Eyes Wide Shut: Notes Toward a New Video Criticism

By Damon Smith

In the embarrassment of riches that is the new digital age, we are not lacking for critical voices. There are far too many good blogs and web sites and film-news outlets to keep up with at present, many built on the ashes of defunct print magazines and journals (Bright Lights or Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, for instance), others erected by thoughtful cinephiles (Girish Shambu) or maintained by seasoned professionals (Dave Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum) who have much more to say than the shrinking newshole at their current or former outlet normally allows for. Consider those published in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Hindi, Arabic, and other major languages, and it’s easy to be not only awed by the choice and variety of quality sites devoted to cinema, but almost oppressed by their multitudinous manifestations. On the Internet, anyone can operate a fanzine or film journal, and for the most part, we benefit immeasurably from this cinephilic outpouring. Continue reading

About Refractive Cinema: When Films Interrogate Films

By Timothy Corrigan

The following is an excerpt from Timothy Corrigan’s book The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker, forthcoming from Oxford University Press in August 2011. It is published here by permission.

Art about art-or better put, art through art–is a tradition as long as artistic and literary history itself, extending back through many centuries of literature and visual representation and forward into film history, from well before John Keats’s ode on an urn to well after Buster Keaton’s comedies about a film projectionist and cameraman.[i] Like its forerunners, film’s versions of this reflexivity both create and participate in their own aesthetic principles, overlapping their representations of other artistic and aesthetic experiences with their own cinematic processes and frequently reflecting those processes as a reflection on film itself. Continue reading

Re-making criticism

From Kent Jones:

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

Cinema is what we make of it

From Michael Koresky:

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

Certified Copy: Film Preservation in the Age of New Cinephilia

By Leah Churner

My cinema education was backwards: from a primal attachment to video in the suburban backwoods, I discovered film in the city. This trajectory, from small screen to large, comes with its own fundamental logic. As Thomas Elsaesser observes in his essay “Cinephilia, or the Uses of Disenchantment,” published in a 2005 anthology called Cinephilia: Movies, Love and Memory, the contemporary breed of movie love has matured at a time of academic purgatory–critical theory’s aftermath–and a dumpster-diving impulse seems to be one of its distinguishing characteristics.

These things are related. In college (I studied art history) it seemed to me that everything had been said, challenged, reiterated, and reworded again: an echo chamber of theory. I craved tactile discovery, historical aura. I wanted to plunge into the obscure to find something less mediated, more authentic, that hadn’t been pawed threadbare already. Continue reading

Cinephilia, love and being caught off-guard

Wind From The East (Groupe Dziga Vertov) 1970 Italy/France/West Germany 100 min

From: Genevieve Yue

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 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

On advocacy and anticipation

The Soft Skin (François Truffaut) 1964 France/Potugal 113 min

From Melissa Anderson:

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

Tastemakers or taste-testers?

From: Michael Koresky

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

Beyond the romance of cinema

From Kent Jones:

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