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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Slowish Obsession, ter

The misunderstanding sinks in deeper...
Steven Shaviro fully endorses Nick James' quote in my previous post, and agrees that CCC is already a goner. But then again, he praises "new technologies", "digitalization" and "new media"... which explains where he's coming from. I beg to differ with the obtuse idea that art cinema MUST position itself against the dominant Hollywood format (the raison d'être of art was never to "oppose" commerce), that there shall be only ONE alternative style to THE dominant style, that this alternative should have to incorporate something technological or else would fail to address contemporary issues... None of this makes sense, culturally, theoretically or historically.
Vadim Rizov abunds : Slow Cinema Backlash (IFC, 12 May 2010)

"The problem isn't the masters. It's the second-tier wave of films that premiere at Berlin and smaller festivals, rarely get picked up for distribution, and simply stagnate in their own self-righteous slowness.
Outside the festival circuit few will ever see them. But those that do instantly understand why someone would wish a pox upon the whole movement. Earlier this year, a few American cities were treated to one such specimen: Jessica Hausner's "Lourdes." This is a movie that really does feel like it's slow because it doesn't know any better: shots go on but they're not particularly complicated. There are no visual riches worth taking in slowly and the drama fails to rise. The whole thing just feels dull. I have no idea how this got distribution [..]"
First : he assumes that the fact a film is bought by a distributor is significant for its cultural value. Which means he takes aesthetic cues from the commercial industry, or at least finds evidence to support his critical stance there! Apparently he expects the crowd of audience to tell him if a film "works" or not. This is mercantile talks. If you want to chip in on the aesthetic relevance of a film movement, you need to bring aesthetic arguments to the table, not Box Office numbers!
He would like to be a critic, and he publicly states that that film, a bad film according to him, shouldn't get distribution! You could rejoice that the film didn't get money from admission (if you're that kind of guy), but denying distribution (i.e. VISIBILITY) to a cultural good, BEFORE it could get criticized by critics and the audience, is called censorship (whether it is operated by the market or by an institutional certification).
Reviewers nowadays are merely pawns of the industry (proudly or inadvertently), they don't think for themselves! They believe Cinema is whatever the industry wants it (allows it) to be.

Second : his vocabulary betrays his taste bias. Typical of the detractors who don't GET what CCC intends to achieve. The shot is not "complicated" enough, as if complexity was a seal of greatness... "visual riches", not enough "drama". What can I say? He wants mainstream action and doesn't find it in CCC, thus discards it without trying to figure out if there are legit reasons to develop an art form WITHOUT these century old clutches inherited from Theatre and Literature.
But then again, this is the guy who believes that "slow criticism" sucks...


* * *

I regret that this debate stagnates on where critics would like art cinema to head towards, as if they were in a position to dictate how artists should respond to the new paradigms of our modernity... Critics forget their place and their role, which is to explicit what happens, not to boss artists around. Tell us whether the artists of our generation do a good job or not (because these articles don't address aesthetic issues, don't prove the failure of CCC, they just state that they got bored with the trend), but don't suggest them where to go!


Shaviro only reinforces the mentality outlined earlier by Gavin Smith in Film Comment, and now by Nick James in Sight & Sound : somehow "La Tradition de Qualité" is in artfilm festivals (which is a complete misunderstanding of what conformity Cahiers opposed in 1954!) and the real great cinema of today is in Hollywood (which has no Hitchcock or Selznick today to save it), or who knows where else, in digital cinema and exploitation...


I believe this is a MAJOR debate of today's cinema aesthetic. Not the only one, but without doubt one of the main questions that critics should address and explore to mark the film culture of our times. Incommensurably more important than Mumblecore, or the decline of the press!
I'm not saying that the pertinence of film criticism necessarily resides in defending CCC, because there is room for sound theoretical examination of its shortcomings.

But History will remember that Film Comment and Sight & Sound took a stance against this trend! I hope you won't feel embarrassed for taking the wrong side when the dust settles. But that's what timely criticism is all about : taking chances.

And I predict a big blunder of the institutional press for dismissing this aesthetic (while only keeping the safe bets on top masters). The debate mistreated, misunderstood, underestimated, neglected in 2010. CCC dates back as far as 1970ies and the various films were systematically colluded with Modern Cinema, Minimalism or other political side-issues, without ever appreciating its main aesthetic component that differs from Antonioni or Tarkovsky.
Just like the critics of the 60ies rejected the breakthrough of Modern Cinema, just like the conservative art critics of Classicism failed to welcome Impressionism, just like the established critics of Figurative Art rejected Cubism and Abstract Art... this is the old tune of shortsighted witnesses.


_________________
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)

13 comments:

weepingsam said...

Without getting into the details quite yet - how much of this discussion revolves around the fact that critics have found a way to talk about contemplative films as a group? That it is possible to lump them together - you can find a way to talk about Costa, Alonso, Tarr, Jia, Ceylan (etc.) as if they were part of a movement, but it's much harder to lump, say, Maddin, Martel, Desplechin, Von Trier, Wong Kar-wei? Being able to talk about CCC or "slow cinema" as if those terms meant something makes it easier to complain about the genre when you see a film that doesn't work - if you see a non-CCC art film that doesn't work, it might just be harder to find a way to see it as somehow contaminating art films that do work...

CCC might have become a victim of its success - it's become a recognizable trend, and thus has to answer for more...

HarryTuttle said...

Where did you see CCC taken into consideration as a group? By detractors maybe when they call these films "slow cinema" or "festival-whore films"... Either the films lumped together is incoherent, or the definition associated with them is misleading. So it doesn't help to understand this trend.
The only text attempting to define it as a group was Antony Fiant in Trafic, and still it was admitedly just a draft of a reflection, just a list of auteurs.

Why would a bad film using the identified CCC traits contaminate the legitimacy of the whole trend? It's not like there is a solidarity between them, they all work in their own private corner. They are not responsible for what the others do.
It's not a concrete family coming from the same university. They are associated theoretically beacuse they appear to have common aesthetic interests and inspiration.

I see what you mean when you say "victim of its success". Relatively speaking, La Nouvelle Vague enjoyed a recognisable success, both critical and popular. But did you see a "contemplative cinema" restrospective anywhere? What level of success are we talking about? Certain auteurs received awards individually, for their own worth, but not because they were part of a "group"... How could we be tired of this group if it was never acknowledged yet?

This whole anti-slow reaction is bogus. It's just reviewers that are tired of having nothing to say about these empty films, thus they think they are all the same. They cannot see the variations in the repetitions. They refuse to adapt, to train new skills to describe these UFO, to learn to talk about emptiness instead of running on auto-pilot with the habitual tropes of the what Deleuze called "image-action" (standard drama).

HarryTuttle said...

Vadim Rizov decided to censor my comments on his blog, so I'll have to write here:

"The comments are more insightful than the main post. It's the wonders of Web 2.0! ;)"

If critics aren't confident in what they write enough to allow their readers to criticise it, they should THINK twice before publishing it publicly!
Film Criticism is not just BEING PUBLISHED... it also entails responsibilities and accountability. You can't have one without the other.
If you're not ready to embrace the freedom of expression, DO NOT criticise people in your posts... you'll stay out of trouble. ;)

HarryTuttle said...

The insightful comments I'm referring to above can be read here :

estienne64 : "Harry Tuttle probably has a point about Nick James' pandering to a more populist agenda – as a UK resident I am acutely aware that, largely for political reasons, the culture here is uncomfortable defending anything that could be construed as "elitist" (the dirtiest of dirty words) - but it's safe to say that some of these films are straying into "White Elephant" territory, to borrow Manny Farber's phrase, their makers and their supporters mistaking stillness, silence, long-held shots and characters' (im)passivity for profundity. Of course, saying which ones are the real deal and which the phonies is another matter entirely."

ronald Bergan : "'Slow' is often employed without even the adverbs "too" or "so". When a critic calls a film "slow", it is immediately taken as pejorative. Would one criticise a piece of music by saying it is slow? The word itself carries no negative connotation. It is as neutral as "fast", "shot on video" or "in black and white", although these terms, even unqualified, can also carry with them some prejudice. Slow usually implies that the critic has found the film boring, another meaningless subjective term. If someone announces that they find opera or Shakespeare boring, it says nothing about opera or Shakespeare, but about the speaker.

Without a doubt, my greatest cinematic experience at the Berlinale this year was Double Tide, by the American artist Sharon Lockhart. It consists of two 45-minute takes in long shot with a static camera, documenting, in real time, the work of a solitary female clam digger (Jen Casad) in the mudflats of coastal Maine during low tide, once at dawn and once at dusk. She is seen in the early morning mist and the purple twilight, hauling her bucket over the mud and bending down to pull up the clams in a position not unlike Millet's The Gleaners. The pop of the clams being extracted, the squawk of birds, the buzz of insects, a distant foghorn are the only sounds. This meditative masterpiece is a moving tribute to human toil."

weepingsam said...

Where did you see CCC taken into consideration as a group?

I think in some ways it's almost completely tautological - CCC (or Slow cinema or whatever people call it) is a meaningful trend because people talk about it as if it were a meaningful trend. And because it's possible to talk about it as a meaningful trend (without necessarily saying anything meaningful about it), it starts to become "useful" - to beat up Hollywood with, or as a foil for whatever films you want to advance, and so on. (Bit of that in Shaviro's post, I think.) All of which tends to move away from both the consideration of the films themselves as works of art (a point Glenn Kenny seems to be making in his new post on the subject) and of CCC as a, genuinely, meaningful trend or tendency or movement - not to mention other ways of thinking about films. (Technology, financial considerations, political and social considerations - all of which have fairly clear impact on CCC films.) Again, without getting too deep into the details, I think this is one of the areas Shaviro seems to miss - the ways CCC IS a product of its time, contemporary tools (digital video, notably), economics and so on.

John Noll said...

Rather than make assumptions about Mr. Rizov and his comments thread, maybe you should understand that it is not "his" blog but that of a corporation that one would guess has control over comments. I enjoy reading both your work and Vadim's. I don't believe he is the kind of writer who would delete criticism of his work. I think that letting your comments stray from the topic at hand undermines any validity your argument might have.

C.V. said...

one should think the bluff of this silly 'ccc' theory has been called, good on steven shaviro and nick james.

nick james is so right to point out the fraud of this so called aesthetic, worse, the "unspoken-elitism" (as a commenter mentioned on shaviro's blog) employed to glue together what is no more than an aggregate of tastes -- what could be more disparate than the list of films and filmmakers this temple has made itself a shrine to!?

HarryTuttle said...

weepingsam,
the tautology you describe is what happens in the "media" because they misconceive it, especially when simplified as "slow cinema". But this blog here is grounded on examinable evidences: I don't think it's tautological if that's what you meant.
Was that Glenn Kenny's point? I didn't see that. I thought it was all about bashing Karina Longworth... ;)
I agree with you that we could find a (tangential) relevance of CCC regarding globalisation and technology (or lack thereof), if we looked hard enough, but it is not the main drive of this type of cinema, so it is not in plain view. Eric Khoo uses mobile phone animations in Be With Me! JZK uses CGI flying saucers in Still Life!
Of course CCC is a product of its time, but not necessarily because it's a carbon copy of our ways of life. It is an indirect reflection.

HarryTuttle said...

John Noll,
my comments (2) appeared on the page, and were removed when I came back later. It's not like it was an automated spam filter... And my comment wasn't trollish, spamming or insulting. Just skeptical like any comments anywhere.
IFC is a big corporation filtering the freedom of expression of its readers now?
You blame ME for writing personal opinions on MY blog? Are you kidding me?

HarryTuttle said...

C.V.,
thanks for your insightful contribution.
If the arguments brought up by James & Shaviro is enough to fulfill your curiosity, there is nothing I can do for you.
But I'd hope you would see no harm in leaving to people who don't share your opinions the liberty to venture in wild investigations that don't matter to you.
Disagreeing and sharing it : OK. Belittling or threatening people to STOP THINKING freely just because you don't share their views, is just plain wrong dude.
I hope the existence of this "shrine", over here, doesn't make your life too miserable, over there. I think we can live at peace each in our corner of the world ;)
It's not like if you're at school and you're forced to endure a class on CCC!

HarryTuttle said...

update: my comments at IFC have been restored, with a comment by "IFC".
all is cool. :)

C.V. said...

the tone used here, in response to nick james, then steven shaviro (twice), after a perffectly valid rebuttal to your position's own apparent shortcomings is little more than that of a bully found with their pants down.

the sooner this "unspoken-elitism" disintegrates the better for healthy film and theory debates, and the blogosphere for that matter.

HarryTuttle said...

Sorry I hurt your feelings. The tone of your comment lulled me to believe you talked like a tough critic. Action calls reaction of equal and opposite force.
Don't throw stones in my backyard if your roof is made of glass. ;)

Tell me about "healthy film and theory debates"! Where are they? What do they talk about, pray tell, pretty please!