Saturday, October 6, 2012
When Shoeshine opened in 1947, I went to see it alone after one of those terrible lovers’ quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, “Well, I don’t see what was so special about that movie.” I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt for those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine...Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as “Shoeshine” demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings.
Two recent books on Pauline Kael offer reminders of a sensual critical style that transformed American cinephilia. My review of both can be found over at Cinespect. The review is extremely lucky to have photos of Kael from Robin Holland and Jill Krementz, which they are kindly allowing us to use, and for which I say a very grateful THANK YOU. Special thanks, too, to the fabulous CINESPECT team, whose choice of film stills and layout wizardry transformed the piece, and thrill me whenever I scroll through it. Their editing prowess on my prose also made it so much better-- you all are the best!
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Via Glenn Kenny's blog, I found out that this Cineaste piece-- which I had initially heard about via the comments thread at Jonathan Lapper's blog--is now online for your perusal. It's a piece about Film Criticism in the Age of Blogging, and I highlighted my path of discovery before mentioning what the article was about to suggest that such linkage and wandering is one of the key aspects of said Age: the ability to make connections and follow tangential threads across a series of heretofore stratified subject areas, media and writing styles (like an allusive game of Theory Hopscotch). The Cineaste piece explores the good/bad of this blogging era, and includes wonderful pieces from Self-Styled Siren, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kenny, Filmbrain, and many others. In his section, Kenny asks if blogging has produced an Andre Bazin, and says he's not certain (although he offers up David Bordwell as one possible answer; I might have offered up Girish, who seems much more in tune with the poetics and constant questioning of Bazin's best work). But what the best blogs suggest is that this question is something of an anachronism, as odd as comparing Cahiers du Cinema and theater criticism (and then wondering why the former isn't like the latter). For me, the model for blogging (filmic or otherwise) is less writing (especially the essay) than it is dance or pop music. It crafts a duet between writer and text, and between posts and comments, that comes at the reader as a series of riffs and improvisations, or imaginative choreography between ideas and texts: at once analytic, conversational, quotational, romantic, angry, searching and witty. If it works, the concept will eventually give way to the groove.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Good work usually arises when the creators... seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn't anywhere or anything... It goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.
-- Manny Farber
Via Glenn Kenny's blog, I found out that film critic, teacher and painter Manny Farber died last night, at the age of 91.
Along with James Agee, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, Farber was one of a handful of American critics in the postwar era who transformed the way we saw cinema. He wrote for a variety of magazines and journals, including The Nation, The New Republic, Art Forum, and Film Culture, where his painter's eye for visual detail, his love of supposedly "disreputable" genres like the war movie and the B-level crime film, and his valorization of Hawks and Anthony Mann would all have a profound influence on the generation of cinephiles coming of age in the 50s and 60s. Above all, there was his writerly voice, best captured in the epigraph above, from his most famous essay, "White Elephant Art v. Termite Art."
In a very Bazinian way, Farber moves in this essay from an opening salvo about artistic reception--"Most of the feckless, listless quality of today's art can be blamed on its drive to break out of a tradition while, irrationally, hewing to the square, boxed-in shape and gemlike inertia of an old, densely wrought European masterpiece."-- that uses painting as its example, tracing out parallel traditions in that field before moving into his primary subject, the movies. In this way, he gets off a neat double play: he's able to suggest the manner in which critical traditions can calcify and harden (and can thereby stunt the growth of another medium when they are applied to it), even as his own deft, pugnacious utilization of interdisciplinary comparison suggests (as Christian Keathley and others have noted) a vibrant new critical alternative, one that, to borrow Farber's own phrasing on termite art, "feels its way through walls of particularization."
Great links about Farber can found at GreenCine Daily, and Jonathan Rosenbaum has a lovely remembrance of Farber at his blog.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Wow. It's really fracking cold here. And it's not even Christmas yet! (Last year, we didn't get this kind of snowfall until February or so). At the same time, it's extremely beautiful (as long as no one and nothing gets hurt), as the snow tends to clarify the landscape and cast it into a kind of black-and-white, cinematic space. Not a bad trade-off, really. One of my favorite books as a child was Ezra Jack Keats' A Snowy Day , a gorgeous picture book about a young boy who delights in the rituals of the first snowfall, spends all day outside, and is crushed to discover that the snowball he's saved has melted overnight. I can't play today-- have to go teach Truffaut. Then again, the two activities are not entirely unrelated-- after all, it was Truffaut's mentor who once said "Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake whose vegetable or earthly origins are an inseperable part of their beauty." And later, in the same essay, describing the phenomenon of photography, but also aptly interpreting my walk in the Cineville snow, if we substitute the weather for the lens: "Only the impassive lens, stripping its object of all those ways of seeing it, those piled-up preconceptions, that spiritual dust and grime with which my eyes have covered it, is able to present it in all its virginal purity to my attention and consequently to my love."