Film Criticism

A subforum to discuss film culture and criticism both old and new, as well as memorializing public figures we've lost.
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domino harvey
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Re: Film Criticism

#1051 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:45 pm

He wrote it and he put his name on it, period

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hearthesilence
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Re: Film Criticism

#1052 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:11 pm

If you want to view it that simply, you can do that.

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domino harvey
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Re: Film Criticism

#1053 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:25 pm

How much more complex is it? It's not like he apologized for his words or intent, he just blamed the paper's editors for encouraging him.

It's also telling that furbicide's defense of Rosenbaum against my characterization of him predictably concluded with "What other critic was praising the movie I like?" Like I suspect everyone else on this forum, there's plenty of movies and directors I enjoy as much as Rosenbaum does. So what? That isn't a defense against his behavior, demeanor, or output. Equating Bordwell and Rosenbaum's behavior in this spat as equally questionable is evidence either of someone not bothering to actually read what happened or showing a blind allegiance to their leader, much like Trump's unwavering 30% block of supporters (a completely unfair comparison made in honor of the man who paved the way for such rhetoric)

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hearthesilence
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Re: Film Criticism

#1054 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:40 pm

He clarified his words and intent during the fallout. Is it really necessary for him to actually say "sorry" if editorial decided to take what he wrote in another direction?

The spat against Bordwell is asinine, so much that I really have no interest in discussing it, much less defending it.

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whaleallright
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Re: Film Criticism

#1055 Post by whaleallright » Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:50 pm

If you think an editor twisted your words to such an extent that the editorial no longer represents your intended meaning, you can withdraw it. It happens all the time. Hell, I even withdrew a letter to the editor from my local paper after the editor decided to cut out the more vituperative stuff about my (really really terrible) congressperson.

But honestly Rosenbaum has plenty of opportunities to stretch out and write at greater length about Bergman or anything else at greater length, if he wanted to do so. I'm sure any of the major film magazines would publish a longer piece by him if it was timely and/or interesting. But Rosenbaum either has chosen not to write longer essays or is no longer capable of doing so. His criticism these days largely consists of his "Global Discoveries" column in CinemaScope, which is just a series of stray observations about movies motivated by whatever he's watched at home over he past few months; occasional social-media posts of the kind that got him in trouble recently; and sometimes slightly revised versions of old pieces he posts on his website. So the idea that the Times did him a disservice by chipping away at his brilliant critique of Bergman until it was the husk of an argument rings a little false to me. All he seems capable of these days, alas, are these brief sorties. That wouldn't be so regrettable if he hadn't proved himself, in an earlier era, capable of better-than-decent writing on film (I think domino is being unfairly dismissive here; has he read any of Rosenbaum's books? they all have good stuff in them).

And anyway, Bordwell already critiqued Rosenbaum's Times piece in a way I think is fairly definitive. I'll quote the relevant passage at length:
David Bordwell wrote:More importantly, Jonathan’s critique is so glancing and elliptical that we can scarcely judge it as right or wrong. A few instances:

*Bergman’s movies aren’t “filmic expressions.” There’s no opportunity in an Op-Ed piece for Jonathan to explain what his conception of filmic expression is. Is he reviving the old idea of cinematic specificity—a kind of essence of cinema that good movies manifest? As opposed to theatrical cinema? I’ve argued elsewhere on this site that we should probably be pluralistic about all the possibilities of the medium.

*Bergman was reluctant to challenge “conventional film-going habits.” Why is that bad? Why is challenging them good? No time to explain, must move on….

*Bergman didn’t follow Dreyer in experimenting with space, or Bresson in experimenting with performance. Not more than .0001 % of Times readers have the faintest idea what Jonathan is talking about here. He would need to explain what he takes to be Dreyer’s experiments with space and Bresson’s experiments with performance.

In his reply to Roger Ebert, Jonathan has kindly referenced a book of mine, where I make the case that Dreyer experimented with cinematic space (and time). Right: I wrote a book. It takes a book to make such a case. It would take a book to explain and back up in an intellectually satisfying way the charges that Jonathan makes.

Popular journalism doesn’t allow you to cite sources, counterpose arguments, develop subtle cases. No time! No space! No room for specialized explanations that might mystify ordinary readers! So when the critic proposes a controversial idea, he has to be brief, blunt, and absolute. If pressed, and still under the pressure of time and column inches, he will wave us toward other writers, appeal to intuition and authority, say that a broadside is really just aimed to get us thinking and talking. But what have we gained by sprays of soundbites? Provocations are always welcome, but if they really aim to change our thinking, somebody has to work them through.
It's worth clarifying that Bordwell is no major Bergman fan (nor much of a fan of the other big midcentury auteurs like Antonioni and Fellini). So his criticism of Rosenbaum's piece isn't motivated by the desire to defend his cherished object of cinephilic love, but rather by his objection to the kind of hit-and-run discourse it exemplifies.

The question becomes -- if the sort of arguments Rosenbaum was alluding to in his op-ed required much greater length to explicate, much less thoroughly support, why bother publishing it in the first place? From the Times's point of view, the answer is obvious: more clicks (even or especially if they are hate-clicks). For Rosenbaum? An opportunity to sock it to the Bergmanphiles one last time? A chance to appear in the Grey Lady? I dunno....

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BenoitRouilly
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Re: Film Criticism

#1056 Post by BenoitRouilly » Sat Feb 02, 2019 7:03 pm

If a critic (whose job it is to master rhetorics and analysis) can be manipulated by an editor to such extent that the final piece lost any resemblance to the original intent, then who is equipped to resist to such manipulation? Who is the author? Editor or critic?
Like Domino said, he signed his Op-Ed, so he endorsed the paternity. It's lame to then blame the NYT for the loopholes in his arguments...
Last edited by BenoitRouilly on Sat Feb 02, 2019 8:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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hearthesilence
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Re: Film Criticism

#1057 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Feb 02, 2019 7:57 pm

whaleallright wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:50 pm
If you think an editor twisted your words to such an extent that the editorial no longer represents your intended meaning, you can withdraw it. It happens all the time. Hell, I even withdrew a letter to the editor from my local paper after the editor decided to cut out the more vituperative stuff about my (really really terrible) congressperson.

But honestly Rosenbaum has plenty of opportunities to stretch out and write at greater length about Bergman or anything else at greater length, if he wanted to do so. I'm sure any of the major film magazines would publish a longer piece by him if it was timely and/or interesting. But Rosenbaum either has chosen not to write longer essays or is no longer capable of doing so. His criticism these days largely consists of his "Global Discoveries" column in CinemaScope, which is just a series of stray observations about movies motivated by whatever he's watched at home over he past few months; occasional social-media posts of the kind that got him in trouble recently; and sometimes slightly revised versions of old pieces he posts on his website. So the idea that the Times did him a disservice by chipping away at his brilliant critique of Bergman until it was the husk of an argument rings a little false to me. All he seems capable of these days, alas, are these brief sorties. That wouldn't be so regrettable if he hadn't proved himself, in an earlier era, capable of better-than-decent writing on film (I think domino is being unfairly dismissive here; has he read any of Rosenbaum's books? they all have good stuff in them).

And anyway, Bordwell already critiqued Rosenbaum's Times piece in a way I think is fairly definitive. I'll quote the relevant passage at length:
David Bordwell wrote:More importantly, Jonathan’s critique is so glancing and elliptical that we can scarcely judge it as right or wrong. A few instances:

*Bergman’s movies aren’t “filmic expressions.” There’s no opportunity in an Op-Ed piece for Jonathan to explain what his conception of filmic expression is. Is he reviving the old idea of cinematic specificity—a kind of essence of cinema that good movies manifest? As opposed to theatrical cinema? I’ve argued elsewhere on this site that we should probably be pluralistic about all the possibilities of the medium.

*Bergman was reluctant to challenge “conventional film-going habits.” Why is that bad? Why is challenging them good? No time to explain, must move on….

*Bergman didn’t follow Dreyer in experimenting with space, or Bresson in experimenting with performance. Not more than .0001 % of Times readers have the faintest idea what Jonathan is talking about here. He would need to explain what he takes to be Dreyer’s experiments with space and Bresson’s experiments with performance.

In his reply to Roger Ebert, Jonathan has kindly referenced a book of mine, where I make the case that Dreyer experimented with cinematic space (and time). Right: I wrote a book. It takes a book to make such a case. It would take a book to explain and back up in an intellectually satisfying way the charges that Jonathan makes.

Popular journalism doesn’t allow you to cite sources, counterpose arguments, develop subtle cases. No time! No space! No room for specialized explanations that might mystify ordinary readers! So when the critic proposes a controversial idea, he has to be brief, blunt, and absolute. If pressed, and still under the pressure of time and column inches, he will wave us toward other writers, appeal to intuition and authority, say that a broadside is really just aimed to get us thinking and talking. But what have we gained by sprays of soundbites? Provocations are always welcome, but if they really aim to change our thinking, somebody has to work them through.
It's worth clarifying that Bordwell is no major Bergman fan (nor much of a fan of the other big midcentury auteurs like Antonioni and Fellini). So his criticism of Rosenbaum's piece isn't motivated by the desire to defend his cherished object of cinephilic love, but rather by his objection to the kind of hit-and-run discourse it exemplifies.

The question becomes -- if the sort of arguments Rosenbaum was alluding to in his op-ed required much greater length to explicate, much less thoroughly support, why bother publishing it in the first place? From the Times's point of view, the answer is obvious: more clicks (even or especially if they are hate-clicks). For Rosenbaum? An opportunity to sock it to the Bergmanphiles one last time? A chance to appear in the Grey Lady? I dunno....
I’m at another film that’s about to start so will follow up later but really quick, you’ve exaggerated the situation by saying what was published was a husk of its former self. There is a middle ground where what you have published isn’t what you’re wholly satisfied with. The last paragraph of your quote from Bordwell also fleshes out what I was trying to get across before about these writing assignments. And a letter to the editor (a reader voluntarily submitting written opinions) is not the same as a freelance professional doing a writing assignment, it’s a completely different dynamic.

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furbicide
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Re: Film Criticism

#1058 Post by furbicide » Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:55 am

domino harvey wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:25 pm
It's also telling that furbicide's defense of Rosenbaum against my characterization of him predictably concluded with "What other critic was praising the movie I like?" Like I suspect everyone else on this forum, there's plenty of movies and directors I enjoy as much as Rosenbaum does. So what? That isn't a defense against his behavior, demeanor, or output.
That’s not what I’m saying, though. It’s not that he merely liked films I like; it’s that he constantly promoted and fostered discussion on important films and filmmakers that were at the time critically or commercially neglected (there are precious few critics who have worked harder to push discussion beyond the content of existing canons than Rosenbaum – I think that’s something people can agree on regardless if they like the same films as him). That’s a hugely important role in criticism and is worlds away from merely having “good taste”.

(Also, I didn’t post this as a defence of the Bordwell comments – I agree that this is irrelevant in that context – but rather the broader dismissals of his work as a critic.)

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hearthesilence
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Re: Film Criticism

#1059 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Feb 03, 2019 2:41 am

BenoitRouilly wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 7:03 pm
If a critic (whose job it is to master rhetorics and analysis) can be manipulated by an editor to such extent that the final piece lost any resemblance to the original intent, then who is equipped to resist to such manipulation? Who is the author? Editor or critic?
This is a little over-the-top and you're not considering the context. This is an editorial for a mainstream metropolitan newspaper with a broad audience. They're not going to publish something that's a comfortable fit for Cinema-Scope. That alone dictates a different set of expectations on what can be written, which Bordwell nailed as a likely problem:
David Bordwell wrote:Popular journalism doesn’t allow you to cite sources, counterpose arguments, develop subtle cases. No time! No space! No room for specialized explanations that might mystify ordinary readers! So when the critic proposes a controversial idea, he has to be brief, blunt, and absolute. If pressed, and still under the pressure of time and column inches, he will wave us toward other writers, appeal to intuition and authority, say that a broadside is really just aimed to get us thinking and talking. But what have we gained by sprays of soundbites? Provocations are always welcome, but if they really aim to change our thinking, somebody has to work them through.
-----
whaleallright wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:50 pm
The question becomes -- if the sort of arguments Rosenbaum was alluding to in his op-ed required much greater length to explicate, much less thoroughly support, why bother publishing it in the first place? From the Times's point of view, the answer is obvious: more clicks (even or especially if they are hate-clicks). For Rosenbaum? An opportunity to sock it to the Bergmanphiles one last time? A chance to appear in the Grey Lady? I dunno....
Be a little more sensible, this is what it's like when you're making a living as a freelance writer. (Rosenbaum was working through his final months at the Reader then, which was in dire straits - he was going to leave after accepting a buyout.) Gigs are sporadic, and the pay can be erratic, especially nowadays when the rates are lower than what they were decades ago. If a publication like the New York Times is offering a writing gig, it's going to be very difficult to turn it down.

Also, the problems pointed out by Bordwell are irritating. But as already mentioned elsewhere, the piece doesn't actually dismiss Bergman's work outright - it explicitly argues that his great theater work is more worthy of his lofty reputation as an artist.

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BenoitRouilly
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Re: Film Criticism

#1060 Post by BenoitRouilly » Sun Feb 03, 2019 6:13 am

hearthesilence wrote:
Sun Feb 03, 2019 2:41 am
This is a little over-the-top and you're not considering the context. This is an editorial for a mainstream metropolitan newspaper with a broad audience. They're not going to publish something that's a comfortable fit for Cinema-Scope. That alone dictates a different set of expectations on what can be written, which Bordwell nailed as a likely problem: (...)
Whatever the context, isn't it part of the job of a critic to be able to identify and provide the necessary adjustments for the target publication? It involves choosing the appropriate jargon, the standard word count, the spoilers or not spoilers rule, the tone, the level of controversy or contrarianism... A set of skills well within the capability of any writer, moreover a critic. It's the responsability of a critic to know whether (s)he's capable to fit in the new gig. And by providing their signature they guarantee the conformity of the piece on all these aspects. If critics can't guarantee any they should know better to turn down the gig.
hearthesilence wrote:
Sun Feb 03, 2019 2:41 am
If a publication like the New York Times is offering a writing gig, it's going to be very difficult to turn it down.
Well that is a point to consider indeed. Whether it's because he was flattered by appearing in the NYT or because he needed the money... this should never interfer with the integrity of the job, especially for a critic of all writers. Otherwise the critic is corrupted and his/her message is problematic, unreliable and suspicious. I know reviewers don't generally abid to the code of ethics real critics should, but when we're talking about big names and big publications they must not overlook the integrity of a piece.
The mistake of the NYT editor was to pick the wrong man for the wrong job, and tried to fit a cube into a circular hole. Even if for questionable reasons they wanted to get an hostile attack on Bergman, they used all the wrong parameters to achieve it, and without style or ethics.

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hearthesilence
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Re: Film Criticism

#1061 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:11 pm

BenoitRouilly wrote:
Sun Feb 03, 2019 6:13 am
Whatever the context, isn't it part of the job of a critic to be able to identify and provide the necessary adjustments for the target publication? It involves choosing the appropriate jargon, the standard word count, the spoilers or not spoilers rule, the tone, the level of controversy or contrarianism... A set of skills well within the capability of any writer, moreover a critic. It's the responsability of a critic to know whether (s)he's capable to fit in the new gig.
All of this is moot because the Times got an article they wanted to publish. If it was obvious they weren't going to get something publishable, we wouldn't have seen something. Bear in mind this was an opinion piece, and I usually stay away from that page regardless of the newspaper for reasons Bordwell alluded to - they're not long, expert dissections of an issue, it's about throwing down an opinion.

To be clear, I'm not a fan of pieces like this. I can see why newspapers love to publish them - it covers what's generally a valid if contrarian take on a person or their work, and they get attention (or clicks). But if you were editing a serious arts publication, you wouldn't run something like this, or at least address the point in a different way.

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BenoitRouilly
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Re: Film Criticism

#1062 Post by BenoitRouilly » Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:55 pm

That the NYT wanted to publish a hatchet job, is one thing. Don't you consider the NYT a "serious publication" that should aspire to educate its readers and not merely entertain them with controversies?
Another thing is whether the piece was publishable as is... Full of errors and devoid of substance?
This said, Sight & Sound also publishes click-bait entertainment instead of serious pieces...

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Re: Film Criticism

#1063 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jun 08, 2019 4:53 pm


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BenoitRouilly
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Re: Film Criticism

#1064 Post by BenoitRouilly » Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:14 am

21 years is a long time! A lot longer than at Cahiers (the longest standing editor in chief is Delorme, the current one, with 10 years and counting), where they rotate the head of the journal and the critics quite often.
But leaving now, is like a captain leaving to someon else to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic when it sinks.
Nick James was not a fan of Contemplative Cinema so I won't regret him... (and 9 years after his edito anti-slow cinema, slow cinema is still thriving)
So who is next? Are they hiring?

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Film Criticism

#1065 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:45 am

Nick was a mere beginner compared with the 35-year tenure of his predecessor-but-one Penelope Houston. For a magazine that’s been continuously published since 1932, it’s had remarkably few editors.

And it’s also worth pointing out that while he has his personal prejudices (like all editors and indeed living creatures in general), he never once altered my copy for any reason other than the usual sub-editing ones, and I suspect I wasn’t an eccentric anomaly.

(I remember a hilarious mock-bollocking from him for having the temerity to write a broadly positive review of Lars Von Trier’s The Boss of It All, but the piece still ran as submitted.)

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BenoitRouilly
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Re: Film Criticism

#1066 Post by BenoitRouilly » Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:22 am

What is it with critics (or editors) afraid of positive reviews? As if "criticism" was "being negative" in the colloquial sense...
Or was it because the "auto-tune" film was a critics's trap? (I wonder how much of the legend is true though about LVT leaving a computer at the helm)
In 10 years time, CGI actors will be motion captured like in The Congress and edited by an AI like in The Boss of It All... and critics will do as usual (rate movies with a dartboard, and add up tropes like a crossword puzzle) [irony intended]

I prefer the Cahiers/Positif style of editorials, where the editor takes the pulse of cinema for the current affairs and gives the opinion of the editorial board about it.
Nick James was a bit too self-centric (commenting on HIS festival going habits, HIS job, HIS theatrical experience...) instead of reflecting a team's POV, initiating a debate, decyphering the industry...
But I can't say I've read his editos for 21 years, and I didn't know Penelope Houston.

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Re: Film Criticism

#1067 Post by Lost Highway » Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:27 am

I claim no knowledge of editors but I don’t share the view that critics are afraid of positive reviews. I would think any good critic is hoping to enjoy the film they are about to watch and pass on enthusiasm rather than disdain, otherwise why would they carry on ?

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Re: Film Criticism

#1068 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:37 am

BenoitRouilly wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:22 am
What is it with critics (or editors) afraid of positive reviews? As if "criticism" was "being negative" in the colloquial sense...
Nothing to do with him being "afraid of positive reviews" (the idea is especially hilarious where Nick James is involved) - it was simply that he hated the film and clearly disagreed with my take on it. But he still ran the piece as submitted, as I knew he would.

In nearly seventeen years of writing for Sight & Sound, including an unbroken ten-year-plus stint with my byline in every issue, I've only once had a piece spiked, and that was because it was seen as being a tad too whimsical. Which is fair enough - I was reviewing the Blu-ray of Jaws and, in desperately trying to come up with an original take on it, I alighted on the coincidence of the BD being released at the same time as the UK theatrical release of a certain Hungarian film...
SpoilerShow
Although it’s vanishingly unlikely that a cinema would ever double-bill it with Béla Tarr’s last feature, coincidentally proximate viewings of Jaws and The Turin Horse revealed a surprising number of similarities that may explain why Spielberg’s shark yarn remains so potent today when many far more recent high-concept blockbusters have been long forgotten. Both films posit a situation whereby a relatively minuscule shift in the balance between nature and man (a shark attacks a swimmer, a horse refuses to work) triggers profound consequences (the collapse of a local economy, or of civilisation itself), and the films’ protagonists are faced with the deeply unappetising choice of either venturing outside their hard-won comfort zones or remaining in situ and facing the consequences of their inaction. Mid-point visions of hell (both delivered verbally) and naggingly insistent scores provide further parallels. Obviously, there are fundamental differences – Spielberg will cover pages of dialogue in the time Tarr takes to record a blank-faced stare across a wind-ravaged landscape, and Tarr would doubtless have concluded Jaws with a ten-minute take of the triumphant shark doing a slow victory lap – but both filmmakers display a total mastery of their medium that transcends any difficulties encountered during the shoot, an immaculate eye for the way faces reveal the construction of their owner’s minds (Robert Shaw’s granite-carved shark-hunter Quint, Richard Dreyfuss’ bearded but boyish oceanographer), and above all a willingness to strip their films to the barest essentials in their single-minded pursuit of their primal essence.
I still rather like that, but I can see why they chose not to run it!
Or was it because the "auto-tune" film was a critics's trap? (I wonder how much of the legend is true though about LVT leaving a computer at the helm)
I suspect it was cobblers, but in the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary I was happy to play along with it.
I prefer the Cahiers/Positif style of editorials, where the editor takes the pulse of cinema for the current affairs and gives the opinion of the editorial board about it.
Nick James was a bit too self-centric (commenting on HIS festival going habits, HIS job, HIS theatrical experience...) instead of reflecting a team's POV, initiating a debate, decyphering the industry...
But I can't say I've read his editos for 21 years, and I didn't know Penelope Houston.
I suspect that reflects a different approach in France: I've never personally favoured the "group verdict" approach, because I'm much more interested in individual takes. Which is why I vastly prefer editorials to be signed by an identifiable human being - and in this case a human being that I know personally, so I can gauge exactly how seriously to take it.

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Re: Film Criticism

#1069 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:16 am

I also agree that bylines seem important, at the very least so that a contributor can get credited for their work and be able to point to something that they have written as a reference to other publications if they are looking for more work. I always think the approach taken by the video game magazine Edge is problematic, because no names are used and every review is anonymous, which almost by design ends up putting more weight onto the number rating given to a game. (And as we all know ratings are pretty arbitrary and often there just so that skimmers can quickly find out the worth of a product without spending time to read an article fully!). Although I suppose the benefit of anonymity is that a reviewer would presumably not get personalised hate mail for penning a scathingly negative review of the latest beloved installment of the Harry Potter series, or Pixar film, or so on, with it going to the publication instead! But I would probably say that the very least that reviewers should do is try and stand fully behind and at least attempt to defend what they have written. Although really it seems that most writers do want to be recognised for their work in a more visible way than just getting a paycheck for contributing anonymous content to a publication, and that pressure to be anonymous appears to come more from publications wanting to have the 'voice' of their particular publication take precedence over that of any specific writer, who otherwise could easily move on (or be moved on!) somewhere else and take the readers with them. Maybe that speaks more to the insecurities of particular publications than to the egos of those who write for them?

And also the benefit of having by lines and knowing who is writing what (as well as allowing the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to tot up the ratio of male to female critics more easily! :wink: ) is that it lets a reader build up a relationship with a critic over time and be able to better assess how the critics reaction might line up with their own. For example if any of us has read that paragraph in that review of Jaws I am sure we would have wondered if it was by you, or at least in your style, by the shoehorning in of a pertinent Eastern European film! (In the best possible way of course, that might have drawn new viewers to The Turin Horse!)

It seems that it does not matter so much if a critic 'likes' or 'hates' a film but that they can explain the aspects that they thought worked the best (or alternatively completely ruined) the experience of the work. And hopefully in doing so the reader, especially if they have been reading someone's writing over a long period, can weigh up whether the 'like' or 'hate' elements would be so important to them if they saw the film. Some of the most negative possible reviews have inspired me to track down films that I might not have even thought of before hearing about how apparently terrible they were!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Jun 13, 2019 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Film Criticism

#1070 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jun 13, 2019 12:45 pm

colinr0380 wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:16 am
I also agree that bylines seem important, at the very least so that a contributor can get credited for their work and be able to point to something that they have written as a reference to other publications if they are looking for more work. I always think the approach taken by the video game magazine Edge is problematic, because no names are used and every review is anonymous, which almost by design ends up putting more weight onto the number rating given to a game. (And as we all know ratings are pretty arbitrary and often there just so that skimmers can quickly find out the worth of a product without spending time to read an article fully!). Although I suppose the benefit of anonymity is that a reviewer would presumably not get personalised hate mail for penning a scathingly negative review of the latest beloved installment of the Harry Potter series, or Pixar film, or so on, with it going to the publication instead!
The Economist famously doesn't credit its contributors, which I've always liked because it forces you to pay attention to what's being said without upfront prejudice. Although it helps that they don't apply star ratings.

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Re: Film Criticism

#1071 Post by BenoitRouilly » Thu Jun 13, 2019 1:13 pm

Negative criticism is controversy and controversy sells. Personally I seldom write on films I disliked, but I find it hard to instill an ounce of controversy for the sake of covering both sides of the coin... I tend to merely paint in detail the opening and use cryptic descriptions of the first part (not to spoil wannabe viewers and to wink at already spectators). Just to give an (accurate) taste of the film, without spoiling the experience, and tempt the readers in seeing more. I don't like the reviewers who list all the plotpoints or the gotcha shots, leaving to the readers to discover only the in between moments. This said, the trailers already do this job of revealing all the key shots. However scouting for political metaphores and trademark patterns in the oeuvre is, I find, nebulous and superfluous for the virgin spectatorship. Talking in depth about a film seen is A-OK, but it's not usually the role for weekly reviews.

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Re: Film Criticism

#1072 Post by BenoitRouilly » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:14 pm

MichaelB wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:37 am
In nearly seventeen years of writing for Sight & Sound
So you must have insider's knowledge about the next Editor in Chief... Who will it be? A woman would break the mould of the profession nowadays!

I don't think your paragraph on the Jaws BD whimsical at all, or unfit for print. It's, I would say, ironic and provocative.
But I don't find apples and oranges comparisons productive. Especially about Tarr. You can't "sell" Contemplative Cinema with the commercial rhetoric, and promise it's going to be anything like a blockbuster like Jaws. Elevating Jaws amongst merely commercial blockbusters is one thing (but not at the expense of an auteur struggling to get more than 3 screens on opening weekend). Commodifying a UFO like The Turin Horse is another thing... (it is too easy to extract archetypes and compare any two films). It might amuse hardcore fans, but it's not really helping widen the spectatorship with "If you liked Jaws, you'll like The Turin Horse"
I suspect it was cobblers, but in the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary I was happy to play along with it.

I bet LVT wanted to get a rating of his film without the stigma around his name, as if he didn't direct it, and invented this machine that cuts on its own. But he designed the machine that cuts on cue, so it's all his own doing anywhichway.
I suspect that reflects a different approach in France: I've never personally favoured the "group verdict" approach, because I'm much more interested in individual takes. Which is why I vastly prefer editorials to be signed by an identifiable human being - and in this case a human being that I know personally, so I can gauge exactly how seriously to take it.
Well the Cahiers/Positif writers are not anonymous. They are individuals voices (even if some of them have initials signature. It's only the editorial that looks different. But the cult of the author's charisma and the minutiae of daily life seems to be an English (or American rather) invention and preference of the public.

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tenia
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Re: Film Criticism

#1073 Post by tenia » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:38 pm

Lost Highway wrote:I claim no knowledge of editors but I don’t share the view that critics are afraid of positive reviews. I would think any good critic is hoping to enjoy the film they are about to watch and pass on enthusiasm rather than disdain, otherwise why would they carry on ?
That's the take of Positif (especially Ciment), notoriously : never publish before the release date a negative review, and only do bigger reviews of movies they find deserving.
Nobody wants to take too much time on something they think isn't worthy anyway, even if it can be fun to trash some movies.

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MichaelB
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Re: Film Criticism

#1074 Post by MichaelB » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:50 am

Anyone who fancies a crack at Penelope Houston's 35-year record of editing Sight & Sound can apply here.
tenia wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:38 pm
Nobody wants to take too much time on something they think isn't worthy anyway, even if it can be fun to trash some movies.
A couple of decades ago, I had a chat with Jonathan Romney about this very issue - he'd just left the Guardian after an epiphany while viewing a long-forgotten comedy called A Night at the Roxbury, which caused him to ask himself "why am I sitting there watching this crap and why will I then spend an hour or two writing about this crap when none of my readers will be the slightest bit interested in watching it and nobody is seriously interested in what I have to say about it?" Which led him to ponder why the paper sought to cover every film that opened commercially, when it was far more selective about pretty much every other medium, and which led him to the conclusion that despite having what many would consider an enviable job, he felt his talents could be put to better use elsewhere.

Shortly after our conversation, he found a much cushier berth at the Independent on Sunday where his job was to review just one or two films per week, which allowed him to pick only the ones that he was actually interested in.


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