Narrowing the gap

From Genevieve Yue

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

The well-tempered critic

From Daniel Cockburn:

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

What is the birdie?

From: Daniel Cockburn

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

Owning the movies

From Michael Koresky

To: Kent Jones, Melissa Anderson, Daniel Cockburn, Genevieve Yue

Since this cinephilic world we’re about to talk about is always plagued (from our own ranks and externally) by nattering questions about its own relevance, let me start by saying that 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. What’s most gratifying is that you come from a cross-section of cinephilic worlds: while you are all writers, you approach writing about film from different angles: variously you have been or continue to be filmmakers, programmers, academics, and, of course, critics. You have worked at nonprofits dedicated to film preservation, or to film presentation; you have been employed at weekly newspapers, written for print magazines and blogs; you have made films that have been shown at international festivals or broadcast on public television; you have covered the contemporary avant-garde scene, the festival circuit, the art house, the films of Hollywood past. Most importantly, it would be impossible to compartmentalize any of you into any one professional category, regardless of your specialty or particular talents. Because above all, you are what I would proudly (and others might derisively) call cinephiles, a mercifully nonprofessional term that allows all of these worlds to swoop and dovetail with ease. Continue reading

Online Roundtable 2: Introductions

On the heels of our first Online Roundtable, Project: New Cinephilia has invited five critics based in North America (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto) to discuss how cinephilia manifests in today’s digital age, how it differs from past incarnations, and what this means for criticism, filmmaking, and cinema culture in general.

Our distinguished chair for this session is Michael Koresky, co-founding Editor-in-Chief of Reverse Shot and the staff writer for the Criterion Collection. Joining him are the estimable Kent Jones (author of Physical Evidence), Melissa Anderson (Village Voice, Artforum), Daniel Cockburn (director of You Are Here) and Genevieve Yue (Film CommentReverse Shot). Check back daily all week as the conversation continues.

For full biographies please visit our Contributors page.  You will find all related posts under the Online Roundtable 2 heading. Read, enjoy, and be sure to respond by clicking the link at the bottom of each post.

Will the circle be unbroken?

In which Neil Young, chair of the first online roundtable, concludes the discussion.

Czech films, Underground films, Hollywood films. Now people who take films seriously study skin flicks, TV commercials, scopitone. In the days of Wrath or Raft, there were just Hollywood films, “B” or “A”, Arthur Rank, and a few art directors like Renoir. The sheer bulk of what is known as film, plus the equal cheers for so many different types of film, has loosened everyone’s bowels.–Manny Farber, 1968

Dear all,

Well, we’re nothing if not eclectic around this here round table… My second contribution was bashed out as I prepared myself for Elliott Lester’s Blitz at a Sunderland multiplex (which turned out to be comfortably the worst new UK release of 2011 so far, I’m afraid to report), and Andrew’s saw him speeding out the door en route to a Berlin screening of Die Wahlverwandtschaften by Siegfried Kühn (cheers, IMDb!) at Berlin’s charming Babylon cinema. Of course, to a Brit of my age – even those of us brought up far from Brixton – the word “Babylon” has a certain degree of negative connotations, being the Rastafarian term for “any oppressive political and economic power structure”. Bad news… and thus incongruous when applied to Berlin, which must surely rank as one of the global hubs of worldwide New Cinephilia – along with Paris, New York, London (and presumably Tokyo) – and a model for other cities and towns to follow, in terms of respecting cinema as a major art-form, and respecting the fact that the discussion and analysis of that art-form is both a boost to the art-form and a desirable end in itself. Continue reading

Slow! Cinephiles writing!

Slow! Cinephiles Writing

Postcard from Los Angeles, by Mike Everleth

Gang,

You’re making me dizzy. So many great points to respond to! But, I have to start here:

Andrew said: “the cinephile label is what separates writers and commenters on mubi.com from those at movies.com.”

Funny you brought that up because I used to make a living as a writer for movies.com! (Back when it was owned by Disney.) Clearly, movies.com wasn’t and isn’t made for cinephiles, but I just need to say that if I ever knew a dude who I thought was a cinephile, it would be reviewer Dave White, who still writes there.

But that also leads into Frances’ excellent points about the importance for “slow” film criticism to exist. (Someone needs to mock up a street sign: SLOW! CINEPHILES WRITING!)[done!-ed]. The Internet really has gone from mostly a place where one could find great, detailed, obscure information to a marketplace where everybody has to be up on every late-breaking-oh-my-god-this-is-so-important piece of minutiae that zips by at supersonic speeds. Continue reading

Sound, vision, action

Postcard from London, by Frances Morgan

Hi Mike (and all),

In response to Andrew, a few thoughts on oversaturation. I think we all share those concerns. Again, it’s a conversation that’s frequently had in music criticism, in particular with regard to our knowledge of marginal or ‘lost’ music, as well as our instant access to what’s new – I haven’t read it yet but I think this is be explored at some length in Simon Reynolds’s new Retromania book. The problem is, of course, that we discuss it on the one hand while downloading with the other; concern and action don’t always mesh.

Slow criticism’ is one solution, in as much as I understand it – I’d like to hear more from the panel on this, if they have thoughts, because for me it’s a little confused with the idea of ‘slow cinema’ (which doesn’t necessarily have to be subject to slow criticism?). Certainly the pressure to be ‘first’ with an opinion, to show that you’re more abreast of a particular argument than others, seems more pressing – but I wonder if criticism has always been thus, it’s just that the audience – and our relationship with them – has grown and fragmented. As someone who only began a critical career in the 2000s, I realise that I have no idea really what a pre-Internet critical environment was like! Continue reading

Je suis un cinemaphile…

Blitz (Elliot Lester) 2011 UK 97 Min

Postcard from Sunderland, by Neil Young

Thanks Andrew (and everyone else – I’m humbled to be in such eloquent company),

Greetings from a wet, grey-skied, chilly Sunderland, on a late May day that looks, sounds and feels more like early November. It’s been raining on-and-off all day, including a massive cloudburst about an hour ago. Likelihood is, when I step out of my front door in 90 minutes or so, I’m going to have to have the hood up on my sou’wester-ish rain-slicker.

My destination: the Empire Cinema in Sunderland city centre, which is a 25 minute walk at the brisk clip which precipitation usually engenders.

My target: the 4.40 screening of Blitz, a violent British cop-thriller starring Crank 2 : High Voltage‘s Jason Statham that received (predictably) mixed-to-negative reviews from the British critics when it opened last week, and which will linger in our multiplexes (late-night shows only) for another week before making the 21st-century version of what Variety used to be called the “fast trip to half-inch”. Continue reading

The zine from here

Postcard from Los Angeles, by Mike Everleth

Frances (and the gang),

Yeah, if I had to, I’d call myself a “fan” over a “cinephile.”

(An aside: Does it mean anything when my spell-checker doesn’t even recognize the word “cinephile” and wants me to replace it with “acidophiles”?)

Like yourself and Neil, I meandered into this world of writing about film on the Internet. I never wanted to nor planned to write about film. My background is in film production and pre-Internet comic book zine publishing. As far as the comic scene in those days went, “fandom” was a positive, fun word and concept to throw around. Us fans banded together to publish each other’s articles in our self-published, photocopied zines to share ideas, history and our own amateur comics. Fandom meant togetherness in a world that didn’t appreciate our obsession. Continue reading