My cinema education was backwards: from a primal attachment to video in the suburban backwoods, I discovered filmin 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 →
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 →
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 →