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 →
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 →