Late to the Party
I know I'm coming late to the party-- hey, this blog's only a day old!-- but the excellent Dennis Cozzalio has a great post up about the recent Online Film Critics Poll, and it's worth looking at the list, reading what Dennis has to say about it, and scanning through the lengthy comments section. Like the poll itself, I don't have a lot to add to the conversation that's there, except to repeat what I said in the comments section: it's not a terrible list by any means, but it's a terribly redundant one. From what I've read, the point was to generate a better response to lists by AFI and others, which were (rightly) thought to be lacking in a sense of history and formal daring (really, how often do we have to pay homage to this* ?). A great idea, but one which seemed to get lost in translation. How is it really any different from those earlier lists, other than in, perhaps, its ordering? It feels less like the cool insights I get from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule or Cinebeats or Kim Morgan or Girish (to name only a few superb bloggers whose sites you can visit through the blog roll at your right), and more like the hipster nerd posturing of Ain't It Cool-- setting oneself up as an "alternative" voice but only regurgitating a slightly different brand of mainstream than what you're supposedly the alternative to (and I say that as someone who really likes some of the action movies on the list). Finally, Dennis is right-- any list that relegates Hawks to 95 and has no Godard is really, really odd (and I'm probably closer in age to many of the "younger" people whose opinions apparently dominated it).
(Howard Can't Get No Respect!)
What's interesting to me about the list is precisely this sense of conformist daring-- what we used to, in college, call "let's all be different together." Let's give the no-doubt-well-intentioned OFC poll organizers a break, as I don't mean this to be an attack on them as much as a way of thinking through the methodological problems the poll exemplfies. Yellow Dog posted about this problem in a different setting-- that of academic rhet/comp & media studies, and I think there are some overlaps between what he identifies as the failure to generate or respond to new ideas in technology there, and the problems of generating a truly "different" online response by the participating bloggers. Who votes? How are the votes structured? How are alternative voices generated, heard, and responded to (and what happens when they're not)? And if nothing truly changes, how do we "spin" our poll/plank as being a useful or daring response to a problem? Yellow Dog is, I think, absolutely correct to talk about it as as series of circulating tropes, which, as he notes, end up taking on the power of Barthesian "mythologies." Too often, the tropes of popular (i.e., "non-academic") film critique seem to fall into either an extreme populism (screw Godard!) or extreme academicism (screw The Matrix! Up with Bergman!). In other words, how do you circulate around the party? And what happens when you come a little late? What do online, blogging critics add to the discussions that have been occuring for decades in other media? What do academics add at this point to a discussion about film in the academy that's 45 years old and counting, and often seems to give up its sensuality and subjectivity in favor of sociological "obligation"? Would a version of the OFC poll taken in the academy generate something more useful? Or just a competing set of exhausted tropes (or what a professor of mine once called texts "that teach us what we already know")?
In the end, there are no single or easy answers to these questions, and I'm afraid that at the moment, I share the slight exhaustion, the "it's too bad" that I sense in both Dennis and Yellow Dog's posts. But I think the conversation is worth having, that there's a real value in saying, "then what"? If this is the state of the field (whether online or in various academic disciplines), where do we go now? That's the real value of the poll, I think-- not as an end-all end point, but as the start of a new party, one which I think the folks on the blog roll to the right are certainly starting, and one which I hope spills over into a variety of other fields.
Roland Barthes one more time, longing for what he calls "an aesthetic discourse": "What shall we call such a discourse? erotic, no doubt, for it has to do with pleasure; aesthetic, if we foresee subjecting this old category to a gradual torsion which will alienate it from its regressive, idealist background and bring it closer to the body, to the drift.”
*Actually, as I was making the link from IMdB, I skimmed through the trivia, and saw suggestions of far more enticing alternative castings. I don't know if this is true, but apparently, Terry Gilliam was considered as a director (!), Ice Cube was considered for Bubba (!!), and one of Cinephile's favorite actors, Bill Murray, turned down the role of Forrest. Now THAT's a movie a bubblegum aesthete could get behind!