April 13, 2008

The Trench

Brief thoughts on a Sabbath night:

I don’t really understand – and don’t really like, and certainly don’t respect – anyone who doesn’t think that No Country For Old Men is a great film. I feel badly for people who don’t like Tarantino; worse for people who don’t seem to understand Malick or Nagisa or Kim Ki-Duk; but I’m sympathetic that there are opposing viewpoints, y’know. See – the basis for this critical debasement is the dangerous idea that there are no absolutes in the liberal arts. It’s what’s made it all such a fucking mess, it’s arguably what’s caused Nathan Lee over at the NY Post and David Ansen at Newsweek to lose their positions (everyone else is next save St. Ebert) recently, this democratization of opinion. Everyone has one. Like an asshole. Get it? The irony of it is that you make any kind of consideration a matter of “well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion” and suddenly nobody needs yours.

By making this thing of ours accessible to a wide, wider, widest audience; my colleagues have politicked themselves out of a job and, before long, out of an entire frickin’ profession. I met David Ansen once – we sat on a panel together at the Vail Film Festival talking about, primarily, the state of modern film criticism (Godfrey Cheshire moderated – he having lost his job a long time ago) – and he struck me as a smart, moral, well-versed critic: a film-lover who’d given a good deal of thought to what was happening at newspapers and magazines. Now, about two years later, he’s taken a buyout offered him and from what I understand, will close out the end of the year before another major outlet, his, closes for good to film criticism.

So the thesis is this: that allowing for people to disagree about the quality of No Country For Old Men is symptomatic of why there’s a dearth of good criticism in the United States. I remember in this Milton seminar I had back in the day that someone piped up that they didn’t think that Milton was very good and, y’know, I have this to say to that. Shut the fuck up. You’re allowed not to like Milton, you’re not allowed to opine that Milton was inept and, more to the point, no one’s asking. At a certain level, with certain films, it’s not about good or bad, it has to be about how and why. You can hate Hitchcock – you can’t say that he didn’t make his handful of masterpieces.

Criticism without knowledge is a zero sum game. Everyone’s an asshole who does it.

There are absolutes in the liberal arts. There are things that are absolutely black and white. Find your place of gray within that or find yourself keeping company with that idiot couple behind you in the theater that wishes the Coens’ had given Chigurgh a backstory.

Lots of frustrations otherwise in the trenches these days – difficult anniversaries and just when I’m getting back in the saddle for the first time in what feels like a couple of years, the whole clan comes down with some kind of flu that sends my two-year-old to the emergency room for an IV. Missing a lot of screenings as a consequence; here’s hoping karma hangs on a pendulum.

Working now on a series with the Denver Public Library on classic westerns and a series with Gilpin County on dystopias (I’ll finally get to lecture on Planet of the Apes; timely for the passing of Heston); hoping to get a major writing project off the ground as well covering the films of Val Lewton. Gearing up for a career retrospective of a favorite director ‘round these parts as his latest film is poised to hit the home video shelves (it never made it here theatrically) – and still waiting on a few of the big arthouse pics to have their cup of coffee in the Mile High City. The only solace to me being out of the game this season so far is that this season traditionally sucks; all the more so for backwaters like this one in a time for the profession when I don’t actually know but one or two of my colleagues anymore when I get out to screenings. Who knew that seven years makes you a senior critic?

Been thinking a lot on two topics lately in the quiet hours: the best instrumental scores; and the best movie posters in terms of provocation, implication, and/or artistry…

A couple of picks for score just in the last decade or so? Clint Mansell gets a couple of nods for his work with Darren Aronofsky: The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream (with Kronos Quartet). I love Alexandre Desplat’s work on Birth, Jonny Greenwood’s on There Will Be Blood, Jon Brion’s on Punch-Drunk Love. My fave all time? David Shire’s piano rags on The Conversation. Yours?

Also – been haunted of late by this poster for the first of Lynch's two late-Hitchcock identity shrines:

Talk back.

68 comments:

rachel said...

First, love that you start a discussion about authority in art by mentioning the sabbath, that first victim of democratic opinion.

It might be a mistake to compare them, but this reminded me a lot of Charles Bernstein's awesome rebuke of National Poetry Month. If I read him right, inasmuch as people turn against the canon, it's misdirected frustration at happens to art, at what the establishment does to art once it breaks through. Anthologies that package Milton with Frank O'Hara, or Oscars that pit No Country against Juno. Why is something vital, why are we exposing ourselves to it in the first place: there is a ceaseless bleating marketing machine to make us forget. Lose the referent, and you end up swinging at the wrong guy. (I suspect, anyhow, that you'd enjoy Chuck's proposed solution.)

Soundtracks: because I'm a fucking dork, I'd likely nominate Yoko Kanno's work on the Escaflowne movie. I bought it when I was a kid and still hum bars from it all the time. What's weird is that I don't think I ever saw the film. (I did finally finish watching the television show last summer. For what it's worth, it's extraordinary.)

Love Gorilla said...

I think you're talking about anti-intellectualism there, and you're absolutely 100% goddamn right. The insipid idiots who don't like No Country for Old Men don't understand it, and their reaction is based on ignorance. Yeah, "I don't like the film!" doesn't mean "The film wasn't any good!" but further to that, has anyone found an argument against the film that is actually backed up with logic and well-thought out ideas? The blessed USA seems to have decided that the latter aren't worth a damn; Colbert nailed it with the concept of truthiness.

Hope your family is on the mend. Another soundtrack to add to that great list is 28 Weeks Later, and I'm also fond of these two posters: 1 2 The imagery there is strong and startling; another is the amazing poster for A History of Violence.

Patrick/Berandor said...

Rachel: Thanks for the link about the poetry month. Very good read!

The distinction "dislike it, hate it, but don't say it's bad" is one that is often neglected and oh-so important. Dislike often is espoused as "bad" and vice versa – and I'm sure I've done it myself, too. The problem is that for many people, these two are not related, but interchangable. I don't like Goethe, but I wouldn't call him a bad writer.

I'm currently reading Bela Balazs ("the visible man" might be the English title of "Der Sichtbare Mensch") where he argues for a theory of film as an art form. He says people might be afraid they won't be free to enjoy the simple cinema fare anymore, and Balazs admits that might be a short-term effect, but would in the end pressure companies into making good movies because otherwise an informed poublic would simply not go see the film.

I think that idea pretty much crashed. Nowadays I get into debates about 300 and why I'm wrong to call it a bad movie (despite some pretty imagery).

theoldboy said...

I've been watching film less and reading more. Been posting a lot at the Rotten Tomatoes forum, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, yet a surprising source of hope and warmth in that every ig-nunt who artlessly trashes No Country is immediately shot down by a sizeable squadron of enthusiastic, smart film geeks. They're not too analytical--they almost universally loved Cloverfield--but they've got instinct.

Anonymous said...

"dislike it, hate it, but don't say it's bad"

Oh, FUCK THIS. If I hate it, then it's bad; what other POSSIBLE standard could you have for judging art than whether or not you enjoyed it? If I hate it, it's bad; even if it's good on a technical level, it's bad; even if erudite, sophisticated men who are far smarter than me loved it, it's bad. I haven't seen a good argument for why "No Country for Old Men" is a bad movie, but I am certain that a respectable one exists, and in any case, the level of elitism in this thread is something I have extreme difficulty wrapping my head around.

--Kim

Walter_Chaw said...

2 + 2 = 4, pi = 3.14, evolution isn't a theory, and there's a difference between what you like and what's good.

I like Taco Bell. I like Porn. I like Red Bull. It's all shit.

Elitism is positing that your taste is equivalent to quality. If you hate "Hamlet" does it make it "bad"? If you think so, you're one elite motherfucker.

I'm sick of this shit, too, believe me.

Anti-intellectualism is the bane of our species - seriously - it leads to cultural revolutions. You say stuff like this and get defensive about it and you pull up a chair next to Stalin and Hitler and Mao; McCarthy and Bream. I'm deadly serious.

It's not my opinion that Citizen Kane is great. It is my opinion that Citizen Kane isn't conventionally entertaining for a modern audience. We can argue my opinion, we can't argue the fact of its greatness. There can't be a good argument that NCFOM is a bad movie because it isn't a bad movie. There isn't a good argument that "Paradise Lost" is a bad poem because it's not. There isn't a good argument that the sky is tangerine because it's not. There isn't a good argument that a tree is a dog because it's not. You can try - and people do - because, essentially, monkeys like to jerk off and beat their chests, but there are absolutes here and it's not me trying to establish a canon; it's trying to quash all the arrogant, dipshit fuck-heads who believe that what they like is good on the basis of their arousal level.

Where's Alex? He's the one that really hates objective quality defenses... eloquently in his crazy ass genius way.

Walter_Chaw said...

and there is another standard by which we judge art - it's ineffable, but it's universal, and if you don't hear the music, I can't explain it to you. How's that?

Alex Jackson said...

Where's Alex? He's the one that really hates objective quality defenses... eloquently in his crazy ass genius way.

Ayup. Still agree with Kim on this one too. There's no difference between something you like and something that's good. If I'm wrong then I seriously don't know what the words "like" and "good" mean.

It comes down to utility. If a movie or poem or something is "good", but nobody likes it then what purpose could its "goodness" serve? Moreover, if something is "bad", but everybody likes it, then it must have served some purpose very well and I think should then be classified as "good" and not "bad". Shouldn't good things give you pleasure and bad things give you displeasure? As soon as you throw out pleasure as a criterion, I have no idea how you can use anything else.

And no, I don't think that art can be objectively qualified. I don't think the assertions that "2+2=4" or even that "evolution isn't a theory" are synonymous to something like "Citizen Kane is great". I do, in fact, greatly appreciate the fact that Ray Carney doesn't like Citizen Kane. Looking at the stuff he does like instead I get a better idea of just what Citizen Kane is and why exactly it gets my dick hard.

I hate to damage my credibility by stealing from someone like Ayn Rand, but I think the best way to understand art is as a declaration of values.

Afraid, I'll have to illustrate this with an anecdote. I was talking to somebody the other day who hated No Country for Old Men. This was soley because the film didn't have the final confrontation between Chigurh and Moss. He seriously believed that this made it a bad movie, and couldn't believe that 1. it won the Best Picture Oscar and 2. that I liked it.

Then we got to talking about I Am Legend, which he enjoyed. I mentioned that I liked it and I was the only person among my "friends" who did. I said that they thought it was too "religious". "Religious?" "Yeah, that he was first an atheist and then found God". "And they HATED it for that?!"

I found myself saying that perhaps such sentiments aren't very "fashionable" particularly when compared to the view of No Country for Old Men that the universe is governed by chance and there isn't really anybody at the controls. He agreed then that evil sometimes does win in the real world.

But you know, that got me thinking. I really do believe that No Country for Old Men is a better film than I Am Legend; but I'm not sure I can conclusively and rationally explain why. Why exactly should people see No Country for Old Men instead? Is that film really more morally refining to society or does it just more closely adhere to my personality and my value system.

I still think William James had the best response to the God question. He said that he believes simply because it makes his life better. Glib, but it works. Belief in God (that is, in an anthropomorphic God that has an active interest in what we do and how we live) would not make my life better, and so I don't believe.

So I don't know, your perspective of the world conforms to your psychological needs, and this differs from person to person. Different films romanticize and define different ideologies and so we adopt the ones that conform to or meaningfully redefine our own.

Another anecdote. So I work with adolescent sex offenders. A great deal are black and shipped in from Phillie. We got to talking about Antwone Fisher and I interjected that I hated the movie, (or course, he loved it). I explained that I really hated how the film makes a big deal about how light-skinned kids get adopted and dark-skinned kids do not; but then casts light-skinned women in the female roles, in effect, forwarding this Eurocentric standard of beauty. The kid didn't get me. He thought I was being callous toward kids in the foster care system.

Of course, my rant on the film's racism is in microcosm my real complaint about the film. It's basically just Hollywood bullshit right, santizing and simplifying sexual abuse, living in poverty, being seperated from your family of origin, et cetera.

But you know, maybe he wouldn't have much of a use for something more realistic or complex. Maybe that wouldn't have much theraupeutic value. I think that Antwone Fisher is garbage, but if people are getting something out of it, I don't think that I can rightfully state that as the law of the land.

Kurt Halfyard said...

"I don’t really understand – and don’t really like, and certainly don’t respect – anyone who doesn’t think that No Country For Old Men is a great film. I feel badly for people who don’t like Tarantino; worse for people who don’t seem to understand Malick or Nagisa or Kim Ki-Duk"

-Amen to that. It's strange times when cinephiles don't even like many of the films from these filmmakers! 0i.

(Admittedly, in the case of No Country for Old men, a movie I do love, and managed to make 3 runs out to the theatre, write two pieces on the film, etc., the only 'flaw' (if that is the correct word) is that it doesn't offer much beyond Cormac McCarthy's Book, it's a pretty literal adaptation and the most elegiac portion is truncated in the movie)

Deathproof (extended cut) and The New World (along with Zodiac, Paprika and Lee Myung-Se's "M") have been pretty landmark pieces of cinema over the past couple years...

The Soundtrack in The Assassination of Jesse James was also a good one. And I have a soft spot for the John Carpenter inspired riffs on display in both Planet Terror and Doomsday.

jer fairall said...

the only 'flaw' (if that is the correct word) is that it doesn't offer much beyond Cormac McCarthy's Book, it's a pretty literal adaptation and the most elegiac portion is truncated in the movie

Yeah. The only thing I can say against the film is that, having read the book, I'd already felt like I'd seen it as I was watching it. Doesn't take away from the experience much, though, as it's still a great film and probably the best Best Picture winner in well over a decade (I would have personally given the big prize to There Will Be Blood, but in a year when No Country For Old Men takes home four Oscars, that really is nitpicking) .

My only complaint (do I really need to post a Spoiler warning re: this film at this point?): The Coen's cut away from the scene before we see Chigurh kill Moss' wife, thus rendering one of the book's most powerfully blunt moments anti-climactic.

Dave Gibson said...

A big issue I continue to have with this ongoing debate is that the practice of criticism is frequently treated as if it were directly and narrowly synonymous with opinion and subjective emotional response (“like”, “dislike”, “love”, “hate”) when they are inherently different things. “No Country is fucking stupid” and “No Country is fucking great” are both shallow and unquantifiable statements, and neither one could be called film criticism; even if you happen to agree strongly with one viewpoint or another. No one has this debate when the subject is painting, literature or poetry because no one questions the necessity for a certain degree of esoteric knowledge (and often practical education) when critically engaging those particular art forms. (“I don’t know much about art, but I knows what I likes” It’s a joke except when it comes to much of what we call film criticism; where it’s a mantra) So, if any absolute exists in the liberal arts, I think it is the absolute necessity for genuine literacy rather than entrenching a series a series of films as above serious reproach. Disallowing or automatically impugning disagreement over the quality of any work of art strikes me as particularly stifling, but that would never actually be an issue if we’re talking about genuine critical discourse—because if its genuine, then it really doesn’t matter how you label the film for posterity. (“Great”, “good”, “Thumb worthy”) Here is some irrefutable anecdotal evidence: I really disliked “Death Proof”, “Gone Baby Gone” and “Birth”. I watched all of them more than once, and discussed each at length with friends, took notes and let each one buzz around my head; offering my rejoinders in the imaginary symposium in my head. Why do I use these examples? Simple. A writer whose work I value and respect very much had some thoughtful and compelling things to say about each one of them (one guess) which was enough for me to not only see the films in the first place, but to think carefully and critically about each one while questioning my own tastes and assumptions—eventually reaching my own conclusions, which I will gladly stand by and drone on about when prompted. (Btw- I love Tarantino, “Kill Bill” remains one of my most joyous viewing experiences and “Death Proof” is still a pile of horse puckey, but I’ll still respect you in the morning) Film criticism is alive and well. Popular film criticism, well…perhaps that has always been an oxymoron.

Walter_Chaw said...

Popular film criticism, well…perhaps that has always been an oxymoron.

Hear hear.

Another great recent score? Cliff Martinez's from the 2002 Solaris.

Bill C said...

My favourite recent score has to be Alexandre Desplat's LUST, CAUTION suite. Also fond of the overture to BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, of all things; and Angelo Badalamenti's music for THE STRAIGHT STORY, if we're going back that far.

I haven't really bought any soundtracks since I was a kid because I usually find it too difficult to extract a score from a film and turn it into a personal, individual listening experience. Those people who play the LORD OF THE RINGS soundtrack for pleasure--what's up with that?

Anonymous said...

"Elitism is positing that your taste is equivalent to quality. If you hate "Hamlet" does it make it 'bad'? If you think so, you're one elite motherfucker."

Ha! Okay, I'll take the hit for that one. I'll be the elitist in the conversation. But I tell ya, Walter:

"and there is another standard by which we judge art - it's ineffable, but it's universal, and if you don't hear the music, I can't explain it to you. How's that?"

That is a terrible argument, is how that is. There's an ineffable standard for judging art, you tell me, and the reason you know it meets that standard is because you hear the music, i.e. you like it. This is circular logic, and it gets us nowhere. You're the mofo who doesn't really get Casablanca, you're really gonna sit here and tell me that Citizen Kane is unassailable?

--Kim

Love Gorilla said...

I wonder what's wrong exactly with being "elitist", as Kim speaks of. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the film that made the most money last year was Transformers, which I'm confident more people saw and liked than No Country for Old Men. I feel pretty good about saying that my taste in movies is better than everyone who liked Transformers, except for the demented folk who enjoyed it on a camp/bad movie level, and let's face it, those people have their own problems. Those people seemingly have a better understanding of the medium and of storytelling, but they're still batshit insane.

Elitist, prude, whatever.

The majority of US cinemagoers tend to like anything that entertains them for a couple of hours and doesn't offend them in some way. (Or doesn't challenge them - what Alex said up there, about the lack-of-confrontation in No Country for Old Men, was the most common complaint I heard, and it's totally misunderstanding the film.) Children are the same way, you know, and children tend to love any crap shoved down their gullets.

What separates a good film critic from a bad film critic? To me, a good film critic can argue for a movie with logic, intelligence, reasoning, as well as taking into account the craft making the film, and whether it's engaging and well plotted and watchable. Roger Ebert is not a good film critic. He's the same as the average cinemagoer - he likes nearly everything, except when something offends his sensibilities. Wolf Creek and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre both got zero stars for him because he found them too sadistic; reminds me of a stupid girl I used to know who wrote off the entirity of Assault on Precinct 13 because of the beginning when the dog got punched in the face. Stupid girl, stupid Ebert. Good film critics are also well-versed in the medium, and have seen a lot more films than the average cinemagoer, thus lacking that childlike outlook that enjoys anything "new", at least without some kind of intelligent reasoning and conversation with the medium. (Ebert again, on that horseshit Juno.)

Cascablanca is awful. Explain why it's not. Argue for it with rationality rather than truthiness, and you'll validate your taste for me. I thoroughly enjoy thinking my taste in movies is better than everyone else's, and I'm fairly sure you do too. The difference between myself and the average filmgoer is that if I protest that I want more films that appeal to my tastes, that only means smarter films - all the morons who protest against No Country for Old Men and other films they don't get are on the path to Ass the Movie. Which is basically just Transformers anyway, without the high budget CGI.

Walter, are you ever going to give us your thoughts on Cloverfield? What are the odds that the Weinsteins will provide FFC with Inside to review?

O'JohnLandis said...

Here we go again...

Those who don't believe in the objectivity of film criticism are making one main mistake:

A film's goodness or badness is a fact of the film only. A film needn't be viewed to be good or bad. Whatever qualities it has are already there. People were involved in its creation, and if they did a good job, it's a good film. Of course, talking about such films is pretty boring, but not logically incorrect.

Just like an apple, a film can be exceptional, average, rotten, and many notches in between. It's just that there are many more criteria in determining the quality of a film than an apple, and no one is good at calculating (probably a bad word choice, but possibly not) them all:

I'd say Walter confuses filmic qualities with literary qualities.

I'd say Alex confuses erection quality with film quality.

And I'll say it again:

Film criticism is an intellectual art form about an intellectual art form. Or at least, it should be. For instance, Walter's recent Jane Austen Book Club piece is probably the best thing he's written in a year and I wish everyone in LA had a copy and really understood it.

Because in addition to being a work of art, film criticism is also an argument, and the point of an argument is PERSUASION. If a perfect argument can't possibly persuade you to change your mind, you're probably not as smart as you think you are. I mean, if you can't change your mind or convince others to do so, why do you come here? To yell? To congratulate yourself for having the right opinion? I prefer my circle jerks with girls. And hands...

It's the soulless solipsism of the democratization of criticism that really scares and saddens me, and if you think it's not a real societal problem, you're not noticing the snarky, illiterate phantoms floating around this country.

You see people reverse engineering the critical process to figure out why something they like might be good for them. I see a nation of sociopaths waiting to die.

-----------

Casablanca is great because: it's witty; it's moving in clever ways (especially in the Marseillaise scene and the ending); it's great looking (not visionary, but great); and it has a neat structure. And Bogart. What else do you need?

Patrick/Berandor said...

I must admit Alex (and Kim) gave me pause. I thought I might be wrong which helped me understand why I'm right. :-)

I'll try to explain my point. First off, if I enjoy a film, then at least it has done one thing right, namely the entertainment part of movie-making. That does not make it a good film overall, but an entertaining one.

A "good" film doesn't mean it's good everywhere, and a "bad" film doesn't need to be bad at everything. And yes, if the film has great images but is still boring, then it may be partly well-crafted, but it's not a good film. On the other hand, films (being an art form) can overcome their deficiencies and be good despite bad parts.

300 is a movie where I would probably hand a few shots up on a wall as pictures, but it's a painful bore *and* stupid to boot. Big Trouble in Little China is cheesy, has some awesomely aweful effects and is a little repetitive, but is still wonderful. Because you can't point to one thing and say that is responsible for a good or bad movie (maybe aside from it starring Tom Green).

At the same time, you can't just make you liking it the measure of all things, because that is meaningless if you don't know *why* you like or dislike it. If you do know, then you can point to these elements as being good or bad about the film. You have an argument. And you have criticism. And since film is part art and part craft, being knowledgeable in film theory can make your criticism a more informed one.

"Good" and "bad" are qualitative statements which need some at least semi-objective or agreed-upon standard. "Like" and "dislike" are personal, emotional statements which don't need that. That's why I can say 300 is bad instead of just that I didn't like it. Even though I didn't.

Now, granted, if you *are* knowledgeable about film theory and/or have seen a lot of films (and thus refined your taste), then you appreciate films which do things right, and you will end up probably liking them (at least a little) even if they don't grab you. I loved the long shot at the party in Pride and Prejudice partly because of how it was done. On the other hand, I have 7 Samurai at home _ I've watched it once and enjoyed it, and I think it's an excellent film. But given the chance I'd rather watch Yul Brynner's Magnificient Seven. I'm just more into the Western theme, the music, and I grew up with that movie. But I wouldn't diss the Samurai.

Alex Jackson said...

At the same time, you can't just make you liking it the measure of all things, because that is meaningless if you don't know *why* you like or dislike it. If you do know, then you can point to these elements as being good or bad about the film. You have an argument. And you have criticism. And since film is part art and part craft, being knowledgeable in film theory can make your criticism a more informed one.

Well, I can completely agree with most of that so maybe we can get somewhere. This is how I see the review process, I think. I don't see it as persuading someone, it's more about articulating your feelings into something more substantive than "I liked it" or "I didn't like it".

I appreciated how Dave Gibson values Walter even though he didn't persuade him on Death Proof, Birth, and Gone Baby Gone. It was just enough that he intelligently articulated his position, convincing Dave to rewatch them.

The only thing I can't agree with is the assertion that you can't make you "liking it" the measure of all things. Sure you can make that the measure, it's just that we expect film critics to better articulate their like and dislike. If you find somebody who likes and dislikes the same stuff you do, it's useful if they can explain why.

Just like an apple, a film can be exceptional, average, rotten, and many notches in between. It's just that there are many more criteria in determining the quality of a film than an apple, and no one is good at calculating (probably a bad word choice, but possibly not) them all:

Fine, give me some criteria that make a good film (something that all good films must have in order to be good) so I can go and find some that can objectively be called good and bad.

If you are unable to list them, then they plain do not exist and you are trying to get me to accept objective standards of quality on blind faith.

You're a smart guy John Landis and a good foil, but the problem that keeps coming up with you is that you never give anything that I can use.

Bill C said...

LG: Walter will be reviewing CLOVERFIELD someday soon; I just sent him the DVD.

Walter_Chaw said...

It's the soulless solipsism of the democratization of criticism that really scares and saddens me, and if you think it's not a real societal problem, you're not noticing the snarky, illiterate phantoms floating around this country.

Damnit. I hate it when my last word is someone else's.

Been listening a lot to the main theme from A Fistful of Dollars lately for whatever reason. Also, Goblin's score for Suspiria is an all-timer (and Philip Glass' for Candyman).

Dave Gibson said...

Second the great "Suspiria" and the Phillip Glass stuff. More recently, I thought that the score for "Beowulf" was far more memorable than the film

Then I'll add..

Donaggio's "Don't Look Now"
Wendy Carlos's "A Clockwork Orange"
Tangerine Dream "Thief"
Vangelis "Blade Runner"
Angelo Badalamenti "TP: Fire Walk With Me"
Howard Shore's "Dead Ringers"
Ry Cooder's "Paris Texas"

and um...."Pretty in Pink" because, who am I kidding.

jacksommersby said...

Walter,

Speaking of Godfrey Cheshire, I don't know if you're aware of this last review...

http://nypress.com/inside.cfm?content_id=3260

...that he did attacking The New Yorker's Anthony lane, but it most definitely ruffled more than a few feathers.

The Power That Preserves said...

G'day. Long time mothersite reader, short time blog lurker, posting 'cause there's no time like the present.

Great recent scores... Mulholland Drive hasn't been mentioned yet? Always had a soft spot for the In the Mood For Love score, too.

Favourite score of all time will always be Aguirre... though, I'm still baffled as to how something so minimal can feel so wild, untamed, awestruck. That masterpiece incidentally draws plenty of parallels with NCFOM.

Seems to me the subjective/objective debate never really made any sense. Words are intrinsically communicative, defined by the ways we commonly use them - and we use the word "great" just fine. If anything, the definition of "great film" is that to which the phrase "great" is most commonly applied, against, say, a background of film theory. Citizen Kane is a great film. You aren't "wrong" if you dislike it, you just don't like great films. I'm sure someone here has already said this more eloquently.

Anyway, much like Walter I don't tend to like people who don't like great films, and No Country For Old Men is the best film of the decade so far. I don't even doubt that anymore. I'm willing to tolerate a handful of films being placed above it, I suppose, but ever since the first time I saw it I haven't thought about it once without getting fire in my belly. In a few years you'll all be saying the same thing - mark my words.

People who claim not to enjoy Tarantino even a little bit are liars.

To roll one off the tongue: A great critic makes disagreeable opinions sound reasonable and agreeable opinions sound fresh.

Alex Jackson said...

If anything, the definition of "great film" is that to which the phrase "great" is most commonly applied, against, say, a background of film theory.

I'm not sure what you mean.

I'm probably being reductive, but I guess that I tend to see "film theorists" as fundamentally amoral. I remember somebody criticizing the audio commentary to a G.W. Pabst film as being like listening to a middle-aged biology teacher describing the dissection of a frog. Asking a film theorist what the greatest film is would be like asking a scientist what the greatest phylum of insect is. He might have one that he likes to study, but it wouldn't make sense for him to call it the "greatest".

Yeah, tish, I guess the terms "good" and "bad" strike me as intrinsically subjective. That true absolute objectivity would have no use for them.

This inspired a question for me though. Forget Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Is Birth of a Nation a good movie? A great movie? Is this an absolute objective fact?

What about Star Wars?

Of course, I love the latter two nearly as much as the first two, but I hope you see my point.

Something tells me I'm going to go on like this way after everybody else loses interest. Thanks Walter.

The Power That Preserves said...

The "against a background of film theory" was just a suggestion, the first part was the important part. It's all tied in with Wittgenstein's meaning-as-use idea, don't really want to go into depth on it here but it's essentially about how linguistic concepts have no meaning outside the ways in which said concepts are conventionally used in the specific communicative context you're considering.

Either way, what does strike me as likely is that these subjective/objective debates tend to be unresolvable because they're based in misconceptions about language.

None of it matters to me personally anyway, I'll still be reading FFC whether it's because you guys are among the most "correct" about films, or just because your opinions and ideas are among the most akin to my own. Even if I somehow discovered that everything is subjective, I'd still maintain that some films are objectively "greater" than others and slate every idiot and his grandma who suggests otherwise. If it gives my own opinions more weight, why not?

Alex Jackson said...

The "against a background of film theory" was just a suggestion, the first part was the important part. It's all tied in with Wittgenstein's meaning-as-use idea, don't really want to go into depth on it here but it's essentially about how linguistic concepts have no meaning outside the ways in which said concepts are conventionally used in the specific communicative context you're considering.

Well, OK then. But that would mean that the specific communicative context you're considering is the most important part. And when we talk about "great" films, I would actually argue that we are usually talking about one's subjective opinion. Films that they liked a lot as opposed to films measured against a background in film theory.

Alex Jackson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Power That Preserves said...

Don't you think we tend to want to communicate something more with that word? Say, this sense that any human being who understands the film will automatically like it because it corresponds with some fundamentally human pleasure, or whatever. A kind of universality. Not "objectivity", granted, but pure objectivity is clearly indefensible anyway.

Another point: It's difficult to isolate our opinions from film theory; all film criticism is so heavily steeped in a background of theory (along with other social influences, no doubt), consciously or not. We tend to agree on many of the qualities which make a good film, even if we don't agree which films boast those qualities.

The Power That Preserves said...

I suppose the latter point is the old nature vs. nurture question applied to film, possibly unanswerable.

Patrick/Berandor said...

The only thing I can't agree with is the assertion that you can't make you "liking it" the measure of all things. Sure you can make that the measure, it's just that we expect film critics to better articulate their like and dislike. If you find somebody who likes and dislikes the same stuff you do, it's useful if they can explain why.

I'm not sure yet whether I agree (let me ponder it for a day or so), but I think I do. (It didn't take that long. See below!)

I'm probably being reductive, but I guess that I tend to see "film theorists" as fundamentally amoral. I remember somebody criticizing the audio commentary to a G.W. Pabst film as being like listening to a middle-aged biology teacher describing the dissection of a frog. Asking a film theorist what the greatest film is would be like asking a scientist what the greatest phylum of insect is. He might have one that he likes to study, but it wouldn't make sense for him to call it the "greatest".

My problems with this analogy are twofold:

1) Asking someone for the "greatest" film is stupid. You can't rank things when there's such a mass of possible contenders. That's why top10-lists are more topics for discussion than canon.

2) Your comments also suggest an absolute objectivity that does not exist. You can't exactly quantify art, nor can you exactly quantify life forms. And film is a lofe form. Or the other thing.

On the other hand, I like the analogy because I think it fits well to how I perceive critics: as "film scientists", i.e. experts and schooled in arguing beyond face value.

In the end, I think the big problem is that film contains aspects of craft and art. You can judge craft – "that is a good shot with the hero framed by the two drunks in the background" – but art is not always that easy to grasp. Furthermore, if you try and limit yourself to the craft aspects you end up like those strange people talking about paintings on TV – it's boring as bloody hell and irrelevant to me.

So what about Star Wars? Is it a good movie? Well, would you argue that it was poorly made, i.e. inept cinematography, bad score, garbled editing, bad actors, bad script (okay, I might grant these two, at least partly)? Or was the story well paced, the action nicely portrayed, the conflicts exciting?

I'd argue Star Wars is a good movie. Not the greatest ever, but good. Now, I love it because it's also the kind of story that I love. However, I find it totally acceptable if one told me he really hated anything with spaceships or fuzzy aliens and disliked Star Wars. That's not a matter of quality, but of personal taste. That's why I probably won't enjoy most horror films, no matter how good they may be.

The thing with simply liking or disliking – and here I actually come back to the opening quote – is not that it isn't important, or shouldn't be. It's that it's so subjective that you cannot argue the point, at all.

To come back to the science analogy: Evolution and Intelligent Design are *not* equal. Opinions are not equal. Some opinions are stpuid, badly-informed, ignorant. And if "like" and "dislike" are the measure of all, then that's no longer the case. And then the postmodernists have won.

You may – one might argue that you should – put a "like" or "dislike" at the end of your critical assessment. But the important thing is whether you can back that up with more than an "Ass Pretty".

Take for example your own reviews (Alex's) here. I'd say I disagree with your opinion of a film about 50% of the time. Maybe more often. But I don't go, "That guy is full of shit." I go, "Hm. I don't see it, but I guess you could. Interesting."

And that's because there's more to it than just "I liked it".

Or, for another example. As a teacher, I get often very different responses in text interpretations. Even interpretations I disagree with. But that's fine if the interpretation is actually possible and not just bullshit. That, however, needs to be shown by referring to the text in question or its context. Thus making the subjective interpretation objectively appreciable. And then I can either shoot it down because the arguments are bad or I relish in a different point of view.

Jason Bellamy said...

Interesting discussion. A few points: I cringe at absolutes, so I don’t agree with Walter’s argument entirely, but I do agree with what I think is its larger theme. If I may interpret, perhaps this analogy would help: If I pick up some original Dostoyevsky, I’m not going to “like it” because I don’t read Russian, but that doesn’t mean “Crime & Punishment” isn’t “great,” it just means that I’m not properly educated to see its greatness. That makes sense to me. I can agree with that.

But the reverse concerns me: Somewhere in the comments section above someone criticized Roger Ebert for giving zero-star reviews to movies that offended his personal sensibilities. That seems a reasonable objection to Ebert’s criticism (at least in those instances). But certainly personal sensibilities must matter at some point, unless we’re actually willing to judge “greatness” solely on a film’s ability to achieve its intended goals. By standards of the latter, Taco Bell is in fact great because its “shit” bean burrito is all that Taco Bell wants it to be. And, in a film sense, that ultra-vulgar “2 Girls & 1 Cup” video that is barfing its way around the Internet is great because it is exactly what it wants to be. It seems to me that once someone begins to interpret anything beyond whether the artist’s art fulfilled its intended vision (and that’s based on perception in the first place), he/she is already dipping into personal preference of techniques, etc., which means judging a film based on whether or not he/she “likes it” – the only difference is that he/she happens to like it for all the “right” reasons. Remember: if people who don’t like “No Country For Old Men” are idiots, then people who like “No Country For Old Men” for the wrong reasons are equally idiotic.

Earlier it has been said that a critic should convince his/her readers. I agree with that. But here’s something I’ve always appreciated about Ebert: he’s honest and forthright that his opinions are his, because they can’t be anything else. When I read Ebert, I know what I’m getting. What I expect of a critic is that he/she writes what he/she believes. The defense of those beliefs (or lack thereof) will inform me whether I believe the same.

Lastly: I don’t buy the idea that film criticism is somehow less refined than other art form criticism. Remember, a few movies recently have demonstrated that educated art critics who supposedly know what they are doing can’t get together and decide whether a Pollack is a Pollack or whether abstract work is brilliant if done by a child or is total crap if actually done by the child’s father. Certainly there are worthless film critics, just like there are worthless movies, just like there are worthless opinions. But I think the educated critics are fooling themselves if they don’t recognize that they are basing their criticism on personal tastes just as much as the moron who doesn’t like “No Country” because he doesn’t “get it.”

Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion.

Now, OK, this if off topic, but if you're going to talk about the existence of absolutes, here's another one:

You don't "feel badly" for people who don't like Tarentino.

You feel bad.

Love Gorilla said...

And, in a film sense, that ultra-vulgar “2 Girls & 1 Cup” video that is barfing its way around the Internet is great because it is exactly what it wants to be.

In a postmodern sense, it actually is.

Online Christian film critics tend to be sensational morons because they base the worth of a film on whether or not it nails Christian morals and standards. "What would Jesus do?" Fuck off. Likewise, Ebert's petty moralising on violence in the above Zero Star rated films got in the way of him seeing any other artistic value, in addition to being petty and inconsistent (he seems to believe ultraviolence is fine in some contexts but not others - sure, but without any compelling, convincing or logical reasoning, it's inconsistent blather, and Siskel was worse) and further ignored the point that the films had an effect on him, being well-made and worthy of examination instead of instant total write-off. Consider Walter's review of Palindromes as a film that initially offended and disgusted, to which he viewed it again and again to get a better understanding of it and whether it worked. To me, that's overcoming and understanding initially objectional material in a way that Ebert can't, and leads to a better comprehension, understanding and analysis of the medium. Sometimes films are confronting; at other times, they're just gratuitous. With Ebert, there's no distinction.

A film that personally offended me was Mysterious Skin, which subjects the audience to intimate depictions of child molestation in a way that offers no insight or ideas or anything redeeming, only discomfort. It exploits the audience to no good end. To my mind, that's not a case of my own whimsical idiot personal objections standing in the way of me seeing the movie for what it is, it's me seeing the movie for what it is, as manipulative exploitation fare packaged in an arthouse shell.

If "personal sensibilities must matter at some point", where's that point? What if a critic wrote off a film just because it had an actor in it that pissed them off?

sleeper said...

Hi Walter,
First-time visitor, just got here following a link from Matt Zoller Seitz's page. Your "there is one right way to judge movies" frothing-at-the-mouth makes about as much sense as the folks who argue for intelligent design. "It's there, it's obvious, it's absolute, and if you don't see it, you're a moron and I pity you." There is no universal standard of "good," for movies or anything else. *That* should be obvious. If you don't see *that*, I pity *you.* I'm sorry that some of the people who make a living wage by going to the movies all week and then writing about it for a few hours might have to get real jobs involving actual work, but let's not puff up what they do into something way more important and authoritative than it is, okay? If I read a particular critic/reviewer, it's because I've found that he/she and I share some common taste in movies, and thus I trust him/her to some degree to make recommendations. Simple as that. Chanting "there *are* absolutes in the liberal arts" doesn't make it so.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

There's a lot to hate about Chaw's writing, but just to pick one: He seems obsessed with transcendant aesthetic authority without actually understanding from whence such authority derives. Milton has been read and studied (well-nigh obsessively) for several hundred years. No Country has been out for less than 12 months. It is simply not possible to determine capital-G greatness is that short a time---I'd argue that all artistic value judgements are up for grabs for about 30 years after a work is released. As anyone with a real knowledge of the history of the arts knows, there can be a tremendous gap between what's appreciated by the cognoscenti of the time and what's appreciated much later---many a writer beloved of the critical elite in their lifetime has disappeared with the next generation.

This isn't an argument against standards---just for a certain humility about one's personal judgement in the face of the march of history, something Chaw seems incapable of mustering. That's not to say it's impossible to have an opinion that any opinion is valid---a take on a movie (or any piece of art) that neglects what that movie is trying to do, the traditions it places itself in, and close parsing of the text, is definitely less valid, or at least less useful, than one that includes all those things. But thinking this gives you the ability to pronounce with the voice of authority is arrogant and more than a little stupid.

And for the record: No Country was okay. It had some great stuff, but it was far more obvious, leaden, and ponderous than other, much better thought-through Coen movies. My heart sank in the first twenty minutes, when a shadow over the land was used as a symbol for evil--- when the Coens crib from Tolkein, we're all in trouble.

Jason Bellamy said...

Love Gorilla: I don't disagree with anything you wrote (I needed to end my rant somewhere). It comes down to this: "Sometimes films are confronting; at other times, they're just gratuitous."

For the record on Ebert: I just used him based off a previous example (which I realize now was yours), not because I care what people think of him. Then again, some criticism is merely gratuitous, too.

louisproyect said...

I don't get the defensiveness over "No Country for Old Men". This movie has been praised unanimously in the mainstream press and by blog-reviewers. (94 percent favorable rating at Rottentomatoes.com). There is, of course, the possibility that this just a subtle joke as the following might indicate: "I remember in this Milton seminar I had back in the day that someone piped up that they didn’t think that Milton was very good and, y’know, I have this to say to that. Shut the fuck up." Almost as plausible as the ending of "No Country for Old Men", in fact.

Anonymous said...

Phillip Glass in Vernon, Florida. Other than couple you aleady mentioned.

- HMSM

Alex Jackson said...

Online Christian film critics tend to be sensational morons because they base the worth of a film on whether or not it nails Christian morals and standards. "What would Jesus do?" Fuck off.

I'd have to side with the Christian film critics on this one.

You know I remember this one Christian film critic who had post-graduate degrees in both film and theology. He simulataneously reviewed films as both "art" and "morality". I remember that he thought the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kauffman films were particularly great cinema and particularly poor morality, though I don't remember exactly what his complaint was.

Anyway, I liked the guy, but I think that his thinking is flawed. Aesthetic judgments are synonymous with moral judgments. You can't seperate the "art" from the "morality". They're the same thing.

Likewise, Ebert's petty moralising on violence in the above Zero Star rated films got in the way of him seeing any other artistic value, in addition to being petty and inconsistent (he seems to believe ultraviolence is fine in some contexts but not others - sure, but without any compelling, convincing or logical reasoning, it's inconsistent blather, and Siskel was worse) and further ignored the point that the films had an effect on him, being well-made and worthy of examination instead of instant total write-off. Consider Walter's review of Palindromes as a film that initially offended and disgusted, to which he viewed it again and again to get a better understanding of it and whether it worked. To me, that's overcoming and understanding initially objectional material in a way that Ebert can't, and leads to a better comprehension, understanding and analysis of the medium. Sometimes films are confronting; at other times, they're just gratuitous. With Ebert, there's no distinction.

Well, I agree with that. Wolf Creek is amoral wheras The Devil's Rejects is immoral and I don't think Ebert put the legwork into recognizing that, if anything, the latter film is more "reprehensible".

Ideally, I think that critics need to work very hard at staying consistent and never changing their opinions as there are serious, almost metaphysical, repercussions when they do not.

In practice, I know that it can be hella difficult completely and precisely articulating your point of view so it is in line with everything else that you have ever written and there are no contradictions.

John Lichman said...

minor note: lee was at the village voice.

Steve Pick said...

Fascinating discussion, and I wouldn't have read it if it weren't for Matt Stoller Zeitz. Yay to the House Next Door.

I don't think the inability to determine an objective goodness in movies is what has led to the death (or death rattles) of film criticism these days. I think it's the idea that criticism exists as a consumer guide in the first place that led to the idea that any dang fool could write about the subject. If you go to movies based on the recommendations of a trusted friend, you're going to want to read recommendations from someone you trust to be like you.

Me, I want critics to view things from angles I wouldn't otherwise try. Movies, like novels, like pop songs, like any art form, reveal different things to every individual who experiences them. In that regard, all these experiences are completely subjective. So, the question is, does the experience I had with the movie offer any kind of insight to those who didn't have the same one? Or, perhaps more importantly, can I articulate my experience in such a way as to offer insight to somebody other than myself?

This doesn't make the question of goodness or badness completely irrelevant, but it focuses attention on something I find to be inherently more interesting. Is the work of art in question capable of leading to anything beyond the surface details of plot, character development, camera angles, etc?

Sorin said...

I don't like Tarantino, much. Save you pity. It'd be wasted. Save it for someone who insists upon believing in god despite all evidence to the contrary.

Sean said...

Walter,

I'll pretty much empty out my entire back account and send it to you for a review of Expelled, the ID flick.

Seattle Jeff said...

Hey Walter,

Having just enjoyed The Complete Jane Asten on PBS with the wife (including mocking the very sour intros by Gillian Anderson)...I noticed your review of The Jane Austen Bookclub...man,I don't know what it says about me, but the more your reviews are filled with angry bile, the more I am delighted. (Not that I wish bad movies upon you for my own entertainment!....no, wait, maybe subconsciously I do)

The 666 comment had me literally spewing soda out my nose while laughing.

And I wasn't even drinking soda.

Oh, and Clay Bennett can die.

(That's a standard Seattle sign-off)

Anonymous said...

I cannot choose but sympathize with the melancholic rage that drives Walter's post, but it seems to me that the author of so many thoughtful and lucid reviews need not fall back on such a mystified account of what makes good art good.

-Dan

Anonymous said...

Gosh you guys are all so smart. But I think you are throwing too many words into something that just doesn't require it.
When someone says a film (let's make it No Country) is a "bad film" they are essentially saying they did not like it. For whatever reason as they were sitting there and they were not enjoying themselves. So for them it was a bad film. If someone reads hamlet and doesn't enjoy it for them it is a bad play. OR they come to the conclusion that it is a good play and they just didn't enjoy it (same can be said for films.) It is completely up to the person in question. Hamlet's feelings aren't hurt, No Country for old men's feelings aren't hurt. It only seems like the people that had nothing to do with the creation of these two pieces of art get their feelings hurt.
So relax, thank the people that worked their asses off to bring you the art that you enjoy, and don't get all pissy the next time someone says it's bad. Because to you it wasn't! What more can you ask for?

Galit said...

I will, if possible, add my two cents to this already overheated discussion:

1. I agree with the distinction drawn between an insubstantial opinion and one supported by a knowledge of context. You can think what you want about a film, but if you expect your opinion to affect the masses - you should offer them a certain level of erudition and insight in return for the effect. Thus, if there is any rot to be found in the world of film criticism, it would stem directly from the mass hostility toward serious conversation. I do not know if this problem is a recent development, and I cannot see that this is as drastic as Mr.Chaw sees it to be, but I do agree that it exists and should be treated. This is where my agreement with this thread ends.

2. I disagree that the opinion, "I don't think that Milton was any good" is baseless or has no right to exist. In fact, as an argument, it has a far greater validity than the author's offered response.

The belief that Milton wasn't any good, or was not as good he could have been given his obvious technical ability, etc. has existed since before T.S. Eliot and shows no signs of losing supporters. I may not agree, but I do believe that it is possible to have an intelligent discussion regarding Milton's ability and position in the canon of literary criticism. And it is possible that Milton be someday considered irrelevant and obsolete, retreating down the path of Schiller and Baratynsky toward obscurity. And maybe someday that will happen to Goethe or Shakespeare, no one can predict, and thus no one has the right to suffocate a healthy and relevant critical discussion simply because its object is too revered or too established or anything else. To do so would have far more menacing overtones than any argument the student at Mr.Chaw's seminar had to offer.

3. Someone on this thread said that you cannot compare Milton to NCFOM because the film has not been tested by time. I disagree with this statement because it has no relevance in the discussion of film. If we are to create a certain theoretical context in which some films will be regarded as "great" and others as less so, then, considering the age of the medium, it would be absurd to deny a film an analysis within this context due to its age, because every other film compared against is relatively young. We do not have a film parallel in greatness to Milton (if we are to accept the time-test model of judgment) and nothing produced since the birth of the medium has survived the required time period (relative to Milton) and therefore cannot be seen as time tested. If we are to call "Citizen Kane" a great film, then NCFOM should be seen as great in comparison

--sorry for a lack of brevity, continuity, and grammatical correctness: it is late, and I am tired, and I know that that is no excuse.

-Galit.

The Power That Preserves said...

Seems to me for a lot of the people Walter's referring to, there's a perceived conflation of a person's "entitlement" to an opinion, and the actual worth of that opinion. There's a suggestion that opinions have some kind of worth in and of themselves, whereas in actuality they are only given worth by their communicative effect; the statement "Milton isn't great" isn't worthless because it's wrong, it's worthless because nobody is or will ever be convinced by it in and of itself. It's pointless, in other words. People seem to sit back and smile and feel as though they've achieved something by expressing themselves but expression has no function except to bridge the gap between sender and receiver; a simple statement of disagreement can't do that, shared context is required for any communication to occur.

As an aside, Walter, the opening line of your latest review is one of the most despairing things I've ever read in a film review man - I'm feeling your pain. It did make me laugh though. :D

The Power That Preserves said...

Put more concisely, expression necessarily implies a desire to impose that which you're expressing upon others, and this negates the supposed belief that every opinion is equally valuable. The statement "every opinion is equally valid" is automatically self-negating.

James Pogue said...

Though my opinion of the film has declined in recent years, the score to To Kill a Mockingbird is wonderful.

Bill C said...

Just an FYI, due to a death in my family, there'll be no new updates at the mothersite until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Kurt Halfyard said...

Erm, if nobody mentioned it already, I really do enjoy the Gattaca score.

Keith Uhlich said...

Condolences, Bill. I hope you're doing okay.

Love Gorilla said...

My condolences too, Bill - take care, you and your loved ones.

Anonymous said...

This far in, and no one has corrected you, Walter?

Pi does not equal 3.14. You can use that as a decimal approximation, but its true value is irrational, going on forever without pattern or end.

(Because this needed a tangent.)

Jefferson said...

And, to be doubly precise in our corrections, evolution actually IS a theory.

Anonymous said...

I'm an evolutionary biologist and I have to put in an addendum to jefferson's correction . . . Evolution's a theory in the mathematical/scientific sense of the term, which is different than the layperson's sense of it. In science, a theory is an extremely well supported idea- one that can be proven. So, yes, evolution is a theory, much like the "theory" of relativity.

It's a bummer that the word theory has been used against evolution's plausibility in mainstream culture. I've got two creationists in my general biology class this term, and they have a true difficulty with the idea that theory can mean a statement that is proven by other statements. It makes my job hard!

Dave Gibson said...

Addendums to corrections? Anonymous evolutionary biologists? Word theory?
What does this have to do wit Del Toro for "The Hobbit"? "Hoiven Maiven" say I.

Jefferson said...

Yes, as soon as I posted the other day, I knew I was committing extra-topical nitpickery of the highest order. My head hangs.

Del Toro for The Hobbit gets me excited. I was looking at Jackson's LOTR extended trilogy the other day and ... I was just sort of depressed by the SAMENESS of it, how the beats of action and quiet come at all the same places and in all the same ways throughout. Maybe it's overexposure, but I started thinking about a Jackson Hobbit, and I was underwhelmed with anticipation. Jackson knows spectacle, but Del Toro knows myth.

Regarding Walter's review of Harold and Kumar, in re: Obama's presidential campaign: I'm convinced this will be the election where the American people finally demonstrate that they hate and fear powerful women more than they hate and fear black men.

Brendan said...

Or maybe it will show, somehow, that people who are likely to vote in primaries are not likely to be so shallow as to allow sex or race to supplant consideration of policy and character.

James Pogue said...

I doubt it. Why do you think there have been record turnouts in the Democratic primaries? I guess you could argue that it is because Dems are tired of 8 years of hell, and want to make sure of a victory. I think it's because people want to ensure that the group they dislike more (women or blacks) does not find their way to the White House.

Brendan said...

Sorry dude, that's ludicrous. That level of uninformed speculation about the motives of masses can only signal projection.

James Pogue said...

Haha, maybe. However, to think that race/gender is a non-factor in the considerations of voters is naive.

Brendan said...

Sure it's a factor, but rather than a cynical voting-against factor as suggested here, it's playing out as an idealist, voting-for factor. As in women turning out for Hillary and black folks turning out for Barack. But I've been following the discussions among Dems all around the country for months, and the vast mainstream of Dems are by far more concerned with Barack & Hillary's stances on war and economy, and their campaign tactics, than anything else.

Republicans are a different story.

David said...

Ken Jacobs says that Hitchcock didn't make a handful of masterpieces. T.S. Eliot wrote that Milton's poetry was "not serious." And the three most astute critics working in American Film Criticism today, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman, have all expressed significant, completely understandable misgivings about No Country for Old Men, for its racism, contrivances, and laughable attempts at profundity. You argue against the democratization of opinion, then declare that opinion's just that, an opinion--you get it or you don't. In which case there aren't absolutes--just absolutes for you which you will hold the rest of the world responsible to--and in which case your opinion, however you spruce it up in your journal entries about what the film meant to you and you alone, is just that: an opinion as good as anyone else's. I would disagree, however, because I think this particular opinion presents a total crock of shit that is easily debunked by anyone with a sliver of your usual intelligence. Strange, coming from an online critic; you're making nearly the same argument as Armond White: http://www.nypress.com/21/17/news&columns/feature3.cfm. You're right. We're all wrong. And this, somehow, is the argument for intelligent film criticism.

renfield said...

The problem with this theory of absolute values in art is that these values change based on contemporary culture. Shakespeare functions differently for us than it did for the Elizabethan audiences for which the plays were written, and modern literary critics would cite different plays as his best than would his contemporaries. It's possible that, in the distant future, a culture could arise that wouldn't find Shakespeare's plays valuable, except as a linguistic or idealogical curiosity.

It's even more tenuous with film, a new and largely undefined medium. I don't believe that you can point to a canon of criticism concerning film the way you can to, say, Baroque music. I DO think it's essential to throw down, put your stick in the mud and all that, and declare what is great and what isn't, and who is full of shit for thinking what. Otherwise, the only thing that will determine people's access to art is economics.

Technology is doing a lot these days to remove the economic hierarchy. Consider that anybody with an IP address and some tech savvy can access pretty much any movie, song, photograph, television episode, etc, instantly and for free. Furthermore, these things can be produced with affordable equipment...it's now possible to make professional looking and sounding media in your basement. So the result is going to be a LOT more media and ELITISM will be needed to sift through the rubble.

Criticism has been compared to gardening. The garden is the attention of the public, and if you don't weed out the bad plants, the good plants won't have room to grow. It is a battle worth fighting! There is NO value in being sensitive to other people's opinions simply because they are other people's opinions.

But, realize that this garden is one created by people. We chose what films to be considered "great", we didn't discover them like we did natural selection. If Walter Chaw holds certain perspectives towards cinema to be beyond dispute, I think that's just as damaging as the "let's agree to disagree" copout.

renfield (alexx0) said...

"Ideally, I think that critics need to work very hard at staying consistent and never changing their opinions as there are serious, almost metaphysical, repercussions when they do not.

In practice, I know that it can be hella difficult completely and precisely articulating your point of view so it is in line with everything else that you have ever written and there are no contradictions."

Yikes, Alex...that seems like a horribly non-malleable way to look at film. We must allow for the possibility that films will force us to reevaluate our perspectives on life and certainly on film itself. If a movie gives you a new idea about the function of cinema, are you going to go back and edit that idea into all of your previous reviews?

Furthermore, can you name a philosopher, from Socrates to Nietzsche, who didn't embody some healthy, productive self-contradiction? When somebody figures out a system of logic that is entirely free from paradox, all entropy in the universe will cease.

luke said...

I think what this discussion boils down to is that all criticism will eventually hit a impassable roadblock of subjectivity, but until then, the strongest or most compelling reasoning wins. In other words, opinion is subjective, but only among the most informed. Walter and friends are being paranoid--just because there isn't a definitive answer doesn't mean you are on the same level as the morons who only go to movies for the flickering lights. Don't worry.

And on that note, this is the greatest online debate ever.