Slow films, easy life (Sight&Sound)
Via Filmwell :
"Part of the critical orthodoxy I have complained about has been the dominance of Slow Cinema, that “varied strain of austere minimalist cinema that has thrived internationally over the past ten years”, as Jonathan Romney put it [see here]. “What’s at stake,” he wrote, “is a certain rarefied intensity in the artistic gaze . . . a cinema that downplays event in favour of mood, evocativeness and an intensified sense of temporality.”
I admire and enjoy a good many of the best films of this kind, but I have begun to wonder if maybe some of them now offer an easy life for critics and programmers. After all, the festivals themselves commission many of these productions, and such films are easy to remember and discuss in detail because details are few. The bargain the newer variety of slow films seem to impose on the viewer is simple: it’s up to you to draw on your stoic patience and the fascination in your gaze, in case you miss a masterpiece.
Watching a film like the Berlin Golden Bear-winner Honey (”Bal” Semih Kaplanoglu, 2010) – a beautifully crafted work that, for me suffers from dwelling too much on the visual and aural qualities of its landscape and milieu – there are times, as you watch someone trudge up yet another woodland path, when you feel an implicit threat: admit you’re bored and you’re a philistine. Such films are passive-aggressive in that they demand great swathes of our precious time to achieve quite fleeting and slender aesthetic and political effects: sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not. Slow Cinema has been the clear alternative to Hollywood for some time, but from now on, with Hollywood in trouble, I’ll be looking out for more active forms of rebellion."
“Passive Aggressive”, editorial by Nick James, Sight & Sound, April 2010
Typical. Misunderstanding CCC. Looking down on art cinema.
We're back in 2006 when CCC was ironically nicknamed "boring art films"! And this is not the dumbing down mainstream press uttering these words... it comes from the most artfilm-friendly cinephile publication in the UK, by the very colleague of Jonathan Romney (long-time defender of CCC) cited in the article. Real film critics giving up on art... who is going to defend real culture then?
First he calls it "slow cinema", like Matthew Flanagan (read "Slower or Contemplative?"), which is a mischaracterisation that induces contempt and caricature. Limiting this cinema to "slowness" is reductive and superficial. This is precisely because unhappy viewers remain on the surface of these films that they are unable to obtain any substance from them.
"Details are few" says he! It's not because you can hardly fill a half-page with plot points and characters arc, or because the list of notable features appearing on the screen is short, that there isn't anything else there to see. Critics need to learn how to name things (and fill up their list of itemisation) that are not obvious, to learn to find the content behind the appearance of emptiness, to learn to understand the depth and complexity in the intervals between the apparent (nominal) details.
It's like dismissing Kasimir Malevich or Yves Klein because there isn't enough "details" on the canvas... sometimes Art is not about WHAT is represented, but about what is NOT represented, or an abstract reflection on the effect of representational minimalism. I thought critics assimilated this breakthrough of non-figurative art long time ago! (see: Non-narrative Film Criticism)
I can't believe a serious magazine would publish such anti-intellectual banter. If you don't like these films, deal with it frontally. No need to pretend that art would never put you to sleep. I believe the guilt is onto the sleeper. Filmmakers, good or bad, don't have to make your job easier. That's your problem. If you have trouble watching films as an imposed assignment, find another job less strenuous on your patience. Because Film Criticism isn't going to change to suit your Diva's demands. When you trade your opinions on cinema, we don't need to know whether you enjoy getting up in the morning, forgetting to drink your coffee, driving to the screening room, struggling with your digestion, feeling nauseous from hangover, falling asleep... This is not the kind of "opinion" you're paid for. We don't ask critics whether they ENJOY watching films for a living, we ask them if these films are any good!
Here is how he defines his profession of film critic : "it’s up to you to draw on your stoic patience and the fascination in your gaze, in case you miss a masterpiece". The guy is paid to watch movies to give his opinion, and he would like us to feel sorry for him to have to watch all films before knowing whether it's a masterpiece... Maybe he expected the job to be signposted in advance, with big labels in red letters saying "MASTERPIECE" on the DVD screener, so he knows which films to watch and which ones he may skip. Dude! Your job is to watch the damn films, masterpieces or not. "Patience" and screen "fascination" is a REQUIREMENT of your job! "Precious time" is what your are required to invest for the privilege to give your opinion on films.
"sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not" : wonderful insight! Thanks for the truism. How is this any different when you watch dumb comedies and superhero sequels??? Yeah, sometimes it's worth it, sometimes not. But if we knew in advance, you'd be out of job!
If you want to watch only "masterpieces", you're not a critic, you're a READER. Readers don't have to watch all the films, they sit at home and read in YOUR magazine which are the "masterpieces" because critics did their job. What is so hard to grasp here?
And this guy runs a film magazine and writes editorials??? At least he admits he's "bored and a philistine". Typical of the anti-intellectual, pro-entertainment inclination that plagues today's film culture. If you can't tell art from boredom, you won't be taken seriously when you think you've found art in mainstream formulaic genre... cause THAT is the easy life for a film critic (and most of the time they are overstating the alleged greatness of genres, hoping to pull a Truffaut)
This said, to be able to identify CCC in "slower films" doesn't mean that they are therefore ALL great or revolutionary or exceptional... Yes, there are bad CCC films! Who would have thought?
There are bad Soviet Montage films too, bad Italian neorealism films, bad Nouvelle Vague films, bad Westerns, bad documentaries... Yes. It happens! Thanks for the lesson Sight & Sound.
Did you expect films that play it "artsy" to be automatic wins? that if it LOOKS slow, then it must be great art? There is no recipe for art, not in art-films, not in genre movies.
CCC is not a formulaic trend that only produces masterpieces. It is an alternative way to make films, a new narrative mode, a different angle in storytelling, and it gives a new perspective to the audience. You can't judge it with your subjective mainstream prejudices (lack of details, lack of events, slowness, boredom...)
If young filmmakers try to imitate certain traits without understanding what CCC is, they are wrong and they make bad films. But that doesn't undermine CCC, not for savvy critics anyway. There are a lot of wannabe directors who think they can imitate a comedy formula and become a great filmmaker... but it's not that easy. Why? Because critics don't have the "easy life", they know to look past the surface and tell uninspired imitation from a genuine research that happens to take a form common to a certain trend.
If artists tried to avoid their art to look like nothing else around, we would never see the emergence of a collegial trend in the major aesthetic movements of cinema history, in Art history in general.