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

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

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

Online Roundtable 2: Introductions

On the heels of our first Online Roundtable, Project: New Cinephilia has invited five critics based in North America (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto) to discuss how cinephilia manifests in today’s digital age, how it differs from past incarnations, and what this means for criticism, filmmaking, and cinema culture in general.

Our distinguished chair for this session is Michael Koresky, co-founding Editor-in-Chief of Reverse Shot and the staff writer for the Criterion Collection. Joining him are the estimable Kent Jones (author of Physical Evidence), Melissa Anderson (Village Voice, Artforum), Daniel Cockburn (director of You Are Here) and Genevieve Yue (Film CommentReverse Shot). Check back daily all week as the conversation continues.

For full biographies please visit our Contributors page.  You will find all related posts under the Online Roundtable 2 heading. Read, enjoy, and be sure to respond by clicking the link at the bottom of each post.

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

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

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

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