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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Slow Parody (Sight&Sound)

"I fell to wondering how Europe's great auteurs would get on should they stray into the world of cunning stunts and spectacular car crashes [..]
Béla Tarr remakes Two-lane Blacktop
The development process is slow given Tarr's insistence that the existing screenplay (a) has too much dialogue, (b) spends too much time off the highway, and (c) is too short. Progress is slow; producers come and go; and, as a decade goes by, Tarr immerses himself in 1970's American cinema, showing special interest in Five Easy Pieces. Shooting begins with János Derzsi in a Dodge Charger driving very slowly along an empty desert highway with the camera tracking beside him. Chapter two : Derzsi stops at a roadside diner and orders potatoes. The waitress points out that potatoes are served only as part of other dishes. Very slowly, Derzsi begins to work his way Jack Nicholson's "hold the chicken" speech from Five Easy Pieces until potatoes are served - for that, it turns out, is all there is - and slowly eaten. Chapter three : Derzsi returns to the car and drives some more. It begins to snow, necessitating expensive special effects since snow is rare in Arizona. Some time later, a car passes in the other direction. [..]"
Source: Europe's auteurs in action (Nick Roddick; Sight and Sound; Aug 2011)


Nobody would dare making fun of Robert Bresson today, even though his idiosyncratic style was received in his time with a similar mockery, superficial and puerile, because his detractors couldn't conceive the possibility to make cinema outside the norm. Today you would pass as a dumb philistine, a lazy anti-intellectual, if you pointed finger at Bresson (ask Gavin Smith), Antonioni (ask Steven Shaviro), Bergman (ask Jonathan Rosenbaum) or Tarkovsky... for being slowish, wandering, pondering, intellectual, with laughable clichés and shorthands. Today, if you can not understand serious art, if venturing outside of Entertainment is too much for your brains, you don't write for the specialized cinephilic press and you stick to Ain't it Cool News, Entertainment Weekly or Variety where the readership indulges in cheap shots at highbrow culture! 
Making fun of Tarr Béla, of slowness and boredom, is as near-sighted and shallow today as it was back when the press establishment was not ready to welcome one of the greatest aesthetic rupture in cinema history. Why would I expect Sight and Sound to support forward thinking cinema rather than reinforcing stupid clichés about art cinema? I must be a desperate idealist...  
By some bizarre inspiration, Nick Roddick (who already entertained ridiculing the Auteur theory in his column earlier this year) thought he was employed by News of the World and found no shame in playing with the memory of the suicide of Tarr's producer during his production of The Man From London (which had nothing to do with it), with the misconceived cliché that Tarr makes long films (only one of his films exceeded 2h30, which has become rather common a runtime, even for a lot of recent Hollywood-made entertainment, get with the time!), with the reductive stereotype that his cinema is all about "slowness" and boredom (like another Dan Kois)... He starts off with the hypothetical that European intellectuals would want to sell out to Hollywood in order to make big-bucks spectacles, he mentions stunts and car crashes... then his examples of Hollywood remakes are not really the typical mass-appeal action movie. Two-lane blacktop and Five Easy Pieces are as far away from Hollywood standard production as European cinema was at that time. WTF are you talking about? You can't tell the difference between New Hollywood (which is not new anymore) and Hollywood (which is newer)? Not to mention he assumes that "European auteurs" is a phrase that necessarily corresponds to "slowish filmmaking" (see: To America everything Foreign is slow), always opposing this binary construct of cinema, with action, entertainment and fun on one side, that's Hollywood (this time it's a British critic saying it), and on the other side is everything else, or everything that is not Hollywood, therefore, slow, boring and tedious, Europe being shrunk into an uneducated cliché.
Good job forging a clever remake that only educated cinephiles would get, but targeted at an anti-intellectual mainstream readership who loves to hate slowish films, and are not educated enough to get the joke. I guess that's what the Sight and Sound readership has become... a sophisticated crowd who loves to indulge in artfilm bashing, cause they have the culture for the in-jokes but not the taste to feel offended. That's when you know you're no longer a cinephile dude!
But who cares? You may publish ANYTHING you want when you have no moral standards (ask Rupert Murdoch).
They try to pass it as "humour" (yeah, Tarr interrupts his career because the state of the production system sucks, S&S will make fun of him anyway! How tactless and low), although I didn't know Sight and Sound was a jester magazine for cinephiles who need to laugh at their own alienating niche, but the competition in this domain is pretty tough in, let's see, ALL OF THE MOVIE PRESS that doesn't take art cinema seriously. Could we expect Sight and Sound to at least have the balls to take challenging cinema SERIOUSLY and not make fun of it like a mere high-school fanzine? Come on. You've fallen so low (no wonder they lost any credibility when they publicize Farhadi's A Separation and it only comes out on less than 30 screens!). It's been a few years since the historic reputation of the Sight and Sound brand has been washed out into vulgar culture, Hollywood sell-out and the absence of serious reflection. There is a public for that, but real cinephiles feed on richer content, even vegetables, without the sugar-coating of cheap parody.
Go review Phineas and Ferb, Nick, that's your level. 


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