Friday, August 17, 2007

It's been four days, today is Friday, and have been thinking a lot about many questions, such as the whole issue of value in film. This (of course) was brought up by the recent flurry of opinions expressed upon the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni. David Bordwell, Jim Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Stephen Holden, A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, Tavernier, to only mention a few.

Spent the last three days going to see the press screenings for the Latin Beat sereis which is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Both "Madrigal" and "Fish Dreams" were beautifully done. "Fotografias" was a digital documentary, and meandered so much: it never seemed to come into focus, and there was so much footage devoted to the filmmaker's son. It started to seem like a glorified home movie, and i really found it distressing, because there seemed to be a political focus, but i could do without watching some little boy playing.

On his blog (, David Bordwell makes the distinction about jotting and real critical writing (this in his blog about the Bergman-Antonioni controversy). He mentions that that's the reason the entries that he and Kristin Thompson do are usually rather long, because they are trying to create a site of genuine critical thinking, rather than an opinion sheet. And i think that's important.

For so many of us, blogging is a way of jotting down ideas. It's replaced the writer's notebook. And in the blogs, what you find are often a lot of opinion, but not a lot of considered critical thinking. And this has affected the way that many of us write now, because the options for serious critical writing are limited.

But this is affecting all the arts. And the effects can be felt. When i was growing up, criticism was often advocacy (certainly, this was true in the case of Jonas Mekas and Jill Johnston, as examples), but there was a continual dialogue between critics and artists, and this also helped the art. This was certainly the case in terms of experimental/avantgarde/underground film. Jonas (in The Village Voice) acted as a kind of cheerleader, but there was a (small but committed) cadre of critics who were willing to treat these films with the greatest consideration. Obviously, one such person was P. Adams Sitney. Another was Ken Kelman. But also people like David Ehrenstein and James Stoller. This created a dialogue in which the films were not simply abandoned in the marketplace, which is what is happening now.

Yet i know that though i'd like to write longer pieces, with a blog, it just doesn't seem as feasible. It's like state your opinion and get it over with. But why is that your opinion? (In short: as David Bordwell said, the arguments that Jonathan Rosenbaum used about Bergman were the ones which many of us voiced in arguments since the 1970s, when a more "formalist" approach to film theory, as exemplified by Peter Wollen's "Signs and Meaning in the Cinema" and Noel Burch's "Theory of Film Practice", helped to define a specific orientation to cinema studies. And the decades of trying to define a formalist approach to cinema was suddenly rushed into a single op-ed piece, when that piece represented the dozens of pieces which had preceded it.)

If i may quote Pauline (in the foreword to her collection "Going Steady"): "To be a casual critic of movies is to be no critic at all, and for one whose interest is more than casual, it's painful to write about movies just occasionally, or to order. What is missing is the connection - or context - in which movies are a continuing art. In such frustrating circumstances each review one writes has to take for granted a whole succession of unwritten reviews that would have established the basis for one's criticism."

And if i may be so bold: for me, the connection - or context - for my interest in film is one which goes beyond mere reportage, or even mere criticism. My interest in film as an art is part of my interest that developed from growing up in NYC during the period when NYC was the center of so much art activity. Not just film, but dance and painting and poetry and performance and music. And so the death of Elizabeth Murray, so much a part of my personal history, is part of this context. Just as the article a few weeks ago about the troubles with the Elizabeth Streb Dance Company is also part of the context.

The New York Film Festival has announced its slate for the next festival, and so many of the names - Todd Haynes, Ira Sachs, Gus Van Sant, Noah Baumbach, Julian Schnabel - are part of that same context.

The context of my life, of the people i knew, the people i was friends with, the people i was close to....

On Tuesday night, i turned in to "Law & Order: SVU"... i'd been watching the news on Channel 5, so i switched to Channel 4 about half an hour into the show... and there was Patrick Byrnes! He was playing a bartender....

Every so often, one of the Showtime stations will play "Metropolitan", and though i never check the schedule to find out when it will be on, if i run across it, i always watch a few minutes. It's so strange to remember meeting Whit and his wife so long ago, because of Whit's cousin, Nina Winthrop.

It's like seeing "Rocket Science" and realizing later that Derek Yip had worked on that film!

But when i try to write, that entire context is there... at the end of 2006, i tried to write an essay about my puzzlement over the shifts in critical standards, and i tried to explain the context from which i began to think about film and art. But i never finished that essay, because it was just getting so long and i had no idea where it might "fit".

But perhaps now, with the continual critical deployments over the merits and reputations of Bergman and Antonioni, there is a place for that type of contextualization.


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