not for the critic). But film criticism goes beyond a mere spectatorship response!
  • Watch La Dolce Vita and imagine during the whole film that you're banging either Anita Eckberg or Marcello Mastroiani... yeah that really helps to expand film culture! NOT.
  • just temperament” and “equal temperament” see Mubi forum replies 

11. Narrowing the gap (14/06/2011) Genevieve Yue

  • "I’ve actually found considerable support in stepping outside the ivory tower to write criticism and to program films" You think that publishing unilateral criticism and deciding the screenings viewers will get to see is much different from the academic ivory tower??? You've got an odd idea of democracy and participative communities.
  • "aesthetic evaluation (thumbs, stars, clipart in general)" do you really think rating scales ARE aesthetic evaluation???
  • "J. Hoberman picked up on Arnheim’s argument in 1998, sharply interrogating the critic’s role in the publicity machine of the film industry." When will this affect the work ethic of American reviewers working today???
  • "cinema is an activity; its meaning is made by many hands, auteur and otherwise, and it includes our own when we settle down in a theater or work through our Netflix Instant Queues on our laptops." Wrong, on so many levels... Again you're talking about consumption of cultural good which is the prerogative of the regular audience, not about the responsibility of CRITICISM, which cannot indulge such narcissist leasure.
  • "To try, as the French essai translates into English" To try is the (infinitive) verb (essayer), essai is the noun (try).


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