It is currently Wed Jan 17, 2018 4:54 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 950 posts ]  Go to page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 38  Next
Author Message
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Dec 25, 2004 2:15 pm 
Not PETA approved
User avatar

Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada
Quote:
Great, well, my browser just *ate* my entire respond to your post. I will try to summarize as best as I can.

Oh dear.

Quote:
I do not wish to get into a war over this, as the entire topic is degenerating into whether or not you guys choose to even agree on what my posts actually say.

That's fine.

Quote:
You guys may not like my opinions, which is perfectly fine, but you're going to have to accept that some people just don't see it your way, and maybe never will.

I really hope I didn't project this.

Quote:
Contrary to how I may sound, I respect you guys and this board a lot. It's the only reason I spend time here talking, because it's full of the smartest film fanatics I've seen on the Internet. And for that, I'm not going to have Matt or someone else have to come in here and split us up.

I'm not sure where this is coming from. I think I've only given a total of three responses in this thread spread out over some weeks. Andre and co. have been doing a venerable job on their front, and I have little to add. Rather I just choose to pick out one or two things that catch my eye from time to time that I don't think anyone else will comment on. I'm certainly not incensed or angry; I do not have anything else to add. Those two posts were it on that front.

Quote:
Otherwise, I'm no longer going to respond if we're discussing each other or what we're saying.

Huh?


Top
 Profile  
 

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 6:36 pm 

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:55 pm
I recently picked up a book of collected film reviews of John Simon, titled "On Film". A random walk through the book revealed that Mr Simon likes extremely few movies. And he is quite merciless about those he does not like. Of course one can find his witty remarks entertaining. But if you go by his recommendations, you will see very few films, and if everybody did that, the industry would go bankrupt quickly. It left me wondering why someone who finds so little to enjoy in films took to this profession. In sharp contrast, Roger Ebert obviously likes going to movies. He is generous in giving "thumbs up" or four stars to many movies. He is regarded as a critic for the lowbrow or unenlightened audience. Well, I am afraid I am one of the unenlightened ones, because I have discovered many good films from Ebert's reviews, and I have gathered interesting information and perspective from them.

It seems to me that film critics fall into two categories. Those that generally like films they see, and those who despise most films they see. I have also found that the critics of the latter category reflect more of themselves in their reviews than the films they review. One would think the few films they do like must be incontestible masterpieces. This is not necessarily the case. I find little correlation between the few films they like, and what I like. (For example, Mr Simon is very generous in his review of "Speed", a quite entertaining film, but hardly one I would single out if I was to assume as selective a stance as he does)

We have threads about "lists" of films. We could create a thread about top 3 film critics one enjoys reading. I do not wish to start a "list" In "list" threads people give lists and few reasons for their preferences. I would be interested in hearing from members of this forum which two or three film critics they really enjoy reading, and why, and are there specific books or reviews that resonated with them


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 7:45 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Indiana
Quote:
Andre Jurieu wrote:
But the word-of-mouth system often still works without the critics, simply based on the viewers themselves. Recently, films such as The Usual Suspects and Austin Powers failed in both critical reception and box-office, but were still successful in video based on word-of-mouth.

The Usual Suspects made nearly 4 times it's budget in domestic release alone. Austin Powers was a low-brow comedy (with a star who recently changed pop culture with Wayne's World) and Jerry Bruckheimer films are marketed as such to people who already know to leave their brains at the door. These are horrible examples.

I think the perfect example would be The Shawshank Redemption, failing at the box office and recieving a very lukewarm response (with some extreme exceptions, like Ebert who loved it, and Kenneth Turan who absolutely hated it). And after the word of mouth on it (not to mention 7 Oscar nods), it became the highest rental of 1995, rerun endlessly on cable, and #2 to The Godfather on the imdb.com top 250.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 7:49 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 8:48 am
Location: Atlanta
As far as critics go, I seem to divide my time between Jonathan Rosenbaum and Roger Ebert, with a mix of others, obviously, but those are the two I read habitually. Both have their blind spots, in my opinion - Ebert, for certain kinds of less mainstream or more intellectualized cinema, for instance, calling Godard's "Hail Mary" a silly film, or dismissing Catherine Breillat's work as resembling porn dubbed by bitter post-structuralist professors or something similar. He tends to go easier on mediocre films Hollywood keeps churning out, but this doesn't bother me nearly as much. Ebert is thought of by most as a mainstream critic, and he is, but he is also very perceptive, and when he likes a movie - as he often does - his thoughts on it are quite valuable, and I agree with his reviews a lot.

Rosenbaum will occasionally latch onto something the average viewer wouldn't even perceive - say, the political implications of a certain storyline detail, or how an obscure film maybe a few hundred people have seen relates to/critiques/renders moot the latest blockbuster, which can also get old after a while. But he is also a champion of many wonderful contemporary directors, and he is actively critical of not just the films but the systems behind the production and distribution of those films in a way most critics are not, indeed are perhaps scared to be.

On the whole, I think the best critics are those who can look at a film, not a great one, not even a particularly good one, and find something of interest - it is, on the whole, a more productive critical stance. Even bad movies have a lot to teach us, about how and which movies are made these days, about what an audience expects, or rather what studios think an audience expects, etc. It is the ability to distance oneself ever-so-slightly from one's own personal enjoyment and really think about the film at hand, rather than lazily dismissing it with a snarky pan review. That is not to say we should act as if every movie is worthwhile, but a degree of openness is a plus, I think.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 9:06 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:38 pm
Location: Back in Milan (Ind.)
kekid wrote:
In sharp contrast, Roger Ebert obviously likes going to movies. He is generous in giving "thumbs up" or four stars to many movies. He is regarded as a critic for the lowbrow or unenlightened audience. Well, I am afraid I am one of the unenlightened ones, because I have discovered many good films from Ebert's reviews, and I have gathered interesting information and perspective from them.

Oedipax wrote:
[Ebert] tends to go easier on mediocre films Hollywood keeps churning out, but this doesn't bother me nearly as much. Ebert is thought of by most as a mainstream critic, and he is, but he is also very perceptive, and when he likes a movie - as he often does - his thoughts on it are quite valuable, and I agree with his reviews a lot.

You know, just because Ebert's reviews allowed you to discover good films, and gather interesting information and perspective, doesn't necessarily make you unenlightened. Ebert does help promote a great deal of classic films that help people find films they have not discovered before. I also don't think the value of a critic should be judged on whether or not we agree with their review.

The reason I complain about Ebert does not revolve around the films he enjoys (I always complain about those who dismiss Hollywood films just on principle, so Ebert still remaining loyal to Hollywood isn't such a huge problem), but it has more to do with his justification for what he likes. I don't really find that he provides substantial reasoning for why exactly a film is good. He spends far to much time on plot and sometimes just writes about interesting moments or plot developments without providing an rationale for why they are important. He also reads films in far too literally. He never seems to see when a film functions as allegory, and almost dismisses the idea that films can function in such a manner. He also attaches far too much priority on emotion. I just never find that he reads films all that well. Take a look at all his "100 Great Movies" write-ups and you can see he is only interested in giving a basic impression of the film with minimal insight. I'm sure that's what a great deal of people want (the ol' "I don't need other people doing my thinking for me"), but when reading the criticism of other writers, you see them being so much more perceptive about a film than he is, and they sometimes have greater constraints placed upon them (mostly column space and industry influence).

Oedipax wrote:
It is the ability to distance oneself ever-so-slightly from one's own personal enjoyment and really think about the film at hand, rather than lazily dismissing it with a snarky pan review. That is not to say we should act as if every movie is worthwhile, but a degree of openness is a plus, I think.

See, that's where I think Ebert has his problems. I don't think he distances himself enough from his personal enjoyment. He doesn't appear to step back and evaluate why he had the reaction he did or how that personal enjoyment was arrived at. He always seems to be talking about the surface of films without digging deeper.

Also, for the record The Usual Suspects cost $6 mill and made $23 mill in domestic box-office. Even though it made a profit and could be considered a success, it sure didn't light the box-office on fire. Its real success and status as cult-movie really came from home video - which was helped by word of mouth (same as Austin Powers). I have no idea what Mike Myers pop-icon status has to do with Austin Powers becoming a success on video through word of mouth, nor why these two examples are considered "terrible examples". As Flyonthewall mentioned, The Shawshank Redemption is another great example.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 9:50 pm 

Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 4:40 pm
I think I agree with you Drew (outside of your take on Ebert, particularly your accusation that he only reevaluates pictures to conform to the eventual public consensus on them). There is a dearth in the amount of good critics (and I like the distinction made in this thread between reviewers and critics).

I don't neccesarily put most of the blame on the people actually penning these articles, however. I sympathize with there obstacles a great deal. Half the time when I'm reading a "serious" piece of criticism on a specific film, at it's release, I can't even deduce what the author's reaction to the picture was. They guise their pieces in muscular vocabulary and elliptical musings to conceal the fact that they have nothing of real substance or insight to share at the moment. I understand this completely. I typically dislike very few films. I either react favorably or indifferently for the most part (I use these terms in a very broad sense). After the initial viewing for pictures I'm indifferent towards, I have very little to say, and oftentimes the majority of it fades from memory within a couple weeks. If prodded I could probably come up with some sort of review, but it wouldn't be representative of how I really felt. This is why I think so many critics lambast films with such vitriol at times. It gives people a kick and it fills up the designated writing space. Jonathan Rosenbaum's freedom at the Chicago Reader is a godsend, I think. The ability to delve into long analyses when he so chooses coupled with the ability to succinctly put his thoughts and memories on films that didn't leave much of an impact on him with his small capsules is the only way I could imagine participating in weekly film criticism.

Even with films I love on first viewing (and it's a fairly rare occurence for me to love a film immediately), it usually takes reflection and a fair amount of relaxed discussion with other film enthusiasts before I feel confident to actually write a detailed account of my feelings toward it.

However, not all the faults of so-called "serious" critics can be shrugged off due to these restrictions. With the "reviewers", despite the fact that they are often blunt, they're easy to laugh off as insignificant (we all have friends who like to parade themselves around as an authority on whether a movie is good or not). When critics actually approach the cinema as an artform, though, the results can be considerably more infuriating. So often these people put on an heir of superiority in their writing (not only in regards to the filmmakers and films, but even to the readers). One example would be David Walsh. This is a critic who isn't without merit by any stretch of the imagintation and has written some splendid pieces (his review of "Taste of Cherry" is probably the best I've yet to read, and indeed prompted Kiarostami himself to congratulate Walsh for it). However, much of his writing is so pompous and indulgent that I often can't finish his reviews. Moreover, he regularly stamps out the same stock criticisms of films again and again, and they're usually not applicable.

I would say that positive analyses are considerably more effective than negative, but that's not even entirely true. At times critics use a film as a springboard for what appears to be an attempt at art themselves. They take a film they responded favorably to and launch into a longwinded essay that has little foundation in the actual picture. One example would be Thomas Nelson's book on Kubrick. Perhaps not the best example, because he does have some great things to say and it's the only work I'm familiar with from Nelson, but I'll proceed nonetheless. As I mentioned, he makes some great points and he's quite articulate. But some of his interpretations are so laughably far-fetched that reading the book cover to cover can be a very large pill to swallow (one which I have yet to completely wash down). This overly academic approach tends to grate on my nerves at times. I'm all for objectivity (though I don't personally think complete objectivity is possible in regards to appreciation of art), but there comes a point in which you analyze the life out of a picture. I typically feel this line is crossed when I read an interpretation of something I'm familiar with and can't for the life of me understand how this conclusion was reached.

I'm not all that pessimistic about it, though. I don't consume enough criticism to know if what I wrote above is true or even to care, entirely. I've got a select few writers who are palatable and insightful to me. Moreover, internet discussion boards such as this one and a couple others are invaluable resources for stimulating and rewarding discussion regarding film. The possibility that film criticism isn't where it could/should be isn't all that crippling a notion for me, personally.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 05, 2005 5:45 am 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 3:27 am
Titus wrote:
I think I agree with you Drew (outside of your take on Ebert, particularly your accusation that he only reevaluates pictures to conform to the eventual public consensus on them).

Well, despite the fact that it's been nearly a year since I dropped this topic, I would like to add that I was probably way off on that accusation. Grouping Ebert into the targets of my frustration, I let it cloud my judgement as to the issue on re-evaluation. Some friends of mine who used to frequent this board did a good job of pointing that out.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 12:02 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2005 3:04 pm
Location: St. Paul, MN
I like to check out, ironically, tvguide.com for movie reviews. They seem to have a knowledgeable staff (Maitland McDonagh being one of my favorites), they're usually on the same page as me, tastewise, and they even tend to throw in useful criticisms, on occasion.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:49 am 

Joined: Mon Oct 03, 2005 4:24 pm
From Cinemascope Issue 26:

[quote="David Bordwell"]Backpage: Against Insight

Film criticism lies at the centre of nearly all intellectual discourse about the cinema, and if we take criticism to be an effort to know particular movies more intimately, it probably deserves its prime place. But contemporary film criticism is failing. In academic venues, it mostly grinds Movie X through Theory Y, in the hope that somehow the exercise will yield political emancipation. Meanwhile, film magazines and free city weeklies promote that self-assured nonconformity which prizes jaunty wordplay and throwaway judgments.

We read nonfiction for information, ideas, opinions, and good writing. Most orthodox criticism overdoes opinions, which create the critic's professional persona. Soon opinions crystallize into tastes, and the persona overshadows the films. I realize the pressures here. Readers at all levels don't take film as seriously as they take music or architecture, so film journalists are obliged to be superficially entertaining in a way that reviewers in other arts needn't be. Still, most film criticism is fact-free (apart from festival buzz and chatty personal memories), and remarkably barren of fertile ideas. Go back and read, say, Rivette on widescreen cinema, or Sontag on Bresson, or Bazin on anything, and I think you'll agree that most of today's film critics have abandoned probing for posturing. They seem to have only one idea, and that surprisingly banal—that there is a zeitgeist and films reflect it.

Academic writing, you might think, runs in the other direction, overdoing ideas and information. Actually, prestigious academic film talk is drenched in opinions. Theory is a matter of taste: you say Virilio, I say Deleuze. Most film academics don't critically examine the doctrines they applaud. Many dismiss requests for evidence as signs of “empiricism,â€


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu May 04, 2006 4:46 pm 

Joined: Wed May 03, 2006 7:30 pm
Location: Pacific Northwest
pauling wrote:
I like to check out, ironically, tvguide.com for movie reviews. They seem to have a knowledgeable staff (Maitland McDonagh being one of my favorites), they're usually on the same page as me, tastewise, and they even tend to throw in useful criticisms, on occasion.

A bit of history here for anyone who may be tempted to dismiss referring to TV Guide for their film reviews. Back in 1983 there was a big, 12 volume hardcover encyclopedia set released called The Motion Picture Guide. If you subscribed to American Film magazine you may recall seeing this set advertised at the time in its pages. The reviews in it were some of the best and most intelligent ever written. Annual updates were released for a few years and then the entire entire set was significantly pared down and remarketed in paperback as The Motion Picture Guide edited by James Monaco. After a few editions, it was remarketed again as The Virgin Film Guide, The Monaco version ceased publication years ago.]currently availableon Amazon.com's UK website in it's 13th edition.

TV Guide bought the database used for these books and so the reviews you see on the TV Guide film database are essentially the same one's you find in the books. One of the nice things about the book is that it is not the product of one, singular, quirky critic and so you don't have some of the rather, er, eccentric reviews that you get reading say David Thomson or Pauline Kael. They're both wonderful writers of course and I treasure their work but there are times that I want something more measured than a flip dismisal of Das Boot or The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Kael) or La Dolce Vita or Rashomon (Thomson).

The Virgin Film Guide 13th edition sits on my shelf next to Katz' Film Encyclopedia and a few other frequently referenced works.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 3:51 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Sat Apr 02, 2005 7:18 pm
Here's a review from June 4's NY Times Book Review by Clive James. It's funny that he complains about William Shawn giving Pauline Kael too much room in The New Yorker, when James' own review goes on and on and on....

AMERICAN MOVIE CRITICS
An Anthology From the Silents Until Now.
Edited by Phillip Lopate.
720 pp. The Library of America. $40.


How to Write About Film
Review by CLIVE JAMES
Published: June 4, 2006

SINCE all of us are deeply learned experts on the movies even when we don't know much about anything else, people wishing to make their mark as movie critics must either be able to express opinions like ours better than we can, or else they must be in charge of a big idea, preferably one that can be dignified by being called a theory. In "American Movie Critics," a Library of America collection drawn from the work of almost 70 high-profile professional critics active at various times since their preferred medium was invented the day before yesterday — the whole history of narrative movies for exhibition still fits inside a mere hundred years — most of the practitioners fall neatly into one category or the other.

It quickly becomes obvious that those without theories write better. You already knew that your friend who's so funny about the "Star Wars" tradition of frightful hairstyles for women (in the corrected sequence of sequel and prequel, Natalie Portman must have passed the bad-hair gene down to Carrie Fisher) is much less boring than your other friend who can tell you how science fiction movies mirror the dynamics of American imperialism. This book proves that history is with you: perceptions aren't just more entertaining than formal schemes of explanation, they're also more explanatory.

The editor, Phillip Lopate, an essayist and film critic, has a catholic scope, and might not agree that the nontheorists clearly win out. They do, though, and one of the subsidiary functions that this hefty compilation might perform — subsidiary, that is, to its being sheerly entertaining on a high level — is to help settle a nagging question. In our appreciation of the arts, does a theory give us more to think about, or less? To me, the answer looks like less, but it could be that I just don't like it when a critic's hulking voice gets in the way of the projector beam and tries to convince me that what I am looking at makes its real sense only as part of a bigger pattern of thought, that pattern being available from the critic's mind at the price of decoding his prose.

For as long as the sonar-riddled soundtrack of "The Hunt for Red October" has me mouthing the word "ping" while I keep reaching for the popcorn, I don't want to hear that what I'm seeing is an example of anything, or a step to anywhere, or a characteristic statement by anyone. What I'm seeing is a whole thing on its own. The real question is why none of it saps my willingness to be involved, not even Sean Connery's shtrangely shibilant Shcottish ackshent as the commander of a Shoviet shubmarine, not even that spliced-in footage of the same old Grumman F9F Panther that has been crashing into the aircraft carrier's deck since the Korean War.

On the other hand, no prodigies of acting by Tom Cruise in "Eyes Wide Shut," climaxed by his partial success in acting himself tall, convinced me for a minute that Stanley Kubrick, when he made his bravely investigative capital work about the human sexual imagination, had the slightest clue what he was doing. In my nonhumble ticket purchaser's opinion, the great Stanley K., as Terry Southern called him, was, when he made "Eyes Wide Shut," finally and irretrievably out to lunch. Does this discrepancy of reaction on my part mean that the frivolous movie was serious, and the serious movie frivolous? Only, you might say, if first impressions are everything.

But in the movies they are. Or, to put it less drastically, in the movies there are no later impressions without a first impression, because you will have stopped watching. Sometimes a critic persuades you to give an unpromising-looking movie a chance, but the movie had better convey the impression pretty quickly that the critic might be right. By and large, it's the movie itself that tells you it means business. It does that by telling a story. No story, no movie. Robert Bresson only did with increasing slowness what other directors had done in a hurry. But when Bresson, somewhere in the vicinity of Camelot, reached the point where almost nothing happening became nothing happening at all, you were gone. A movie has to glue you to your seat even when it's pretending not to.

As the chronological arrangement of this volume reveals, there were good American critics who realized this fact very early on. Several of the post-World War I critics will come as revelations to anybody who assumed, as many of us have long been led to assume, that America was slow to discover the fruitfulness of its own cinema. The usual history runs roughly thus: Even in the Hollywood-haunted America of the years between the wars, the best critics concentrated on the work of obviously major artists, most of them foreign. Then, after World War II, when victory in Europe could well have led the liberated nations to sneer in resentment at the triumph of American might, generous young French critics armed with the auteur theory discovered that a cluster, or pantheon, of directors within the Hollywood system had always been major artists too: Nicholas Ray was up there with Carl Dreyer, and so on. After that, American film criticism grew up to match European maturity.

It took a theory to work the switch, and the essence of the auteur theory was that the director, the controlling hand, shaped the movie with his artistic personality even if it was made within a commercial system as businesslike as Hollywood's. This fact having at last been discovered, film criticism in America came of age. It's a neat progression, but this book, simply by its layout, shows it to be bogus.

Among the early critical big names, some were big names in other fields. Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg were bardic poets, Edmund Wilson was a high-flying man of letters, H. L. Mencken was the perennial star reporter-cum-philologist of the American language, Gilbert Seldes wrote about all of what he christened "the lively arts," Robert E. Sherwood was a Broadway playwright. None of them had any real trouble figuring out what the commercial filmmakers were up to. Edmund Wilson didn't just praise Chaplin at the level due to him, but dispraised Hollywood "gag writers" at the level due to them: he didn't, that is, dismiss them out of hand, but pointed out, correctly, that their chief concern was necessarily with storytelling structures that worked cinematically, and that there might be limitations involved in doing that. There were and there still are.

"Go! Go! Go!" "Five, four, three, two, one!" "Take care of yourself up there/out there/in there." It doesn't matter how formulaic the words sound, because at those moments the movies are essentially still silent. The writing all goes into deciding who falls backward through the window, has his head ripped off by the alien, bares his bottom amusingly to get his shots from the pretty nurse, or pouts tensely when the sonar says "Ping!"

Mencken fancied himself above it all, but he had a penetrating understanding of star power. Sandburg is unreadable today only because of the way he wrote. His prose was bad poetry, like his poetry. ("The craziest, wildest, shivery movie that has come wriggling across the silversheet of a cinema house," he wrote of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," his grammar flapping irrepressibly in the rhetorical wind.) The important consideration here is that everything these superior minds approved of in the foreign art film they also looked for diligently in the American industrial product, and were touchingly glad to find any signs of its flowering.

They were more likely to find those signs, however, if they weren't functioning as general commentators on the arts or as visiting firemen from ritzier boroughs, but had a regular job reviewing the product as it came out. Hence the first critic in the lineup likely to knock the reader sideways is Otis Ferguson, who started reviewing movies for The New Republic in 1934 and kept it up until 1942, the year before his lamentably early death at the age of 36. Had he lived, none of the later pantheon aberration might have got a purchase, because he was perfectly capable of seeing not only that some of the American movies were terrific, but that even the best of them often took a lot more than a director to put together. This last bit was the key perception that the pantheon's attendant incense burners later managed to obscure with wreaths of perfumed smoke, but before we get to that, let's be sure of just how good Ferguson was.

As a first qualification, Ferguson could see that there was such a thing as a hierarchy of trash. He enjoyed "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" even where it was corny, because the corn ("execrable . . . and I like it") was being dished out with brio. This basic capacity for delight underlay the vigor of his prose when it came to the hierarchy of quality, which he realized had its starting point in the same basement as the trash. A Fred Astaire movie was made on the same bean-counting system as a North-West Frontier epic in which dacoits and dervishes lurked treacherously on the back lot, and Astaire wasn't even a star presence compared with a Bengal lancer like Gary Cooper. "As an actor he is too much of a dancer, tending toward pantomime; and as a dancer he is occasionally too ballroomy. But as a man who can create figures, intricate, unpredictable, constantly varied and yet simple, seemingly effortless . . . he brings the strange high quality of genius to one of the baser and more common arts."

Decades later, Arlene Croce wrote about Astaire at greater length, and possibly in greater technical depth, but when she got the snap of his dancing into a sentence, she was following a line that Ferguson had already laid down. Hear how he rounds it out: "Fred Astaire, whatever he may do in whatever picture he is in, has the beat, the swing, the debonair and damn-your-eyes violence of rhythm, all the gay contradiction and irresponsibility, of the best thing this country can contribute to musical history, which is the best American jazz." Take out the word "gay" and it could be something written now, although there aren't many who could write it. Look at the perfect placement of that word "violence," for example. It's not enough to have the vocabulary. You have to have the sensory equipment. You have to spot the way Astaire, in the full flight of a light-foot routine, could slap the sole of his shoe into the floor as if he were rubbing out a bunch of dust mites.

FERGUSON'S sensitivity to the standard output made him more adventurous, not less, when it came to the indisputable works of art. Sometimes it made him adventurous enough to dispute them. He wasn't taken in by the original or the re-edit of Eisenstein's movie about Mexico, which he could see was an incorrigible heap of random footage that would have continued to go nowhere indefinitely if it hadn't been forcibly removed from the master's control. "A way to be a film critic for years was to holler about this rape of great art, though it should have taken no more critical equipment than common sense to see that whatever was cut out, its clumping repetitions and lack of film motion could not have been cut in."

With a good notion of how hard it is to make ordinary film narrative unnoticeably subtle ("story, story, story — or, How can we do it to them so they don't know beforehand that it's being done?"), Ferguson was properly suspicious of any claims that "Citizen Kane" represented an advance in technique. He admired it, but not as a breakthrough: "In the line of the narrative film, as developed in all countries but most highly on the West Coast of America, it holds no great place." A harsh judgment, but Ferguson had put in the groundwork to back it up, and Welles, after the first flush of his apotheosis, might have reached the same conclusion: "The Magnificent Ambersons," even in its unfinished state, is a clear and admirable attempt by the boy genius to get a grip on the technical heritage he had thought to supersede.

One could go on quoting from Ferguson, and expatiating on the quotations, until hell looked like the set of "Ice Station Zebra": there is a book buried in every essay. But the same is true of every good critic. The poet Melvin B. Tolson, who wrote about movies for the African-American newspaper The Washington Tribune, saw "Gone With the Wind" when it came out and reviewed it in terms that could have been expanded into a handbook for the civil rights movement 20 years before the event. One look at the relevant piece will tell you why a critic has to know about the world as well as the movies: Tolson could see that "GWTW" was well made. But he could also see that the script was a crass and callous rewriting of history, a Klan pamphlet in sugared form, a racial insult.

If, then, the selection from James Agee shines out of these pages a bit less than you might expect, it isn't because he's lost his luster; it's because there's so much light from those around him. And Agee, as well as possessing the comprehensive intelligence that the critical heritage had already made a requirement, also possessed an extra quality that we later on, and perhaps dangerously, came to expect from everybody: he had the wit. At the time, it was a first when he wrote this punch line to his review of Billy Wilder's sodden saga about dipsomania, "The Lost Weekend": "I undershtand that liquor interesh: innerish: intereshtsh are rather worried about thish film. Thash tough." Today, you can easily imagine Anthony Lane of The New Yorker doing that. (Lane, being British, isn't in the book, which is a bit like not letting Tiger Woods play at St. Andrews. And Peter Bogdanovich — surely a key figure, and not just as an archivist, in the appreciation of American movies — is another conspicuous absentee. But it's a sign of a good anthology when you start bitching about Who Isn't in It — not a bad title for a book by Bogdanovich, come to think of it.)

And Stanley Kauffmann isn't in it enough. A film critic still in action after more than half a century (most of that time spent at The New Republic), he was the one who took Ferguson's approach, the only approach that really matters, and developed it to its full potential. He knew a lot about every department of the business, but especially acting. He was kind but firm about Marilyn Monroe in "The Misfits": "Her hysterical scene near the end will seem virtuoso acting to those who are overwhelmed by the fact that she has been induced to shout." He could see what was wonderful about Antonioni's "L'Avventura." So could I, at the time; but later, after suffering through "Blowup" and "Zabriskie Point," I started to forget what had once thrilled me. Here is the reminder: "Obviously it is not real time or we would all have to bring along sandwiches and blankets; but a difference of 10 seconds in a scene is a tremendous step toward veristic reproduction rather than theatrical abstraction." (And, he forgot to add, it gives you 10 more seconds to look at a veristic close-up of Monica Vitti, who did to us in those days what Monica Bellucci is doing to a new generation of horny male intellectuals right now.)

Kauffmann had an acute sensitivity to the story behind the technique. It meant that he didn't fail to spot real quality, and it also meant that he was rarely fooled by empty virtuosity. His classic review of Max Ophuls's supposed masterpiece, "Lola Montes," a review mercifully included here as the finale to his oddly meager selection, tells you in advance everything that would be wrong about the auteur theory. Kauffmann could see that "Lola Montes" was indeed the supreme example of Ophuls's characteristic style of the traveling shot that went on forever. But Kauffmann could also see that even if the title role of the bewitching courtesan had been incarnated by a bewitching actress — and Martine Carol, through no fault of her own, was no more bewitching than a bus driver in Communist Kiev — the movie would still have been ruined by its dumb happy-hooker script. In other words, no story.

In Hollywood, for a true masterpiece like "Letter From an Unknown Woman," Ophuls had had the writers, the actors and the right kind of head office breathing down his neck. On "Lola Montes" he was out on his own. The auteur theory depended on the idea that any pantheon director had an artistic personality so strong that it was bound to express itself whatever the compromising circumstances. But all too often, the compromising circumstances helped to make the movie good. That, however, was a tale too complicated to tell for those commentators who wanted to get into business as deep thinkers.

The likelihood that to think deep meant to think less didn't strike any of them until their critical mass movement had worn itself out. Some useful work was done — movies by a cigar-chomping, hard-swearing maverick like Samuel Fuller were resurrected long enough for us all to find out why they had been forgotten — but the absurdities were all too obvious. John Ford's late clunker "7 Women" was praised because it was "Fordian." The adjective they should have been looking for was "unwatchable." Howard Hawks's "Hatari!," in which the same old Hawks plot about John Wayne and the drunken friend and the no-bull broad and the young hotshot and the cackling old-timer was eked out with footage of rhinos and buffaloes, turned out to be quintessentially "Hawksian." And so it went, but it couldn't go on for long, because unless the undiscovered Fordian-Hawksian masterpiece was actually any good, it never got any further than the film societies. As for the articles and the anthologies and the monographs, they never could outweigh the aggregate of ad hoc judgments coming from individual critics. Those judgments might have been right or wrong, but they were seldom crazy, unless the critic had a theory of his or her own.

Some did. Robert Warshow, yet another cultural commentator who died young, wrote a famous long article (which Lopate all too dutifully includes) called "The Gangster as Tragic Hero." Citing but not evoking scores of movies to prove that the American gangster is doomed by the pressures of a society that worships success, it says little in a long space, thereby reversing the desirable relationship of form and content, which, as we have seen, had already been established by critics with fewer pretensions to a sociological overview.

The same could be said, and said twice, for Parker Tyler's equally celebrated long article purporting to show that "Double Indemnity" was always psychologically much more complex than was ever thought possible by those who made it or us who watched. You might have deduced that the claims adjuster Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) was secretly hot for the insurance salesman Neff (Fred MacMurray), but could you ever have guessed that Neff was driven to crime because he had failed sexually with Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck)? And there we all were thinking he'd succeeded. But stay! For Tyler has some wordplay yet to deploy. "Neff, let us assume, wants permanent insurance against Keyes's subtle inquisition into the ostensible claims of his sexual life." Oh, come on, let's not assume it.

But we don't have to fight for justice very hard, because the fight has already been won by the sanity brigade. Vincent Canby could have won it by himself. There might have been even more here from such informed yet readable solo acts — David Denby, Kenneth Turan, David Thomson and A. O. Scott are only a few of the many recent exponents on the bill — if the worthy bores had not been given their democratic chance, but hey, that's America. Nevertheless, Lopate would have done better to stick to the principle that brevity, up to the point where compression collapses, invariably carries more implication than expansiveness ever can. But he might not have recognized the principle, even while dealing with the best of its consequences. There have been plenty of editors who didn't get it. The legendary William Shawn of The New Yorker never grasped that he was giving Pauline Kael too much room for her own good.

Although Kael knew comparatively little about how movies got made, she was unbeatable at taking off from what she had seen. But beyond that, she would take off from what she had written, and there was a new theory every two weeks. A lot of her theories had to do with loves and hates. She thought Robert Altman was a genius. He can certainly make a movie, but if it hasn't got a script, then he makes "Prêt-à-Porter." That's one of the most salutary lessons of this book: what makes the movie isn't just who directed it, or who's in it, it's how it relates to the real world.

That principle really starts to matter when it comes to movies that profess to understand history, and thus to affect the future. Several quite good critics in various parts of the world knew there was something seriously wrong with Steven Spielberg's "Munich," but they didn't know how to take it down. If they could have put the lessons of this book together, they would have found out how. "Munich" might have survived being directed by someone who knows about nothing except movies. But it was also written by people who don't know half enough about politics. That was why the crucial meeting of Golda Meir's cabinet went for nothing. The movie could have got by with its John Woo-style gunfight face-offs, but without an articulate laying out of the arguments it was a waste of effort.

Similarly, if you know too much about the movies but not enough about the world, you won't be able to see that "Downfall" is dangerously sentimental. Realistic in every observable detail, it is nevertheless a fantasy to the roots, because the pretty girl who plays the secretary looks shocked when Hitler inveighs against the Jews. It comes as a surprise to her.

Well, it couldn't have; but to know why that is so, you have to have read a few books. No matter how many movies you have seen, they won't give you the truth of the matter, because it can't be shown as action. To know what can't be shown by the gag writers, however, you have to know about a world beyond the movies. But the best critics do, as this book proves; because when we say that the nontheorists are the better writers, that's what we mean. That extra edge that a good writer has is a knowledge of the world, transmuted into a style.

Clive James's most recent book is "As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002."


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 5:11 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Dec 17, 2004 6:49 pm
Location: 313
Wow, you weren't kidding! That is long!

Also a little annoying, if you ask me.

Quote:
It quickly becomes obvious that those without theories write better.... The editor, Phillip Lopate, an essayist and film critic, has a catholic scope, and might not agree that the nontheorists clearly win out. They do, though....

His dismissive certainty here in the second paragraph had already turned me against him.

Quote:
In our appreciation of the arts, does a theory give us more to think about, or less? To me, the answer looks like less, but it could be that I just don't like it when a critic's hulking voice gets in the way of the projector beam and tries to convince me that what I am looking at makes its real sense only as part of a bigger pattern of thought, that pattern being available from the critic's mind at the price of decoding his prose.

And when he goes into the above, he's totally lost me. A disinclination for reading film criticism is fine, even understandable. But there's no call for the boringly familiar theory loses sight of the movie on the way to stroking a pompous hack's ego bullshit. That's a disingenuous brush-off, at best. Good criticism rarely suggests that a work "makes its real sense only as part of a bigger pattern of thought." That's merely a sophomoric rumor, and suggests a fairly limp grasp of and poor familiarity with critical writing. The suggestion that theory ultimately gives us less to think about (which probably isn't meant literally) only makes sense if exposure to theory actually deducts ideas from the viewer. Sure, one should always guard against letting a published author's writings narrow the focus, but a firm grasp on one's own impressions, assessments, and opinions should protect anybody from having the pure of enjoyment of a film on its own terms imperiled by even the most persuasive criticism.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 4:16 pm 
Big fan of the former president
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:54 pm
Location: Provo, Utah
D'oh, I just noticed that this thread is over here.

I don't know where else to post this but it is pretty shocking the state of the Village Voice these days. According to IFC's blog, the company that owns it fired long time film critic Michael Atkinson a few days ago and just fired Dennis Lim with only J. Hoberman left of the old guard of film critics. How long before he gets the axe? Altho, I'm sure he'll have no problem finding a writing gig elsewhere but I wonder if he'll be given the same kind of freedom to write what he wants and how he wants...

Here's the blurb and Lim's firing here

But it's kinda sad to see such a great alternative weekly get totally gutted by a corporation. The end of an era indeed.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:12 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Sat Mar 04, 2006 1:22 pm
Location: Montreal, Quebec
I wasn't sure where to put this but I guess this is the appropriate place. David Thomson just wrote this piece taking down David Mamet a few notches.

Thomson seems to be completely out of the loop and refers to Mamet's next project as Joan of Bark: The Dog That Saved France which as we all know has been stalled as Redbelt is now filming, with some fairly decent press coverage.

I don't so much care that Thomson doesn't like Mamet, but that he didn't bother - or have an intern or assistant bother - to do some basic research. Well this combined with his embarassing Nicole Kidman biography, perhaps its time Thomson stepped away from the criticism game.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 4:16 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:03 pm
Antoine Doinel wrote:
I don't so much care that Thomson doesn't like Mamet, but that he didn't bother - or have an intern or assistant bother - to do some basic research. Well this combined with his embarassing Nicole Kidman biography, perhaps its time Thomson stepped away from the criticism game.

Not to mention his equally embarrassing work on Orson Welles...


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:20 pm 
Dot Com Dom
User avatar

Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm
I'm pretty sure I've already read this Guardian write-up on Mamet last year when Thomson turned this in for Freshman comp.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 11:56 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Sep 22, 2006 5:18 pm
Location: Portland, OR
This man is a fucking genius.

I would go so far as to say he is the single most intelligent film critic I've ever come across, and certainly the most radical and difficult.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:20 am 
User avatar

Joined: Fri Jun 08, 2007 4:37 am
Location: Manila, Philippines
Two film critics I admire are Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine and Filipino movie critic Noel Vera. I don't always agree with them but I respect their opinions and I enjoy reading their writing.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 4:32 am 
User avatar

Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2004 5:34 am
Location: Portland, OR
Robotron wrote:
This man is a fucking genius.

I would go so far as to say he is the single most intelligent film critic I've ever come across, and certainly the most radical and difficult.

He's not winning me over. I have serious problems with his most basic assertions as expressed in the "Key Ideas" section.

The most primal problem is "Ted's law," which he establishes early in his key ideas: "the 'distance' of abstraction is always equal among layers." Even if one can establish that the layers exist and describe exactly what they are, how can one possibly measure the "distance" between them to show that the distances are equal? The very words "distance" and "equal" require some form of measurement -- or at least an implied possibility of measurement -- to have any meaning at all. To use them in a case like this where no measurement is possible has no real value except as a way to make intuition sound scientific and quantifiable.

The next two points, "Everyone's Movie" and "Movies About Movies," are mutually self-affirming and add up to the following logical argument; (1) that all movies are about other movies rather than "real" life, and (2) that each of us lives in his own movie; which together imply that even if a movie is about "real" life, that real life is itself a movie, which means that the movie is still about movies. He's using a circular argument based on nothing but itself in order to support a predisposed way of looking at films, essentially imposing his predetermined structure onto every film he sees instead of looking at the facts (i.e., the films) and crafting his theories around his observations.

Looking through his reviews (I limited myself to films I was actually familiar with) his writing is often enjoyable and he does notice some important themes and has interesting insights from time to time, but I find his basic hypothesis ultimately meaningless.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:37 am 
Not PETA approved
User avatar

Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada
Kirkinson wrote:
(1) that all movies are about other movies rather than "real" life, and (2) that each of us lives in his own movie

Wow, that's just Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence almost word for word, except poetry is replaced with movies (and the whole thing is probably not as well expressed).

So I suppose his point would be more like each movie is about another movie, as opposed to what it offers as its subject, in that its true subject is how it represents meaning, something which can only have been learned from another movie's mode of representation. Originality in representation is then determined intertextually by how the one work builds or develops (or doesn't) on the mode of previous films. And so on. Certainly a more interesting way to look at influence in film (even if the critic seems to have borrowed it himself) than the usual "he borrowed that shot, he's a hack" you'll find on this board.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2007 11:46 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Sat Mar 04, 2006 1:22 pm
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Michael Wilmington has left the Chicago Tribune to focus on other writing projects.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 3:05 am 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
Location: Denver, CO
The Ebert & Roeper website has just posted a massive collection of TV reviews from the past 20 years. Highlights include Gene Siskel's chastising of Ebert for not liking Full Metal Jacket and Martin Scorsese joining Ebert to name the best films of the 90s.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 4:14 am 
User avatar

Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 8:48 am
Location: Atlanta
Jeff wrote:
The Ebert & Roeper website has just posted a massive collection of TV reviews from the past 20 years. Highlights include Gene Siskel's chastising of Ebert for not liking Full Metal Jacket and Martin Scorsese joining Ebert to name the best films of the 90s.

Thanks for the link! Fascinating to go back and see all of these - although it's a shame they didn't bother archiving the older ones. There's only one Godard film reviewed, and it's the restoration of Contempt!


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 7:29 am 
User avatar

Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
What an excellent resource! It is great to have the opportunity to see some of the older films reviewed, and I'm coming to appreciate Gene Siskel more. I could spend hours going through them, although it is a shame there doesn't seem to be an index anywhere to save typing titles and names into the search engine in the hope that there is a review available.

Of course I had to check out the Brown Bunny review! Despite the reviews depending on what came up for review because it was at the cinema that week, there is still a very nice range of material to look through - so far I've found a good review of Looking For Richard and the chance to compare reactions to three versions of Hamlet (the 1990, 1996 and 2000 films). There is even a review of The Pillow Book!

EDIT: There is one other Godard film reviewed on the site, or at least the portmanteau film with Godard doing a segment - Aria.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Mar 01, 2008 9:09 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 1:18 pm 
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
Location: Denver, CO
Oedipax wrote:
it's a shame they didn't bother archiving the older ones. There's only one Godard film reviewed, and it's the restoration of Contempt!

Ebert says that most of the older ones (especially those from the PBS days) were never saved, and the master tapes don't exist anymore.


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 950 posts ]  Go to page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 38  Next

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum

Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group




This site is not affiliated with The Criterion Collection