Class Action: Teaching to the Film-Savvy Crowd in Toronto

By Adam Nayman

A few nights ago, after a screening of some locally produced short films at the Royal Cinema in Toronto — a recently restored, single-screen rep house struggling to program contemporary art cinema in the shadow of the mammoth TIFF Bell Lightbox — I started polling some friends about my upcoming lecture series on controversial directors — the sequel to a successful programme I’d concluded earlier in the year. In the first month-long sequence, I had covered Paul Verhoeven, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Catherine Breillat, all noted provocateurs whose career trajectories, in my opinion, shared a general arc from the margins towards the mainstream. The question was: which other filmmakers combined the requisite artistic bona fides with the sort of “brand-name recognition” that could entice both my regular students and new recruits in equal measure?

“Well, you have to do Lars,” laughed one of my friends, referring to reports of the scandalous Cannes press conference for Melancholia. As the world knows (and is surely bored of talking about by now), an arrogant director known for viewing cinema as a stone in the shoe had gone and put his foot in his mouth. “Yeah, doing von Trier is going to go over really well with people at that particular location,” I replied. I was referring to the fact that home base for my “Controversial Directors” series is the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in downtown Toronto. Continue reading

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No Direction Home: Creative Criticism

By Adrian Martin

Early in 2009, Nicholas Rombes on his blog Digital Poetics launched the project 10/40/70, for anyone who wished to use it:

An experiment in writing about film: select three different, arbitrary time codes (in this case the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute mark), freeze the frames, and use that as the guide to writing about the film. What if, instead of freely choosing what parts of the film to address, one let the film determine this? Constraint as a form of freedom – a new method of film criticism, freed of the old tyrannies of continuity. The discontinuity of the digital age, demanding a new way of seeing. A new way of writing.

This wonderful avant-garde call to critical arms recalls – consciously or not – a century of manifesto-style pronouncements. Constraint as freedom: wasn’t that the literary motto of the Oulipo group? Down with the tyranny of continuity: couldn’t that have been the cry of every art movement devoted to collage, montage, cut-up? Let the film overwhelm us and determine what we will say about it: maybe the ‘impressionist’ Manny Farber could have agreed with the Surrealists on that point? A new way of seeing tied to a new way of writing: hasn’t every revolution in film criticism proceeded with precisely that same, impassioned, almost hallucinatory conviction? Continue reading

Taken Up by Waves: The Experience of New Cinephilia

Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz) 2010 Portugal 272 min

By Girish Shambu

This essay draws from two previously published pieces: “The 21st Century Cinephile” (which appeared in the Dutch film magazine De Filmkrant in February 2011) and “Mediators” (published on the blog, girish).

Cinephilia is enjoying a wonderful, global resurgence. Not that it ever disappeared: cinephilia has been around almost since the birth of the medium. When we in the West trace its history, we tend to locate its first distinct and unified incarnation in France in the ‘20s. Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein are the key figures we associate with this historical moment. The next great flowering of cinephilia occurs during the ‘50s, also in France, in the decade preceding the Nouvelle Vague.

But before we continue with this story, it is important to ask: Who is a “cinephile”? What sets a cinephile apart from any other person who loves films? Yes, both likely enjoy watching films in good numbers. But beyond that, I would draw a line and assert: cinephilia involves an active interest in the discourse surrounding films. Not just watching but also thinking, reading, talking, and writing about films in some form, no matter how non-standard: these activities are important to the cinephile. Continue reading

Criticism and Film Studies: A Response to David Bordwell

Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hsiao-hsien Hou) 1996 Taiwan 124 Min

By Chris Fujiwara

As I was brooding over what I could come up with to do justice to Damon Smith and Kate Taylor’s invitation to write about contemporary film criticism and cinephilia, a friend who had no idea I was pondering this problem sent me an answer to it. The answer took the form of a link to a new piece by David Bordwell on the Film Comment web site, called “Academics vs. Critics: Never the Twain Shall Meet: Why Can’t Cinephiles and Academics Just Get Along?,” in which, with his usual clarity, Bordwell proposes his view of the current configuration of approaches to writing on film. I have no desire to enter into a battle with Bordwell and no intention of raising larger issues about his work in general. I want only to use the opportunity afforded by this particular text of his to set forth, by contrast, my own views on the current situation of film criticism, cinephilia, and academic film studies. Continue reading