Monday, September 01, 2008

Cineaste, Toronto

The new issue of Cineaste features a large symposium called "Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet." Along with about 20 other writers, I was asked to contribute a piece to it. Participants included: Zach Campbell, Robert Cashill, Mike D'Angelo, Steve Erickson, Andrew Grant, J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, Glenn Kenny, Robert Koehler, Kevin Lee, Karina Longworth, Adrian Martin, Adam Nayman, Theo Panayides, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dan Sallitt, Richard Schickel, Campaspe (Self-Styled Siren), Michael Sicinski, Amy Taubin, Andrew Tracy, and Stephanie Zacharek.

We were responding to questions posed by the editors about the Internet: its contributions to film culture; comparisons with print media criticism; strengths and weaknesses of blogs; professional vs. amateur cinephiles; the participatory potential of the Net, etc. A wide variety of perspectives emerges in the pieces; they make for a fun read.

The Cineaste issue kicks off with two great Chris Marker pieces: one by Adrian Martin and the other by Marker himself. The issue is in the newsstands but I'm not sure how much of it will be available to read online at the magazine's site. [UPDATE: I have just received word from the editors that the symposium will indeed appear online soon. I will post a link to it when it does.][UPDATE 2: It's online now.]

* * *

In a couple of days, I'll head out to Toronto for the film festival. I've picked up tickets for about 30 films including those by: Claire Denis, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jean-Marie Straub, Lisandro Alonso, Jia Zhang-ke, Arnaud Desplechin, James Benning, the Dardennes, Agnes Varda, Mamoru Oshii, Werner Schroeter, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Albert Serra, Jerzy Skolimowski, Kelly Reichardt, Rithy Panh, and others.

I'll be filing a piece at Artforum at festival's end, and may not get a chance to work up a post here for a couple of weeks. As always, you're most welcome to chat and post links in the comments. I'll pop up here occasionally too.

* * *

Some links:

-- Have you been following David Cairns' marvelous blog, Shadowplay? The posts and discussions are a lot of fun, and what's more, he currently has a Julien Duvivier giveaway.

-- Adrian's new column at Filmkrant is on "unknown cinephiles." It opens:

"Modern historians have turned an old surrealist saying - 'Even the empty perches of history are eloquent' - into an impassioned ethical creed. History is increasingly full of empty perches: lost cities, shredded documents, ordinary lives with no testament left behind. Filmmakers including Chris Marker, Harun Farocki and Edgardo Cozarinsky have devoted themselves to the eloquence of everything that is missing in time and place - absences that, in their muteness and invisibility, somehow express so much. The internet can turn us all into historians of the forgotten, the lost, the ephemeral. A cinephile sometimes stumbles upon a lonely monument, somewhere on-line, to someone whose life intersected, for a long or short time, with a passion for film. These are people whose names are scarcely recorded in the official annals of cinema culture; usually, it is a friend, student or partner who has taken the trouble to post a tiny reminder of their fleeting existence."

-- David Bordwell's new post is on films from the year 1913. It begins with this Martin Scorsese quote: "Each film is interlocked with so many other films. You can’t get away. Whatever you do now that you think is new was already done in 1913."

-- Chris Cagle announces his pick for September at Film of the Month Club: Claire Denis' The Intruder.

-- At Films in Review, a wonderful piece by Jean Renoir from Cahiers du Cinema, March 1952.

-- via David Hudson: At Artforum, Richard Deming on P. Adams Sitney's Eyes Upside Down.

-- At Frieze: Babette Mangolte on two films that "literally changed my life."

-- Recent blog discovery: Catherine Grant's film studies blog, Directing Cinema.


Blogger David C said...

Thanks for linking! Have fun in Toronto.

September 01, 2008 10:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And thank you, David, for the generous transatlantic gift.

September 01, 2008 12:29 PM  
Blogger nitesh said...

Looking forward to reading this issue of Cineaste, for an Indian purchasing a film magazine here in India burns a hole in your pocket, but this issue is worth spending some money on.

Thanks for the Link Girish. Hope u have a good movie marathon ahead.

September 01, 2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I just put this update in the post and should repeat it here: I've received word from the editors that the symposium will indeed appear online soon. I'll post a link to it when it does.

September 01, 2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger Catherine Grant said...

Thanks a lot for the link. Bon voyage.

September 02, 2008 4:00 AM  
Anonymous James McNally said...

Girish, I sent you an invitation to a film blogger get together scheduled for Monday September 8 but it doesn't appear that you received it. Email me at for more details. Hope you can join us!

September 02, 2008 5:27 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I went to the one place in Denver that I thought would have Cineaste only to find that they don't carry it anymore.

September 02, 2008 7:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Catherine, James, Peter.

Just wanted to post a link to an absolutely wonderful Greencine write-up on avant-garde cinema at TIFF by Michael Sicinski.

September 03, 2008 9:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks to Jim Flannery, who hipped me to this blog discovery: You must be mistaken. I'm alive.

The latest post is a large one on Cassavetes.

September 04, 2008 7:47 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Umm, the previous post wreaks of the Aurigma Image Upload security exploit. Stay away.

September 05, 2008 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just received the Cineaste issue in the mailbox today. Congratulations Girish for long overdue recognition of your talent, writing, and excellent blog. It was also fun to read your favorite blogs and perspective on the film blogosphere.

September 05, 2008 4:56 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

It showed up on the newsstands a couple days ago - good stuff from what I've sampled so far, and I expect it will start generating online commentary soon. Which proves something, I imagine...

September 05, 2008 7:31 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

The Cineaste article is online.

September 06, 2008 6:16 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, everyone. Acquarello, thanks for that warning. And Flickhead, for the link.

In the last couple of days, the best thing I've seen so far is the new Jean-Marie Straub film. The disappointments have included the new Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Three Monkeys.

September 06, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I've put a link to the symposium at the top of the post.

I missed Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers this morning (stayed out, slept in) but the rest of the day will be taken up mostly by avant-garde screenings.

September 06, 2008 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny coincidence that one of the persons who would have had the most interesting things to say about the blogosphere discourse is the person discussed on the same issue of cineaste, namely (you guessed it) Chris Marker. Shame that he wasn't roped in for it (though for thos who can read french his interview in Les Inrockuptibles from a few months ago is interesting).
Seems to me something that's been omitted from discussions and that's essential about the use of internet in modern film criticism is the access to dvds worldwide, one of the only effective means of using internet to actually see films rather than read about them (Yes, I know, ubuweb... but that's a specific niche). If something's not available in France, buy it from Germany. If all the shimizu you can get is only to be found in Japan, well, that's not a problem anymore, and so on and so forth. The internet not only makes opinions and criticism instantly available worldwide... It also makes films available instantly worldwide (however imperfect the form they're presented in). Not only through ordering but through getting it known (I fondly remember a post on this site about upcoming dvd releases where I learnt about a kluge box set and a thai/malaysian dvd label)...
Which sort of ties in with something else that bugs me and which I'd love feedback on: it seems to me that one of the main problems the blogosphere lapses in is "meta-meta-land" to quote Olaf Möller, namely discourse on dicourse on discourse, forgetting that so far the blogosphere hasn't really influenced film markets, at least to my knowledge. Noel Vera has a pretty popular blog (justifiedly so), but I still don't see that many prints of Brocka, Bernal or O'Hara around... A few exceptions (David Cairns' Duvivier giveaway is a utopian gesture of sharing in the face of the industry, but even then Duvivier isn't quite unknown since he's got a film in criterion), but overall film-land is still an ultra-closed environment where the capitalist market prevails, and which the blogosphere has not really made a dent in. And it seems to me that that's where the real battle is still to be fought.

Not of course, that I don't appreciate the wealth of information made available through internet...

September 07, 2008 9:35 AM  
Blogger David said...

"If something's not available in France, buy it from Germany. If all the shimizu you can get is only to be found in Japan, well, that's not a problem anymore, and so on and so forth."

Yes, if you're rich. One of the main reasons I write is to get access to films on Region 2, 3, 4 that I wouldn't get to see otherwise. When each film is $40 to buy--I'd love to see these films, but there are plenty of other masterpieces I can get to for free in the meantime. If GreenCine started stocking these imports, I might start liking globalization a bit more. Right now, for me, and many others, those Shimizus just exist to tantalize.

September 07, 2008 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, and I was being slightly hypocritical because I myself have only bought once from another continent (the shimizu sets), though I still do from quite a few other western european countries.
a) they are hypothetically available, meaning that if you've just read a stunning book on hiroki ryuichi and live in germany, you can get the US kino dvds of his films if you really do want to.
b) in a round-about way, that also proves my point about the internet not making a real impact in terms of distribution of films which is the only way we're ever going to see them. With that much more discourse available, and international offers available, etc etc, but in the end most people aren't getting that much more opportunity to see so many of the films we can now read about.
c) the apparent contradiction between my a) and my b) just goes to show how despite the wealth of information unleashed by internet (you now know that there exists a boxset of those shimizus you want to see) and the fact that it is free , the distribution world is still moving in a separate realm totally, the (dare I say) real world, at least the material one (i.e. as David pointed out the goods are anything but free even if the information is (oh so tantalizing :P )), and it seems that that's where the changes have to be made.

So big changes due to the internet, yes. But for the moment, no revolution, a logical evolution, which has affected film discourse but not how much or what we can actually see. Which is what determines what the discourse will be about.

And my previous post was of course limited to films available on dvd, and we all know how little that is.


September 07, 2008 6:08 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

To this I would object: had Print critics ever have an influence on the film industry? Slightly more than the internet, granted, but not dramatically so. Newspapers only talk about whatever the industry puts out for public consumption, rarely, if ever, about what we cannot see.

One thing to keep in mind about catalog availability is that we expect every single movie to become readily available now, while the DVD distributors have to put up with the non-stop production of current releases, AND to transfer within a couple decades (since the spread of DVDs or videotapes) the entire back-catalogue of celluloid films made during the past 100 years!
If we are reasonable, we surely can wait a couple of decades before everything is viewable on DVD.
The alternative ways to watch a movie outside of the official theatrical market, or on TV, has considerably improved since the pre-video era! Back then cinephiles could only watch non-current/foreign fare at the Cinémathèque. It's obviously easier for a cinephile living outside a megapole to view offbeat movies nowadays... no reason to complain.

But we shall keep the pressure on distributors and studios to stop sitting on their buried treasures (and to make sure the oldest prints aren't lost for ever due to lack of restoration)

P.S. great symposium there. The debate becomes more topical. I'm not afraid of "meta-meta".

September 07, 2008 7:27 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I've had conversations with film programmers that indicate to me that, at least sometimes, the availability of an other-region DVD may be affecting whether a film gets placed into a local festival or not.

And aren't DVD subscription-rental services an internet age phenomenon? I know that the muscle of Netflix and its cousins has affected distribution patterns (and indeed, the overall demand for theatrical screenings of niche fare).

September 08, 2008 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, and it's true I hadn't thought of netflix, but maybe it's jut that I'm very unaware but I think so far there hasn't been any equivalents of that in Europe, so that phenomenon isn't anywhere near as far-reaching as that of blogging. But I definitely wouldn't bet on that. And to Harry Tuttle: part of my problem is precisely that despite the wider options bloggers are having just as little effect as print critics, and hence not changing things that much.
Part of my point was also to do with the fact that despite the blogosphere being more internationalist than anything ever before, for a variety of reasons (among them english-language hegemony; yes, I know, if you just speak english how can you judge all the other blogs, but that's part of the problem. and I admit other languages have a hold but it remains pretty centred on the west (ie french and german and spanish)) the blogosphere is furthering trends in film and film discourse rather than rewriting other, wider-reaching discourses. Meaning that if the meta-meta (:P) discourse isn't changing, how is there even remotely a chance that the material task of actually getting the films seen for them to have a chance of being talked about is going to change?

I realize maybe I sound prissy, but I do enjoy these blogs immensely, as the fact that I'm posting here shows. It's just that I believe there's a huge potential in blogging for renewing things massively (thanks to the internationalist element and the fact that everyone is in it for the enthusiasm so much). And I have no clue about how to set off doing this but that's also why I'm throwing the ideas out there.

Finally, I have a question that I am very curious about: if such a big part of the critical community is picking up on internet criticism, how many distributors/programmers are also listening in? As someone said in Cineaste, this particular blog acts as a bit of a hub so I guess it's as good a place to ask the question as any.

Anyway, enjoy whatever film it is you're watching today!

September 08, 2008 6:01 PM  
Blogger Gunfight at the Watergate Hotel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 10, 2008 5:04 PM  
Blogger Ted Fendt said...

While the blog community, small as it is compared to the rest of the film buying/watching public, probably has little to no effect on most DVD distributors, it is worth noting that companies liike Criterion and Masters of Cinema do seem to take notice or regard the cinephile community to some degree (Criterion through the Criterion forums, MoC through its main site). I'm sure that it's a bit more than just a public relations plan that these companies keep in touch with the online community.

In a sense these kinds of companies could be viewed almost as specialty companies - though they certainly try to get their product out to as large a public as possible (and I think that's a good thing) - in that the materials they are distributing are not necessarily desired by the majority of consumers, or, at least, the mainstream audience.

September 10, 2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Ted, I agree. I tend to think Criterion's Ophuls release is due in part to agitation from the cinephile community. We're their core market, so it would make sense to put out things that we all yearn for in thread after thread.

I would also love to know whether or not the big corporations take any notice of the online film chatter about movies they have stashed in the back of the vault. For example, Fox's hotly anticipated Borzage set. Does anybody at Fox read David Kehr? Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

September 11, 2008 12:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hello, all!

Back from Toronto, and catching my breath. Also filing a couple of brief dispatches. Once my classes die down mid-week, I should be able to put up a small TIFF round-up post here. Thanks for being patient.

September 14, 2008 11:36 PM  

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