Sunday, February 10, 2008

The last few days, tried to think about some of the things i've watched. On Wednesday, went to the press screening of "Violent Saturday", which i remember seeing on television. Good to see it in a 'Scope print, and the Deluxe color seemed pretty accurate. Interesting sidelight: one of the major settings is the quarry, which is the same one used in the 1955 "A Kiss Before Dying", another 'Scope and color noir (which also starred Virginia Leith).

On Thursday, saw "Ezra". A solid film, filled with social anger. This story of child soldiers in Africa is very scary, but somehow the blunt storytelling doesn't quite transcend the obvious.

Also (finally) watched "Zodiac". Need to think about it some more.

One thing i wanted to say: in the last week or so, read some excellent criticism. In ArtNews (January 2008), Kim Levin's review of the Martin Puryear show at MoMA was really wonderful, because she was able to look at the work and reveal its subtleties and the multitude of meanings. In The New Republic (February 13, 2008), Stanley Kauffmann reviews three movies, "Caramel", "Woman On the Beach", and "The Silence Before Bach". Quite incisive and full of insights, and also full of a very real perspective. I especially appreciated his understanding of the historical dimensions of Surrealism and how that history informs Pere Portabella's "The Silence Before Bach".

The problem now is that so many people think that criticism is simply a declaration of likes or dislikes. And that's not the case. Criticism should be an analysis of a creative work.

Stanley is somebody who has been overlooked for a very long time, yet he is one of the only critics who continues to grow. For example: in the 1960s, it is true that he was one of the critics who was highly antipathetic to Godard. And (of course) there were reasons for this. If there was any critic interested in "classical" values, it was Stanley Kauffmann. And to a classical critic, Godard was (as Susan Sontag put it) the great destroyer. And so why would Stanley like Godard?

But since then, Godard has become the classical tradition: his iconoclasm proved to be influential, and many of the filmmakers who followed, including Fassbinder, Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, were influenced by Godard. And since Kauffmann was a great advocate for those filmmakers, he had to reassess Godard, to understand the qualities in Godard that prompted these filmmakers to find inspiration from Godard's work. And so, if you compare his review of "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" when it was released in 1970, and then you read his review of "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" when it was rereleased last year, you'll see that he has really reconsidered Godard's work.

But Stanley is always interesting to read, and never more so than his recent review of "Caramel", "Woman On the Beach" and "The Silence Before Bach".


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