Michael pointed me to David Bordwell’s great and polemical piece, “Academics Vs. Critics,” and while I agree with much of the essay (I appreciate, especially, the care Bordwell takes in offering a bridge between the two camps), the scholar-critic divide doesn’t appear quite as stark to me. Of course I’m writing with only six years in the academy and not Bordwell’s thirty, but that might be part of the generational point. If film criticism was considered a lower form of journalism than art or architecture writing in the past, then it’s certainly on par today, at least from the perspective of university training. Continue reading →
Michael mentioned that “usually only passing remarks are made about cinematography, lighting, sound design, etc., as if they’re tangential aspects of a film rather than the entire presentation.” Which may be true. But of course that’s not the whole story either—plenty of writing on film exists which makes mention of the more technical, artisanal aspects of filmmaking (some would call these aspects more “cinematic,” which is a blood-red herring if ever there was one) to no insightful end. 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. Continue reading →
Michael, in response to the question you posed to me—“How has the new accessibility of cinema changed your way of taking it in, or, as you put it, your ‘bingeing,’ and how has that affected your writing and consideration of film?”—my answer is simple: not at all. I don’t collect DVDs, am not a member of Netflix, don’t have cable, and own few gadgets (my home/portable screens are limited to a TV and a laptop). Keeping up with my journalism assignments requires me to watch three to ten films a week; the average skews higher if I’m covering a series. Most of the films I review I see in screening rooms, though occasionally titles are available only on screeners. Continue reading →
Before I write another word, I want to acknowledge the quality of everyone’s responses. This has been a really interesting discussion.
I want to begin with Daniel’s inversion of my badminton birdie metaphor. I think he’s absolutely correct on that count. What’s being swatted around is the film-under-consideration itself – swatted and batted and kneaded and punched and rolled like pizza dough, ranked in a series of endless beauty contests with other movies, categorized and re-categorized, but never quite looked at. Continue reading →
First of all, thanks to all of you for what is so far an incredibly engaging, provocative, and insightful discussion. Despite the depths you’ve all plumbed in terms of defining strains and eras of cinephilia, we’ve only scratched the surface. Or rather, I feel we can take these fascinatingly nebulous diagnoses about our affliction/gluttony/passion and apply them to where we are now. Continue reading →
To pick up on Daniel’s question, what is the birdie that we cinephiles swat around? Or as André Bazin put it more bluntly, what is cinema? It’s interesting to me how this question continually crops up long after the medium’s many deaths, from the various proclamations of critics and filmmakers throughout the twentieth century to the now-undisputed technological end of celluloid (first heralded by television, video, and finally, the digital turn). If anything, the end of the cinematic century has only opened new questions as to what cinema was, or continues to be in augmented forms. For historians of early cinema, these lines of inquiry have been particularly fertile: in an era of multiple viewing platforms, for example, how might we reconsider the history of cinema as that of a screen practice, as Anne Friedberg and Charles Musser have done? And when we look at the long history of the medium, what might we anticipate for its future? Continue reading →
What aspects of filmmaking do I think are most often overlooked – or, conversely, belabored – in film criticism? That should be an easy question to answer, but for some reason I’m drawing a blank . . . which might mean that I’m repressing something. So I’m going to speak to a couple of previous points that struck me, and hope that something gets uncovered.
Melissa says “eventually you realize that it’s impossible to ingest – or love – it all”; the conflict/overlap between ingestion and love is something I’ve been struggling to come to terms with for a long time, which I suppose is common to people in our wide field. This echoes Kent’s mention of the anxiety around list-making. And I can’t help, when thinking about things like this, to think of IMDb comment threads, which I tell myself, for the sake of sanity and hope, are not representative of contemporary human movie-thinking, but which nevertheless are the ne plus ultra of some sort of current thought-mode. Comment threads like “Neil Jordan’s top 10 films, in order”, where commenters post a series of lists and the discussion’s high point is “I agree with your list except I would make Interview with the Vampire #2, and The Crying Game would be #5”. An endless stream of data posing as content… but why do I keep reading? Continue reading →
A few years ago, a French friend, in introducing me to a new word, helpfully elucidated the distinction between two terms: cinéphile versus cinéphage—a lover of movies versus someone who consumes them voraciously and indiscriminately. Terence Davies recalls such an insatiable appetite in Of Time and the City, his exquisite 2008 documentary about Liverpool, his hometown: “At age seven, I saw Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain. I discovered movies and swallowed them whole.”
This kind of gluttony, it seems to me, is a necessary first step to being a film critic: devouring cinema (and being devoured by it), sampling and discovering as much as you can. But eventually you realize that it’s impossible to ingest—or love—it all; after a period of prolonged bingeing, you should know what you really crave and what satisfies you. Continue reading →
Thanks so much, Kent. Daniel, I’d obviously like for you specifically to keep in mind Kent’s closing words regarding filmmaking and its critical appreciation existing on what seem like two different planets. Considering you’ve played both sides of that fence, you seem well positioned to talk about this….especially considering that you refuse to play both sides of that fence….your critical writing is not about evaluation per se, but rather, like your feature You Are Here, it’s about searching for a way to describe a form. Or at least it seems to me. Continue reading →
In his response to David Bordwell’s criticism/academia piece for Film Comment, Chris Fujiwara makes an interesting assertion: “…it’s not at all clear that cinephilia is necessary to film criticism.” This is a valid and provocative point, and a good starting place for this discussion. Of course, if one takes the term “cinephilia” at face value, then it is indeed necessary. I don’t really know how someone could write serious film criticism without loving movies. One might offer David Thomson as a counter-example, but David really does love movies and has spent many years wrestling with himself about it. Moreover, 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, one could argue that Anthony Lane’s relationship to cinema is on the tentative side, but even he seems to feel the weight of film history. Continue reading →