March 28, 2006

Democracy in Film Criticism

This book review of the anthology The American Movie Critics is inspiring me to take another look at that perennial issue of democracy in film criticism.

I basically distrust the idea of the film expert simply because so few of them are really experts. There are really three kinds of film buffs: the classic film buffs who are well-aquainted with Hollywood studio films from the pre-MPAA era; the cult film buffs who are junkies for sensation, the Quentin Tarantinos and Psychotronic Movie Guide crowd, if you will, they're well-aquainted with anything "exploitation"; and then there are the art film buffs, who tend to be the most arrogant of the bunch-- the self-proclaimed experts of films. The problem with these guys is that they only watch the "cream" of the exploitation and classic genres. The only way you can get them to watch the "dregs" is if the dregs are playing in theaters across the country and are topical. Because they don't watch the shitty classics and the shitty exploitation films, they're unfamiliar with the genre conventions and can often have a grossly slanted view of something like, say, film noir.

If you think yourself a film expert you sure as fuck better be able to converse fluently about hardcore porn from the early eighties. To say nothing of the
Friday the 13th decalog. I'd also love to hear your opinion on the nine films that James Cagney made between The Public Enemy and Footlight Parade.

It's not just breadth and depth of knowledge about film. I always go back on that rant that these arbitrators of film culture are not experts on psychology, sociology, theology, anthropology, geography, history, or philosophy. Many are well-read, few if any well-read enough to justify their position in deciding what's art and what's not. Are there gradients? I would assume, but as there could hardly ever be anybody who is qualified to be an arbitrator of film culture, that line that somebody must cross in order to determine what's great art will be pretty much perpetually undefined.

So basically, Joe Blow's opinion really is as good as yours and mine. Find something you like, find something you hate; figure out what you like and what you hate and why. Any asshole with a keyboard can be a film critic, all you need is an opinion that you're going to stand by. I've found myself searching on the IMDB for people who love (or even just like) Man of the House,
Firewall, and Dukes of Hazzard and see if they hate anything "good". I did find one Firewall fan who also really liked Aeon Flux, Uptown Girls, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and The Skeleton Key and disliked King Kong. (He also disliked 2046, but then again so did I). Granted for every film that this guy dislikes there're ten that he likes. That seems to be the dominant trend among the "bad" movie fans and disqualifies them from being regarded as valid film critics. Not because they're not sophisticated enough to like King Kong, but just because they don't have real opinions. But still, if you think that The Skeleton Key is a good movie and King Kong isn't you might be seeing something that the rest of us aren't and I'm eager to find out what it is. The Skeleton Key fans usually disappoint me, but you know I can't take the elitist position because, basically, there for the grace of God go I.

Update: Walt's pan of Basic Instinct 2 is up and loaded. Bad news, it's not so bad it's funny.

If you haven't already, make it a point to check out Walter's kick-ass piece on Showtime's Huff and Masters of Horror, my characteristically button-pushing review of Bill Hicks: Sane Man, and Bill's DVD update of the universally-reviled (except by that guy who hated King Kong which doesn't help my case any) Elizabethtown.

Update: We also have a fresh review of Wim Wender's latest: Don't Come Knocking.

75 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been arguing for a couple days now on the IMDB message boards with people who think that V for Vendetta pales in comparison to, of all movies, Equilibrium.

Apparently, they disliked the sledgehammer politics of the former (and I certainly can't argue that V4V is subtle), whereas they preferred Equilibrium because they felt Christian Bale had a more personal and touching character arc.

I have no idea how to deal with this.

--Kim

Dave Gibson said...

Although I certainly believe that everyone has a right to voice their opinion, I can’t agree that: “Joe Blow’s opinion is as good as yours and mine.” If that were the case, I’d seek out the sub-literate ravings on the Imdb boards (lot of opinions there) for my crit fix instead of Film Freak Central. Strange that Messrs. Chaw, Chambers and you AJ would dedicate a good chunk of your life to a profession that: “Any asshole with a keyboard” can do. Give yourself some more credit for land’s sake. Would you get your car fixed by a guy without a driver’s license? It’s important to be receptive to a variety of opinions and perspectives, but it’s also crucial to have professional standards. There are a lot of film sites out there, but Film Freak is one of the rare ones that aren’t loaded with spelling and grammatical errors or trenchant insights such as: “This movie is fuckin’ awesome”. Given the inherent democracy of the internet and the film medium—along with the amalgamation of the media industries—I understand why film criticism is so often lumped in with: “film opinion” or “film buffs”. But, they are simply not the same things. Me, I like wine—an elitist pursuit if there ever was one. I’m hardly well-versed enough to call myself a “wine snob” but, damned if I can’t get down one sip of that cheap plonk I drank in College. How did this happen? Well, my tastes and opinions have been modified and challenged by people who know a lot more than me—wine critics, sommeliers, restaurant managers. I’ve learned a bit, but indeed, any asshole with a cup can drink wine. Nonetheless, I think most folks would be rightly bemused if I started calling myself a: “Wine critic”. That said, I’m completely sympathetic with the frustrations of a willfully ignorant or snobbish film environment. Indeed, I still know a lot of educated people who say things like: “All Hollywood movies suck” or believe that all horror movies are bad by definition. It’s a mentality with a University Campus pedigree, but everyone here knows that a film class syllabus does not a film critic make. And yes, it’s all subjective unless you’ve seen ever film ever made yes, including the complete works of Aunt Peg.

Alex Jackson said...

Well where's the line? At what point does somebody become a film expert and who determines where this point is? It's crucial to have professional standards, but where do they come from? I don't think such a thing can't be established and so I don't feel that I can exclude the "assholes" from consideration.

Pretty much the only thing that I can require is that you have to have found films that you love and find films that you hate. Otherwise you're not serious about movies and/or you're not confident enough to be a film critic.

Adam N said...

AJ,
Well, now we know what your tastes are... apparently, this proves some sort of a point?
Hmm. I like Bresson and Truck Turner, and the actual Decalogue, so you'd better be able to talk to me about those. And the four movies Tsai Ming Liang made between Vive L'Amour and the Wayward Cloud -- what's your take? Mine is bigger than yours. nyah, nyah. What on earth are you on about, man?
I don't know what a "film expert" is. But you can easily find a film critic, on this very webpage. Let's use the example of FFC's own, beloved Walter Chaw (if I may). He's not a film expert (or a historical expert or a philosophy expert). I doubt he'd say he was (he may chime in later to correct me.) But WC has seen a lot of films and, based on his reviews, he's also read some history, some philosophy, some cultural theory, he reads the newspapers, listens to music, watches sports, has a family, etc. He is a fine writer, not only in that his grammar is impeccable, but because his ideas flow in a comprehensible and even elegant way. So, he endeavours (like it's his job) to write (regularly and to deadline) about films (of which he's seen a bunch, all different kinds and from all different eras, countries, and production modes). His writing isinformed by an understanding of movies (subjective, sure, but grounded in a sense of aesthetics) and an understanding of other things (ologies and isms aplenty). And he synthesizes it all together into a film review. He never says or implies that, as a big-brained critic, he's all done with thinking, learning and re-learning about film. Whatever the last word is, he doesn't claim it.
So I say his opinion counts for more than your hypothetical Joe Blow's, (or the actual Jo Blo at Jo Blo's movie emporium) because he can express it articulately, and it is informed by an awareness of and passion for a specific medium. Not only that, but his body of criticism is consistent in its style, concerns and sensibility. I surely don't look at Walter as the sole arbiter of art -- whatever that means -- but he's one of many critics I read regularly. Maybe sometimes I think he's an asshole at a keyboard (**** for Last Days? *** 1/2 for V For Vendetta? insanity! ) but for all the reasons stated above he's also more than that. He's a film critic. A good one. I'd say same goes for Bill C, Travis, and lotsa other folks, many of whom are discussed in the book that your post is ostensibly (but really hardly) about.
The people who post on the IMDB, meanwhile, by and large and almost all of the time, are not film critics.
Now, it doesn't mean that the IMDB posters are uniformly stupid, obviously, or wrong. Some people who aren't critics have excellent insights about films, and some critics are -- in my opinion -- idiots. And some of the IMDB people are morons. So, it's a big world. Read what you like, but don't insult your colleagues or yourself for the sake of -- what? Saying that nobody is qualified to be the grand dragon of artistic evaluation? No shit.
As for the comment about the three kinds of movie people -- I'd say that's more reflective of your own compartmentalized approach to cinema than anything else. (And yeah, I'm one of those art film guys. I even subscribe to Cinematheque Ontario. I'm an inflexible prick and unfamiliar with "genre conventions." Narrow ol' me.)
Keep defining people as snobs or sensation junkies or Joe Blows. Nothing elitist about that.

Anonymous said...

You're right, you do need to have "standards." That's what Alex is saying; anybody who just sort of likes whatever is probably not worth listening to because the filmgoing experience is mostly a passive one for them (just think about "professional" film critic Earl Dittman, who's probably never written an actual review, btw). But if people like movies for very specific reasons and dislike others for the same reasons, then what makes you "right" and them "wrong?" Is there some objective definition for what makes a film's content worth seeing? I'm not asking for your reason here, I'm asking whether or not there's an objective one. I'm not so sure that there is. So then does it become a popularity contest? And what does that mean for film criticism? And talking of "expertise," what makes somebody an "expert" on films? Where do you draw the line? And wouldn't you say that there's a threshold at which point once someone's seen enough film's, they're able to make their own decisions? I mean that's the sentiment you apply to your own opinions on film, n'est-ce pas? And what makes you anymore of an expert than the guy sitting next to you who hated King Kong? The fact that you like what critics like? This question does seem a little bit like blowing smoke, but it's a valid one.

Dave Gibson said...

Certainly, legitimate film critics have a variety of professional organizations which have collective rules regarding membership and publication track records--but sure, there’s no omniscient body which decides who is or is not a “film expert”. So, I suppose it’s contingent on these organizations and the individual to decide for themselves who is worthy of reading. Crucially, the standard of: “Films You Love and Films You Hate” can be applied to virtually everyone on the planet. My personal standards begin with the writing. Truth is, most people cannot write. What I’m looking for is someone who is articulate, can formulate a coherent argument and one who doesn’t easily fall back on plot summaries or, my own pet peeves—overuse of profanity, name calling and scatological metaphor. One can debate the merits of the various films in the various canons (or the canons themselves) but, it’s contingent upon the critic to seriously consider and study the history of their chosen profession. For instance, you don’t have to like “Citizen Kane”—but no, you are not a serious film critic if you haven’t seen it. Why? Because for good or ill—“Citizen Kane” is among the most studied and revered American films ever made. Not just because I say so. That’s sort of like an English teacher who is unfamiliar with The Bible. Similarly, to be ignorant of dubious but culturally significant films like “Friday the 13th” is madness. None of this is synonymous with ignoring the opinions of Joe Public—quite the opposite. Indeed, Walter often makes reference to “civilian screenings”, perfectly articulating that there is a difference between watching a movie and watching a medium.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and "articulate reviews" do not make one's opinion more valid, IMO. Obviously an opinion ought to be articulated, but the articulate you mean is "his words sound pretty and his grammar is impeccable." With this it seems like you've already decided what a good movie is.

Anonymous said...

"That's sort of like an English teacher who is unfamiliar with the Bible."

So are you saying that if you're an English teacher and you haven't read the Bible, then you're not a "real" English teacher? Because, ipso facto, I think being an English teacher makes you an English teacher. We are approaching the realm of trying to answer objective questions subjectively (and abstractly) here. Just keep that in mind.

Alex Jackson said...

Have passion for the medium and be able to articulate it. Those are fine criteria, I'll support that. I guess that I was taking articulation for granted. Can't even have a discussion unless your able to express yourself. A lack of passion for film seems to me to be the more ominipresent problem in bad criticism. Profanity and scatalogical comments are fine of course (indicating passion) as long as they don't make up the principal argument. i.e. this movie is bad because it's a piece of shit.

Those two things along with knowledge of the medium made up the criteria used by Armond White for evaluating film critics. It's only the knowledge about the medium part that I'm willing to throw out. The only way that knowledge could ever be remotely adequate is if it's comprehensive. Never going to happen and so we should throw it out as a criterion.


In theory, I would love to read an eloquently written, thoroughly-thought out opinion of somebody who has never seen a movie before but loves Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Or hates, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

For instance, you don’t have to like “Citizen Kane”—but no, you are not a serious film critic if you haven’t seen it. Why? Because for good or ill—“Citizen Kane” is among the most studied and revered American films ever made. Not just because I say so.

Eh, measuring importance purely on popularity (whether by mass audiences or supposedly more sophisticated cineastes) doesn't really strike me as any less arbitrary than picking a title out of a hat. Seeing a movie that nobody remembers or particularly likes informs just as much about the big universal themes of human civilization as well as just what it is that mass audiences and film critics rejected.

Judgment said...

Putting it down to simplicities, I find what separates the real film critics from the idiots who claim they love film (when in actual fact all they do is lower the standards without being really critical at all, nor understanding the medium they claim to love) is that even if you disagree with the opinion of the critic, they still make a balanced argument for or against the film with lots of good points. I rarely disagree with Walter and I often disagree with Ed Gonzalez over at Slant, but they're my two favourite critics for that exact reason - intelligent discourse on the films they observe means that I get a lot out of the review even if I don't agree. I talk in simplicities but that's my two cents - Ebert and Berardinelli are sadly those more popular critics lack the sack and the smarts to effectively do what would make them "good" critics, yet their "glorified plot summaries" appeal to the masses and challenge no one, thus the popularity.

ADT said...

Mr. Jackson,

I can usually leave it up to my friend and colleague Adam N to methodically take apart your spotty arguments, and I think he's done a good job on your latest already. Yet for once I feel a need to contribute to the demolition. The only problem, as always with your posts, is deciding which hole to go through first. So I think I'll actually begin with a quote from your anonymous supporter:

"So are you saying that if you're an English teacher and you haven't read the Bible, then you're not a "real" English teacher? Because, ipso facto, I think being an English teacher makes you an English teacher."

That's true, most people employed as English teachers are indeed referred to as English teachers. And if they're not acquainted with some of the foundational texts of the medium they're purporting to teach, they won't be of much use as English teachers to the unfortunate students who have to sit in their class (we've all had some of those, haven't we?). While these teachers may have opinions about the texts to be read in class, without the support of knowledge those opinions won't count for much. And much the same, at a far lesser level of importance, is true of people who are called (or call themselves) film critics.

So now, Mr. Jackson, to proceed to the cornerstone of your argument:

"It's only the knowledge about the medium part that I'm willing to throw out. The only way that knowledge could ever be remotely adequate is if it's comprehensive. Never going to happen and so we should throw it out as a criterion."

I think I hardly need to say anything about this statement, as its own absurdity pretty much refutes itself (I'm certainly glad those involved in cancer and AIDS research haven't adopted it as a mantra). If it holds no water as argument, though, we can at least pry out Jackson's general position from it: that knowledge is bad, and that it is incompatible with passion. (Reminds me of Stephen Colbert promising to "feel the truth" for me). This is a pretty worn and tiresome anti-intellectual stance, which far smarter folk than I have already dealt with millenia ago. So instead of following in their well-tread footsteps, I'll opt for a brief personal anecdote.

When I was in grade school, I was passionate about the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, as I naturally wanted to pursue my passion, I went to the library to take out a book about the Maple Leafs, wherein I learned more about their history, their players, and their statistics. This brought me much joy. A few years later, I became very passionate about the Errol Flynn flick "The Sea Hawk" after a chance viewing at my grandmother's house. So, as I naturally wanted to pursue my passion, I went again to the library (handy place, that) to find film books which might make some reference to "The Sea Hawk". In one of these books I found a still from "The Seventh Seal" which captivated me. So I obviously had to seek this film out, see it, and then learn more about it. And from there I read about other films, and others, and so on ad infinitum. So from this pursuit of knowledge was born a film lover, and, eventually, a bona fide film critic (or that's what my press pass says, at least).

When I first started writing about film - which was long before I had any of those writings published - my motivation was not the fast cars, beautiful women and Italian suits which are the well-known perks of the film journalism set. I wrote because I felt a need to, because I was passionate about this medium and because I figured the knowledge I'd acquired about it - partial, only ever partial! - gave me the necessary foundation to give my opinions weight. As I learned more, of course, some of those opinions changed - knowledge has a way of doing that. And yet, funny enough, I found that the more knowledge I acquired, and the more my opinions were affected by that knowledge, the greater my passion for the medium became. It's... it's almost like they were, like, mutually reinforcing, ya know?

To avoid any more obvious extrapolations from the above, I'll just quickly deal with some of the half-truths that Jackson uses to shore up his silly provocations. Yes, film knowledge and "expertise" can shade over into snobbishness and elitism. Same with music knowledge, literary knowledge, or knowledge of any art. All one can do is be self-aware enough to detect those traits in oneself and write against them as firmly as you write against it in others. Yes, some people who aren't film "experts" and don't consider themselves "real" film lovers can have far more nuanced and insightful views on films than the "professionals" (my lady friend, for instance). But that nuance and insight doesn't come from some globular mass of Average Joe-ness - it comes from the taste, intelligence, and knowledge of that particular individual, which they've nurtured in areas separate from (but connected to) film. Listening to a friend of mine passionately explaining why she thought "Dogville" was a serious and profound work of art (while I think it's a brilliant sick joke) is a lot different from hearing my co-worker enthuse about "The Great Raid" and declare that we should've dropped another bomb on those Jap fuckers.

There are several other points of yours that could use refuting, AJ, but those are mostly ornaments to your main position. I think I've done my fair share, along with Adam and Dave, of taking that apart, so I'll end off here. And since you don't mind profanity or scatalogical comments as long as they indicate passion, I'll add the knowledge I've employed thus far to justify my opinion that I think the bulk of your opinions, sir, are shit.

Anonymous said...

You obviously don't have a lot of respect for "Alex Jackson's anonymous supporter," so this post is probably a waste of time, but I still don't understand how that's objective proof of what makes a "good" film critic. By the way, can't tell whether or not you were being sarcastic, but for what it's worth, my comment about English teachers being real English teachers was already tongue-in-cheek before you mocked it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Interesting thread, folks, reminds me of the first third or so of Plato's Dialogues - particularly the Laches segment about the concept of courage.

knowledge is bad, and that it is incompatible with passion

Is in particular at complete odds with Plato's belief that all knowledge by its nature is good. I tend to fall in that camp, too, (knowledge = good) though being a lot dumber than Plato, I can't say that I really know the implications of everything he's talking about there.

The essence of AJ's argument, I think, is that at the bottom of it, nobody is really capable of knowing anything which is, after all, the center of Socratic thought - and the heel noodling platonic discourse. It's a humble conceit, but it's also a syllogistic trap meant to provoke precisely this kind of eloquent counter example/response.

At the end of Laches, the conclusion is that you can't articulate the concept of "courage", you can only embody it (or recognize it when someone else embodies it). Perhaps the only amicable outcome of this discourse is that you can't define what it is that constitutes a "good" critic, but you know it when you piss on it - or when it pisses on you.

To my mind, to my way of thinking, though, we're still dealing with absolutes here, no matter how inadequate we find are words to describe what it is that we mean.

Scott said...

What I find interesting is that we tend to equate a love of film and a knowledge of film with the written word, meaning, the ability to articulate one's preferences in logical, coherent sentences. Paragraphs. Essays. Whatever. But I highly doubt that Spielberg of Scorsese or DePalma or Tarantino or Hitchock has ever wrote a film review, or even put down on paper why they like a particular film. (Hosted anthology shows discussing film, sure, but not crafted a complete analysis.)

There's a whole world of people, not to mention filmmakers themselves, who have an inordinate amount of knowledge about what they like, and why, but they never express that via the keyboard. It's in their heart and their soul, makes them breathe, gets them off. I'm sure you could get Tarantino and Scorsese to riff for hours on some ancient B-movie they love, but give them a pen and paper, and they wouldn't be the slightest bit interested. Does this make their opinion matter less? I don't think so.

The point is, an appreciation of film and the ability to effectively craft a concise, cohesive essay as to why a film is good or bad do not have to go together. Film criticism and film love are too different things.

(Not that, um, anybody was arguing otherwise, I guess. But I always wonder: What does (insert director's name here) think of (insert film title here)? I don't want to read their opinion; I want to hear the excitement in their voice, the light in their eyes.)

ADT said...

I agree, Scott, especially as you seem to agree with everything that all of us were saying before. Filmmakers can be a fantastically inarticulate bunch, but as words aren't (necessarily) their medium of choice, they're not obligated to express their film love in that way. (One example among many: Gary Oldman can't muster a single insightful or coherent thing to say about Alan Clarke, but one need only watch "Nil by Mouth" to see what Clarke meant to him).

The reason why we've focused on criticism thus far is because AJ's post was taking aim at the practice of film criticism itself, which is a beleagured enough profession as is. And my problem with what he had to say, as with several others on this blog, is that, as usual, he showed more interest in randomly pushing buttons than in actually opening or expanding a discussion - which, not to curry favour, you yourself have done with your post.

And I agree with you too, Walter, we are still dealing with absolutes here... though unlike some other contributors, I don't believe that just because absolutes are ultimately unobtainable that every half-assed opinion is equally valid. "Objectivity" in art, in case some of ya haven't heard, is impossible... but that doesn't mean that consideration, consensus, and knowledge thereby fly out the window. David Bordwell wrote an excellent back page article in the latest issue of Cinema Scope (on newsstands now!) on this very issue of opinion vs. knowledge in film criticism, and I'd recommend that all interested parties take a gander at it.

Alex Jackson said...

Randomly pushing buttons? I assure you any buttons pushed are pushed out of my own sheer naiviety. I do seek to be enlightened by your Absolute Wisdom built upon a bed of Empirically Proven Absolute Truths. Bust my balls for not responding to you, what, six hours after you posted? Because I didn't respond six hours after you posted you believe that I'm not interested in expanding this discussion?

Anyway:

"It's only the knowledge about the medium part that I'm willing to throw out. The only way that knowledge could ever be remotely adequate is if it's comprehensive. Never going to happen and so we should throw it out as a criterion."


I think I hardly need to say anything about this statement, as its own absurdity pretty much refutes itself


I admit. I'm not worthy. I don't see in your explanation or in the statement itself the contradiction.

(I'm certainly glad those involved in cancer and AIDS research haven't adopted it as a mantra).

You're comparing yourself with cancer and AIDS researchers? Indeed, I can't refute that without going back to my belief that criticism is the fuzziest of fuzzies and anybody can do it. So this is a science then?

If it holds no water as argument, though, we can at least pry out Jackson's general position from it: that knowledge is bad, and that it is incompatible with passion.

At no point did I say that knowledge is incompatible with passion. I have no idea where you got that from. I said that it's not necessary for film critics to possess knowledge and that passion is far more important. But they are not incompatible.

This is a pretty worn and tiresome anti-intellectual stance, which far smarter folk than I have already dealt with millenia ago. So instead of following in their well-tread footsteps, I'll opt for a brief personal anecdote.

Given that your motivations are pure of heart and you wish to "open and expand the discussion", go ahead.

When I was in grade school, I was passionate about the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, as I naturally wanted to pursue my passion, I went to the library to take out a book about the Maple Leafs, wherein I learned more about their history, their players, and their statistics. This brought me much joy.

Why were you passionate about the Maple Leafs? Which hockey team are you passionate about now given your lifetime of accruing knowledge?

A few years later, I became very passionate about the Errol Flynn flick "The Sea Hawk" after a chance viewing at my grandmother's house.

Why were you passionate about The Sea Hawk? Did you grow to hate it after your lifetime of accruing knowledge?

So, as I naturally wanted to pursue my passion, I went again to the library (handy place, that) to find film books which might make some reference to "The Sea Hawk". In one of these books I found a still from "The Seventh Seal" which captivated me. So I obviously had to seek this film out, see it, and then learn more about it.

Did seeing The Seventh Seal irreversibly alter your feelings toward The Sea Hawk?

And from there I read about other films, and others, and so on ad infinitum. So from this pursuit of knowledge was born a film lover, and, eventually, a bona fide film critic (or that's what my press pass says, at least).

When I first started writing about film - which was long before I had any of those writings published - my motivation was not the fast cars, beautiful women and Italian suits which are the well-known perks of the film journalism set. I wrote because I felt a need to, because I was passionate about this medium and because I figured the knowledge I'd acquired about it - partial, only ever partial! - gave me the necessary foundation to give my opinions weight.


Honestly this is good, I feel an ammendment coming. Acquiring knowledge helps you better articulate (articulation being the secondary tenant of my binary theory of good film criticism) those passionate feelings. So there, knowledge does serve a purpose: as a supplement to articulation. That hypothesis that knowledge is worthless probably should be rejected, but I'm not sure that that invalidates my principal thesis-- that greater breadth and depth of knowledge is not the bedrock for the righousness of one's opinions.

As I learned more, of course, some of those opinions changed - knowledge has a way of doing that.

And yet, funny enough, I found that the more knowledge I acquired, and the more my opinions were affected by that knowledge, the greater my passion for the medium became. It's... it's almost like they were, like, mutually reinforcing, ya know?


How did they change specifically? I'd like a specific example of a film that you loved that you then hated once you learned more about it and/or a film that you hated and then loved once you learned more about it. These feelings of love and hate, they have to have been lucid, intense, precise feelings. No restless nights, no confusion or ambivalence, either love or hate.

This has never happened with me.

Yes, some people who aren't film "experts" and don't consider themselves "real" film lovers can have far more nuanced and insightful views on films than the "professionals" (my lady friend, for instance). But that nuance and insight doesn't come from some globular mass of Average Joe-ness - it comes from the taste, intelligence, and knowledge of that particular individual, which they've nurtured in areas separate from (but connected to) film. Listening to a friend of mine passionately explaining why she thought "Dogville" was a serious and profound work of art (while I think it's a brilliant sick joke) is a lot different from hearing my co-worker enthuse about "The Great Raid" and declare that we should've dropped another bomb on those Jap fuckers.

Hmmm.

You gain no insight from the latter?

Jared said...

Alex, I ignored this thread except what you wrote, and I'm drunk, but I haven't seen The Skeleton Key yet but I'll be damned if it doesn't have the best trailer of 2005 by a mile, it's a seriously great trailer.

George Nada said...

Walter, in your 'Masters of Horror' review you wrote:

Showtime is nothing if not determined, however, and, having successfully courted the O demo, they turned their sights on the slobbering fanboy contingent (myself included) by enticing thirteen genre directors--with a tiny budget, a Canadian location shoot, and a promise of "no MPAA interference"--to craft one-hour flicks around whatever script they desired to shoot. Of course, Takashi Miike's instalment was dropped from the schedule after the powers-that-be decided that ratings board or no ratings board, their audience was too pussefied to possibly withstand such an onslaught of terror, thereby deeming every other episode of "Masters of Horror" safe enough for you and me. Saving grace? The Miike segment will supposedly resurface on DVD

I had to bring this up on another site that said this as it pissed me off. Showtime never had anything to do with the production of this show. Anchor Bay made the show independently with the idea of releasing it on DVD only, that was always the idea.
However, showtime asked for the rights to show it on their channel and so that deal was struck. Anchor Bay has never lacked the balls and will release them uncut and always as intended. It may seem like a minor detail but it annoys me when people say the premise has been compromised because in truth it hasn't. I guess I love Anchor Bay too much for them to be shot down with Showtime (incidentally, the Miike episode will be shown uncut on the UK cable channel 'Bravo' near the beginning of April, so it should be ripped and available for your viewing pleasure soon enough as a torrent.)
Also, Showtime cut Argento's episode as well but it will be completely uncut on the DVD.

Interesting reviews though, I look forward to reading your reviews of the other episodes if and when you hopefully do.

Walter_Chaw said...

However, showtime asked for the rights to show it on their channel and so that deal was struck.

What deal was struck? What's your source? Do you have a link to the contract between IDP and Showtime?

Here's an article from the NY Times about the Miike short containing this quote from series creator Mick Garris:

""We made it clear that we were going on American pay cable television, and even though there wasn't as much control over content, there still were concerns. And then when we got the first cut, it was very, very strong stuff, and we made some suggestions on what might help before we showed it to Showtime. The Japanese made the changes they were comfortable with, and eventually we arrived at a film that he was happy with and we're all happy with. But Showtime felt it was not something they were comfortable putting out on the airwaves."

I'd love to know more, and this article doesn't exactly refute your claim, but I read it one way.

Jared said...

Showtime apparently has serious plans to buy two 13 episode seasons of Arrested Development

George Nada said...

You're right it doesn't refute my claims, it just confirms that Showtime weren't happy with the content. As an aside, Miike's episode hadn't been produced when the show was still a 'DVD only' idea, so Garris' comments about knowing they'd be on cable take on different meaning in that context I hope.

If I really have to go searching for articles I will, but if you can take my word for it then I can say I was excited about this project from the second it was announced (being a huge Carpenter fan). When it was announced it was devised by Mick Garris with Anchor Bay who were putting up the money (with the promise they'd be un-edited) to make the shows and to release them on DVD only.
It was a while later that Showtime struck a deal to show them on the air first, but the shows were already fully funded by Anchor Bay. This is why no involved in actually making it are that bothered about Showtime pussying out, because they are going to be in their entirity when Anchor Bay releases them, as it was always intended to be.

I'm sure if you look for articles for when the show was first announced you will see this to be the case, but as I said if that ain't good enough for you and if you're as lazy as me I shall find them myself.

Adam N said...

AJ,

your thighs must be nice and toned for all the back-pedalling that you do on this blog.
you wrote that "knowledge could only ever be adequate if it's comprehensive" (the gauntlet doesn't just drop -- it plummets) and then, when adt made a perfectly valid observation about your grand, unqualified (that's the key) summation, you retreat.
"criticism is the fuzziest of fuzzies, and anyone can do it." no, my cat is the fuzziest of fuzzies. criticism is complicated, and anybody can TRY to do it. not everyone does it well. (oops, some nuance). I tend to think those who do it well opt for nuance (your mortal enemy, apparently) over "I loved it I hated it I'm all riled up" -- and some, like Armond White, spend their careers locked in a mortal death struggle between these two imperatives. which is funny to read, and sometimes even illuminating. (I hope White donates a portion of his salary to the family of his beyond-the-grave mentor and taste-maker Pauline Kael. Ms. Anti-Ambivalence.)
Then, when ADT offers a childhood reminiscence of his burgeoning 'knowledge-is-power' stance, you reply with some irrelevant autobiography of your own: "this has never happened to me." Well, that just seals it, then, doesn't it? Because you're not a flip-flopper, anyone who is falls below some standard of rigid, inflexible righteousness is missing out on something? I modulate my opinions about films and filmmakers all the time. I used to love Terry Gilliam -- in high school. I've written about his films and even interviewed him. Now I see him as a "gateway" filmmaker -- rent Brazil, love it, read about Bunuel and Lynch as a result -- cause their names are mentioned in all of the reviews -- and then see and love their films even more. I will always treasure Gilliam for alterting me (via the reviews of 12 Monkeys) to La Jetee by Chris Marker, who is a filmmaker I don't only love, but lurve, luff and would marry if I could. Cause and effect. An evolutionary process. Do you mean to tell me you stand by what you felt about a particular film at 15? Does the fact that Red Desert bored the shit out of me when I was in high school have anything to with the mature worldview and life experience of the person who made it? You have to try to engage with what's actually in films. And sometimes, what's in them requires knowledge, understanding, a non-blinketed worldview or an investment in something other than one's own raging, tumescent sense of self-confidence. age and ego have something to do with it -- I don't want to go through my life as a 15-year old. (I'd be a bigger hockey fan if I did.) Your argument, at its core, seems to say: arrested development rules. now, Arrested Development does rule (and the whole Showtime thing was dismissed yesterday -- no more eps, I'm afraid) but inflexibility and righteousness should not be guiding critical principles.

Scott,

Godard, Rivette, Truffaut, Chrabrol -- all film critics. (and French, but whatever.) Some filmmakers are inarticulate and can't write. some write wonderful essays about their work and the work of others. I'd rather read the Cahiers crew on Don Siegel than hear Tarantino gibber about something he saw as a lad. personal preference, of course.

Walter_Chaw said...

No, George, you miss my meaning.

If Garris and crew are editing their stuff so that it fits within Showtime's guidelines for acceptable material, then they are working for Showtime. I don't care where the 300g came from - they promised no oversight, they impose Showtime's standards. It's hollow comfort to me that the Miike will appear on home video because, y'know what, all sorts of things appear on home video after they've been censored or banned by folks who believe they have the right idea about what you and I can handle. Slippery slope - you argue that it's their project and Showtime just came in late rings empty when their guiding principles in crafting their project had as the key-note-fuckin'-speaker the idea that it had to show on friggin' Showtime.

Here's what Joe Dante says: "“I think it’s a reaction to years of repression in the sense that the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] was very strict about what you could and couldn’t show,” he says. “And part of the appeal of Masters of Horror was that you could pretty much do anything you wanted as long as it fell within Showtime’s guidelines, which are extremely lax."

as long as it fell within Showtime's guidelines

That's what I object to - and that's what I articulated.

A new IDT press release also announces - and the wording of this is important - that Showtime has just ordered a second season of the show. Further:

"We are delighted to once again be working with some of the most talented directors and writers in the horror genre," said Showtime’s President of Entertainment Robert Greenblatt. ”This unique series offers viewers a one-of-a kind experience and demonstrates the immense popularity of the horror genre.”

Every single reference I can find to the show refers to it as a "Showtime" production. This includes the directors. If you're right, could it be that many were lured by the promise of cable broadcast? And if that's the case - that the artists came because of Showtime and followed Showtime's rules - what diference does it make who wrote the literal check?

According to Garris they secured financing, but didn't secure talent until post-Showtime involvement. In this interview with Garris - he reiterates what you say about independent financing and Showtime's hands-off distribution deal - but the reality is untrue, is it not? Especially if the Miike we get to see on DVD is the one that's already been doctored for an unsuccessful Showtime run.

See the problem?

Walter_Chaw said...

And George - yeah, use links and references becaus otherwise why should we trust what you know? Saying "hey, don't ask, just trust" is something Christian deities and other assholes do. Take thirty seconds, log on to Google, it ain't that hard and it fleshes out the conversation.

hip_priest said...

I wrote this yesterday but internet problems prevented me from posting. Probably past the best before date, but I've a proper internet connection now. And little interest in digging through recent developments.

Apologies if the shit hammer comes down hard.


Mr Jackson says: "It's only the knowledge about the medium part that I'm willing to throw out. The only way that knowledge could ever be remotely adequate is if it's comprehensive. Never going to happen and so we should throw it out as a criterion."

Two words: David. Bordwell.

Comprehensive knowledge personified-- and yours for the price of library card! He also helpfully defines what a critic should be in the new issue of a pretty decent film magazine (Premiere…?). Not surprisingly, said definition involves knowledge and its importance, mostly.

I suspect a heap of -isms and -ologies are good to have around--lady friends with subtle minds, too. The more the merrier, I say! Anything that takes us into an unexplored corner of a film or opens the film out into some unexpected corner of the world is potentially useful. That said, I've never read an enlightening analysis of, say, Iranian cinema in the mid-1980s premised on a deep knowledge of the intricacies of eighteenth century maritime law--I mean, that country's land-locked!

...Right? Really, I don't even know-- but I think they treat their women just *horribly*!! And we should bomb them.

Knowledge of film--how it's put together, how it works, the contexts in which it becomes meaningful--is certainly necessary to being a decent critic: the more you know about something, the more interesting and more true the things you're likely to say about said something will be. Film critics are valued to the extent that they say interesting and proximately true things about what they write about. This is a point resisted by only the laziest of film critics, the ones who are read like thirty-car pile-ups are gawked at.

Admittedly, there are some complex philosophical arguments I have not addressed. Briefly: "I mean, yeeaaaah, can we really know anythin... about anything...?" Dress that up as you please--hell, run 4,000 words with it, if you'd like--but it all comes down to just that. And I think everyone else here will happily admit we done well by the Enlightenment (look ma, no polio!).

I just read your book review. Holy shit! You write about experts like Stephen Colbert talks about Liberal East Coast Cut-and-Runners. Except I worry that you aren't a parody...

Adam N said...

Hip Priest is a great song.

ADT said...

HP,

thanks for backing up my shameless plug from earlier (and my Colbert reference!), but the magazine the Bordwell piece is in is actually Cinema Scope (ask for it at your local newsdealer).

And thanks too for your confirmations of what should really just be common sense, which is unfortunately no more present in the bulk of film criticism than it is anywhere else.

Alex Jackson said...

your thighs must be nice and toned for all the back-pedalling that you do on this blog.

What is it with your obsession with me back-pedalling? Doesn't conversation, (much less our quest for Truth) begin to stagnate when we get to being afraid of backpedaling? Are you attempting to taunt me? Wave your dick around in the air, and get me to say that you're right, as if who is right is what this discussion is really about? I see something in the culture that I want to poke a stick at, because, from my perspective it desperately needs to have stick poked into it. If you can help me understand why this sacred cow needn't be skewered, I'm willing to give you a listen; but don't break my balls for being rigid and then break my balls for being soft, tough guy.

Anyway:

you wrote that "knowledge could only ever be adequate if it's comprehensive" (the gauntlet doesn't just drop -- it plummets) and then, when adt made a perfectly valid observation about your grand, unqualified (that's the key) summation, you retreat.
"criticism is the fuzziest of fuzzies, and anyone can do it."


I don't understand your comment. Does the "fuzzy" comment indicate retreat? I don't see how those two statements contradict one another. I don't see where the retreat is.

Of course, maintaining continuity with the above paragraph, I'll revise my opinions if they need revision. But I'm just trying to understand your objection.

no, my cat is the fuzziest of fuzzies. criticism is complicated, and anybody can TRY to do it. not everyone does it well. (oops, some nuance).

Hmmm. Is fuzziness diametrically opposed to the complicated and the nuanced?

That might be an unfair question (we'll get to a meaningless self-contradicting statement that you made in this post later). The very concept of fuzziness might rule out diametric opposition as an idea. Still by rebutting to the fuzzy comment with the assertion that criticism is complicated and nuanced you seem to be saying that it's not fuzzy.

I tend to think those who do it well opt for nuance (your mortal enemy, apparently)

Yeah, not a fan.

over "I loved it I hated it I'm all riled up" -- and some, like Armond White, spend their careers locked in a mortal death struggle between these two imperatives. which is funny to read, and sometimes even illuminating. (I hope White donates a portion of his salary to the family of his beyond-the-grave mentor and taste-maker Pauline Kael. Ms. Anti-Ambivalence.)

Strangely enough, I love and hate Armond White. I love the part you are talking about, how he gets riled up over movies and sees them as deathly important. And, as previously mentioned, I hate how much weight he puts on knowledge of film.

"Anybody who hates Mission to Mars doesn't understand movies much less like them." I don't get anybody could not understand movies.

Because you're not a flip-flopper, anyone who is falls below some standard of rigid, inflexible righteousness is missing out on something?

Truth is rigid and inflexible, and by definition I would think, right. Truth is absolute. If their mode of thinking is not rigid and unflexible then they haven't found the Absolute Truth.

I modulate my opinions about films and filmmakers all the time. I used to love Terry Gilliam -- in high school. I've written about his films and even interviewed him. Now I see him as a "gateway" filmmaker -- rent Brazil, love it, read about Bunuel and Lynch as a result -- cause their names are mentioned in all of the reviews -- and then see and love their films even more. I will always treasure Gilliam for alterting me (via the reviews of 12 Monkeys) to La Jetee by Chris Marker, who is a filmmaker I don't only love, but lurve, luff and would marry if I could. Cause and effect. An evolutionary process.

Again, I don't see how your opinion has been changed about Gilliam after seeing Lynch and Bunuel. You saw something in Gilliam, it resonated with you, still resonates with you, and you see that in Lynch and Bunuel.

Again, I know that you seek to attack me when I'm rigid as well as attack me when I'm not and so I know that this will read to you as back pedaling and so be it.

But is being exposed to new sensations and ideas properly defined as knowledge? I think that I may have been seeing knowledge in a more concrete drier way, as factual verifiable data. Which I don't think can be well-used in film criticism. Seeing Brazil within a broader context after you've seen more films that I can understand; but whatever that Platonic Absolute Perfect film is for you, you saw it in Brazil and essentially your attitude toward the film hasn't changed.

Do you mean to tell me you stand by what you felt about a particular film at 15?

Yes. 13 even. I knew at age 13, that Taxi Driver was my favorite movie.

I didn't like Brazil when I saw it at at around 13. One hundred percent due to the viewing experience. Bad VHS taped off network TV and I missed the ending. Didn't change from acquiring knowledge. Still not a perfect film though, I do like it a whole lot but I think that it's too silly. The main difference I see between that and Lynch and Bunuel and Michael Radford's 1984 and Orson Welles The Trial is that lack of sincerity. I dislike silliness, that's not part of the Absolute Film for me.

I didn't like Halloween when I saw it the first time. I thought that it was a particularly well-done slasher movie and not much more. A little too slow. Still feel that way, only I have a better attitude toward slasher movies now. I don't think that that is dependent on acquiring more information. honestly, I don't think that there was anything that I learned about the director, the actors, film grammar, the themes in it or whatever that really affected my evaluation of whether or not this was a good film or not.

My favorite film when I was a kid was Night of the Creeps. Not any more, but I still think that Night of the Creeps is a pretty good show. I think that I can understand why I responded to it. It's a comedy and that's perhaps why I'm not quite as responsive to it now. As a kid though I wasn't receptive to the comedy and only responded to the visuals, which were hyperkinitic and tasty particularly during the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink climax. The comedy might have helped it be more approachable for me, but I didn't respond to it as comedy. I don't think that that's attributable to knowledge either.

Does the fact that Red Desert bored the shit out of me when I was in high school have anything to with the mature worldview and life experience of the person who made it?

Your argument, at its core, seems to say: arrested development rules.

I'll preface this by saying that I haven't seen Red Desert. But if the film didn't appeal to you in high school then Antonioni failed on some level.

Similiarly if you grow to dislike a film that you liked as a kid, then that film failed at the same.

The virtues of a perfect film are as evident to four year olds as they are to grizzled film critics.


inflexibility and righteousness should not be guiding critical principles.

Are you flexible about inflexibility not being a guiding critical principle. See, that seems like a self-contradicting statement like "this sentence is a lie". To obey it is to violate it, to violate it is to obey it.

ADT said...

Gawd, this is so bloody childish, but I've been sucked in this far. Where to begin, oh where to begin?

All right, how about here: Alex, for a guy who started out this whole thread as a defiant enemy of Absolute Truth, you have now swung around to the completely opposite position. Your whole point, if indeed it could be called a point, was that, and I quote, "The only way that knowledge could ever be remotely adequate is if it's comprehensive. Never going to happen and so we should throw it out as a criterion."

From this utterly false and foolish idea, you proceeded to justify your belief that anybody's opinion about film is therefore equal. And from there, you demonstrate that, since every opinion is thereby incontrovertible, there is no possibility of dialogue, discussion, or LEARNING. First impressions are last impressions, and that's that. You knew at 13 that "Taxi Driver" was your favourite movie. If "Red Desert" didn't work for you at 15, then that is the artist's fault, not your comparative lack of experience, feeling, and knowledge (that word again...). And then this stunner:

"The virtues of a perfect film are as evident to four year olds as they are to grizzled film critics."

So there you have it: from your diatribe against absolutism - against absolute knowledge which is unobtainable, against absolute truth which is unreachable - you have swung around to a position of the most rigid and inflexible absolutism. You're now talking - favourably, mind you! - of "Absolute Films" and "perfect films" whose absolutism and perfection is evident to "everyone." This is the most debased kind of "democratic" thinking - it's properly referred to as "demotic" - which actually works to preclude thinking of any kind. Dialogue is pointless, learning is unnecessary; your views and opinions are set in place, and will never change.

Actually, I too think Adam is incorrect in referring to your backpedaling. Backpedaling implies the establishment of a firm position followed by a complete refutation of that position, and the pretense that you never held it in the first place. Your "thought" is more like a viscous whirlpool which goes meaninglessly around and around, grabbing at half-truths and misrepresentations on its way down to even deeper irrelevance.

If any guiding principle is evident in your little mental quagmire, I suppose it would be this: I likes what I likes, and that's all that I likes. More power to you, friend. Go sit with the four year olds.

Justin said...

Alex, I would love a list of 80s porn that you think the true cinemaphile needs to watch.

rachel said...

What's funny, I always thought Taxi Driver was a far sillier film than Brazil.

Alex Jackson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex Jackson said...

Justin:

In all honesty, I haven't seen any hardcore early 80s porn either which is why I would not and could not ever call myself an expert of film.

Ideally, if this stuff were more readily accessible and I could watch it without my wife killing me I'd be interested in seeing the aformentioned Aunt Peg movies, Exhausted, The French Maid, Sweet Alice.

Away from John Holmes, I'd probably want to look at Dracula Exotica with Ron Jermey. It's Called Murder, Baby, Trashi.

Of course, to cherry pick would make me no better than the film scholars. The point is that you need to watch everything.

ADT:

You're confusing me. Let's simplify the argument a little and go focus on this statement.

But is being exposed to new sensations and ideas properly defined as knowledge? I think that I may have been seeing knowledge in a more concrete drier way, as factual verifiable data. Which I don't think can be well-used in film criticism.

So what do you think?

I think that there is room for discussion in what I'm enspousing in that, if you look at my list of four star cinema I think that you can see patterns. Even more to the point if you look at my list of three and a half star movies you can see patterns. The person who canonized the three and a half star list is a lot happier than I am.

I mean, when I push for the democratization of film criticism and the destruction of "knowledge" what I'm really trying to do is liberate film criticism from academia (which I think will always be lacking, as this is, at it's core, grossly unscientific) and into the realm of the hyperpersonal and autobiographical. Essentially, I believe that learning to be a film critic by going into film studies is as counterproductive (and boring) as learning to be an artist by going to art school. Or indeed, in the post "Brat generation" era, a filmmaker by going to film school.

zurri said...

1.) Effect of the Internet on Film Criticism

Ok i gotta point out that-- in the past there were limited channels in which film criticism was espoused. This included mainly books (academic film studies/thesis) and trade media (journalism, magazines, etc).

Now offcourse, the Internet allows anyone with access to be a film critic. Now if you look at the intent of the Internet-- it was to present information is a more democratic fashion. With this in mind -- can film criticism succed in a democratic environment?

The answer of course is-- yes-- but the more important question is to who is this answer relevant?

My feeling is that the Internet and film criticism in respect to the advent of the Internet in general benefits the reader more so that the writer (the critic). Thus perhaps film criticism is in the midsts of a paradigm shift. Maybe the internet has made film criticism a commodity-- a user experience orientated endeaver instead of a educated treatise on the state of film.

(But who does the burden of extrapolating good information from bad fall to -- once again its the reader.)

I know i'm kinda going on different trajectories with this post but i cant help it..i'm filled with some level of passion for this topic and it is hard to articulate.

In conclusion-- Film criticism itself has changed such that we have to now consider its method of delivery (aintitcool, filmfreakcentral, sensesofcinema), content parameters (use of profanity,writing style), and the experience of the author (books or blogs) to determine if the criticism itself is good or not.

ADT said...

Alex,

see, this is your problem: you adopt this pose of being a "liberator" and a no-nonsense teller of uncomfortable truths, but as you have little to no intellectual foundation for either of these projects - just that insulated and ignorant sense of self-confidence that you love to flash - you simply end up being a shallow provocateur in the former case (i.e. your recent "cunt/kike" post) and a righteous jackass in the later. All you're challenging with these broadsides is my patience. (Which, I suppose, is my own fault, as I continue pursuing this increasingly fruitless discussion with you).

So real quick: YES, I do believe being exposed to new sensations and new ideas constitutes knowledge!! Or, to be more precise, the first step of knowledge: the discovery of something new, which we can then weigh against our previous discoveries to determine its validity. That comparison might invalidate the new, or upset some of the presumptions of the old, or perhaps allow both of them to exist in harmony (sweet harmony...). And from this comparison can come something ever that much closer to "verifiable data" - if by that we refer to the best and most accurate level of evaluation we have at the moment, prior to further advancements. Either way, it's an advancement of our thinking, and an advancement of our feeling. And advancement, I pray you won't disagree with, is generally regarded as a positive virtue in this blighted world of ours.

YES, going to film studies or art school or film school can be counterproductive, if by that you assume that everybody who attends such programs are condemned to institutional groupthink. Just like every other slice o' humanity, Alex, some people will be, and some people won't. Some might gain a greater advancement in their thinking and feeling by attending such an institution (either by thinking with it or against it), and some might become elitist (or populist) drones. And the only way we can judge such a thing is by seeing what they produce, seeing how they develop, seeing how they think and create. It's complex. And nuanced. And all those words you hate.

And I have no doubt that I'd find a pattern in your reviews, just as you'd be able to find a pattern in my reviews. Taste can be a remarkably consistent thing. But taste is not something inherent, as you relentlessly suggest: it's based on the very kind of intellectual sifting (at lower or higher levels, depending on the intellect) which you constantly refute. You do it, I do it, your precious Joe Blow does it. But our intellect can only function to the extent of our knowledge, and thus the more knowledge we acquire, the more COMPLEX and NUANCED and, God help us, INFORMED our sifting will be.

Funny thing is, I'm right with you in railing against the deadening hand of academia (which is hardly as influential as you seem to think - you're really burning down a straw man here, buddy), against elitism, against snobbishness, against false "expertise". But the manner in which you do it invalidates the whole project, and makes me feel momentarily ashamed to be on side with you on anything. Oh well - as Arthur Koestler once said, “You can’t help people being right for the wrong reasons. . . This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of purity, it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence."

zurri said...

2.) Jack of all trades syndrome

If there is a film critic who is an "expert" in a certain genre-- be it 80's porn, tsai Ming-liang, or even in just Friday the 13th-- that person is likely much more knowledgeable about that particular genre than the average film critic. So hence-- a critic having speciliazed or narrow knowledge is just as beneficial as a wordly critic.

In some cases-- i think its better just to look to the experts within a certain genre than a "standard" critic.

(ex. kaiju from kaijushakedown.com on his reviews of asian films)

Anonymous said...

I've got two words for you guys: Leonard Maltin.

But honestly, a good movie's like a punch in the gut. Sure, a karate master could critique the technique of the punch, but anyone can tell you how much the punch affected them.

Before I knew shit about movies, my three favorite movies were 2001, Apocalypse Now, and Taxi Driver. Now that I know some shit about movies, my three favorite movies are 2001, Apocalypse Now, and Taxi Driver. You don't need to know how that shot in Jaws or Vertigo works to be affected by it.

And yes I realize I just said the same thing two different ways.

But seriously, Leonard Maltin

Jesus

---
ShanghaiOrange

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say to Rachel (and this is probably what the guy below her deleted) that the reason she thinks Taxi Driver is silly is because she's a woman. But I'd certainly like to her reasoning.

Alex Jackson said...

Honestly, I'm trying very hard at this. Sorry if you find this discussion "childish" and "fruitless".

So real quick: YES, I do believe being exposed to new sensations and new ideas constitutes knowledge!! Or, to be more precise, the first step of knowledge: the discovery of something new, which we can then weigh against our previous discoveries to determine its validity. That comparison might invalidate the new, or upset some of the presumptions of the old, or perhaps allow both of them to exist in harmony (sweet harmony...).

I think that new sensations and new ideas can help to CLARIFY your orginal impressions. Sharpen them up maybe. I'm not sure that they invalidate them. Yeah, I don't think I buy that; invalidation seems particularly strong for somebody who's opposed to absolutes. I asked this before in a more extreme form, but could you give me an example of something that you liked as a child maybe, which you think was invalidated (made false and meaningless, is that we mean by invalid?) with your subsequent knowledge or new experiences? How specifically was it invalidated?

My Night of the Creeps example:

My favorite film when I was a kid was Night of the Creeps. Not any more, but I still think that Night of the Creeps is a pretty good show. I think that I can understand why I responded to it. It's a comedy and that's perhaps why I'm not quite as responsive to it now. As a kid though I wasn't receptive to the comedy and only responded to the visuals, which were hyperkinitic and tasty particularly during the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink climax. The comedy might have helped it be more approachable for me, but I didn't respond to it as comedy.

Yeah, I don't think my perception of Night of the Creeps was a false one, it was just a foggy, sloppy one. I didn't know to reject the comedy I just never actually absorbed it.

And from this comparison can come something ever that much closer to "verifiable data" - if by that we refer to the best and most accurate level of evaluation we have at the moment, prior to further advancements. Either way, it's an advancement of our thinking, and an advancement of our feeling. And advancement, I pray you won't disagree with, is generally regarded as a positive virtue in this blighted world of ours.

An advancement towards what? Why are you a film critic? What's the end goal? I purely do it out of introspection. The audience, more or less, is incidental. A luxury afforded only on something like "the net".

And while we agree on this part, why exactly do you think we should oppose elitism? Given that you also oppose that the perfect film is understandable by anybody at any tiem?

A side note. I have no idea who you are, how about giving us your name so we can look at your body of work? I'm guessing that Adam N is Adam Nayman?

Seattle Jeff said...

Seeing Sharon Stone on TV, then seeing her made up and airbrushed self in the ads for Basic Instinct 2 reminds me of...was it S1mone? Where the actress is just CGI?

That's Sharon Stone.

Adam N said...

AJ,

First of all, yeah, that blue link is me. I write for Eye Weekly (www.eye.net, once a week)in Toronto and am a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. I'm 24. I freelance for Film Comment, Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Saturday Night, Montage, POV, Cine Action, the LA Weekly and a few other publications, including Elle.
I get paid to write and I do my best to write well. I think I've gotten better. I prefer the long-form writing I do for magazines to the quicker hits I do for Eye, even though the gig has gotten me interviews with many of my heroes. I see about 250 new movies a year, I'd guess, about 50 of them during the Toronto festival.
I think I put that RT page up when I was 20, btw.

Now,

"If you can help me understand why this sacred cow needn’t be skewered, I’m willing to give you a listen."

Skewering is a precise action. Randomly slashing until you draw blood (from whomever) is not. And it’s painful for the cow. I think film criticism is a practice that should be discussed and interogated, but what you propose is alternately too vague and too extreme for me to consider seriously.

“Are you attempting to taunt me? Wave your dick around in the air and get me to say that you’re right, as if who is right is what this discussion is really all about?”

We both know that I will never get you to say that I’m right. I don't want, need or expect you to. And I can't refute what you say about your own tastes, so in that sense, you're right.

I'm too tired to go into the rest. I think it's futile, not because you're not trying hard as you claim (or because I'm not) but because a blog thread is an inherently adversarial forum, and the snippy back-and-forth could go on forever. And I don't want it to. We've lost the thread of what we were discussing, and now it's just a matter of isolating individual paragraphs and responding to them.

With that in mind:

"The virtues of a perfect film are as evident to four-year olds as they are to grizzled film critics."

With all respect, I honestly don’t know how to talk to someone who would say that. Like, I mean I just don't know what to tell you. It boggles my mind. If I had seen Aguirre, Wrath of God or Yi Yi or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) at age four, I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have understood them. They were made by grown-ups and are about grown-up things. Whatever Absolute Truth is – and you say it’s what you’re after -- I can’t imagine it involves ignoring the actual content of a film.

dave said...

I for one thank god for not seeing Body Snatchers at age four...

Rachel said...

Anon:

Hahahah! Actually, I think Taxi Driver is sillier because I'm a Jew. Good guess, though! (I'll try to write up an explanation tomorrow. Lord knows how treacherous it is to write at three, sleepless.)

Anonymous said...

Walt's pan of Basic Instinct 2 is up and loaded. Bad news, it's not so bad it's funny.

I do get the feeling you're talking directly to me...

Alex Jackson said...

I do allow for growth and maturity, but I'm operating on the assumption, I guess, that the basic parameters of our personality are set at a very early age. We are at age 40 the same person we were at age 4. Our four year old self and our forty year old self are part of the same self.

The taste of the four year old is broad and imprecise. Everything is new. It will get more sophisticated in time. I'll grant that. But whatever general direction their taste points in will likely not change as they get older. I think that you can determine at a very early age if you're going to value the purely hyper-kinitic or the literary aspects of the cinema later on. I absolutely hated hated hated Mr. Rogers as a kid and I think that that helped to determine what I dislike in movies later on. I'm guessing that there are children who liked Mr. Rogers or else I don't know if he would have remained on the air.


If you as an adult respond most strongly to films designed for adults in mind; I'm not sure how that is exactly better than responding to films designed for children as a child. That wholly trinity of Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Taxi Driver are all films that I can picture myself responding to, on some level, as a child. The appreciation can be refined and built upon, but it'll be there from the very first viewing; because those films have it, and the only real purpose in writing about them will be to figure out what that "it" is and come one step closer to solving the mystery of myself.

One of the implications of valuing knowledge that I find particularly disturbing is that if you dislike something that "you're not supposed to" you'll need to take it upon yourself to study up on it until you can learn to love it. Or similarly, if you like something that "you're not supposed to" you'll need to take it upon yourself to study up on it until you learn to hate it.

Not only that, but essentially all criticism of modern films seems doomed to fail to me because the historical context doesn't yet exist. And of course, anything opinion that you held in print at age 20 will be made obsolete with the growth of knowledge that you had in age 40. You're constantly going to be forced to re-examine and re-examine a film like Resident Evil: Apocalypse just to make sure that it's still shit and what you have learned since hasn't changed your opinion.

Can you ever trust your instincts?

And yeah, there's a strong anti-Semetic slant in Taxi Driver. The Jew brought us Mel Brooks, The Marx Brothers, and Seinfeld. The Jew personifies this attitude of irreverence; which through Travis Bickle's filters seems to marginalize and belittle his pain and frustration. And this Jew is successfully corrupting and seducing the blonde Aryan goddess that he openly desires. He's not worthy of her.

Not sure if that's what Rachel was getting at; but I thought that I'd throw that out there.

Jefferson said...

zurri said...
Now offcourse, the Internet allows anyone with access to be a film critic. Now if you look at the intent of the Internet-- it was to present information is a more democratic fashion. With this in mind -- can film criticism succed in a democratic environment?


It can succeed -- e.g. "This writing by so-and-so is a valid piece of film criticism" -- but it can also be more effectively ignored -- e.g. "This other writing by so-and-so hews more closely to my own beliefs than this writing by such-and-such." Anyone who disagrees with an Ebert review can hit the next link on RT.com and nod in agreement with Christy Lemire. This is true of any area of critical thought -- politics, childrearing, social studies, war policy. The ideas aren't competing for people to embrace them anymore; the people are competing to see who can voice their own ideas loudest. And there can never be consensus.

rachel said...
What's funny, I always thought Taxi Driver was a far sillier film than Brazil.


Never having lived in/been exposed to the environment that Taxi Driver draws from, and now existing every day in the kind of environment that Brazil satirizes, I have to say that I kind of agree.

ADT said...

Oy. AJ, you're like that fella from Greek mythology: every time you get thrown down, you pop right back up, twice as obstinate and four times as thick. I was going to abandon this whole effort, but what with Adam re-entering the fray, what the hell.

First: the name's Andrew Tracy, I'm an editor and writer for Cinema Scope magazine and I freelance for Reverse Shot, CineAction, Montage, POV, and Film Comment. I see far less (new) movies a year than Adam, and am glad of it, since I don't even need to see "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" in the first place.

I'm not going to bother sorting methodically through each and every ony of your freshest idiocies, so I'm just going to select two goodies, one from your latest post and one a long time back:

"I'll revise my opinions if they need revision."

and

"of course, anything opinion that you held in print at age 20 will be made obsolete with the growth of knowledge that you had in age 40."

So there you go: you yourself have conceded that you will revise your initial opinions if they need revising; and furthermore, you have conceded that a growth in knowledge will affect the opinions you had in your younger years, and perhaps necessitate their revision.

As you have admitted these two self-evident truths, then I completely fail to see your justification for maintaining that what you thought of a movie when you were four will still hold true 20, 40, or 60 years later. To continue hacking away at this idea, in the face of the very common sense which has somehow found its way into your ramblings, is inexplicable to me.

I'm going to do my best to leave it at that, but I'm sure you'll be bouncing back at us soon. See you then.

Dave Gibson said...

RE: It’s not that hard being a film cricket

To quote Charlie Brown: Auugh.
A quick jump on to the semantic merry-go round (quantifying ‘fuzziness’ and all that) means that its time to leave the table. Relying primarily on anecdotal evidence and unsubstantiated opinions is frustrating because these are protective devices employed by shallow provocateurs and “devil’s advocates” who wish to contribute or initiate a discussion without having to deal with the ramifications of rigorously shaping, refining, defending and yes, even changing one’s opinions. AJ—if your individual film insights remain perpetually arrested and enshrined upon your first viewing—I genuinely feel sorry for you (And no, I’m not trying to “bust balls” or whatever macho provocation you prefer) but, more importantly, you haven’t even convinced me that you believe it yourself. “The virtues of a perfect film are evident to four year olds?” Of course that’s balderdash, and after being called on it you go on to “allow for growth and maturity”—which of course, invalidates your initial comment—leading me to assume that you never believed it in the first place. (Kind of like yelling “FIRE” and then, when folks come running, insist you say: “Of course, by ‘fire’ I meant--FREE BEER”) I soon expect your “expansion” of your notion that “all criticism of modern films seems doomed to fail” when someone rightly points out, that in saying that—you are proclaiming that the work of your colleagues is inherently futile. Revise away though, because-- for someone who allegedly dislikes “nuance” you sure make a good case for it as you tend to qualify and expand your claims with every post. Being a self-proclaimed “button pusher” is about the easiest thing in the world, especially when (as has been pointed out earlier) there’s no intellectual rigor behind it. Self-reflection, self-criticism and self-awareness are crucial to one’s development as a human being—no matter what profession you choose. There’s also nothing wrong with developing and shaping your opinions in a public forum—but, starting off with the grandiose and asinine, (There are THREE kinds of film experts! THREE!) Then working your way down to subtlety is a futile and increasingly galling tactic.

Seen any good movies today y'all?

Jefferson said...

Well, I saw Memoirs of a Geisha and it's really just Pretty Woman,only they didn't try to deform Julia Roberts with awful contact lenses the way they did Ziyi Zhang.

Alex Jackson said...

"I'll revise my opinions if they need revision."

and

"of course, anything opinion that you held in print at age 20 will be made obsolete with the growth of knowledge that you had in age 40."

So there you go: you yourself have conceded that you will revise your initial opinions if they need revising; and furthermore, you have conceded that a growth in knowledge will affect the opinions you had in your younger years, and perhaps necessitate their revision.


You have me at the first, but not on the second. I really wish that you would read me as carefully as I read you. That wasn't a concession the second time, I was describing the inherent problem with valuing knowledge.

I just feel so trapped. You see let's take that Resident Evil: Apocalypse example. In order to understand Resident Evil 2 you're going to need to see Resident Evil 1. After seeing Resident Evil 2 you're going to have a new perspective that is going to force you to watch Resident Evil 1 as your intial viewing is no longer valid. After this second viewing of Resident Evil 1 your perspective toward Resident Evil 2 is going to be made obsolete and your going to have to see it again. You read books about any discipline that remotely relates to the films. The films make your perception of the books invalid and the books make your perception of the films invalid. One day you realize that you've spent thirty years trying to determine if Resident Evil 1 and 2 are good movies or bad movies; and you haven't seen any other movies in the time being.

since I don't even need to see "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" in the first place.

Are you trying get a rise out of me? Seeing those words in that order is really making my blood pressure sky rocket and my teeth grind.

I'll try to be calm.

Now, how did you determine that you did not need to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse? Tell me about your process.

Obviously we can never ever ever put our trust in the critical establishment since we need to continuously prod it and test it to determine it's contiued validity.

Do you think it's necessary to see a lot of movies or should you keep your numbers small so that, I guess, you can continue the process of continuously re-examining?

Seriously, how can you possibly justify "not needing" to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Am I wrong for reading that "eventually knowing everything" bit as a necessity in your knowledge-centric model?

I'm not sure that your model has much utility for how I watch films. I'll concede that we evolve and mature. For fuck's sake, why don't you read the post I said that in, like, the first sentence.

Okay, calmness. Sure, people grow up and evolve. But I also believe that there are constants in the human lifespan; and these constants supercede any change brought on by increased knowledge.

Do you feel that there are no constants then? That relative to who you are now, your four year old self is no more a part of you then any other four year old. Or are they just not as important as the continual process of acquiring information?

I'd also like to know how you came upon these conclusions. Can I have some more specific anecdotal evidence of how your perceptions were changed with more information? I've been asking for it several times now and I haven't quite been satisfied.

What was your perception before obtaining the information? What was the information? What was your perception afterwards.

I'm just examining how I viewed films when I was kid and how they played when I revisited them, and I'm seeing that my general attitude was more or less set in stone.

Alex Jackson said...

There’s also nothing wrong with developing and shaping your opinions in a public forum—but, starting off with the grandiose and asinine, (There are THREE kinds of film experts! THREE!) Then working your way down to subtlety is a futile and increasingly galling tactic.

What's the point of film criticism? What's the point of discussion?

How are we SUPPOSED to start off? (grandiose or subtle)

Where are we SUPPOSED to end up? (grandiose or subtle)

Is there a way to discuss this kind of thing without relying on anecdotal evidence? You mean like statistically significant hard data?

And please Dave, you too need to actually read the post. I actually thought that I was being vague when I said I was exploring the problem when I said that all of a knowledge-centric model, but it's right there qualified with:

One of the implications of valuing knowledge that I find particularly disturbing

and

Not only that

hip_priest said...

Lordy, you know it's bad when he's calling declarative sentences rigid absolutes (perhaps the use of an ellipsis is advisable) and good, sound advice an insurmountable, self-contradicting paradox.

The things some kids'll do to get outta their homework...

If, by "deadening hand of academia," adt meant glosses on intro philosophy dumped into discussions of what it means to be a film critic, I'm certainly on board.

I reenter the fray only to save who I can from it...

So, continuing with the post-mortem, as that's the most fruitful line of discussion I see goin': as the linkable Adam Nayman points out, film criticism (like most things) is practice and best discussed as such. This thread's shown no sustained interest in that, so it's hardly surprising that it fell off topic and degenerated into sophistry so quickly. I suppose when people say outrageous things (I believe the Eternal Jew made his way into this thread a few posts up...) you have to shift the conversation to a different level (like: "meet people often?"). I think these are better explanations than the inherent limitations of blogger.

In any case, it is an Absolute Truth that this thread will never get anywhere. Any reasonable human being that hangs around does so at the peril of getting lost in one of AJ's viscous whirlpools...

ADT said...

"In any case, it is an Absolute Truth that this thread will never get anywhere. Any reasonable human being that hangs around does so at the peril of getting lost in one of AJ's viscous whirlpools..."

HP, I couldn't agree with you more. I hereby propose that you, me, Adam and Dave gather together for milk n' cookies n' Kuleshov. (Adam, can you bring some chairs from your place?)

Dave Gibson said...

And the wheel goes round and round…

Exhausted from the thread but, I am amusing myself with the image of a Film critic street gang, hanging out in front of the TIFF festival offices, clove cigarettes dangling from their curled lips—wiping their sweaty, judgmental brows with their Michael Haneke hankies---busting the balls of everyone attending the non–stop “Resident Evil” festival next door.

Yeah, Geisha was a lot like “Pretty Woman” wasn’t it? When it comes to popular depictions of Prostitutes, the line between cautionary tale and timeless PG-13 romance seems to have something to do with who has the best costume designer. Though I did have fun around last holidays repeating that trailer tag line: “You will become Geeeiissha!” Current favourite: “It’s mah cloooonnne!” (Read in Scottish burr as Ewan McGregor in Logan Run-style jumpsuit)

Bill C said...

I think you're confusing film critics with first-year art students, Dave. More likely one gang would all resemble Homer Simpson and the other Smithers.

ADT said...

HP,

do pardon my "glosses on intro philosophy"... my inheritance from Stanley Kauffmann, who was far more concise (and maybe pertinent) about it than I. Funny how responding to a twit can lead one to ponder (ponderously) the worth and meaning of this life our ours...

As to the "deadening hand of academia," that's more a knee-jerk holdover from my more Jackson-like days ensconced in some particularly unilluminating film studies classes. I not only revise, I retract said statement. Your servant, sir.

O'JohnLandis said...

Bill,

I was going to send this as an e-mail and keep it private, but I've decided I want it on the record.

I know this discussion is basically over, but before everyone moves on, I have a request for you. I want to know whose side you're on, or as Alex would say, "who's side your on." (Cheap shot? Ahem, "Did you ever consider that if you didn't write like a friggin' simpleton, people might actually one day give a shit what you have to say about something?" - Walter Chaw)

So, Bill, I've been a fan of yours for five years and Walter for four, and I really want you to take a decisive position on this issue. Has your site been invalid since its inception, since you review modern films, don't literally know everything, and suggest that people should read certain books and watch certain films? I'm not even sure it's a contingent aspect of Alex's theory that people actually watch the films they criticize. I'm certain there are blind people who can write very well, stand by a strong opinion, and would have interesting takes on any number of visual arts, but certainly it's not saying anything against them to point out that their film criticism is not as informed as the criticism of someone who has actually watched the movie.

See, I don't think Alex really believes his initial post. I think he read that book and had a very simple reaction: when an established critic claims that reading certain books or watching certain films is a requirement for being a film critic, they're being needlessly reductive and they're wrong, anyway. But he couldn't just say that and have everyone agree with the simple, obvious point that film critics can be snobby. Instead, he had to find a way to be provocative and snarky, so he came up with an opinion that's infinitely reductive and wrong, anyway. It's not a syllogistic trap, it's the syllogistic equivalent of dividing by zero. It's kooky nihilism, and it makes me sad and angry.

If film is an intellectual art, film criticism is an intellectual art about an intellectual art. FFC isn't the funniest film site out there, nor is it the one I most often agree with (like that matters). No, I come here because Walter and Bill and Travis are intellectual artists, and for one of their supposed colleagues to attack their very method without WB&T even entering fully into the discussion, that kinda makes me worry about the future of the site. Where are Ebert's balls? Where are yours?

-The other John Landis

Alex Jackson said...

I know this discussion is basically over, but before everyone moves on, I have a request for you. I want to know whose side you're on, or as Alex would say, "who's side your on." (Cheap shot? Ahem, "Did you ever consider that if you didn't write like a friggin' simpleton, people might actually one day give a shit what you have to say about something?" - Walter Chaw)

Cheap shot indeed particulary since, until now, I didn't complain about my harshest opponents' inability to master paragraph breaks and putting quotations and titles into italics for easier reading.

I do know the rule about confusing "who's and whose" and can't find where I made the mistake, although I'll admit that I'm not putting that much elbow grease into finding it. I willing to assume that I did make the error and cop to it. It's sad to think that that was aparently all that was keeping my arguments from being taken seriously.

Has a schoolyard nastiness to it also. As much as I made you "sad and angry", I did so without making any personal attacks toward any of the people here. Adam N and ADT both threw first punches (in fact, if you read the comment section you'll see things were going fairly diplomatically until they got started). I was aggravating them to be sure, but they were the ones who went there first and I showed a relatively great deal of restraint in not returning in kind. And you were the one who brought it to the next level, quoting a prime Chaw aphorism to inform me (by proxy) that he probably doesn't think much of me either.

I'd like some clarification of how what I am doing is not a syllogistic trap but the "syllogistic equivalent of dividing by zero". You're saying my logic is faulty? Which parts?

Of course I'd be even more interested in learning how my opinion is "infinitely" wrong. What was your process in coming up with the idea of what's "wrong"?

Making simple obvious points about critics being snobby, you really think that that's advancing the dialogue?

And again, I don't know how many times that I need to repeat this, IF WE ADOPT THE KNOWLEDGE-CENTRIC MODEL OF FILM CRITICISM everything that we do at Film Freak Central is meaningless and invalid. I'm not saying that what we do is invalid, I'm saying that that is inferred by the knowledge-centric model which I actively oppose. I have no idea how this could have been misconstrued. This is not me "back-pedaling" this is not me altering or adapting my theory, this is me reiterating in precisely the context in which it appeared.

Is the idea just to pluck out the sentences where my arguments are the weakest and/or I sound the craziest regardless of how or why I used them?

And for Pete's sake, do you really think that I'm powerful enough or Film Freak Central is weak enough that they should worry about having me aboard?

O'JohnLandis said...

Alex,

My post wasn't really intended for you, which, I know, is an odd thing to say about a post that attacks you. Rather than continue the nitpicking, though, I wanted to call out Bill (especially), Walter, and Travis. But I will respond to your questions:

1) You misuse "your/you're" and "it's/its" constantly. I am pretty sure I've seen you misuse "who's/whose" and "there/their/they're" also, but, not interested in checking everything you've written on this site and your own, I am willing to retract that half of the sentence on good faith.

2) I quoted Walter neither to attack your right to have your opinions count nor to suggest that he thinks you're an idiot, but to protect myself from the possible counter that we ought not bother people about language mistakes in informal writing. I took that shot at you to provoke you to learn how to avoid the very common usage mistakes that you make. It's not that you're a simpleton, it's that you make simple mistakes. Basically, I would think these arguments are bullshit if they were written elegantly.

3) I know you must feel like an army of e-bullies are beating the shit out of you, but what does that tell you? This isn't the only time you've been attacked on this blog, it's simply the most severe. You are always trying too hard and you always seem afraid to have a conventional opinion. Want examples? The Payne/Göbbels bit, the cunt/kike bit, the Zacharek bit...

4) You said, "Making simple obvious points about critics being snobby, you really think that that's advancing the dialogue?" No, but maybe that just means that that particular dialogue doesn't need to be advanced right now, so find another. Doesn't mean you still can't make the point and let it sit there, a simple truth well told. And maybe you could have found a credible point to make about the snobbery of film critics that would advance the dialogue. Perhaps the critics who talk about the requirements for being a critic do so to protect a specific flaw in their writing or thinking, or to cover up the lack of some quality that others consider some other kind of requirement.

5) When attacking a single argument, is there a better way than to attack the weakest and craziest bits?

6) I did not mean to imply that you were infinitely wrong. That's the writer in me, choosing parallel structure over clarity. Critics are "needlessly reductive and wrong," so you are "infinitely reductive and wrong." That is not to say that you are infinitely reductive and infinitely wrong. I should have added a comma or changed it to "wrong and infinitely reductive," but I didn't like the way that sounded.

7) Here's what I mean when I say your argument is infinitely reductive, the equivalent of dividing by zero, and nihilistic:

Division is a kind of subtraction, except when you divide by zero. When you divide by zero, no matter what you start with, you always get zero. I consider this to be infinitely reductive and nihilistic. Your argument is, too.

When you say that knowledge shouldn't be a requirement, you are invalidating film criticism. A person who has never seen a movie before is probably going to like it, but not in an interesting way. Every comparative aspect of the art of criticism is instantly eliminated if knowledge isn't a requirement. If I want to read about what constitutes a great apple, or whether a particular apple is particularly tasty, the writer had better have eaten more than one apple. And it's not that I consider film criticism to be a simple listing of goods and bads, but no matter how nuanced, any film criticism has some direct or implied comparison. It's part of the art. Without even implied comparison, all criticism is instantly reduced to zero. Which is not to say that knowledge has to be infinite or specific, just that we should be receptive to the introduction of useful knowledge and try to make reasonably informed statements.

Even though you've claimed that no knowledge is required, you've also made the contradictory statement that a critic need only love something and hate something and not be willing to change. If this is the only requirement, it provides no safeguards to prove the critic has actually watched the film. If a guy has seen two movies and loves one and hates the other, he's a film critic. You're reading his work because you're looking for unique insight, so maybe you won't be able to distinguish between unique insight and total fiction. There are people who haven't seen 2001 who will say it's boring and give some specific examples taken from pop culture and conversation. Is that film criticism? This system also unreasonably excludes people who love or hate everything, as well as people who neither love nor hate anything. They're not serious? If knowledge isn't a requirement, you can't even prove the serious ones watched anything.

Fundamentally, I am saying that knowledge is a requirement of film criticism, here and elsewhere, yet it's unnecessary to say precisely which knowledge is needed. Is there a gray area? Yes. So? A few critics said there were specific requirements to film criticism. Shocked by their presumptuousness, you disagreed and said that there were two. That's not progress. You disliked the idle snobbery of a few critics, so you idly invalidated the art. Oops.

8) Doesn't "film freak" suggest a large base of knowledge? When people attack Bill or Walter's opinions, don't B&W often tell them to watch more, or read more, or learn more? This is not the same thing as telling someone they have to have seen Citizen Kane in order to be a film critic. "Knowledge-centric film critic" is a redundant term that did not need to exist. Good luck finding a definition.

9) At no point did I say that I'm worried about FFC having you around. I'm worried because Bill and Walter haven't said, "That's a stupid idea, Alex. Move on." I also think you and Bill and Travis should have responded similarly when Walter said, “I guess what I'm ultimately saying is that audacity does, in fact, equal insight.” That’s another false and massively reductive statement. (I got the order right that time.) But it, at least, doesn’t invalidate the entire art.

-The other John Landis

dave said...

When you divide by zero, no matter what you start with, you always get zero.

Careful with those mathematical analogues, they have the awkward tendency to be wrong (although I agree with the rest of your post).

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Umm... if you divide by zero, you actually get infinity.

dave said...

Umm... if you divide by zero, you actually get infinity.

Actually, it's much more complicated and I can just barely restrain myself from delving into the details. A good summary can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

Jefferson said...

When you multiply by zero, you do get zero, which sort of how I feel after reading this entire thread.

Alex Jackson said...

Thank you for the excellent post Other John Landis. Things might have been different if you came along earlier.

Even though you've claimed that no knowledge is required, you've also made the contradictory statement that a critic need only love something and hate something and not be willing to change. If this is the only requirement, it provides no safeguards to prove the critic has actually watched the film. If a guy has seen two movies and loves one and hates the other, he's a film critic. You're reading his work because you're looking for unique insight, so maybe you won't be able to distinguish between unique insight and total fiction. There are people who haven't seen 2001 who will say it's boring and give some specific examples taken from pop culture and conversation. Is that film criticism? This system also unreasonably excludes people who love or hate everything, as well as people who neither love nor hate anything. They're not serious? If knowledge isn't a requirement, you can't even prove the serious ones watched anything.

Did I ever really explicitly say that no knowledge was required? I said that we should throw it out as a criterion for good film criticism and it's not that important relative to passion, but I don't see that as being the thing.

Well, if I did, consider it retracted. I'm arguing that to be a useful film critic you need to have seen (and yes, it's necessary to actually see them) at least two films, one you loved and one you hated, and I guess that that would be knowledge. Certainly that's reductive, but it's not reductiveness in itself that I have a problem with. I just have a problem with Dave Gibson's specific one; perhaps because it's actually not reductive enough. He doesn't boil things down far enough.

I asked, in a somewhat different form, what is the bare minimum that somebody has to have seen in order to be a film critic? Give us an answer and we can debate it. Say that the question is irrelevant, and you really are saying that no amount of knowledge is necessary. More so than I was. I think that I was implying with the phrase "knowledge-centric" that knowledge is still there in the second model, it's just not centered around it.

And yes, I have no qualms about excluding people who love everything or hate everything or feel indifferent about everything. I agree with you that film criticism is, on some fundamental level, fueled by comparing and contrasting. If you love everything or hate everything, or feel indifferent toward everything, there's never going to be any comparing or contrasting. You're never going to establish a working value system and possessing a working value system is the most important thing that a film critic needs. You need to be able to distinguish between good and bad. Everything else, including possessing knowledge, is supplemental or even secondary to possessing a working value system.

ADT said...

I don't even want to respond to Jackson's latest post, as a great number of us have by now thoroughly broken down every rickety "position" he has purported to hold. Obviously, this thing could go on forever, which, as Adam noted, is the very nature of blogging. But I'm actually quite grateful that this discussion has been prolonged to this extent, because in between Jackson's refutations of some of the core principles of civilization, arguments over mathematical etiquette and voiding someone's opinion of a film because they're a girl (AJ's influence is pervasive, obviously), there has been some uniquely fine writing about the practice of film criticism. AJ's absurdities could have been dismissed with a shrug and a disgusted shake of the head, as indeed they deserved to be, but a few smart folks decided to take the time to think hard and write elegantly and passionately about one of the more derided professions on this earth. Nice to have you on board, OJL, and thank you for asking the question which I'm sure a number of us have been wondering about: namely, what do the smart people who write for this site have to say about their colleague's opinions? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and AJ, do accept my apologies for failing to place quotations and titles in italics for easier reading, but I actually can't figure out how to it -- novice blogger, you see. I'd be more than happy if you could pass some of that knowledge on to me.

Alex Jackson said...

Read that line below the "Leave your comment" title. I'll substitute <> with (). The text that you want italicized should begin with a (i) and when you want the it to end it should have a (/i).

AJ's absurdities could have been dismissed with a shrug and a disgusted shake of the head, as indeed they deserved to be, but a few smart folks decided to take the time to think hard and write elegantly and passionately about one of the more derided professions on this earth.

Yes, and that was the entire point. Dismissing with a shrug and a disgusted shake of the head (as the "kike/cunt" thing was though I would have been up for discussing it if the proper objections could be lucidly formulated) is actively practicing anti-intellectualism. Saying "this isn't worth my time" is anti-intellectual beyond anything that I could ever espouse.

And no, I can't just "let the point" sit there, lest I be accused of stirring shit up for the sake of stirring shit up. This can be found explicitly in ADT's post where he complained that I wasn't posting fast enough and as thus was not interested in expanding the dialogue. The hell I'm not, I'm very interested in expanding the dialogue and I want to actually arrive somewhere with it.

I do have to say that I was very relieved not to like what I read of Andrew Tracy. Yeah, it's very film studies-esque. Dry, impersonal, and done with a relative modicum of fluid creative thinking or judgment. He doesn't seem to be very interested in exploring those base philosophical questions reflected in the art, he's only really interested in the hardware. Takes all kinds I guess, but yeah I'm just not very interested in it; it's operating on a parallel universe. It's all very safe and not particuarly revealing of the author.

Walter_Chaw said...

I'm ultimately saying is that audacity does, in fact, equal insight.” That’s another false and massively reductive statement. (I got the order right that time.) But it, at least, doesn’t invalidate the entire art.

Reductive, I'll buy - but I gotta maintain that it's insightful to me the way that things are audacious which might not be, in the final analysis, the same thing as saying that audicity is insightful - but it's hairy in there. At any case, it's not the place I start with a piece and it's not the place that I'd end either.

Just speaking for myself, I don't particularly feel like chiming in on the opinions of my colleagues here at the site because, essentially, I feel like in-house scraps should be handled in-house. It's a matter of professionalism, and, in any case, this being a public forum for all of our ignorance, have at it, I say. I do want to agree with the above to the extent that what's happened here is ultimately illuminating to me: the audacity of the thesis and the audacious venom of some of the response, revelatory (and bracing) to me.

Besides, y'all are pretty excellent hand-slappers as those things go.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex,

Good to see you still stirring up trouble. Even though some of these people may be taking what you wrote a bit too seriously (Alex is always like this, stirring the pot for a reaction).

To touch on a couple comments, I fully agree that you really need to have a larger view of film to be a great critic. You look at someone like Dave Denby of the New Yorker, and he doesn't know much about film beyond what is playing at the Central Park West theaters he frequents. Yet, he is widely read, and considered a respected crtic.

But on another point, I know that you are still young (did you graduate college yet?), but when you get older, your opinions of films do change. I have seen films in my 20's, watched them 15 years later, and thought very different.

Life experience changes your view of everything. Life, politics, religion, etc. Unless you live in a bubble, or belong to a cult, you will always be adjusting your views. If you aren't, you need some help.

hip_priest said...

ADT—

I was unclear but thought the connections could be made. The philosophy glosses are all Mr. Jackson’s own. Despite the resistance to book learnin', academic jargon finds its way into AJ's writings. There’s a definite odor of schoolyard nihilism in this thread. I can’t be bothered to scroll up, but I think the rejection of empiricism may’ve been cast in familiar terms (if only in a half-remembered, barely read sorta way—I suspect Mr. Jackson thought himself too cool for school after midterms). Then there’s the body of work in general. I recall the last firestorm on the blog had a bit of Judith Butler in there, albeit filtered through many layers of stupid. These things can be categorized as “glosses on intro philosophy.”

I recall nothing that you’ve said which might fall into that category—the bits about human development and usefulness of knowin’ stuff aren’t what I meant. In fact, I do believe I worked those themes into my posts. I'm not sure what else there was. In any case, that’s philosophy like buying groceries is political. I’m not so catholic—and happy to leave it as common sense. Apologies if I was being willfully obscure.

I used your phrase—“deadening hand of academia”—to get a bit of clarification. Recanting works too, of course, so we could drop it. But I’d hold off long enough to mention that academia is not monolithic. Getting precise about what’s meant by the academy (or expertise or whatever) and what role that has in the practice* of film criticism is the sensible discussion that didn’t happen in this thread. Oh well.


* Practice, as opposed to Jackson's "model," some useless abstraction with a center but no discernable boundaries...

Bill C said...

Hi John, good to have you around these parts. At the risk of parroting Walt, I don't really see any diplomatic way of participating in this conversation, although I do think some of you are swatting flies with Buicks. I might add that even though this is "The Film Freak Central Blog", its purpose was to extrapolate the individual personalities from the mother site, and it goes without saying that the views expressed herein are the author's own and do not necessarily represent any official stance of Film Freak Central. Fear not, though: FFC is in no danger of imploding; for better or worse, we're made of Teflon.

Adam N said...

ADT is a very fine critic and one of my favorite people to argue with. His writing does reveal things -- about films and what's in 'em. If I want autobiography, I'll go elsewhere. Read this -- it's the best piece I've read about an absolutely crucial film.
http://www.reverseshot.com/winter06/yearinreview/bwa_darwin.html

Now,

AJ,
You're passionate about film, which is an attractive quality to me, and I've read enough of your writing to know that you're serious and engaged. I don't apologize for the hectoring tone of my posts, because this is a blog -- live it up and swashbuckle to your heart's content, I say. Nobody's crying at their desks here (right?)
That said, your newly wounded stance doesn't inspire much pity. Surely, you saw this coming. You made a provocative and unsolicited statement about a practice that a lot of people take seriously -- not out of arrogance, but out of deep concern. There are pertinent issues about this profession that the FFC blog is tailor-made to address (mainly its rapid mutation into a consumer-reporting service) but instead, we've had 70-odd posts about something with, in Hip Priest's words, "a center but no discernible boundaries." Kinda like a black hole.
Anyway, here's my theory about why so many nice folks have been sucked in. Alex, when you've been pressed -- and, re-reading the thread I think some of the pressing, mean-spirited or not, has been pretty on target -- you've related everything back to your own opinions and experiences. That's fine, but you've done it without allowing much room for anyone else's.
So, it's hard for me to believe what you've been pleading all along, and said plainly in your last post: that you're "interesting in expanding the discussion." An expansion of this discussion on your end would involve considering approaches to film criticism other than your own. I might have missed something, but aside from a caveat here and a tortured clarification there, this hasn't happened. The discussion has arrived, all right -- at a dead end, about 3 days and 50 posts ago.
So, if you think that there are three clearly defined groups of film enthusiasts, that knowledge of the medium isn't a significant prerequisite for worthwhile criticism (or appreciation), that the virtues of a perfect film are evident to four-year olds and that every cogent (if snarky) rejoinder you've received is indicative of the confusion of others, then there's nothing I or anyone else can (or should, or, really, want to) do about it.

ADT said...

HP,

sorry, my misunderstanding. Thought your comment was directed at me as I know I have something of a penchant for windy philosophizing - though even after allegedly reading some of my stuff, AJ mystifyingly contends that I neglect philosophy in favour of something called "hardware" (qu'est-ce que c'est?)

I'll maintain the retraction of the "deadening hand," as that was based on the same kind of coarse generalization which got us so riled up in the first place. Thanks for making me realize it.

O'JohnLandis said...

Sorry about the math mistake, everyone. I started responding to Alex a little before 9:00 am, still awake from the previous day, and it began to show in sloppiness of many types. As soon as I read Dave’s post, I realized my mistake, though I’m not entirely sure that my analogy is incorrect just because I clarified it incorrectly.

Alex,

If knowledge should be thrown out as a criterion, that means it’s not required. It just does. And if you simply think that passion is more important than knowledge, why didn’t you just say that? That’s a very simple preference. I disagree with it, of course, but it’s not at all the same thing as saying that passion is a criterion and knowledge isn’t. It doesn’t land us in a black hole, and it means, to use your style, that you’ve adopted a passion-centric model of which knowledge is still a part, rather than a knowledge-centric model that excludes passion. Now, I don’t know why you think that knowledge-centric models are incompatible with passion or that passion from a knowledge-centric critic is somehow tainted. But I’m pretty sure I’ve finally solved this whole damn thing, and if you confirm that this is merely a preference you’ve over inflated, I think we may yet find peace.

Just a few loose ends:

Why love and hate? Why not like and dislike? Why not a large series of slightly different likes? Most of us could productively compare a large number of things that we like. I think you’re just pushing your preference for extreme opinions. Film criticism without this type of binary passion is still film criticism, even if you consider it inherently weaker. If someone sees 100 films, and likes them all in different ways, can you prove conclusively that this critic lacks a working value system? It could be a lucky fluke, or it could mean that the critic has a faulty value system, but it does not mean that comparison or criticism is impossible.

Please consider letting points just sit there. I can’t prove this, but the willingness to make clear points is a dying art. Surely you’d admit that some arguments don’t need a new, provocative stance. If you ever meet the Wizard, ask for restraint.

Is a perfect film really evident to a four-year-old kid? Four? Pre-K? Why not three? Is a perfect film even definable? What film is closest to perfect? You really like Eraserhead—got any nieces or nephews? Maybe one of Walter’s kids would like to test this theory. And even if there is some perfect theoretical film that would appeal to everyone, why does it follow that opinions about other films shouldn’t, and don’t, change?

I’d like to try to answer the question, “What is the bare minimum [of films] that somebody has to have seen in order to be a film critic?” Your answer is, “enough to hate at least one and love at least one.” Or “two.” My answer is, “as many as possible, but it really doesn’t matter, so long as being adequately informed is your primary goal.” I think that’s the best possible answer, in spite of its ambiguities. Not all questions need be answered and not all debates are necessary. Certain facts are unknowable. There is a fact of the matter as to how many hairs Gustav Mahler had on his head the night of his fiftieth birthday. A debate on this issue would not be productive or interesting. If you happened, by chance, to pick the right number, no one could prove it. And the inability to prove it does not mean Mahler was bald. I can only reiterate that the absence of a value for the number of required films does not disprove that there is a number of required films, which isn’t to say it’s the same number for everyone.

Walter,

Sorry to dump on you in passing, but I wanted to show Alex that he wasn’t the only one who jumps off the deep end. I certainly do. He just does it more frequently. The sentence of yours I quoted was the conclusion to a long consideration of the topic. It was also wrong. Even if deciding what constitutes audacity leads to a kind of insight, the insight belongs to you, not the audacious object. Earlier in the post you said as much, then talked yourself out of a reasonable position.

Bill and Walter,

I can understand why you took a diplomatic position, and furthermore, I can read between the lines. But are the standards of professionalism for film critics the same as those of corporate retail employees? You can publicly disagree about Crash or about Joseph Campbell, so why not the definition of film criticism? That would seem to be a discussion to enter, if ever there was one. Is disagreement so dangerous that it can’t be public, and rather has to be dealt with privately, like a crime swept under the rug? Maybe my preference for a naked and transparent discussion of right and wrong in these unique epistemological arguments is unreasonable, but I’d like to think that if there’s any place to find it, it’s here.

- The other John Landis

Alex Jackson said...

Like I said, things might have wrapped up a lot sooner if you, John Landis, started here before ADT or Adam N.

You know, the kind of writing that Andrew Tracy does is a very good example of criticism that makes few real value judgments. We never wonder if he liked or disliked the film in question because basically if he disliked it he wouldn't be writing about it.

Impersonal, never particularly controversial and always safe would be pretty good ways to describe it. Is it film criticism? I don't know. Maybe. But I can say that he's not very useful to me. He's not interested in asking or answering the same questions as I am (dead center is "How do I distinguish between a good movie and a bad one?") either because he has already definitively resolved those issues or he just doesn't have any curiosity about them. He builds ships, I make gloves; there is no real way to compare the two of them because they have vastly different goals. (I don't think that anybody here has properly explained why they are film critics. Other then "I do it well and they pay me, which is merely cynical knee-jerk defensiveness; but then again I give creedance to the idea that the lot of you either have definitively resolved this issue or don't have much curiosity in asking it)". If that's film criticism, I don't know what it is that I do.

Long way of saying that it's quite possible that critics would have insight in having never seen a movie they hated, but it would not be an insight that I could use because they are fundamentally not interested in exploring the same issues that I am.

I’d like to try to answer the question, “What is the bare minimum [of films] that somebody has to have seen in order to be a film critic?” Your answer is, “enough to hate at least one and love at least one.” Or “two.” My answer is, “as many as possible, but it really doesn’t matter, so long as being adequately informed is your primary goal.” I think that’s the best possible answer, in spite of its ambiguities. Not all questions need be answered and not all debates are necessary. Certain facts are unknowable.

I think that it's a terribly important question when we're talking about the democratization of film criticism. Terribly important. Somebody has actually asked me if they should watch Cache if they haven't seen any other Haneke movies. If it's necessary to see other Haneke movies then which ones? If they don't like their first one, they're going to worry that they have "failed" in watching it and they're going to be scared of seeing another one. If you can "fail" in watching Haneke then can you "fail" in watching Resident Evil? Or any other film for that matter?

There needs to be a concrete way to accredidate people so they can safely attack popular films they hate and celebrate unpopular films that they love.

That's a question that you NEED to have an answer to if you are ever to attack the armchair film critics to any extent.

ADT said...

(Hope I did this italic thing right, or I'm gonna look pretty silly...)

AJ,

gotta say I'm not that broken up about your not liking my writing... I think we've amply demonstrated that any point of convergence between our approaches would be well-nigh impossible. But since you're looking for reasons why the rest of us became film critics, I thought I may as well give you an idea of how I come at movies.

First off, I'd have to say that the "dead centre" of your "value system" - "How do I distinguish between a good movie and a bad one?" - is, admittedly, one of the least interesting questions for me... you've got me there, all right. Liking or not liking a movie is, I believe, more of a jumping-off point than a final detination.

Now, I must confess that I feel myself luckier in this regard than some of the other contributors to this blog, and to you and Walter et al as well. Since I'm not employed as a weekly reviewer, I don't have to sift through nearly the amount of godawful shite that you poor fellas are obliged to (still not feeling that pang of conscience for missing Resident Evil 2, sorry). So as my mandate is rather more flexible than yours, I can do a certain amount of picking and choosing about the films I want to write about - and yeah, more often than not it's stuff I like, or am even passionate about, than stuff I dislike. I'm finding myself less and less interested as I enter my doddering late-20s in engaging in shouting matches over particular films, though believe me I can still emerge from some enraged and spitting venom at those who support it - Munich would be the latest culprit.

So if liking/disliking is not my major imperative in writing about films, then what is? Well, as Adam said for me, what's in 'em: how the film is made, how it functions, what the filmmaker's (possible) intentions were, how those intentions play out in execution. More about the films, I guess, and less about myself - and while that may seem "impersonal" to you, I'd venture that everything I write, just as everything that everybody else on this still-unravelling thread has written, reveals one hell of a lot about their own person, whether or not they use the preposition "I" with greater or less frequency.

Autobiography certainly has a place in film criticism, I'll grant you that, but at what point does autobiography take over from the nominal subject you're writing about - that is, the film? Susan Sontag, one of the finest minds to have written on film since this eternally debased field's inception, had dis to say on dat: “I am always the instrument for whatever I can convey expressively. My urge to write is an urge not to self-expression but to self-transcendence.” That seems a pretty honourable and workable stance to me.

And since I'm calling on far greater writers to help shore me up, here's another one for you, courtesy of Manny Farber. When asked about the role of evaluation in his critical work, he had this to say:

It's practically worthless for a critic. The last thing I want to know is whether you like it or not; the problems of writing are after that. I don't think it has any importance; it's one of those derelict appendages of criticism. Criticism has nothing to do with hierarchies.

Now while that might sound nearly as extreme and strident as some of your views, AJ - since Farber did establish hierarchies in his writing, as do we all - his salvo was meant more in good humour, while yours are in consistently bad faith. What he's getting at, of course, is that a critic shouldn't use his own personal feelings about a film as the only, or even the primary, guideline for judging its worth, its "goodness" or "badness" - because then you're establishing your own feelings as the sole arbiter of rightness. Do you think you'd "like" any of those '80s porn movies you mention earlier on? I doubt it, though who knows. And whether you do or don't "like" them, does that at all detract from their existence as films - as objects made in particular ways, for particular purposes, that can work on people in ways that may completely eclipse their original purposes? And don't you think that that basic fact is worth exploring, though perhaps more worth exploring for certain films over others? (sorry, the hierarchy slipped back in there.)

I'll end off there, but in case you haven't encountered it yet, and can wade through some more of my "impersonal" and "safe"(?) prose, I'd recommend you take a look at my piece on Three Times (www.reverseshot.com/autumn05/nyff/threetimes.html), as in there I wrestle with (and decisively don't resolve) this very issue of "liking" a movie as opposed to its worth. Read that, and then read the wonderful piece by Michael Koresky that follows it - 'cause even though he's arguing against my view, he completely proves my point.

Adieu.