Thursday, December 31, 2009

Framework on Cinephilia, etc.

-- The new issue of the journal Framework has a cinephilia dossier edited by Jonathan Buschbaum and Elena Gorfinkel. I joined several others, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Nicole Brenez, James Quandt, Zach Campbell, Chris Fujiwara and Laura Mulvey, in contributing a piece to it. For those with institutional access, the contents of the issue are available via Project Muse, Proquest, etc.

-- I haven't seen the film yet but Jim Emerson and Martin Anderson write about Avatar 3D causing eyestrain and headaches if the viewer looks away from the areas of the frame where the filmmaker wants you to look. André Bazin famously believed in the value of the spectator assuming an active role by scanning the film frame and choosing what to pay attention to. Avatar seems to be mandating the very opposite--by punishing viewer choice and agency with physical pain to the eye and the head!

-- The new season of the Cinematheque in Toronto features one of the films I've most wanted to see: Joris Ivens's A Tale of the Wind (1988). But alas, it's scheduled on a night when I teach. The European Foundation has assembled a 5-DVD Joris Ivens set which is rumored, at some point, to get a US release.

-- There's a new issue of Screening the Past, in two sections--of essays and reviews. Also: Senses of Cinema has a new issue.

-- A refreshingly candid interview with Manohla Dargis on women and Hollywood. Also: a reflection by her in the NYT on moving-image entertainments of the digital age.

-- At The Auteurs: Inspired by Manny Farber, B. Kite puts up a "Petite Mannyfesto"; and Zach on the book Manny Farber proposed in the 1970s but never wrote.

-- Sukhdev Sandhu has a brief piece in The Telegraph on "the decline of American cinema" during the decade. (via Jonathan Rosenbaum.)

-- At Jonathan's place, book reviews from the archives: Noel Burch's Theory of Film Practice; Citizen Sarris: American Film Critic; Rudy Wurlitzer's Slow Fade; and Susan Sontag's Under the Sign of Saturn.

-- Two reviews of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's Gamer make me want to see it: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Steven Shaviro.

-- Michael Sicinski's latest reviews include the new films by Soderbergh, Herzog, Reitman and Tom Ford.

-- David Bordwell on why Akira Kurosawa was a "problematic auteur."

-- José Neves has a list of films old and new (many unfamiliar and interesting) seen at the Lisbon Cinemateca during the year. (via Matthew Flanagan, who covers the London Film Festival in the new Senses issue.)

-- Several good posts at the prolific Jeffrey Sconce's blog, Ludic Despair.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Robin Wood, 1931-2009

Film criticism has lost one of its giants: Robin Wood has died. He was 78. Catherine Grant has assembled a wonderful collection of links as a tribute to him. Armen Svadjian summarizes Wood's career and interviews him in a piece from 2006. David Hudson collects links to reactions around the film blogosphere.

Wood was a prolific and impassioned critic with a broad range and deep convictions. He was an inspirational writer and yet he was sure to provoke occasional disagreement and exasperation in even his most loyal followers. Most notably, he declined to keep his criticism at a remove from his personal life. (A well-known instance is his piece "Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic" [pdf].) When Hitchcock's Films Revisited was released in a revised edition in 2002, he included a 33-page preface that was pure autobiography. Joe McElhaney's review of the book is a wonderful example of the deeply felt, searching, and sometimes ambivalent response that Wood was often capable of provoking.

My one memorable encounter with Wood occurred about 10 years ago at a limited Hitchcock retrospective in Toronto. He wrote the essay accompanying the series, and appeared in person to lecture on Marnie immediately following the screening. I suspect most of the audience had not read him and didn't know who he was, but nearly everyone stayed--electrified--for an hour while he held forth on the film. At the end, someone asked him about the T-shirt he was wearing. He swelled his chest out and pointed to it so everyone could see. It had a picture of a crystal ball with a photograph of Barbara Harris on it. It was, he explained, a protest shirt: he was wearing it in defense of Family Plot, which had been left out of the retrospective.

In addition to the Hitchcock book, my own favorites among his work include his writings on Howard Hawks (the book he wrote in 1968, the more recent BFI Film Classics monograph on Rio Bravo), and his collection Personal Views. But really, the moment I put that down, I realize how unfair and inadequate my selections are. It's impossible to winnow down his enormous contributions to just a couple of titles.

So, your reflections on Wood and his work? Any favorites among his writings? Please feel free to share them.