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12 January 2005

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Vince Keenan

I'm glad to see you young, hip, posturing word-slingers step up to the plate, particularly after a disappointing Slate Movie Club.

As for the role that bloggers play in film criticism, let me just say this about that. Actually, let me repeat what Dinitia Smith said in yesterday's New York Times article about Marjorie Garber's book 'Shakespeare After All': "(The book) is, in many ways, a return to the time when the critic's primary function was as an enthusiast, to open up the glories of the written word for the reader."

Substitute 'film' for 'the written word,' and that's what blogs are doing.

Britopia

Like the way you get both "The Player" and "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" into the headline.

If you guys are really going Golden Global, television needs a place in the Conversation as well--maybe at the kids' table. "Deadwood" was the best film I saw last year, with the best performance by an actor (Ian McShane). Can we talk about long (i.e., 12-hour) narratives as movies, even if they were made for the box? Kieslowski and Fassbinder did their best work for TV.

Filmbrain

SO glad you picked up on that Britopia!

I'm sure TV will find its way into the conversation -- Aaron is our resident expert on that front.

I think that if epic series like The Sopranos, Deadwood or even Six Feet Under had one director for the entire season, then they might qualify. Though there's a thematic arc over twelve episodes, the use of multiple directors results in something less "whole".

Britopia

I don't quite buy the auteurist angle here. (And I'm writing an old-fashioned auteurist book at the moment, so I have my feet in both camps.)

Look at your second-favorite film, and Aaron's favorite. Do we really think of "Eternal Sunshine" as a Michel Gondry film, as opposed to a Charlie Kaufman film? Why automatically identify films with their directors? (No disrespect to the choreographer of The Madison, of course.)

A friend of mine directed a first-season episode of "The Sopranos," and he found it a very frustrating experience--because his vision always had to come second to the show's. David Chase owns "The Sopranos" more than, say, Richard Linklater owns "Before Sunset." (Linklater would acknowledge as much, given the collaborative nature of that film.) And yet Chase has only officially directed a handful of episodes.

In the spirit of the Cinetrix's Year of the Music Supervisor, I suggest we keep nudging how we talk about cinema, and cinema-like objects, and their makers. We give the arbitrary name "Homer" to two epic series that were cobbled together by a bunch of people. Doesn't mean they can't be compared to an auteurist thing like "Paradise Lost."

Filmbrain

I don't think I'm necessarily being an auteurist if I don't (or can't) consider a season of Deadwood a "film" in the way that I do Berlin Alexanderplatz or The Decalogue. I fully accept film as a collaborative effort (Eternal Sunshine is an EXCELLENT example), but the episodic nature of Deadwood or The Sopranos has the effect (intentionally?) of making it seem very un-filmlike. Fassbinder's film feels like a whole, just broken up into sixty minute portions.

cinetrix

It's funny that you two are listing into an auteurist discussion, if a little alarming.

I think we can all agree that this year's Movie Club pretty much exploded on the launch pad because Edelstein made the mistake of introducing the proceedings by acknowledging the late Pauline Kael as "the elephant in the room." Sure, many of this year's participating critics have been called "Paulettes," but they were all quick to disavow the label--all the while taking scrupulous care to highlight their personal relationships with Ms. Deeper into Movies. That's not criticism, that's namedropping [something Warren Beatty could have told Kael and film bloggers could have told the Movie Club]. It took until the last day for the conversation to get back on track and out of the mire of Kaelier-than-thou sniping.

Here's the thing. No one gives a shit. Not really. Those who might care already know, and the rest won't have their interpretive frameworks rattled by the revelation. Missus Kael--she dead.

So call yourselves "Paulistas" if it reminds you of fond foolish college days protesting apartheid from the shantytowns you erected on your sylvan Ivy League greens. Tony Scott can replay the Harvard-Yale rivalry by taking down Paul Giamatti in Pinch's and Punch's broadsheet. Armond can hector us on Marx. Just don't call it film criticism. Drop the bona fides and give us movie love.

Here's what it sounds like to me: "le Cinéma de papa" has become "le Cinéma de Pauline."

You know what that makes film bloggers, right? The children of the children of Marx and Coca-Cola. We grew up with Siskel's and Ebert's pre-verbal thumbs, not public intellectuals, Cahiers du Cinema, and Henri Langlois. We're enthusiasts.

Kiss kiss bang bang.

dlee

cinetrix, you want movie love? How about this: everytime you mention Tony Scott, I think Tony Scott, the one, the only Tony Scott - the hot-pants and vest wearing, cigar-chomping, all-go, no quit, big balls, Jerry Bruckheimer autuer.

How's that for taking it down a notch?

Eat that, Bazin!

Matt

"I don't quite buy the auteurist angle here . . . Do we really think of Eternal Sunshine as a Michel Gondry film, as opposed to a Charlie Kaufman film? Why automatically identify films with their directors?"

But, then, who's to say that the word 'auteur' must always denote a discussion of the director? Sure, that's usually the case, but Kaufmann is clearly an auteur in his own right -- like Dennis Potter, David O. Selznik or [in my opinion] Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I've always felt that an auteurist approach can be screenplay-, producer- or actor-centric on occasion as well, and that anyone can be an auteur. For this very reason, when it comes to television shows that have the same writing team of a season, I think that television is very much worth discussing -- even in auteurist discourse. [Hee hee. I said 'discourse'.]

Dave Heaton

I'm just writing to second the notion expressed above of "the critic as enthusiast" being something missing from film criticism today, something bloggers have that your average daily newspaper critic certainly doesnt. I spend more time writing about music than film, and I was struck recently by a indie record label owner's comment that critics too often fail to see themselves as 'patrons of the arts'. Instead everyone's trying to be the high-and-mighty gatekeeper.

I'm not saying all criticism should be positive, but a key problem with movie criticism lately is that everyone's adopted the voice of the all-knowing ("this is the most important film this year", "the best comedy since such-and-such") - using words and phrases like "clearly" and "everyone knows that", stating opinions as Truth, instead of just writing honestly about what they feel passionate about. I guess passion doesnt sell newspapers, or at least that's the thinking.

dlee

A more serious reply on this subject (though in quick response to Matt's point about the autuer possibility being in the writer, producer, or actor - and it is said elsewhere here - film is a director's medium, stage and TV are writers'. And dreamy Andy Sarris ruined the party for everybody. But I ask myself: who's the real autuer, Tony Scott or Jerry Bruckheimer?) also in response to the "critic as enthusiast":

A few years ago, I directed a play. The main conceit of the play was that it was completely improvised, from rehearsal to curtain, but it told the same story every night. The play was well received amongst the people who paid to to see it but was almost completely savaged in the theatre critics' coffee klatch (we did get an "ingenious new form of theatre"). And I mean savaged in what I thought was a particularly irresponsible way: no explication, no struggle with form, just "it's just no good."

Frustrated, and perhaps being a little bratty, I put together a little "symposium" of working aritists, writers, actors, directors, and critics where they would watch the play and talk about new types of theatre, dramatic conventions, and critical responsibility. No critics showed up. When I asked my publicist what the deal was, he told me that when he called them to cajole them into coming, all he got was a big, fat "I don't care about this."

"I don't care about this"? I mean, this is their job. That's like me saying, "I don't care about making movies and plays."

Anyway, a long way of saying that bloggers remind me that there are a bunch of smart people, writing intelligently and passionately about the arts and that is heartening. I'd much rather all you all seeing my movie and telling me what you think instead of a bunch of critics who just don't care (unless of course that critic is Roger Ebert, or that dude Roeper, or Tony Scott, or...).

Aaron

One quick note on dlee's comment: I find it fascinating that people give Bruckheimer as much creative responsibility for films under his banner as they do to even contemplate joking about calling him an auteur. All you have to do is watch Jerry Bruckheimer-produced films that are good (a few do exist) to see that while the majority follow similar formula's and I'm sure he has creative input, the better the director, the better the film. Bruckheimer doesn't turn directors into Michael Bay; he just keeps choosing directors of a similar sensibility. With the number of things Bruckheimer produces, there's not time for him to actually pay intricate detail to any one project. But a Tony Scott directed film like Black Hawk Down or even a Gore Verbinski-directed film like Pirates of the Caribbean are better movies becaue they're made by better filmmakers.

I would be more ready to give Bruckheimer his own genre than really to attribute any sort of auteur status to him.

Matt

"...film is a director's medium, stage and TV are writers..."

Usually, yeah, but I maintain that an auteurist argument can be used to discuss Charlie Kaufman, David O. Selznick or even Jerry Bruckheimer as well. Or Will Ferrell.

[What's interesting to me is that you can also discuss the films of Charlie Kaufman from a traditional director-centric auteurist perspective. Collaboration beteen writer and director really is the key when it comes to Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine.]

Luke

I don't know that the term 'auteur' applies to any of these, but I typically think of Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine as Kaufman films, and Elf and Anchorman as Will Ferrel films. The rule of thumb remains, however, that a film is primarily the director's film in that he has the largest impact on whether or not it will be any good. The writer is second in impact. Thusly and obviously, if a writer-director makes a film, it's certainly 'their' film.

Filmbrain

Luke -- your last statement is correct, and, I fear, the reason there are so many bad films made today, especially by young directors. So many promising new directors turn in 2nd and 3rd rate product due to their egocentric desire to write and direct. Sure, there are some out there who pull it off, but more often that not I sit there *wishing* the director had worked with a screenwriter!

Matt

I swear, the scariest day of my life [if it happens] will be the day the film bloggers review my first feature.

Britopia

A-friggin'-men to Filmbrain's thoughts. How many official writing credits did Hitchcock have after 1932? Zero. Did he shape every page of his scripts? Absolutely. But he understood the division of labor, and especially the talents in writing dialogue that many of his collaborators had.

Frankly, this impulse to be director, writer, editor, producer, and (shudder) actor shows a fundamental lack of respect for the complexity of moviemaking. It doesn't diminish your authority to recognize your limitations. I'm not a fan of Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino in any case, but just think how much better some of their films might have been if they hadn't performed in them.

In American terms, it's all Woody Allen's fault. But he honed a career selling jokes and doing stand up (i.e., writing and acting) before he ever made a movie. The misunderstandings of the auteur theory are also responsible for the problem. But look at the people the Cahiers guys were singling out as auteurs--studio "hacks" like Howard Hawks, who "only" directed.

My god, I sound like an old crank. But it's true, all true.

Filmbrain

Perfectly stated, Britopia.

We need a return of the great writer-director pairings: Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond, Frank Capra/Robert Riskin, Marcel Carné/Jacques Prévert, Powell/Pressburger, Kurosawa/Shinobu Hashimoto (or Hideo Oguni), Scorsese/Schrader, Coen/Coen, etc.

There have been many films in the last several years by directors with a heck of a lot of talent that were ruined...ruined!...by a crap screenplay.

David Hudson

Funny you should mention Woody Allen, though, Britopia, because it had me immediately thinking of Chaplin and Keaton. If wonder if films so completely stamped by a single personality/persona are, in fact, not the wrong way to go when it comes to comedy. Tati also comes to mind.

Maybe because comedies are parallel worlds and "unreal" (even if only slightly skewed), and to work, every aspect of that world has to be of a piece?

Britopia

I agree with you, David, on the comedy issue. Though you stack the deck a little by citing three of the greatest filmmakers of all time--and people, in Chaplin and Keaton’s cases, who were accomplished vaudevillians before they hit the movies. These aren’t NYU students or video-store clerks assuming they can figure out the art of acting.

I’d add that the three you cite were all silent comedians (Tati by choice, of course, rather than necessity). In those cases, writing and directing excluded a fundamental aspect of post-1930 humor: the spoken word. (As undoubtedly unfair evidence of Chaplin’s failure as a wordsmith, I give you the final speech from “The Great Dictator.”)

Look, by comparison, at the Marx Brothers--writers and actors who let the likes of Leo McCarey direct. And how many movies did Preston Sturges star in? Makes you realize the significance of Woody’s accomplishments--back when he was still accomplishing.

Luke

And interesting filmmaker to discuss in light of auteur theory is Shyamalan. Though he was first known for his screenwriting ability (best evident in The Sixth Sense), The Village might indicate that becoming more of an 'auteur' has actually weakened his writing.

David Hudson

Excellent points. Britopia. I think you have me convinced. Just now, I was trying to think of any American comedian since Woody Allen who writes and directs and comes even close to matching that body of work from about the mid-70s through the mid-80s (with several very notable works thereafter as well [yes, I'm looking at his page at the IMDb right now]).

I'm a big fan of Albert Brooks, but no. Not at all.

I'm also glad you note that your poking gently at the final speech of The Great Dictator is a little unfair. Not for a moment am I going to argue that it's a "good" speech (though, of course, overall, it is a great film); but it was, all things considered - Chaplin's own sensibilities, the "lights going out all over Europe," the sheer dare making the film represented in the first place - the right speech in the right movie at the right time.

Luke

Actually, count me out of this one. I can't say anything about auteurs on the same level as Britopia and David, who obviously know much more about film than I do. I'll leave this one to the pros and back off to shout 'Dogville rules!' from the darkness and look for who grimaces and who accidentally lets slip a quickly-disguised smile.

dvd

Just a quick note regarding Eternal Sunshine: Michel Gondry came up with the idea and presented it to Kaufman, who wrote the script. As anyone who's read the script knows, there were some bookends taking place in the distant future -- pretty terrible material, actually -- which Gondry removed, among a few other things. The credit for the script goes entirely to Kaufman, as it should, and I think this is a perfect example of a writer-director pairing; the film is uniformly both of theirs, whereas I tend to agree that the Kaufman/Jonze collaborations are more easy to think of as 'Kaufman films.'

I believe Gondry is writing his next film (The Science Of Sleep) himself, if I remember correctly. It'll be interesting to see how that effects the final project -- to see if he has any limitations, essentially.

Matt

Anything the comes directly from Gondry's head is scary.

David Hudson

Ach, Luke, let's not count you out. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns and defending Dogville against all comers.

Dvd (look at me, pretending I don't know who you are [g]), I didn't know that about the sci-fi bookends in Kaufman's original script. As for Eternal (which I loved as well) being both of theirs, I couldn't agree more.

I adored the way Gondry tucked the CGI into the reality of the film so that it'd never (well, hardly ever) call attention to itself; loved the 'everydayness,' in fact, of all the tech in the film, almost as if the tech that makes it possible for the entire engine of the plot to run is brushed aside - the matter-of-factness of the doc's office that looks like any other (and actually, it's rather downscale, isn't it), the use of tape recorders rather than some sleek digital gadget and so on. And then, Gondry's choices to narrow remembered spaces rather than widen them in some faux vision of what the landscape of the mind might look like.

The list goes on. But the brilliance of the screenplay is well and equally matched by Gondry's realization.

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