To the Tower Again: A Film Critic Reflects on Academia

By Michael Joshua Rowin

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

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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

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

Cinephilia as Activism

Kino #45  Photo by Sarah Kukathas

Postcard from Sydney, by Mathieu Ravier

Hi everyone,

I’ll start by claiming cinephile pride. Perhaps it’s because I’m French, but the word “cinephile” works for me. I like “fan”, but how many people out there don’t consider themselves fans of film? A distinction seems necessary, and in years of watching (reading about, writing about, dreaming about) cinema, no better term has been suggested to me. It describes – from Ancient Greek to French to English – someone with a passionate interest in cinema. That’s us, isn’t it?

In recent years (as I write this even!) the way in which we make, watch, share and talk about films has changed. Merci technology. More people seem to be joining the conversation and that conversation seems to be both more fragmented and less inhibited (by class, by education, by gender, by geography). Continue reading