Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Rediscoveries on Blu-ray

Exciting news: Hearty congratulations to Ignatiy Vishnevetsky for being selected to co-host the new TV show, "Ebert Presents: At The Movies." The show is on PBS but my local affiliate in Buffalo doesn't carry it. Fortunately, the show has a nicely designed, regularly updated website where I was able to catch up with the episodes so far. My best wishes to Ignatiy with the show: here's to hoping he becomes a household name before too long!

* * *

I have a piece called "The 21-st Century Cinephile" in the latest issue of the Dutch film magazine Filmkrant. It's part of their "Slow Criticism" dossier, with pieces by Adrian Martin, Gabe Klinger, Dana Linssen, Neil Young, and others. In my piece, I discuss the need for a dialectical engagement with cinema discourse in this age of social media. The fragmented mode of cinema conversation on Facebook and Twitter is both invaluable (because of its dizzying stream of ideas, insights and stimulation) and challenging (because of its addictive allure). I find that these days I have to work hard to carve out time for engagement with long-form criticism in books or essays. Both modes of engaging with cinema discourse are important; it's a daily balancing act to be able to spend one time's wisely and well. I have a question for cinephiles: Do social media like Facebook and Twitter enhance and fuel your cinephilia? Do you find these social media valuable in your life, specifically your cinephilic life? I'm curious to know what you think.

* * *

I've seen Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978) in nearly every format: the first time on the big screen when I was a teenager, and then, years later, on both VHS and DVD. I watched it on Blu-ray recently, and it suddenly struck me, with great vividness and force, as one of the great works of cinema.

Reading Vlada Petric's review in Film Quarterly, published when the film came out, I was surprised by its negative critical reception:

Everybody is fascinated by its visual (as well as auditory) qualities, yet many find its characters "unconvincing both as people and as symbols" (Joy Gould Boyum), "its drama deficient, and its psychology obscure" (Andrew Sarris); others claim that "most of its events take place abruptly, lacking adequate preparation or a dramatic payoff" (Arthur Knight); while some discard it completely as an "overwrought artifact" (Pauline Kael), or "a test case of pretension" (David Thomson), and "one of the most perversely undramatic, uninvolving and senseless movies ever made" (David Denby).

I can't fathom these criticisms. The drama in Days of Heaven issues only partially from the tragic love triangle at the film's center. For me, the main drama playing out in this film has to do with the way it stages confrontations between polar opposite ideas of what cinema is, what cinema can do. First, Days of Heaven's avant-garde impulses are as strong as those that drive its narrative. The film tells a compelling tragic-epic story, but at least as striking is its formal beauty, the way in which one stand-alone image after another stops you in your tracks. Malick often gives things -- both living and non-living -- their own shot, often unmotivated by the act of any particular characters looking at them. The conflagration, the locusts, the farm at the "magic hour," the broken wine glass at the bottom of the lake, the flying circus, the rooftop wind generator, the lone mansion: these images are indelible, their beauty and force far exceeding their merely functional requirement in the narrative.

The film embodies another primal opposition of cinema -- between the modes of documentary and fiction. Not only does the film capture and document nature better than most films, the credit sequence signals, with subtlety and imagination, the tension between the two modes. A montage of twenty-four sepia-toned archival photographs, the sequence introduces us to the time period in which the film is set. (In his book on Malick, Lloyd Michaels makes a case that every single photograph in this sequence bears a sly, glancing allusion to the narrative of the film itself.) Following these twenty-four historical photographs, the twenty-fifth, in the style of the preceding pictures, shows Linda Manz, playing the character of a poor urban kid. In one quiet, fleeting moment, the film has moved from its documentary opening into its fictional world. It is during such moments -- and they are many in Days of Heaven -- that I find this film profoundly "dramatic."

I'm wondering: Have you had the good fortune of rediscovering any older films -- and renewing or expanding your appreciation of them -- on Blu-ray? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

* * *

A few links:

-- A Blake Edwards special issue (plus other bonus pieces) in the new issue of Undercurrent.

-- The Senses of Cinema 2010 World Poll.

-- Cinema Scope now has a brand new online section with essays and a top 10 list.

-- Ignatiy has started a Tumblr site called Direct Transmission.

-- Videos at Catherine Grant's: "Fifteen Film Studies Guest Lectures at the University of Chicago."

-- Doug Dibbern at MUBI: "Cinephilia, the Science of Hope, and the Sacred Ground Beneath the Grapeland Heights Police Substation in Miami, Florida."

-- On the occasion of the new edition of his book Planet Hong Kong, David Bordwell gives us "25 Classics: A Cheat Sheet."

-- "Moments of 2010" by various writers at Moving Image Source.


Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...


That is a fantastic article at FilmKrant. There's a thousand discussion points in here alone:

"What results, with these new terms of viewing, is a weakening of the likelihood that a film will be watched with full attention from beginning to end without a break — in other words, that a film will be engaged in a full and sustained manner. When technology allows us to watch Antonioni's red desert, Jacques Tati's playtime or Chantal Akerman's jeanne dielman on a laptop, in bits and pieces, while we eat, drink, take breaks and try to accommodate the film to our convenience, aren't we fatally compromising our ability to do it full justice as cinephiles or critics?"

I'm eternally ambivalent about this. One one hand, I do believe that the theater experience whets your senses and does full justice to the movie as well as the experience (particularly in films like PLAYTIME). Taking the film at one go is also drastically different on an emotional level (specifically for genre films). But, I also think that it is often a misguided obligation to sit in a theatre from start to stop, for certain films. I say this because, certain films demand analysis. You may be stuck by a frame or by a gesture or even a political statement that the director wants you to engage deeply in. You'd want to think about it. I believe, for these films, the ultimate point is the discussion (as you have noted as one of the characteristics of the new cinephile). So why bind yourself into an unwarranted contract of sitting in a theatre and trying to get into the game of how-much-of-the-film-did-I-get-in-the-first-viewing. I hear many veteran filmmakers such as Kiarostami often leave the theatre as soon as they got something to think about - be it in the first minute or the last. I think that is a very valid response and one that the filmmaker himself would like. Home viewing enables this big time. May be - like a novel - this alters the nature of cinema itself. But I say it's not for the worse.

Being a film buff totally alien to film fests and film journals, like thousands more, the social media are the only way into cinephilia for me. So I'm all for it.

Instead, we need a dialectical engagement with cinema discourse that values both the sustained attention devoted to long-form scholarship and criticism in books and essays and the fragmented attention we bring to modes of reading and writing in the age of social media. - Terrific summation here, Girish.

I think even amidst the spate of opinions (ranging from astute to banal) on a spate of films (ranging from great to trash), one could plan to set out a course and - gulp - try to move up the ladder. This means not only having personalized film canons, but also personalized film criticism cannons, which I think isn't all that bad.

P.S: True to the fragmentary nature of discussions you write about, I expect this comment section to wildly swing between posts on internet cinephilia and Malick's film...

February 01, 2011 10:31 PM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Whoops. Sorry for all the typos and errors.

February 01, 2011 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

To answer your question, I don't Twitter, but as you know, I'm at Facebook. Mostly it's to ask quick questions or in some cases provide film related answers. The only effect on my film viewing might be to shove me one way or another if I'm not certain about seeing a film.

I guess it was a good thing that I was in Denver when i saw Days of Heaven on a giant movie screen, possibly 70mm. I had no idea that the NYC critics didn't like it.

February 02, 2011 3:37 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

There's a rather enjoyable typo in the Filmkrant piece, which transforms your blog link into irishshambu.blogspot.com; I read that as Irish Shambu, quite a shift in identity!

More seriously, I would say that I have not, thus far, found that social media make a major difference to my viewing or to my conversation on film - whereas blogs, and the comments on blog posts, have been transformational in terms of making me aware of what's out there, what people are thinking, how they are approaching film, and so forth.

The brevity and scattershot nature of most of the conversations I encounter on Twitter and Facebook is often more of a distraction than a help to me, to be honest, whereas the comments on posts are often much richer for me.

February 02, 2011 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Blogs opened by up the cinephiliac discourse by giving everyone who wanted to the power to become a content producer, even those without access to the traditional publishing platforms.

What I think is most valuable about Twitter and Facebook from a cinephile standpoint is that they have widened it even further by allowing those who do not necessarily want to produce "content" to contribute to the conversation in an archive-able, disseminate-able way.

What is most interesting about them (in my opinion): they lay bare the process by which we individually and collectively, as a cinephile/critical/whatever community decide what a film means and what it's worth by making the earlier stages of the opinion-forming process public. Here are the conversations we have in theater lobby and at the coffee shop or bar across the street, preserved.

What is most concerning about them (in my opinion): is the price of preservation calcification?

February 02, 2011 11:09 AM  
Blogger JeanRZEJ said...

There are few books that I have read from start to end without taking a break. If this is not a problem to books, then I see no reason why it should be a problem to film. Each takes time to get from the beginning to the end, so those elements which are at the beginning will be distanced from those at the end no matter which method you take (unless you just plain skip the middle). That there is something in the middle relating to the two does not to my mind make much of a difference: the brain is taking older information and incorporating it with newer information. There are certainly questions of tone and atmosphere which relate more closely on a moment-to-moment basis, but this is the same in reading. Perhaps it is preferable to watch a film in one setting (although I think some films are dense to the point where a break to contemplate may in fact aid in the overall experience in order to fully contextualize material early on which might otherwise be lost in the ever-thickening web), but I don't see a great deal of loss in a divided viewing - to a point, of course. There is a give and take.

As for discourse over social media - I see no problem with those outlets which do nothing to prevent the full expression of one's point of view to the extent that one is willing to put forth the effort. This is to say - twitter is the equivalent of a news feed for keeping track of current events. It's barely better than nothing. Facebook, forums, comments sections, etc. I see no problem with. You get out what everyone, collectively, puts in.

February 02, 2011 12:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Srikanth, you make a compelling counter-argument about the potential benefits of discontinuous film viewing. I have to say: except for the few days I spend at the Toronto film festival each year, I watch very few films on the big screen for the rest of the year. And I do so (despite my "best intentions") in a discontinuous manner, often wondering if this is something I should be feeling guilty about...!

Peter, like you, I find that Facebook interactions strongly influence the new additions to my Netflix queue on a daily basis. I like this aspect of FB; it keeps me from over-planning what films to watch in the next few weeks.

Gareth, for the longest time, in India, I had an ID card with a typo which read: Mr. G. Irish Shambu...!

Andy, one thing that bothers me about FB and Twitter is their poor archiving capabilities. There's no real search function or archive that allows quick access to past posts, tweets or conversations, and even when you find the fragments of a lengthy conversation on Twitter, it takes some effort to put all the pieces (the individual tweets) together to reconstruct it. On FB, each time an interesting conversation happens to occur on my page, I bookmark the post. (You can do this by clicking on the time stamp of the post, which isolates the post and comments thread and puts it on a separate page which can be bookmarked.)

Jean, as you point out, Twitter is useful to me most as a newsfeed -- specifically of links to longer-form pieces. Either I'm hopelessly long-winded or I just haven't figured out how, but I find it nearly impossible to conduct substantive conversations on Twitter. I barely get started, and I run out of space. I do enjoy following others (like Michael Sicinski, Adam Nayman, Dan Sallitt, or Mike D'Angelo) who have mastered the difficult art of conversing coherently and substantively on Twitter.

February 02, 2011 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Christian Keathley said...

I will politely disagree with Jean and JAFB about discontinuous film viewing. A key part of the cinematic experience is not only the scale and the quasi-isolation tank experience, it's also giving yourself over to the time of the film -- its speed, its pace -- one which may not be your own. Disrupting this temporal experience means that your time supersedes that of the film, which in some cases can be a profound compromise.

This debate over whether a viewing needs to be uninterrupted seems to be less an issue for television, where the program is already fragmented, sometimes with commercials, but also into episodes, arcs, and seasons.

It is true that few novels can be read in one sitting, but this only points up the limitation of any such comparison between two forms. Recently, the best television shows have been described as novelistic, with specific comparisons to the 19th century serialized novel. But in another interesting twist, Sean O'Sullivan has argued that, because of their inherently fragmented nature, these shows have affinities with poetry as well.


I can't say much about Facebook or Twitter because I am on neither -- but I do sense that a lot of blogging dialogue has started migrating to those outlets.

February 02, 2011 1:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Chris! I don't know the O'Sullivan article; I look forward to reading it.

I also wanted to point to Chuck Tryon's blog post in which he reflects upon and deepens some of the ideas from the FILMKRANT piece.

February 02, 2011 1:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Chris, I have to say that I believe that watching films uninterrupted is the best way to watch them. No question. And most of the time I do watch films in this manner. But because of the ease and convenience of discontinuous viewing, I end up watching a certain (admittedly small) percentage of films in this interrupted manner, usually because of practical considerations (e.g. starting a film too late, then getting sleepy, and not wanting to "spoil" the film by watching it when my attentions are sub-optimal). Try as I might to avoid it, this happens to me every now and then. These are the times I miss the more "authoritarian" dispositif of theatrical viewing.

February 02, 2011 2:06 PM  
Blogger JeanRZEJ said...

'A key part of the cinematic experience is not only the scale and the quasi-isolation tank experience, it's also giving yourself over to the time of the film -- its speed, its pace -- one which may not be your own.'

I agree that there are benefits to watching things continuously. What isn't always considered is that there are benefits to breaking up a viewing, and also that the losses may not be as great as some people imagine. For me, I don't think there's much of a loss at all, so long as the periods of viewing are similar. With Satantango I think viewing it straight through is rather absurd. Tarr breaks up the film, like a novelist breaks up his novel, into distinct sections. There are differences between films and novels, but I think their similarities become greater the longer the films run. Novels also sculpt in time, in my experience... otherwise we would not worry about syntax and structure, only diction and word order.

February 02, 2011 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Christian Keathley said...

I too watch films this way, more often than I would like. But I think I watch fewer films overall than I would like to because I'm less likely to start a film if I know there's a chance it might be interrupted (by someone else or by my own fatigue). This isn't really due to some purist ethic on my part, but mainly because I get frustrated when my viewing is interrupted, and that frustration in turn interferes with my attentive viewing.

Interestingly, I think my commitment to uninterrupted viewing has increased as the other elements of theatrical viewing have become more closely approximated. That is, my 42" plasma screen and blu-ray player make me slide right into that position of cinephiliac 'surrender' and 'submission' you describe in your Filmkrant piece, and interrupting my viewing thus seems more unsettling. When I was watching VHS tapes on my old 19" TV set, maybe I didn't care quite so much.

February 02, 2011 2:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Interesting, Chris: I think my experience is similar. Since I got my 46-inch HDTV and Blu-ray player over the summer (after 15 years of a smaller-screen CRT TV), I tend to watch many more films in their entirety in one sitting...

February 02, 2011 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

I don't use Facebook at all but I've been on Twitter for about a year now. I use it like a screening log. I keep a record of every film I see with short critical reactions. It's great because I don't have the time or interest to write a review of every film I see.

Regarding screenings, I do about 75% of my film watching on my laptop (unfortunately). I still love going to the theater for the experience and the aesthetics but don't often have time or money to do it regularly. Also, I've been noticing that theater screenings are getting a little less reliable with regards to quality (projectionist problems, print problems, etc.). The home experience is better now. I have a friend with blue-ray, digital projector and a pretty big projection screen and screenings at his place are flawless.

The bigger question: does this change in method affect my critical reactions to films (for better or worse)? Both. It hurts me not being able to gauge movement and composition on a big screen, not to mention immersive sound, lighting, etc. But it helps me to study and analyze films in minute detail at home. Why not use both? Because I work with too many rare films that can't be accessed on nice prints for the big screen.

February 02, 2011 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Evelyn Roak said...

Excellent article that touches on a number of salient points, potentially, and hopefully, sparking conversations in numerous directions. Let me simply take one of these many avenues offered.

I think you highlight an important condition: the fragmentary, fleeting and for the present nature of Twitter, Facebook and many online outlets. Happily there are blogs, journals, misc. (this site standing out as one) that deviate from the importance of immediacy, but all too often there seems to reign a primacy of the present with criticism and commentary consumed by claims being staked and critical calibration. The immediacy seems to, at times, beget urgency with there an ever quicker need to be the first to recognize, write, put out and puff up ones name.

Perhaps this makes me sound like a curmudgeon. I hope not, and am not attempting to strike a "kids these days" tone, for I agree with you that a binary opposition suits no one's purpose and, likewise, very much appreciate the cinephilic world of the internet. But this is a problematic issue I have noticed. One which reflects a further point that there does seem to be a shockingly anti-academic attitude to many writers. Now, there are many great more academically inclined online resources as well, many writers who contribute regularly here (yourself included), and, well, perhaps I need not name all/some of the writers/sites at the moment. But, there is something to be written about the relationship of the immediacy of the internet, the privileged present and prioritizing position and how this disagrees with a more academic film writing which is historically slower, less of the immediate moment (and the self-perpetuating discourse of the now now now) and more tranquil in mood (not that it cannot be militant or fire-branding or pushing etc but there is a difference of character one may say...hmm tranquil may not be the right word), or, well, there is a difference indeed.....Well, I am rambling now but let me just say I think you conclude your piece wonderfully calling for a productive balance (it does seem that anti-academic bias is witnessed more than vice-versa and is more indignant and harmful to one's own writing---that perhaps one could say the more academic oft contain the other form of cinephilia while the reverse cannot be said...maybe as I continue to hedge). I do have more to say on the latter part of this ramble but it requires more thought and more time than I have at the moment. Hopefully I can clarify this soon.

February 02, 2011 9:45 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Although it is certainly useful to watch and rewatch films in smaller chunks, I feel an almost moral obligation to never do this if it is the first time I am seeing a film. I much prefer to put myself before the large theatrical screen and experience the film by giving it my full attention, engaging with it as much emotionally as I do intellectually.

While I do watch DVDs, I don't prefer them to the cinema and I try to avoid watching them when there will be distractions that will interrupt the experience. In terms of seeking out DVDs, I tend to do so only when it seems highly unlikely that I will see the film otherwise in the foreseeable future. But even when I do end up seeing a film that I thought I would not get to see (Straub-Huillet's Moses und Aron, for example, seen twice within the last two years once on 16mm, once on 35mm) the experience in the theater far surpasses anything that I experienced watching it on a TV.

I've traveled some good distances to see certain films that I would not have been able to see otherwise (either because they are not available on DVD - and not everything is! - or because the available copies are poor or hard to come by) and I am quite happy I have. I think that in an era when it is easy to have everything come to you, you appreciate things more when you go to the work of art instead.

I like Daniele Huillet's article (available here: http://aripa.free.fr/Nuances03-04.pdf) on the state of art preservation and why she liked the Barnes Foundation and perhaps Tag Gallagher's article on why films can't be "read" is also useful to add to the discussion: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/firstrelease/fr0301/tgbfr12a.htm

February 02, 2011 11:15 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Christian Keathly has said what I would have said about watching films in one go, and probably better and more diplomatically than I would have.
But one very important element that hasn't been mentioned about cinema versus home viewing (probably because it's already been discussed alsewhere?) is the idea of the public sphere. There's a huge difference between watching a melodrama or a comedy, to take two extreme poles, alone or with an audience. Laughter especially is incredibly easier to come by if it's shared. In that respect, I'll never forget the difference between my first, home video screening of Playtime ("interesting formal exercise") and my second, cinema viewing experience of it. Obviously, knowing what to expect of its formal challenges made it easier to appreciate when revisiting it, but still, having other people laugh at gags made it a much more liberating experience the second time. It enhances both the pure enjoyment of the film, and the analytical access to it (try gaining insights into a comedy without laughing...).

February 02, 2011 11:37 PM  
Blogger JeanRZEJ said...

That's an interesting point, Nathan, although it works both ways. Peter Greenaway says this, for example: 'Who wants to share their emotions with a bunch of strangers?' He's very much in favor of home viewing. I was recently reading a book about black comedy in the theater and the author mentioned how the artists' works would divide not only the spectator against themselves, not knowing exactly how to react to simultaneously tragic and comic elements, but also against other members of the audience, some reacting negatively to others laughter (even if it was not comic laughter) and such. I remember watching There Will Be Blood in the theater amidst a relatively full theater - absolute silence. When I laughed at a couple elements, one a false crescendo in the musical score, I felt far more alone than if there had been nobody else in the theater. Watching it later with some friends they laughed the whole film through, finding the dark comedy in Plainview's exaggerated persona. Thus, there are some films where the theatergoing audience can be a terrible burden if they are unified in obliviousness.

February 03, 2011 9:40 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

True, and I didn't want to go into the issue in a short comment. But what you describe is part of the public sphere: having to measure your own reaction against others, and interact with them (even if only on the very small level film-viewing allows), whether in symbiosis or in opposition. If the reactions are so clearly divided, what are the fault lines?
Different reactions force you to rethink your own, they're interesting both as symptoms and as choices. Watching a film alone, or with people whose tastes you are sure about, definitely has its perks (most of my viewing is solitary), but it can sometimes be a bit too comfortable, in the sense that your reactions aren't challenged. Or if they're challenged, only in a closed circle, since it still comes from yourself (if this makes sense). Having other people around can be a good antidote to this.

February 03, 2011 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Trevor Link said...

What I think is interesting about social media, especially Twitter (I don't really use Facebook), is that they allow you to plunge yourself straight into a stream of communication and information that is ultimately larger than any individual voice or handful of voices. It's almost like having the ability to hear the collective thoughts of a group of people, but of course, this "group" is different for everyone, because everyone's network of relationships on any given social media platform is different.

Nonetheless, this experience certainly whets my appetite for certain films or brings news to my attention, but it also allows me to view, from a very broad perspective, the general discourse on any given film, director etc. After a film is released (or after an event that causes people to reevaluate an older film), a series of opinions pool up, and it's amazing how much synchronicity there is among these varying responses, often from people who do not even interact with each other. You can sort of take the pulse of a group of people's attitudes towards, say, a film, and this is helpful for me to know what's already been said, so I can push myself to head off in some previously-unexplored direction and try to find something new. There's a level of awareness that comes out of this experience, and I think we have somewhat of a responsibility to cultivate this, while neither conforming to nor reflexively rebelling against what we find.

That being said, I believe, and this is no great insight that hasn't been said before, that one of the problems of this particular set of circumstances is shutting out this discourse, turning one's back to endless distractions, and really focusing in on our priorities (because it really all comes down to that, priorities). And you eloquently address this very point.

Let me add one more thing: I've long thought that one of the flaws of the way the internet works is that we prioritize the new so much that great writing and thinking can tend to disappear into the horizon behind us without enough people to remember it. I really think internet communities, the cinephile community being no exception, need a way to say "Here are a handful of the very best and most important pieces written last year." Perhaps that's foolish and counterintuitive, but we're just not good at creating a long-term memory for ourselves. It's like having a map that doesn't show topography; everything comes out on the same hierarchical level, which is both good and bad in different ways.

February 03, 2011 10:38 AM  
Blogger gcgiles said...

Christian's description of his enviable home theater--"my 42-inch plasma screen and blu-ray player make me slide right into that position of cinephiliac 'surrender' and 'submission'"--reminds me that a lot of uninterrupted pleasures are the privilege of people who can afford them, not only in terms of solvency (for all I know, Christian went without food in order to fund his set-up), but also in terms of discretionary time. Working long hours not only exhausts the attention span, but also decreases the margins of time that can be spent experiencing a film in the "proper" setting. Recently, I have only been able to watch movies with headphones on my laptop during my train commute. While not exactly a 70mm immersion, I have to say that this fleeting absorption has made my life richer, but I am rarely able to finish watching a film during one trip. I realize that economic arguments are potentially boorish and possibly too obvious in response to this question of whether or not to take a film in one sitting, but the enlarged access that newer media technology has offered is the only thing that has produced the question. In other words, there are those of us who would not be able to participate in this debate without the relative affordability of diminished screens and interruptible formats, however compromised the viewing experience. This access stimulates a desire for more immersive environments and can only help foster a theater audience, particularly an audience for more obscure film art. I recently watched Oshima's Boy on YouTube in twelve-minute batches on a computer screen in a less-than-pristine resolution, but this is the best I can do for the moment; and yet I consider this a gateway drug, an enticement, not a downfall or disappointment. I am thankful for the glimpse, and I keep my eyes peeled for future programs of the director's work at PFA, etc. In my case, diminished media and episodic viewing have sustained and whetted my appetite for more "authentic" experiences.

February 03, 2011 2:58 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

There is no doubt that twitter (and to some smaller degree facebook, though I exist there only under a pseudonym and haven't gotten involved in many cinephiliac discussions there) have affected my own productivity as a blogger.

For the most part this is benign, I feel, as microblogging is, despite its ephemeral nature, more conducive to the kind of information and pithy opinion I've always tended to put on my blog anyway, without the effort it takes to weave it all into an all-encompassing single post. Theoretically, I can save my blogging energies for more substantive writing, though I admittedly have less energy for that than I used to, and wonder if it's possible that social media plays a part in that energy/time-suck. (just as likely it's my busying work schedule and my sometimes unpredictable social life that do the trick).

As one of the lucky ones who lives proximate to many screening venues for unusual fare, I certainly tend to privilege the uninterrupted, communal screenings over the digital time-shifting and segmenting that's becoming "a" norm if not "the" norm these days. However, close analysis of a film is surely greatly aided by the ability to pause, rewind, chapter skip, and screen capture. At the same time, there are films that I get absorbed into when viewing them on the cinema screen, but find a hard slog when broken into bits. Dogtooth is a relatively recent and memorable example of this for me.

Sometimes I break up viewings of films in cinemas as well, however. A solo trip to a multiplex for me is often an opportunity to "sample" bits and pieces of films I'm curious about; for example, last month I popped into about 20 minutes of the Fighter while visiting the mall theatre which was the only place locally screening Somewhere. I don't feel like I have a grasp on the Fighter after this small sample, but at least I know better whether to prioritize a full viewing.

If I feel a twinge of guilt in such a circumstance (not really giving David O. Russell a fair chance like I did Sofia Coppola, whose film I loved, by the way), I don't feel any when trying another kind of discontinuous cinema viewing. On a couple of occasions when a local theatre has shown a double-bill of 1930s classics, I've arrived at the theatre in the middle of one film, stayed for the co-feature, and the stayed for the beginning of the first. This is the way many Hollywood movies were expected to be consumed at one time, (thus the well-known phrase "this is where we came in") and though my inspiration for trying such a stunt in the modern era may be motivated by bus schedules out of sync with screening schedules (as was the case for a recent viewing of Fog Over Frisco and Of Human Bondage), I don't feel I've done damage to William Dieterle's expectations for a viewing of Fog Over Frisco. In fact, I wonder if I may have appreciated the film more this way, as I got to view the rare shot-on-location San Francisco chase scene in the middle of the film twice, and still make my bus!

February 03, 2011 7:10 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

It's kind of hard to take Adrian Martin's 'Fleeing the Unconscious' and his latest 'Wild Psychoanalysis' filmkrant articles seriously when you know the entire field of psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience that survives only in literary theory and the like. I appreciate all the movies he upholds in the articles, but for less Freudian reasons.

February 03, 2011 10:48 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

I've always had a hard-to-articulate sense that the 'classical' film viewing experience (big theatre, big screen) created optimum conditions for a *possible* viewing stance (possible because far from automatic and requiring effort) that combined a kind of cinephilic abandonment *and* a critical distance. I've been thinking a lot about the new viewing conditions lately, mostly because I simply don't enjoy them in the slightest or find they lend themselves to a productive 'reading' of the film (leaving aside for the moment the very real difference in the degree of simple tactile pleasure afforded by 35mm vs. digital images), and have come to the even more difficult to articulate conclusion that they provide too much of the wrong kind and not enough of the good kind of this immersion/distance. One is too close to the film - on a simple, physical level, but also on the level of being able to manipulate it, for example - to obtain the proper perspective of it (like trying to read a book pressed against your face) while at the same time 'distanced' from it by the inherent distractions of the viewing conditions. Critical distance becomes distraction and aesthetic immersion becomes a kind of aesthetic proximity that conceals the underlying aesthetic by bringing everything to the surface. Listening to music on headphones can be like this too: great to hear Charles Mingus's fingers on the bass strings and Glenn Gould humming at the piano, but the conception of the piece?

Obviously there are all kinds of subjective things tied up in any observation such as this, a primary one of them being generational. Like a previous poster, but for different reasons, I don't think one need cast this as a 'kids today' lament: the difference being that I can see the degradation in my own viewing (and reading, if you want to go down that road) habits. I don't think we should be afraid to say things like: there is an objective, undeniable degradation of various cultural experiences happening today, at breathtaking speed. Of course this is a constant of history (Adorno's famous refusal to listen to recorded music!), and every generation (gap) has its own new and old technologies and degradations of cultural experience, and probably claims that its own is more significant and frightening than the previous generation's. Still, the evidence is there.

February 03, 2011 11:37 PM  
Anonymous adrian said...

Jake, I think you may need to see a shrink straight away !! The unconscious exists, admit it !!!!

February 04, 2011 11:06 PM  
Blogger kakon said...

Really appreciate this post. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! Kesha Tickets

February 05, 2011 11:19 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I agree with Adrian. Jake needs to take a spiritual journey into the unconscious wilderness.

February 06, 2011 3:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for taking the time to set down your thoughts!

Evelyn, I find that the imperative that privileges newness and the present moment has both an upside and a downside. On the one hand, it's useful to have a chorus of voices on the same new film, like the brilliant conversations on Facebook, Twitter and blogs about BLACK SWAN. Nearly no one asserted that it was a 'great' film but the polyphony of judgments and ideas on the film made me immediately want to run out and see it. The downside of this dwelling on the new is that I end up spending most of time watching films NOT made within the last year, and yearn for similar conversations on, for example, Minnelli's HOME FROM THE HILL, Blake Edwards' BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S or Tarkovsky's ANDREI RUBLEV (all strong films I've seen recently that make me want to converse with others).

Ted, thanks much for the links to those two pieces!

Nathan and Jean, most of my theatrical viewing has been done at cinematheques or film festivals, with generally unobtrusive audiences, and the few times I venture to see new releases at the commercial theaters in town, I usually find a near-empty house. So my experiences of audiences disrupting films are few and far between.

Trevor: "I really think internet communities, the cinephile community being no exception, need a way to say "Here are a handful of the very best and most important pieces written last year." Perhaps that's foolish and counterintuitive, but we're just not good at creating a long-term memory for ourselves." Wonderfully put!

GCGiles, the economic considerations you bring up are important ones--and not discussed often enough. I do envy your proximity to the PFA!

Brian, what a vivid description of your cinephilic life. I've also been appreciating your steady updates on Twitter. Your tweet today about EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF reminded me of your comments when you first saw the film a few years ago! See this old post.

Caboose, those are great, thought-provoking comments!

February 06, 2011 5:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Sad news today: the film scholar Miriam Hansen has died. Catherine Grant has a post that collects many of her writings.

February 06, 2011 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

The great thing about privileging of the present moment on the internet is that it cuts both ways. No need to wish when you can make things appear instantly. So let's have that discussion on "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Andrei Rublev" right now! I've seen both films for the first time this past year and would also love to talk about them. If a good conversation is to be had, you're the one that's probably going to be able to start it.

February 06, 2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"No need to wish when you can make things appear instantly." Bobby, you're right, of course! Let me see if I can start the ball rolling soon...!

February 06, 2011 5:37 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

After having only seen it on video, on a bus, more than 15 years ago, I finally watched a 35mm print of Breakfast at Tiffany's two weeks ago, and commenced with reading Sam Wasson's breezy book on its production & reception. So it's still fresh in mind and I'd definitely join that conversation!

And thanks for pointing me to that old comment, girish. If I am able to make it to the screening tonight, as I expect to, I think it will be helpful to have that first reaction in mind.

February 06, 2011 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

I'll also admit that I didn't see "Breakfast" in ideal conditions. I watched it on television. It seemed great though. The big party scene had an interesting acerbic tinge to it. I believe that was my first Hepburn movie.

I've also only seen "Rublev" once. So maybe I'm biting off more than I can chew in a discussion about it. That's one of those films you really have to study before you feel you can absorb it and talk about it.

February 07, 2011 5:44 AM  
Anonymous Tucker said...

Girish, I meant to post this earlier, but I really appreciate your though on DAYS OF HEAVEN. I too find the film compelling, and for similar reasons.

February 07, 2011 11:07 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Bobby Wise,

No need to study -- maybe just absorb.

But, if it's studying you're after, I heartily recommend everything Robert Bird has written on the subject of Tarkovsky. He wrote the BFI book on Rublev, and a couple of years ago put out the very erudite Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema.

February 08, 2011 2:25 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

I'd love to read that BFI book...and then absorb the film after that!

February 08, 2011 6:22 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Lost in the shuffle was Girish's lead news item to this post: Ignatiy's new job. I don't know the program in question (don't live in the U.S., don't watch TV, . . .), but it can only benefit from having such an astute critic on board. I hope though that this mainstream gig won't take him away from his more esoteric pursuits? (And that he'll be able to smuggle some of those esoteric interests into the living rooms of Middle America?)

February 08, 2011 7:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, I've been enjoying the show because Ignatiy has been doing exactly that: smuggling in and peppering his reviews with a stream of interesting insights, always grounded in his vast film-historical and technical knowledge -- and doing it effortlessly and with charm. It's a joy to watch.

Ignatiy, here's a coincidence: I'm supervising an undergraduate honors thesis on "spiritual aesthetics" in cinema this semester, and my student and I have been reading Robert Bird's two books on Tarkovsky this past week. I agree: they're terrific.

Brian and Bobby, a confession: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S was my first Blake Edwards film. I loved it. He has a wonderfully deft way with moving the tone of the film around from light comedy to despair to romance to melodrama to even suspense (as in the scene in which Doc Golightly shadows George Peppard). The party sequence is a tour-de-force -- not the broad comedy I was expecting (knowing Edwards' reputation from the PINK PANTHER films and THE PARTY) but instead a scene of sustained Tati-esque elegance and invention. And the fantastic Henry Mancini music is every bit as important an ingredient in the film as Holly Golightly. Also, as a recently converted feline-o-phile, I can say that the film's orange tabby is one of the great movie cats!

February 08, 2011 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

I just watched a few clips of the show. I must admit IV, you did a great job. It's very fluid and the repartee with Christy works. I can see you guys in those positions for longer than Siskel and Ebert were!

And I must say I love the internet version of the show. It's very easy to access the multiple clips and lets me consume them in a way similar to how I would read different bits of criticism. In fact, I might bookmark the site and access it like I do my favorite critical blogs!

Was that really "A-Team" George Peppard in "Breakfast"? Oh man, I knew I recognized his face! That's what happens when I watch movies on tv. I don't really pay attention to them as closely as I would in other circumstances.

February 08, 2011 5:45 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


The show in question can be watched here. Currently, we don't stream full episodes, but the individual segments from every episode are posted a few hours after their first airing (Friday evenings).

And to answer your question: this Friday I'll be talking about Histoire(s) du cinema, Foolish Wives and True Heart Susie, amongst other things.


Thanks! The site took a lot of work, and there are still more features to come.

February 09, 2011 2:50 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Looks like I messed up that link. Here it is again.

February 09, 2011 2:52 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Thanks, I'll be sure to have a look. And good luck.

My word verification: bencei, or almost benshi, people who comment on films.

February 09, 2011 8:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

An article on Jonathan Rosenbaum in THE NATION by Akiva Gottlieb.

February 10, 2011 9:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Video clips of an interesting round-table discussion on film criticism at the Rotterdam film festival, moderated by Gabe Klinger and Dana Linssen, and also featuring Adrian Martin and Chris Fujiwara.

February 10, 2011 2:33 PM  
Blogger Yusef Sayed said...


many thanks for another great post and for the latest links. As another example of the 'film socialism' referred to in Gottlieb's piece, I have recently sent a copy of Jafar Panahi's The Circle out into the world, which I am hoping will be passed amongst numerous film fans who cannot otherwise see it. If anyone is interested, contact me or visit http://the-tarpeian-rock.blogspot.com/ where the film has reached.

Also, your article the 21st-Century Cinephile has inspired my own forthcoming post at AudioVisual Salvage. There are also close similarities with the Gottlieb piece - must be something in the water! Anyway, rather than babble on about something that you cannot read yet, I will get back to work.

February 10, 2011 6:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yusef, please post a link to your piece here when it's up! I'm curious to read it.

February 10, 2011 7:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ignatiy, two favorite recent bits: (1) "I think that's a petty reason to dislike a movie" (LOUDER THAN A BOMB); and (2) The distinction between introducing a subject and engaging with it (THE HOUSEMAID). Also: nice Chabrol reference. Looking forward to today's show.

February 11, 2011 8:31 AM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...


I also loved that "petty reason" part. Uncanny. Almost thought there was a pause there and that someone would now say "cut".

Great work, Ignatiy. Looking forward to more.


February 11, 2011 8:59 AM  
Blogger Yusef Sayed said...

"Yusef, please post a link to your piece here when it's up! I'm curious to read it."

Girish, the post is now up. I hope that you enjoy it.

Modes of Viewing

February 11, 2011 3:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Yusef: I look forward to reading it!

February 11, 2011 5:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ignatiy has an interesting post up about his manner of working. It's a kind of appendix to the latest episode of the TV show.

February 12, 2011 9:23 AM  
Blogger Tucker said...

btw, great article Girish on Filmkrant. I am curious about your final statement: "The trick is to balance both — and apportion our daily hours in a way that profits from both while allowing the two to enrich each other." I certainly can see how long-form enriches short-form, maybe by providing a cache of depth from which to draw and reference. I would love to know your thoughts on how short-form criticism enriches long-form. Possible I am more cynical about short-form, though I am also probably imbalanced too far towards the short-form in terms of the everyday. It's that "trick" of balancing, a kind of balancing act, that I find elusive, and I worry that the fragmented and pervasive nature of short-form may not be a good thing, though, like you, I must acknowledge its ever-present influence in my life.

February 12, 2011 3:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tucker, what I meant by "short-form criticism enriching the long-form" was that sometimes I'll encounter a pithy tweet or a brief Facebook status update (on Michael Sicinski's or Ignatiy's or Steve Shaviro's Twitter pages, just to take a few examples) that will give me a new and insightful angle into or way to view a particular film or filmmaker or genre or actor. The insight or idea itself is in an "undeveloped" form, but it might productively inform my viewing going forward, enriching my understanding of the filmmaker or film in little ways, and also inflecting how I read and learn from future long-form pieces I encounter about those films or filmmakers. At other times, a small nugget of an idea can also spark my desire to write a long-form piece exploring a certain facet of a film or filmmaker. Short-form criticism can toss off little kernels of ideas that make me resolve to test those insights during my next viewing of a film or filmmaker.

Sometimes a short-form post/tweet/status update can play the role of a catalyst, sparking a conversation that erupts with ideas. An example might be a Facebook thread about a divisive film that stimulates a healthy debate and results in a staking out of multiple positions. This happened recently on Corey Creekmur's page; a fascinating thread on BLACK SWAN racked up dozens of interesting comments. Collectively viewed, this thread contained as much or more substance than almost any long-form piece I've read about the film.

February 12, 2011 5:15 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Thanks Girish. I like the idea of the "undeveloped" idea that provokes. In that sense might we think of short-form offering a 21st century Socratic dialog opportunity? ...something more like a conversation, or two-way interaction, or mutually pedagogical? Viewed that way, I see more value in short-form. We understand, then, short-form offering a kind of antidote to some of the limitations of long-form.

Thanks for your thoughts.

February 12, 2011 5:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tucker, I like (and agree with your) characterization of short-form criticism as offering opportunities for "Socratic dialog," "conversation, or two-way interaction," and something "mutually pedagogical." Despite the fact that many (even most?) examples of short-form criticism may not exploit this opportunity fully or well, I think there are numerous critics (including the ones I named above) who have a facility or talent for working in this form, who know how to mine its "mutual-pedagogical" potential...

February 12, 2011 5:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A terrific essay by Deborah Allison on title sequences in American cinema (FILM INTERNATIONAL).

February 14, 2011 1:43 PM  
Blogger Yusef Sayed said...

Wow, thanks for posting this link Girish. I have been greatly interested in learning more about the development and innovations in title sequences recently. This was prompted by revisiting Gaspar Noe's Irreversible last year.

In terms of American cinema, I have always found the totally silent credit sequence at the start of Downey's Greaser's Palace to be a little startling when bearing in mind the often dynamic hurried credit sequences nowadays.

Most recently, I have appreciated the quiet movement through The Social Network's opening credits, after the intense fast-paced dialogue of the opening scene.

A brilliant, illuminating article!

February 14, 2011 2:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Two interesting examples, Yusef! I should add: I found the FILM INTERNATIONAL essay thanks to Superwoman Catherine Grant.

February 14, 2011 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...


"Caboose, I've been enjoying the show because Ignatiy has been doing exactly that: smuggling in and peppering his reviews with a stream of interesting insights, always grounded in his vast film-historical and technical knowledge -- and doing it effortlessly and with charm. It's a joy to watch."

Man, is it really smuggling? It's not like I.V is doing a movie review show for the Stasi or the 700 Club. I'm sure "Ebert Presents" supports a diversity of opinion without having to cater to the bottom line all the time.

February 17, 2011 1:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jake, the kind of show Ignatiy did recently, in which individually took up films which "made him a critic"--Stroheim's FOOLISH WIVES, Griffith's TRUE HEART SUSIE, especially Godard's HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA--would almost certainly not have appeared or been mentioned in any of the previous incarnations of Ebert's shows (with Siskel, Roeper, etc). I'm skeptical about the extent of the diversity of opinion which you mention. I suspect at least 95% (if not more) of the viewers watching the episode had never seen any part of HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA. To expose this vast percentage of viewers to a radical, challenging work like HISTOIRE(S) is definitely (in my book) an act of "smuggling".

February 17, 2011 1:53 PM  
Blogger Rahul Banerjee said...

why do you say that watching a film in its entirely as opposed to bits and pieces is a dialectical exercise? dialectics in philosophy is the process of evolution of a synthesised understanding from the original thesis and its anti-thesis. this could happen in a bits and pieces viewing as well as in a one sitting viewing.

February 19, 2011 6:15 AM  
Blogger Yusef Sayed said...


As I understood Girish's argument, the dialectical engagement referred to promotes a cinephilia that synthesises long form film writing (in this case this could be understood to be the thesis) and short form Twitter posts and Facebook comments (the antithesis). Similarly watching films right through in the cinema and in bits and pieces on DVD, or VOD can all form part of a healthy cinephilia.

I hope that this clarifies the argument. Girish, I don't mean to step on your toes here.

February 20, 2011 8:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Yusef. That's exactly right.

Good to hear from you, Rahul. I hope you've been well. If you read the Filmkrant piece (particularly its conclusion), you'll see that the "dialectical engagement" has to do with the relationship between traditional long-form writing on cinema (books and essays) and short-form writing (on Facebook, Twitter, blogs), just as Yusef said.

Working on a new post, should have it up within the next day or so...

February 20, 2011 9:03 AM  

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