Not often I get interested in reading articles by well-known critics as most look and feel like "cinema classes" ... but there are always exceptions and today I found two articles that I want to share with you all. This is a copy/paste of the first one.
June 17, 2011
Sometimes a Vegetable Is Just a Vegetable
By A. O. SCOTT and MANOHLA DARGIS
ON May 1 The New York Times Magazine published an article, “Reaching for Culture That Remains Stubbornly Above My Grasp,” in which Dan Kois wrote about watching certain critically regarded movies, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris,” that he likened to eating his “cultural vegetables.” In the June 5 Arts & Leisure section the chief film critics of The Times, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, defended such films, adding to a vigorous, sometimes fractious discussion about so-called boring and slow films that is still continuing, lighting up the blogosphere and beyond, and inspiring hundreds of readers’ comments. They invited Mr. Kois to join them in the still-simmering conversation.
DAN KOIS So often the things we write sort of flicker and die, and it’s been gratifying to watch this discussion spreading across the film-loving parts of the Internet.
I’m not surprised that the response from critics in particular has been mostly hostile; I made jokes, after all, about a lot of critics’ favorite movies, and critics are critics because they take taste personally. In part it defines them.
But these issues — of public and private taste and the ways they intersect — are becoming more germane for civilians as well, as Facebook and Goodreads and Yelp and Netflix urge us every day to share our Likes and four-star ratings with the world. And I think it’s a source of anxiety for many, as it is for me: this sense of wanting to stay engaged with the culture, both high and low, but feeling, rightfully, that we no longer have the energy to take it all in.
Most full-time critics naturally consume, as Tony Scott puts it, a varied cinematic diet. But for noncritics the expense (in cash and, often as crucially, in time) forces a set of ruthless calculations whenever a new film is praised by reviewers or friends. In that context aspirational viewing is risky — whether those unfamiliar flavors are the populist blockbusters you often dislike but feel you oughtn’t miss, or the slow-moving art films you’re worried you’ll appreciate without actually enjoying.
So my question for you two is: Do you ever engage in aspirational viewing? Are there styles of filmmaking or individual directors you simply can’t access, but keep sampling in hopes of finally breaking through? I don’t mean things that are just terrible, like “The Hangover Part II”; I mean movies you genuinely wish you could get excited about and feel guilty (yes, Manohla, really guilty!) that you can’t. What’s your cultural vegetable?
A. O. SCOTT A lot depends on what is being aspired to, and in the name of what. A place at some imaginary cultural grown-ups’ table where people speak in hushed tones about exquisite masterpieces? A domain of art where experiences are more difficult and perhaps more intense than in the easygoing, thrill-a-minute realm of pop culture?
I guess my own aspirations are always to see something interesting, and ideally something that will challenge my expectations and prejudices and show me something new about life, love, art, whatever. I don’t believe that certain kinds of work have a monopoly on offering this kind of experience, and the history of movies as a popular art form proves as much. So I don’t want to get pigeonholed as a snob or an elitist, or as someone who believes that one kind of movie is a priori better than another. Thinking in categories — high and low, trash and art, entertaining and “serious” — is a shortcut and an obstacle, and it leads inevitably to name calling and accusations of bad faith. “You’re a snob!” “Well, you’re a philistine!”
The suspicion that only certain kinds of people like certain kinds of movies slides into contempt for the movies themselves, which flourishes on both sides of the supposed high-low divide, and other divisions as well. Action movies are for guys; romantic comedies are for girls; animation is for kids; subtitled movies are for skinny people dressed in black. And so on.
Our job as critics— our mission as freethinking, curious, pleasure-seeking human beings — should be to smash these categories, which are at bottom self-reinforcing artifacts of the tyranny of marketing. Duke Ellington said there are only two kinds of music, good and bad. William Blake said: “To generalize is to be an idiot. Particularization is the alone distinction of merit.” Figuring out how to respect the particulars is difficult enough without falling into the traps of groupthink and pop sociology.
But what was your question? I don’t feel guilty about not caring for “Last Year at Marienbad“ or persisting in my skepticism that the films of Pedro Costa are as transcendent as some of my colleagues believe. But until I can argue my case, the benefit of the doubt goes to Mr. Costa and the burden of proof rests on me.
MANOHLA DARGIS Having an open mind is my only form of aspirational viewing, which is partly why I also think it’s good to resist categories (like cultural vegetables). The critic who insists that every movie in an art house is art and that every major Hollywood release is trash just reaffirms prejudices (aesthetic, ideological, political) instead of looking at the movie with a Zen-like beginner’s mind. Each of us has preferences, of course, that are shaped by our life histories, and we nurture those likes and sometimes abandon them for different reasons, including education and habit. But it’s a problem when critics try to rationalize their preferences — their so-called taste — into a proscribed idea of cinema. And, Dan, I have to think that it’s this proscriptive urge by critics that partly inspired your original article.
KOIS Well, the at times overheated response to my piece has certainly increased my awareness of critical factionalism and the flair some critics have for being proscriptive bullies. (I’m sure there are people who think of me the same way.) Like most thoughtful readers, though, I usually read writers whose insights give me pleasure, not guilt: writers who are catholic in their tastes and honest in their enthusiasms. The guilt, really, comes from inside, specifically the part of me that’s an uncertain college student, terrified I’m not keeping up.
That’s why it’s hard to take offense when critics, spurred by genuine love for individual films, push back against my piece. Just because I appreciated “Blue” and “Tulpan” more than I enjoyed them doesn’t mean I don’t adore reading smart critics passionately make a case for those films.
Which brings me to the most succinct and potent response I’ve read, posted as a comment on The Times’s Web site by Johnny from El Paso. In just a few sentences he demolished my central metaphor, articulated your concerns about the dangers of categories and penned a pitch-perfect review of a film that I feel certain my philistinism won’t stop curious viewers from seeking out. “ ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is not ‘cultural vegetables,” Johnny wrote. “It’s a steak. Bring your A-1 and chew on it.”
SCOTT “The one thing I most emphatically do not ask of a critic is that he tell me what I ought to approve or condemn.”
That’s W. H. Auden, from “The Dyer’s Hand,” the first dozen pages of which — a series of epigrammatic musings on “Reading” — may be all the theory any critic needs. Old Wystan did not much care about movies, but about criticism he was never wrong.
To wit: “Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.”
And somewhat astonishingly, given our interest in vegetables: “You do not educate a person’s palate by telling him that what he has been in the habit of eating — watery, overboiled cabbage, let us say — is disgusting, but by persuading him to try a dish of vegetables which have been properly cooked. With some people, it is true, you seem to get quicker results by telling them — ‘Only vulgar people like overcooked cabbage; the best people like cabbage as the Chinese cook it’ — but the results are less likely to be lasting.”
DARGIS Dan, I didn’t “enjoy” watching “Shoah,” but I do appreciate it: it’s a long and slow film, and its protracted length is essential to its meaning. Duration is a crucial issue here, and some of the recent discussion about slow (if not boring, at least to some of us) films revisits arguments over what has previously been termed Slow Cinema. In the February 2010 issue of Sight and Sound, the British critic Jonathan Romney characterized Slow Cinema as films that are “poetic, contemplative — cinema that downplays event in favor of mood, evocativeness and an intensified sense of temporality.” He added, “Such films highlight the viewing process itself as a real-time experience in which, ideally, you become acutely aware of every minute, every second spent watching.”
As with other critical coinages, Slow Cinema can easily become misleading shorthand for work that is very different. The truth is that questions of time have preoccupied filmmakers long before Kelly Reichardt, the director of “Meek’s Cutoff.” Filmmakers isolate time (as in the empty hallway shots in films by Yasujiro Ozu, images in which nothing appears to be happening); embody time (the “tirednesses and waitings” of Antonioni, as the philosopher Gilles Deleuze put it); make time stutter (the jump cuts in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless”); slow it down (the long takes of Bela Tarr); and deconstruct it (as the avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs does). Without going too deeply down an academic rabbit hole let’s acknowledge that when we talk about ostensibly slow and boring films, the terms of debate extend beyond issues of entertainment.
Deleuze, for instance, distinguishes between pre-World War II cinema, in which time was subordinate to movement (the passage of time obscured through classical techniques like those of continuity editing), and postwar cinema, in which a direct vision of time emerges. In this new cinema — with its discontinuities, sense of interiority and seer-subjects — time appears “for itself,” becomes something movies confront even if their characters (and maybe we too) don’t know what it means. And so characters in “L’Avventura“ wander around and forget that a woman has disappeared, and Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, stuck in her horror of a life turning tricks out of her dismal middle-class home, makes a meat loaf in real time we share. They are, as Deleuze puts it, “struck by something intolerable in the world, and confronted by something unthinkable in thought.” Sometimes a slow movie is just a slow movie, but sometimes it’s also a window onto the world.
To read article at the New York Times please go here.