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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reject-oriented antilogy (Shaviro)

I'm disappointed that Steven Shaviro's scholarly take on the debate beats around the bush.

  1. He wrongly conflates CCC with Modern Cinema (Antonioni, Jancso, Tarkovsky), then blames CCC for not looking enough LIKE Modern Cinema (daring, provocative, extremist, posthuman?).
  2. Then he blames CCC for looking TOO MUCH like Modern predecessors!
  3. He uses uncontroversial big names from the consensual canon of film history, the highest masters, and then blames today's filmmakers for not being as good.
  4. He can only conceive art cinema if it is daring, provocative, original, insightful, refreshing, inventive... short of that it's not even worth considering.
  5. He calls "routine", "strictly by the number", what auteurists refer to as a stylistic signature (which explains the recurrence!)
  6. He calls "default international style" what is an unorganised transnational aesthetic convergence.
  7. I don't even know what is the "slow norm", the "slow paradigm", so I can't comment.
  8. He shares with us the auteurs he likes and the ones he doesn't like, the films he prefers and the ones he thinks are inferior... and equates his stylistic hierarchies with the fact that such or such style deserves to exist or not.
  9. Takashi Miike is more inventive than all CCC combined... so what?
  10. There are important contemporary directors who have nothing whatsoever to do with Contemplative Cinema... so what?
  11. Being nostalgic and regressive is a "bad thing".
  12. CCC can only seduce nostalgic, classicist, old-line cinephiles (like me?)
  13. CCC is a way of saying No to mainstream Hollywood’s current fast-edit, post-continuity, highly digital style.

Where to start? There is no theoretical matter to respond to there... What is there to say?
He just says he doesn't LIKE this kind of style and that he WISHES that today's cinema would address socio-culturo-political issues of technology and newer media to feel contemporary. But he doesn't prove that CCC is bad cinema, nor that it's an invalid artistic interpretation of the world we live in.

1. If "Modern Cinema" (whatever this vague umbrella term refers to) was a seamless continuous history, I would agree. But the world has changed quite a bit since the 60ies, so it's easy to understand that the reaction of art to a NEW distinct kind of modernity has evolved too.
If you're going to expect Tsai Ming-liang to provide the exact content/style that Antonioni used to deliver, if you want Tarr to BE Jancsó, if you hope Reygadas to measure up to Tarkovsky... you could be waiting for a long time, cause it is not gonna happen. It's not meant to happen.
CCC is different precisely because it doesn't try to mimic older modernists, but develop a brand new style!

2. Forget about the Modernity references, because the films you see today aren't directly comparable to Antonioni or Tarkovsky. CCC is not wordy, not intellectual, not spiritual, not narrator-centric... no wonders it's nothing like the 60ies!

3. Not being as good as the highest masters doesn't mean that the film/auteur/movement is not legit. You're just subjectively evaluating their inferiority. In principle, new trends can emerge and strive without being greater than everything that has been done before. (not that I agree with his allegation that CCC is inferior!)

4. I would expect reasonable scholars to be able to take into considerations more than a single one possible aesthetic iteration to translate on the screen(s) what contemporaneity has brought upon us. He's being partial like an artist who develops the same style over and over. While the critic ought not take positions, but identify the many ways artists find to express their reactions to the same socio-politico-cultural conditions we live in.
Let me remind here, for the record, that during the period of the (Silent) Hollywood Golden Age (which was not shy of art film gems, later reappraised by artfilm critics), Surrealism coexisted with Soviet Montage, Caligarism and Réalisme Poétique, even though cinema culture wasn't any less international than today (territories and political borders were less permeable alright). In 1960, there were various expressions of the "anti-Hollywood" art scene : not only the Modern Cinema of Antonioni, but Italian Neorealism, La Nouvelle Vague, L'International Situationiste, New American Cinema. All very different aesthetics, very different formal responses to the same global climate of the Cold War...
What I'm saying is that Shaviro assumes that there can be only one alternative to Hollywood, and if CCC (which he insists to call "slow cinema") doesn't endorse the new technologies then it must be wrong, therefore slowness shall be excommunicated from art-cinema... we've seen enough of that. The artfilm aesthetic that is "right" is something else, something that "looks right", films where we can identify easily the signs of our modernity, something like Takashi Miike or Bong Joon-ho... OK. That is his partial hypothesis. It's what HE wants the "response to Hollywood" to be. But it doesn't prevent artists to find other ways, despite your preferences.
I don't know why he looks for a unique "international style" that would format all artfilm makers...

5. 6. 7. null

8. (see 3.) again a confusion between hierarchy and ontology

9. 10. It's not because you're going to find someone more "inventive" that it'll preclude CCC any invention at all. Nobody is suggesting that CCC is THE ONLY possible way for contemporary art cinema... at least I wouldn't say such thing.
If all you want, like Nick James, is to disparage these films, be honest, don't pretend you're making important statements about the existence of this trend.

11. This is a personal point of view. I don't think you're going to redefine Art History based on this slim assumption.

12. First, Modernity is not Classic... it's what follows Classicism by definition!
Nostalgic? Maybe, any cinephile who loves cinema history enough to watch films that are not current must be somehow nostalgic and "regressive". All depends if you imply a derogatory meaning to it. Are you looking down on cinephiles as a whole? I don't follow...
Again you're trying to force a point of view, it's not very scholarly.
Am I anti-new-technology? Not at all. I'm interested in the new images coming up. But on this blog we only discuss a very specific area of cinema which has little to do with this stuff.
Since I disagree about the conflation of CCC with Modernity, I'm going to disagree that CCC is being nostalgic or regressive. You realize that you'll have to prove that Hollywood's narrative is more progressive than art cinema?

13. I'm afraid he didn't go read the article (about Matthew Flanagan's Aesthetic of Slow) I linked in my post, because I already addressed this misconception at length. If you had to use a disclaimer to avoid being dragged in a rhetorical debate (what a scary thought for a scholar who prefers the hit-and-run tactic!), at least read what initiated it. Thanks.
In fact, he's replying to Flanagan there, when he opposes CCC to Hollywood. I never did such thing. Apparently I need to repeat this every time I write about CCC, and start all over as if nothing happened. If Shaviro talks about "the aesthetic of slow" and "slow films vs fast films" I have nothing to say, because this is simply not what CCC is and does.

The late (and still woefully underappreciated) Edward Yang abandoned the Antonioniesque stylings and slownesses of his earlier films for something more like a Renoiresque social realism with ensemble casts (I still think that Confucian Confusion and Mahjong are two of the greatest films of the 1990s, together constituting the postmodern equivalent of Rules of the Game).
What are you talking about??? So channeling Antonioni is "bad" but channeling Renoir makes it "OK"? it's not being unoriginal anymore? Is it still inventive and refreshing to simulate the older style of Renoir??? So I guess Antonioni stands for Modern, and an imitation of La Règle du Jeu (1939!) which is a precursor of Modernity, is Post-Modern??? Sorry, you lost me.

Shaviro disagrees that CCC is the most important aesthetic movement in our present cinema, but it's not a question of canonical hierarchy here. I'd be happy if this trend was at the very least understood for what it is (and not totally fantasised and perverted by people who fail to get immersed in contemplation). I don't care if everyone thinks it's a small, weak, short-lived movement, I don't care what intentions you give its filmmakers, I don't care if you think it is irrelevant to today's technological world. The point is to identify its very coherence, its own nature and not mistake it for something it is not, thus blame it for what it doesn't try to achieve.

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


jessica said...

you, as well as the other 'film critics', need to revise the use of the words 'contemplation', 'slow', 'fast' and what that means to film.
your blog is also a contribution to talk about certain films and directors in a certain way. your blog also contributes to secularize certain forms, ideas and directors. i can understand your enthusiasm, but i recommend you to reconsider sentences like 'CCC is the most important aesthetic movement in our present cinema' and the use of 'modernism' as a concept that supposedly defines our times.
your problem as well as shaviro's and sight and sound and many others is that you're all talking and judging films on the basis of a supposedly 'movement' where there are certain unifying 'aesthetic' forms, agreeing on terms as 'slow' and 'fast' to define films. this is really dubious and problematic as a serious critical tool. it just makes it easier for lazy film critics and harder for filmmakers and film enthusiasts to understand what films are really about.
to talk and criticize films just because of certain durational aspects present in ALL cinema is non sense and should be revised.
i invite you to consider difference.

HarryTuttle said...

I don't understand your point. I can't figure if you are against any intellectualisation of film theory, or if you demand more "serious critical tools"... Which is it? Aesthetic movements, duration, gaze, form is what films use and what theory studies. Critical arguments disagree on various possible interpretations for each technique or form; but critics don't disagree on the necessity of studying such things.

I believe I'm in agreement with your disliking of the fast/slow false dichotomy. Didn't I just say that?

The study of aesthetic movements (productively or in vain) is what Film Theory is all about. You never know beforehand if it was worth your time... Or else past critics would have never discounted in their times the great masterpieces that we acknowledge now.

C.V. said...

in full agreement with jessica.

the irreducible problem at the heart of this attempt at a theory is that it assumes the existence of a "film movement" where there patently has never been one and is more than likely never will be one that calls itself 'contemplative'; it would be embarrassing to assume that any of these filmmakers practice their art with the taste-manifesto of some blogger, or jobbing film critic consciously in mind -- such is the vanity of deluded film theorists.

HarryTuttle said...

No idea where you got that from.
You're thinking of a group of friends making films in the same room, like La Nouvelle Vague or Dogma95, with a common recipe in hand. That's not at all the case for CCC. In fact, you're right, even the auteurs themselves don't perceive themselves as belonging to a "family", or even reject this idea (like Tarr!). But that doesn't mean that we can't make sense of the the unique ideas these auteurs have in common, unlike everyone else today.

This is not MY movement, I don't even call it a "movement" since 2007. CCC is a (non-)narrative mode. I'm only talking about it here. I didn't invent anything. Critics do not create anything, ever.

If you don't see the coherence in this ensemble, and Sight&sound, Film comment don't see it either... all the more reasons for me to continue to champion it.

HarryTuttle said...

En réponse à Shaviro, Sylvain Lavallée (21 mai 2010, Séquences):

"D’abord, ni le lent ni le rapide n’expriment mieux l’un que l’autre le monde contemporain, c’est une absurdité de croire que faire un film au rythme enlevé représente parfaitement une réalité que l’on dit défiler à toute vitesse. Ensuite, dire qu’Antonioni et Weerasethakul c’est du pareil au même, c’est vraiment n’importe quoi. Je ne prends pas ces exemples au hasard, ils ont en commun une certaine tendance à l’abstraction formelle. Chez Antonioni, les amorces de plan ressemblent souvent à des toiles d’abstraction géométrique à la Mondrian, il nous perd dans le décor en filmant sous des angles inusités des objets et des lieux communs. Nous nous repérons finalement lorsqu’un personnage ou une partie de son corps rentre dans le cadre, révélant la nature de ce qui est filmé. Chez l’ami Joe (M. Weerasethakul préfère être nommé ainsi), l’abstraction arrive en fin de parcours, dans une deuxième partie qui vient allégoriser la première. Toute la séquence de la jungle dans Tropical Malady n’est pas à proprement parler abstraite, mais lors des scènes nocturnes les corps du chasseur et du tigre se fondent si parfaitement dans leur environnement qu’on n’y voit plus qu’un amas d’ombres et de lumières. L’abstraction d’Antonioni sert essentiellement à évoquer l’aliénation du paysage moderne (Red Desert en serait l’exemple canonique), alors que pour Weerasethakul ce paysage abstrait est plus le reflet des émotions de ces personnages, c’est dans l’expérience de la jungle que le film trouve son sens; Antonioni est un intellectuel, Weerasethakul s’adresse aux sens, leur cinéma s’oppose sous bien des aspects. Je ne veux pas nier complètement la continuité entre les maîtres du passé nommés par Shaviro et les cinéastes contemplatifs contemporains, mais en partant les esthétiques d’Antonioni, d’Akerman et de Tarkovski peuvent difficilement être mises sous la même bannière, tout comme celles de Tarr, Ming-liang, Sokurov ne sont pas si semblables (il n’y a donc pas, non plus, de routine du plan-séquence, comme l’écrit Shaviro).

Peut-être qu’Antonioni était plus subversif que Weerasethakul, peut-être qu’Akerman est plus audacieuse que Gus Van Sant, et que Takashi Miike est plus inventif que tous les cinéastes contemplatifs, comme le propose Shaviro, mais l’inventivité et l’audace ne sont pas des fins en soi."

HarryTuttle said...

Susan Sontag :
"The philosopher's hypothetical universe of clear speech (which assigns to silence only "that whereof one cannot speak") would seem to be a moralists, or a psychiatrist's, nightmare — at the least, a place no one should lightheartedly enter. Is there anyone who wants to say "everything that could be said"? The psychologically plausible answer would seem to be no. But yes is plausible, too — as a rising ideal of modern culture. Isn't that what many people do want today — to say everything that can be said? But this aim cannot be maintained without inner conflict, in part inspired by the spread of the ideals of psychotherapy, people are yearning to say "everything" (thereby, among other results, further undermining the crumbling distinction between public and private endeavors, between information and secrets). But, in an overpopulated world being connected by global electronic communication and jet travel at a pace too rapid and violent for an organically sound person to assimilate without shock, people are also suffering from a revulsion at any further proliferation of speech and images. Such different factors as the unlimited "technological reproduction" and near-universal diffusion of both printed language and speech as well as images (from "news" to "art objects"), and the degenerations of public language within the realms of politics and advertising and entertainment, have produced, especially among the better educated inhabitants of what sociologists call "modern mass society," a devaluation of language. (I should argue, contrary to McLuhan, that a devaluation of the power and credibility of images has taken place that's no less profound than. and essentially similar to, that afflicting language.) And, as the prestige of language falls, that of silence rises."

The Aesthetics of Silence, in "Styles of Radical Will", 1994

HarryTuttle said...

On the book "Philippine New Wave : This is not a film movement" :

Chris Fujiwara : “For people who care passionately about an art form, there is always the danger of stopping at a certain historical point and saying, "It's all over, let's think only about the past." Maybe they're tired of the effort of staying contemporary, maybe they've lost the capacity to respond to new ways of perceiving and thinking about their art form, or maybe the potential for their art form to produce important work seems to them to have run out. As far as cinema is concerned, Khavn De La Cruz's anthology offers a powerful rebuke to such defeatism. The book documents the richness of a national film movement, one of the most vigorous and accomplished on the contemporary film scene, that shows no signs of imminent exhaustion. Even if you have never seen any work by the filmmakers represented, if you care about the future of cinema you should read this book.”

Adrian Martin : "Political, urgent, experimental, impulsive, risk-taking, challenging audiences and demanding recognition: this is what the Philippine New Wave is all about. And these mad dogs sure know how to party, too."

HarryTuttle said...

La Lenteur, Milan Kundera

HarryTuttle said...

Jonathan Romney : "Apart from filling the gap left by philosophical-poetic auteurs such as Bergman and Tarkovsky, the current Slow Cinema might be seen as a response to a bruisingly pragmatic decade in which, post-9/11, the oppressive everyday awareness of life as overwhelmingly political, economics and ecological would seem to preclude (in the West, at least) any spiritual dimension in art."
Sight&Sound (Feb2010)

HarryTuttle said...

Paul Ricœur : "L'histoire événementielle, c'est l'histoire à oscillation, brèves, rapides, nerveuse; elle est la plus riche en humanité, mais la plus dangereuse. [..] On dirait qu'ici Braudel atteint, à travers la notion de durée, moins ce qui change que ce qui demeure : ce qui le verbe durer dit mieux que le substantif durée. Une sagesse discrète, opposée à la frénésie de l'événement, se laisse deviner derrière ce respect pour la grande lenteur des changements véritables."
Temps et récit, 1983

Fernand Braudel : "La science sociale a presque horreur de l'événement. Non sans raison : le temps court est la plus capricieuse, la plus trompeuse des durées [..] Réalité de longue, inépuisable durée, des civilisations, sans fin réadaptées à leur destin, dépassent donc en longévité toutes les autres réalités collectives; elles leur survivent."
La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II, 1949

HarryTuttle said...

"Gilles Finchelstein nous entraîne dans un vertigineux voyage au cœur de la dictature de l’urgence. On y découvre une réalité qui dépasse ce que chacun pressent. Car le culte de la vitesse et de l’instant bouscule toutes les facettes de nos vies personnelles – notre santé, nos repas, nos loisirs – et professionnelles – pression accrue, exigences de rentabilité croissantes. Il pèse aussi sur notre vie publique : les faits divers se traduisent immédiatement en lois, lesquelles sont de plus en plus souvent votées selon une procédure… d’urgence !
Ce nouveau rapport au temps est une des causes les plus profondes de nos maux contemporains. Il place nos sociétés sous tension. Il délégitime le politique. Il risque d’aboutir au sacrifice des générations futures, bien au-delà de la dette ou du réchauffement climatique.
Alors, que faire ? Répondre à la vitesse par la vitesse, comme le président de la République ? S’engager, à l’inverse, sur la voie de la décroissance ? Gilles Finchelstein propose ici une autre voie pour décélérer, retrouver la perspective du temps long et sortir enfin de la dictature de l’urgence."

Sortir de la dictature de l'urgence, 2011, Gilles Finchelstein

HarryTuttle said...

"There’s nothing more inducive of genuine pathos than a man who is bored with a franchise. [..]
It is Bay who remains the only committed heir of Marinetti. [..]
Armond White is absolutely right when he says that the Aesthetic of Transformers is Futurist. But that’s only because the aesthetic of the whole world is Futurismo. This is why art is dangerous on occasion and not just for Wayward Hipsters, and justifies its perpetual suppression. The living mystique of the proto-fascist avant-garde (Hot Then, Hot Now!) becomes the zombified politique of today’s Flying Dutchman, the stateless corporation. [..]"

The Baroque spiraling Michael Bay and the Dromospheric Cinema (Uncas Blythe; Mubi notebook; 23 Oct 2011)