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.
Long Story Short: I'm in a course called artistic studies, and we do study Cinema. We the students visited a production studio and met the persons behind the project. They're established and make movies with a certain regularity - and quality. The persons behind the project said to us that is impossible to make movies without compromising your artistic integrity at some level. I violently denied this view of Cinema. Although it is a reallity that the Cinema as Industry is somehow dominant, it sure doesn't mean that the Cultural Relevance of Cinema comes out of it. I think that the Cultural relevance of Cinema always comes from it's artistic singularities and the way it communicates with the World around us. This means that the filmmaker must be able to do his thing wihtout target audience X and Y in mind. To my surprise, this argumentation of mine was totally bashed by the guys from both the production company (no surprise here) and my universty teacher. Their argumentation was something like this: a) if you want to make movies as you want, without compromising your views, go make movies with your friends (and this was said in a total denotative way - I even mentioned Glauber Rocha and Cassavetes as examples of sublime-low-budget-anti-hollywood but got no feedback...) b) Cinema was always an industry, and even the idea of a Free Artist is very recent, so forth and so on.
So, if the ones with some kind of responsability in the field of cinema (respected magazines and college professors) don't really give a shit about cinema as art (or culture,) and only care about the financial outccome of things, what kind of future do we have?
I've learnt over the years that filmmakers are not necessarily the best spokespersons of cinema in general.
Besides, art cinema doesn't have to be distributed, to foster a large audience... these are concerns for the producers. An auteur makes a film for him/herself, because they believe in their vision. Like a painter with a canvas. If lots of people want to see it, and if it makes tons of money : all the better. But the end shouldn't compromise the means.
I have watched people watching this film - one of her longest - and some walk away quickly, some lie down and have a snooze, some surrender themselves to the intensity of the experience. Others watch half of it, then complain bitterly in the cafe, because they waited and waited, and nothing happened. But climbing out of the nothing, like shy creatures, trodden-on and overlooked, is the curious life of objects freed from their everyday imprisonment. We understand that when Cézanne paints an apple, or Vermeer a milk jug, it is as though we had never seen these objects before.
On film, which has become the medium of action, contemplation is anathema. Yet when film allows a moment to unfold in real time, we realise that a moment is agonisingly long and that our perception of time is both subjective and approximate.
[..] She likes the beginning, middle and end that film allows, but far from reaching for a conventional narrative, she uses the time-line of the film to release her subject into its timeless state.[..]
'I do not think I am slowing down time, but I am demanding people's time,' she says. In a busy world, that is a big demand, but one of the many reasons why art matters is its ability to stop the rush. Art on film makes us conscious of the time and space we occupy, and give us an insight into the nature of time itself. [..]
The vividness of her images and the vibrancy of her soundscapes are a challenge to the desensitised, coarse world of normal experience, where bright lights, movement and noise cheat us into believing that something is happening. Tacita Dean's slow nothingness is far more rich and strange."
Jeanette Winterson (The Guardian) on Tacita Dean (read here)
In our era, doing "narrative cinema" is being conformist. Not the other way round. Did you read the discussion about "non-narrative cinema" (from 1978!!!) linked above? And the non-narrative cinema has evolved greatly since 1978.
Bal/Honey is a beautiful film that speaks with poetry, dreamwork, simple, evident lives, contact with Nature and contemplative scenery.
Wasn't the last sequence, the run in the forest, rewarding to you?
Do you think the reason Tarkovsky or Tarr are better than other lesser "slow films" is because they were formated/restricted by the mainstream narrative system? Their best films don't compromise and still achieve great art, even if it's strenuous on the audience sometimes... But it's not the audience's popular vote that decides what is the best art. Only history tells. And most of the time the audience that gets to watch it first gets it wrong because art is ahead of its time. Only later audience have the necessary distance to appreciate it.
Bal (Berlinale winner), Uncle Boonmee (Cannes winner), Nowhere (Venice winner) which are all low-key narratives, more poetical than plot-oriented are better films than any system-formated (so-called) indie films.
To begin with, if you make "art" solely for yourself, it ain't. Art, that is. It is to art as masturbation is to actual sex. It's narcissism and arrogance.
Art is a collaborative process between creator and audience; it's a conversation. To have a conversation, you must:
a) speak the same language, and
b) say something an audience finds interesting.
As long as the people making the films do so with no public money whatsoever, fine. It's a free universe. I see no reason why anyone should subsidize them, though. Sink or swim on your own.
Making good art isn't about ending up on the best-sellers list of commercial books, or the billboard chart of most popular songs...
Manet was rejected when he painted "Déjeuner sur l'herbe", Picasso with Cubism, Duchamp with his urinal, Thelonious Monk with his harmonies off the chart... You don't make aesthetic breakthrough by following the mainstream, by yielding to populist compromises!
Your conception of art is very narrow-minded, and consumerist.
Elusive Lucidity; 18 June 2010
For what it's worth, I happen to agree with James - who never denied that some great works are born out of the very conditions you celebrate; but merely noted that the style has ossified into a cliche, and worse, a reflexive default for filmmakers lacking anything in particular to say.
But I would add: it's hard to take you even remotely seriously, Mr Tuttle, when you hide behind a pseudonym. Many of us think and write under our own names, and accept the burden of scrutiny and argument; we don't shelter like cowards behind an 'ironic' nom de plume. Until you do this, your opinion is worthless.
If the criticisms directed at this style of filmmaking stem from the actual fast stream of images on television, the internet and in advertising, they are also a result of the recent cultural, critical and artistic speculative emphasis placed upon the use of slowness in creative endeavour: namely, its use in moving image work as a philosophical reaction to modernity‘s high-speed vacuity, as seen, for example, in the video art of Douglas Gordon and Tacita Dean, or in the films of Michael Haneke and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This contemporary critical trend towards slowness recalls Walter Benjamin‘s much earlier revolt against the speed of modernity in ‗The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction‘. [..]
On the other hand, and as a reaction, avant-garde and art house cinema has become predominantly slow, with the apparent intention of allowing the spectator more time to seriously contemplate the image."
In Praise of Speed: The Value of Velocity in Contemporary Cinema (Lara Thompson; Dandelion; Spring 2011)
Elegy for Analogue. Editorial (Sight and Sound; April 2012)