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Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Boring" is not a critical argument

This Film Press drama is so entertaining! These typical controversies are the ones that split the tiny little world of film criticism between the thinkers and the followers. It's the perfect bait to lure the fake-cinephiles to reveal their true colour : only liking "slow Modern cinema" when it's fashionable and turning around when "slow cinema" loses public support from the high-brow magazines.

We can see the comments aggregating after these sententious stances : the low-brow viewers who jump in the polemic to blame film criticism as a whole for preferring depth to fun; and the high-brow viewers who take this opportunity to slam the lax commercial attitude of the cinephile magazines, which tend to support the mainstream fare over anything really subversive. This front-line is all too familiar and predictable. Not to mention all the clueless readers who recount their experience with movies that are not artfilms, nor slow or contemplative! Can't you see this is the timeless clash between the subjective mass and the elite critic? Of course it is anti-intellectual to stereotype the art-cinema scene after a superficial formal aspect related to speed!

What is most surprising though, is that such superficial generalization is coming from Film Comment and Sight&Sound of all cinephile magazines... which ought not be concerned with pandering to the base audience and shouldn't dismiss an entire area of cinema without any insightful reason.

If you need the validation of the crowd uproar, you won't be disappointed if you boo Antonioni's L'Avventura in 1960, if you shout that Tarkovsky has no clothes in 1974 for Zerkalo, if you boo Bresson's L'Argent in 1983... Should we really listen to audiences bored by slowness and the lack of apparent meaning? It's easier to approve the canons 50 years down the line (after we heard all the debates), than to be correct on the spot. Which artfilm journals would champion the genius of Tarr Béla, Lav Diaz, Wang Bing, Aleksandr Sokurov, Matthew Barney if critics kept checking their watch from beginning to end?

When Kiarostami, Tarr, Jia, Weerasethakul, Akerman, Costa, van Sant or Denis are acclaimed by the big names of the cinephile press, celebrated at the major festivals, honored during their lifetime as the staple for high-brow art cinema (not that they were widely endorsed right away), the followers suppress the boredom deeply inside and don't tell their high-brow friends they didn't get it. But they are unable to write about these films beyond their formal surface and when a voice is heard in the crowd against the established consensus, they pretend they were never fooled by this "white elephant" bluff... Don't forget that you need to find someone naked before you call "The Emperor's New Clothes", or else the joke is on you. For all the potential mannerism in "slow art cinema", it is far from naked!
This is the time when the establishment falls back on conservative positions and discredits the supporters of the cutting edge of creativity. Is the apparent "slower narrative pace" the biggest problem you could find in contemporary cinema???


Who apologetically brought up the word "philistine"? not me. If you didn't feel ashamed and guilty it wouldn't come to mind to mention it might be characterized as "philistine"! (Is there anybody taking such precautions before calling Godard a hack? no, they aren't afraid to be called philistine...)
If you are an average viewer easily bored by dense art-cinema, if you prefer action and drama, if you need literal meaning, you don't need to worry about being a "philistine" since the intellectual approval is the last thing you expect, and intellectual analysis is everything you hate in film criticism.
In Sight&Sound, you're in the position of making and shaking what cinephiles think and watch, because this platform is a cultural reference. So who do you think is going to call you anti-intellectual if you're the tastemaker of the cinephile intelligentsia? You don't seem to realise the responsibility of the editor of an elitist journal (where you can't just toss random opinions carelessly like a blogger would in the privacy of a "personal diary" only involving a personal point of view).

This alleged "default-international-style" is far from being an overwhelming majority at festivals, or even in art-cinema.
This vague denomination of "slowness" engulfs a lot of films that have nothing to do with festivals, with art-cinema or with critically acclaimed films. Critics think of a wide variety of films when they say "slow", and readers think of a whole different type of films. The notion is so flimsy. So this outcry against it is largely overinflated and sensationalized. There is no credible reason to reject these films but to hide an obvious aversion for intellectual cinema or difficult poetry.
It is more generally revelatory of a certain demeaning attitude towards the smaller filmmakers, from the indie production or from the marginal countries, who should not be allowed in festivals because the style of Western masters are copyright protected. The word means nothing in particular because everyone uses it to bash the cinema they dislike, whatever it is, it's always "boring" for a wide array of reasons.

There is more sincerity, justness and creativity in a mediocre "foreign artfilm" than in a well-made mainstream studio product. And the artistic success ratio of art-cinema is much higher than in Hollywood, contrary to popular belief in what used to be the cinephile-friendly press.


I'm not ashamed to defend an elitist art, I'm not afraid to alienate the entertainment-seekers, it doesn't matter if Contemplative Cinema is minor amongst cinephiles, to me it is the greatest today!

Related:


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see other posts on this debate : 1 (Flanagan) - 2 (James) - 3 (Shaviro 1) - 4 (Shaviro 2) - 5 (Thoret) - 6 (Guardian) - 7 (Boring is not a critical argument) - 8 (Lavallée) - 9 (Frieze) - 10 (James 2) - 11 (Romney)

4 comments:

Wrists Film said...

This is an excellent piece. As a film maker who makes work that comes into this section it can be difficult to find the receptive audience. My film wrists - wristsfilm.blogspot.com - is contemplative in style. I'd love you to watch it and give me your opinion.

Please email me at j.p.bradburn@googlemail.com

Here's an excerpt - http://www.vimeo.com/11694229

HarryTuttle said...

Kristin Thompson (24 May 2010) :
"The films we don’t see

Usually when someone calls for more support of independent or foreign films, there seems to be an implicit assumption that all those films are deserving of support, invariably more so than Hollywood crowd-pleasers. If a filmmaker wants to make a film, he or she should be able to, right? But proportionately, there must be as many bad indie films as bad Hollywood films. Maybe more, because there are always lots of first-time filmmakers willing to max out their credit cards or put pressure on friends and relatives to “invest” in their project. There’s also far less of a barrier to entry, especially in the age of DYI technology."

HarryTuttle said...

Manohla Dargis: "Faced with duration not distraction, your mind may wander, but there’s no need for panic: it will come back. [..] Thinking is boring, of course (all that silence), which is why so many industrially made movies work so hard to entertain you. [..]"

AO Scott: "For some reason it needs to be asserted, over and over again, that the primary purpose of movies is to provide entertainment, that the reason everyone goes to the movies is to have fun. Any suggestion to the contrary, and any film that dares, however modestly, to depart from the orthodoxies of escapist ideology, is met with dismissal and ridicule. [..] In Mr. Schickel’s argument, “pretentious” functions, like “boring” elsewhere, as an accusation that it is almost impossible to refute, since it is a subjective hunch masquerading as a description. [..] Why is it, though, that “serious” is a bad word in cultural conversations, or at least in discussions of film? Why is thinking about a movie an activity to be avoided, and a movie that seems to require thinking a source of suspicion?"

In Defense of the Slow and the Boring By Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott (NYT, 3rd June 2011)

HarryTuttle said...

"Those are the kinds of films dearly loved by the writers, thinkers and friends I most respect, so I, too, seek them out; I usually doze lightly through them; and I often feel moved, if sleepy, afterward. But am I actually moved? Or am I responding to the rhythms of emotionally affecting cinema? Am I laughing because I get the jokes or because I know what jokes sound like? [..] Now, as a film critic, I find writing about stately, austere films difficult. Often, I scapegoat others for my own boredom via the reviewer’s best friend: the fabled “many viewers.” As in: “For many viewers” (as I wrote about one drama about the Kazakh steppes), “accidentally walking into a showing of ‘Tulpan’ would be a 10-minute nightmare of tractors and bad haircuts, followed by a 90-minute nap.”"

Dan Kois (NYT, 1 May 2011)