Saturday, April 05, 2008

Once again, a busy week. On Monday evening, i checked my Facebook page, and saw that Norman Wang had a note saying he was in New York City. So i e.mailed him to ask what he was doing, and if there'd be time to meet up while he was here. (I haven't seen Norman in person in maybe five years.) Then Tuesday afternoon, i head to Anthology Film Archives for the press screening of the newly restored Robert Breer prints. Only the screening doesn't happen: the prints have not arrived. But i'm not the only person to show up, so i don't feel such a fool. I come home, it's April Fool's Day, so i feel rightly fooled, Turner Classic Movies is showing a bunch of films with "fool" in the title, including "My Foolish Heart" and "I Thank a Fool". I get an e.mail from Norman, asking if i'm free that night, because he is in town with Wong Kar Wai, and there is a special screening for some of the cast and crew of "My Blueberry Nights". I haven't seen it, so i figure i'll go.

Through Facebook, i got in touch with Kip Fulbeck, who's recently published a book about tattoos. I met Kip through Roddy Bogawa and Rico Martinez, because Kip was a fellow classmate of theirs at UCSD. So i sent Kip a Facebook message, and when i get to the "My Blueberry Nights" screening, who should be there but Roddy? (I admit i expected a real disaster from the responses after the Cannes Film Festival premiere, but... i liked it. My response was more rather akin to Andrew Sarris's review in The New York Observer: Interestingly, "My Blueberry Nights" opened here in NYC on the same day as Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon". And i liked "Flight of the Red Balloon" as well.

But this week, Anne Thompson had items on the state of film criticism on her blog (, and it also became a subject of discussion on Dave Kehr's blog (, with so many people making the claim that the Internet has become the site for film criticism. And i thought about all this, reading what people had to say (Claudia Puig, from USA Today, was quoted in Anne's blog about her belief in the Web as the place where people seek out information about films), but it prompted me to consider the differences.

I'll take myself as an example: when i'm blogging, it's usually a mixture of diaristic entries with immediate reactions to certain events or objects, in most cases, film. Though i'd like to really write at length on certain films, once i've made my immediate comments, it's time to move on.

An extended article (for print) used to take me anywhere from a few days to (say) a month to write, and i would do a lot of research. Just as an example: my immediate reaction to "My Blueberry Nights" was positive, and one of my first thoughts was of the similarities to Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point", in that both films showed two foreign directors responding to the American landscape, particularly the desert. In both cases, the immediate critical response was one of derision, with both directors being castigated for their (seemingly) ridiculous and inauthentic depiction of American life. In both cases, Andrew Sarris's response was one of a considered contemplation of both directors in terms of their worldview, and the imposition/revelation of that worldview in the Amerian context (pop romanticism in the case of Wong Kar Wai, modernist alienation in the case of Antonioni). People initially wanted something different ("My Blueberry Nights" had to contend with its status as the official Opening Night film at last year's Cannes Film Festival): "My Blueberry Nights" is not a "grand" statement in any way (and particularly disappointing after the largesse of "In the Mood for Love" and "2046"), and its relative modesty and its looseness can seem... well, decidedly underwhelming. (It reminds me of the initial response to "Chungking Express" at the Toronto Film Festival; that year, "Ashes of Time" was also shown, and many people were dismissing "Chungking Express" as simply some tossed-off little jeux d'esprit, with no substance. But Wong Kar Wai's movies have never had "substance", they've always been totally superficial, and the question is whether or not you get the touch, the taste, the shape of things, to paraphrase the title of Joan Jonas's installation at the Yvon Lambert Gallery last year.)

Mentioning Joan Jonas's installation reminds me of the fact that, at the AICA Award Ceremony at the Guggenheim Museum on March 17, 2008, Joan was there, because her exhibition at the Yvon Lambert Gallery won the award for the Best Time-based Art (video/audio/installation). So i talked to Joan for a while, but i also talked to Mary Lucier, which brings me back to Anne Thompson. (The connection? Mary Lucier was one of my best friends, but Mary introduced me to Elizabeth Streb, and my friendship with Elizabeth Streb brought about my Fire Island summer, and Anne Thompson was part of that Fire Island summer.) And the thing about just giving your opinion: after she retired, Pauline would give interviews, and she would always talk about movies, but when she was asked why she didn't do that on a regular basis, she replied that it was fun, but it was hardly the true giving-over-of-yourself that a good critical piece entailed, that total immersion in the creative process.

In Anne Thompson's blog entry about Claudia Puig, Puig mentions Rotten Tomatoes, and how people look at it to get a consensus of critical opinions. And that's it: a consensus. Not one seriously considered piece about one particular film. And until that happens ("that" being the piece that goes against the tide, and that helps other people to find and/or take seriously a particular movie), that is the big distinction between Internet reviewing and "print" criticism. (Examples that explain what i mean: Andrew Sarris's first review of "Psycho", which took the movie seriously, as opposed to all the other reviews, which treated the movie as an effective, grisly horror movie, but no more; Pauline's famous analysis of "Bonnie and Clyde", which helped to turn a flop - and a movie that was critically lambasted - into an object of discussion, at the very least; Renata Adler's considerations of Godard, particularly "Les Carabiniers", "La Chinoise" and "Weekend", in the New York Times, which helped to turn the tide of disapproval of Godard into an acknowledgement of his artistic importance - she didn't just review those movies, but she spent time in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section to expand on her views about Godard.) So far, there is a lot of consensus building (and there are all the end-of-year polls and awards... with the IRAs being the last), but it's not the same as that kind of careful critical analysis.

But this week i also saw three films that are part of the Roumanian Cinema series which will be at the Walter Reade Theater. The three films i saw were Dan Pita's "Contest" from 1982; Cristian Mungiu's "Occident" from 2002; and "Sunday at Six" by Lucian Pintilie from 1965. The Roumanian cinema is the cinema-du-jour on the festival circuit, so it was interesting to see where this cinema (which is noted for a kind of hyper-realism, as in the case of "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") came from, especially since the few previous examples of Roumanian cinema which have been known seem to be very related to the kind of allegorical cinema that was also part of the Czech cinema of the 1960s. (And "Contest" is another example of that kind of Eastern European allegory.) "Sunday at Six" was a gorgeous film, in very lustrous black-and-white (the prints have all been new), and the editing was the kind of tricky, post-New Wave editing that could be found in so much European cinema of the 1960s (i was especially reminded of Skolimowski's Polish films from that period, such as "Barrier").

But i can say i like/dislike a film, but the statement is one thing, the "why" is another. And that's the difference which is not being addressed through the Internet.


Blogger 1minutefilmreview said...

Great article Daryl, we somehow agree with you.


9:53 AM


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