Apr 12, 2014

Critics + film technique = Auterism 3.0

From my piece about film criticism for The Guardian:—
'...The only thing lacking from internet film appreciation — and it’s a telling blind spot, encouraged by the mole-tunnel solipsism of the internet itself — is a sense of the movies as a communal experience. The audience has been vaporised. These young film critics are burrowers, not broadcasters. To read them is to imagine a cinema filled to the brim only with film critics, balding, bearded and bespectacled, all feverishly taking notes on deep-focus mise-en-scène.   "The editor wanted me to concentrate on the plot and characterizations and performances because, well, you know, we're mainstream,” is Seitz’s characterization of the typical film critic’s resistance to his manifesto. “It pisses me off,” he fumes. The animus towards Kael often voiced by Richard Brody, The New Yorker’s film editor, drips with similar condescension:

"Kael properly deduced that a huge part of going to the movies consisted of how the audience responded to the people on the screen, rather than simply basing her critique on the competence of the writing or the technical aspects of the cinematography. Her sentences in her radio and print reviews about the onscreen talent of the twentieth century rise to the level of expert observation of humanity in all its manifold variety."
In other words: she forgot what she was watching was art. She thought the little people were real.  She got lost in the illusion. 
So do a lot of people. It may not be the prettiest definition of cinema — boring old characters and plot — or the only one, but it is one that holds for 99% of the people who go to see movies, and also the one that is hardest to get right. It’s not as if Hollywood is exactly excelling in these areas right now. To hear these guys sound off you’d think that we were living in the golden age of film narrative and Rembrandt-rich character studies. At the risk of pointing out the obvious: We’re not. To sit through the average Hollywood movie, it’s not the technique that’s lacking. Most young film directors, reared in music videos and advertising, can cut like Aderall-addicts and swing their cameras from the rafters like Howard Keel, but their grasp on narrative and insight into character limps way out back.
 Hollywood needs policing on its weaknesses not its strengths. And what is more most neglected in today’s film culture and could most do with lionization is the not the director’s art but the producer’s — that all too rare ability to corral together a loose, combustible, creative team required to draw the lightning strike of a great movie.  “Marlon this part is much closer to you and to myself, too,” wrote Elia Kazan to Marlon Brando in a remarkable letter, during rehearsals for On The Waterfront, in which he drew out the similarities between himself, the actor and character of the orphan Terry Molloy in Budd Schulberg’s script — an act of three-way autobiography, each man seeing himself in the character, all corralled together by the exertions of legendary producer Sam Spiegel.
 A similar three-way communion went into the making The Graduate between writer Buck Henry, director Mike Nichols and star Dustin Hoffman, all of whom saw themselves in Benjamin Braddock. Of course it is also a storehouse of film technique, a virtual textbook in how to express internal states onscreen.  “I needed everything I had learned in the last 30 years to shoot the Graduate,” said the film’s cinematographer Robert Surtees in an article he wrote for American Cinematographer entitled Using the Camera Emotionally. “We used the gamut of lenses, hidden camera, pre-fogged film hand held cameras…. whatever we could think of to express the mood, the emotion of the scene.” It was all about Benjamin. Scorsese’s grasp of technique, too, was never more fluid or expressive than it was in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, where it was entirely subservient to expressing the internal state of a single character, born of a three-way tug  of love between screenwriter Paul Schrader, director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro, all of whom thought they were Travis Bickle. “The three of us just came together,” said Scorsese. “It was exactly what we wanted; it was one of the strangest things.” One of the strangest things. Call it Auteurism 3.0: the belief that great films arise not form one man’s mastery but a three-way collision of souls, director, writer and star, all intent on an act of simultaneous autobiography. It’s true of On The Waterfront, and The Graduate and The 400 Blows, it’s true of The Godfather, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and There Will Be Blood and The Social Network. It’s also — and this should make even diehard formalists happy what makes those films films, uniquely so. Creative collaboration breathes its own air, brings its own special suppleness, one which allows the audience to get under the skin of a character, into their heads, behind their eyes. So yes to discussions of technique, but can we remember what the technique is there for?' 

1 comment:

  1. You sound like a bourgeois impressionist and (much worse) a Paulette. You obviously don't realize that there is no room in contemporary criticism for personality and humor. Get with the program or you might be called out by our new class of critic-pedants.