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 →
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 →
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 →
As a film critic I’ve always rued having missed out on one particular professional rite of passage: a single revelatory, life-changing encounter with cinema. One constantly hears of such experiences from people deeply involved with movies, whether it be directors, actors, critics, programmers and scholars who profoundly remember the initial eureka moment that got them hooked on the art form: a Lubitsch retrospective that warmed them during a particularly harsh and lonely winter; an apparent act of divine intervention in a midnight airing of The Night of the Hunter on local TV; a pirated VHS copy of Scorpio Rising lent by a friend, subsequently horded and never returned.
In contrast, my own interest in movies bloomed slowly over many seasons. Granted, a few seminal films marked my adolescence, the time when one usually starts to watch and think about cinema with intellectual, artistic, or emotional purpose. Slacker was the first film I strongly related to for its eccentric cultural vantage point (I was 15 and, though half an hour from New York City, dying to find my own private Austin) and unconventional narrative; 2001: A Space Odyssey was the first film to transport me through vast imaginings of time, being, and human destiny; Eraserhead was the first film that simply—yet powerfully—showed me you could create something like that. Continue reading →
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 →
How rewarding to read your words, such interesting ideas bouncing back and forth across time zones (and hemispheres!).
I’m thrilled about how information technology is changing the way films are made, seen, disseminated and talked about. It’s opened up new opportunities for many who were previously excluded from this creative universe. It’s turned cinephilia from a secret club for the privileged to a “Broad church” in which anyone can worship.
I don’t think access, even defined as overexposure, poses a threat to thoughtful criticism. Those sensitive to its charms had to seek it out in the past, they will seek it out in the future. The same can be said of contemplative cinema. Isn’t part of our role to aggregate, demystify, point the way? If anything, I think the abundance of un-sponsored, unedited, multifaceted voices helps bridge the gap between an audience too often treated like a market, and a cinema too often marginalized by its inability to compete for attention in a media-saturated landscape. For all the trash that washes up on its beaches, the internet is still a place where one can access treasures of cinema, gems of criticism. It’s an ocean of information, not a tidal wave. Continue reading →