Topics

Assembled here is a working notebook of ideas and topics for discussion that may give shape to “Project: New Cinephilia” sessions. They’re arranged under four general headings.


I. HOW WE WRITE ABOUT CINEMA

Poets and writers (H.D., Carl Sandburg, Graham Greene, James Agee) used to write regularly on film in widely circulated periodicals. Nowadays, few fiction writers or verse specialists occupy reviewing posts. Why, and what does this indicate about the professionalism of criticism?

Was criticism once closer to literature? If so, how?

What impact have the other arts had on film writing?

Is there an essential difference between film journalism and film criticism? Is the schism between publicity and scrutiny always easy to define?

Pauline Kael wrote criticism for a general audience. Manny Farber wrote criticism “to the film,” as it were. Kent Jones writes to/for the filmmaker. Who should the ideal critic be writing to?

Is it the role of the critic to act as the public’s proxy, like an ombudsman? Or to bring change to the way the film industry operates? Or to engage in other forms of institutional critique?

Is it important for film critics to be schooled in film studies, theory, cinema history? Is it important that they have some experience as reporters?

What differentiates film critics from any other critic of the arts (music, theatre, art)? Are they held to a different standard of relevance?

II. HOW WE WATCH CINEMA

We’ve more access to film now than ever before, through a variety of digital platforms. Has the conversation around film risen to the challenge of assessing what this means? Are the filters adequate?

How have new forms of distribution altered the filmgoing experience for cinephiles, for better and worse?

If each film offers a way of thinking about the world, then how do the ever-evolving variety of formats give shape to (or degrade) that view of things?

Must cinephilia necessarily be retrospective, tainted with nostalgia and regret?

III. HOW WE TEACH CINEMA

How should we go about rethinking the conceptual tools of film criticism?

How does one balance the habit of using specialized language when writing film criticism with the task of public education?

Film critics are disdained in some quarters. Why shouldn’t we see the role of a critic as akin to that of a political essayist?

Why do we read critics? Is it to know whether a film is worth seeing? Or do we read criticism so that we can understand cinema better, be more engaged with it?

Getting over the “blockbuster complex”: Some films are crafted as events–entertainments as huge and crude as an amusement park–rather than works of art to experience and contemplate. But does that mean they are meaningless?

For a long time, perhaps until the mid 20th century, the predominant question in film studies was: What is cinema? What are its defining characteristics? Is this an outmoded line of inquiry or still relevant?

What modes and methodologies should we return to—or cast aside—after the engagement with semiotics, Lacanian psychoanalysis, apparatus theory, feminism, anthropology, linguistics, Marxist aesthetics, and post-structuralism? Do these theories speak to how we should look and think about film today?

IV. HOW WE CREATE CINEMA

What can creative discussion between filmmakers and critics yield in terms of sharpening the skills of each? Should critics know more about the filmmaking process? Should filmmakers learn how informed critics perceive?

Is there a meaningful distinction to be made between cinema and short-format works or serials by notable directors (Harmony Korine, David Lynch, Spike Jonze) made to be accessed online?

Is the technique of film (3-D, immersive technologies, hyper-cut editing) developing ahead of the art?

What is to be made today of André Bazin’s proclamation that “cinema has not yet been invented”?

Are we headed toward non-photographic cinema in mass culture? And if so, how will our notions of the moving image change? How will such a shift change the future as well as the past?

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