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Jim Weed

An Experiment in Criticism

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Not sure if this has been addressed but I didn't see anything in my cursory skim of the criticism threads.

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis suggests that as readers, we should focus less on evaluating a text and more on listening (not that we should abandon the process of evaluation, just re-prioritize it). He advocates approaching a new text by casting aside preconceived notions and judgements and giving ourselves completely to the care of the author. In other words, we "Christianly" approach the text and show faith in the author. This reminds me of Kierkegaard's suggestion to "rest transparent before God." It's kind of like giving up control and insistence.

My attempts to do this (mostly with film) have yielded mixed results. When a text is more didactic and "readerly," I'm more prone to resist it--even if I like what it's "saying." With a more "writerly" text, I feel like I participate in the creation of meaning and there is some kind of mutual respect between the creator and the viewer.

I feel a little conflicted when I see films like Saved! and Dogville because I feel like there is a humanistic and worthwhile impulse driving their creation and at the same time, I resist them because their ideologies are so overtly political and I just don't care much for political art. So how do you reconcile a film that offers some worthwhile ideas and at the same time has repulsive negativity in it?

One of my favorite therapists, Irv Yalom, advocates "creating a new therapy for each client" instead of using an all-encompassing theoretical orientation that can be applied to every person. I kind of like the idea of creating a new criticism for each film but this certainly induces some anxiety. Any thoughts? Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Has anyone been strongly moved by a film that he or she also resisted?

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Jim Weed wrote:

: With a more "writerly" text, I feel like I participate in the creation of

: meaning and there is some kind of mutual respect between the creator

: and the viewer.

Hmmm, I wonder if some of this might be addressed in the 'suspending disbelief?' thread.

: Has anyone been strongly moved by a film that he or she also resisted?

The Event, a beat-you-over-the-head pro-euthanasia tract, brought me to the brink of tears. And that gave me just that much more reason to hate the film.

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Has anyone been strongly moved by a film that he or she also resisted?

I just bought the DVD for the movie Secretary starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. I'm not sure how to sumarize the plot except to say that it involves two people falling in love through S&M games at the workplace.

Now see, that's the problem right there. Describing the movie like that, how can one not be repulsed by it as a Christian but at the same time there's something about the way E. Edward Grey (Spader) rescues Lee Holloway (Gyllenhaal) from her personal demons and self-destructive coping mechanisms that has something to say about how love can bring about redemption . . . but I'm not sure how or what it's saying or doing.

Anyway, I don't know if this is on topic. That's just the movie that came to mind upon reading the question.

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I rather liked Secretary, FWIW. I think the best line I've heard on that film so far is what the critic I quoted here said, namely, "Some viewers may freak out at the S&M aspects of the story, but there's no humiliation on display here, only a surreally encapsulated version of what goes on in a genuine marriage, with both sides jockeying for position while bowing to the unique essence of the other."

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Has anyone been strongly moved by a film that he or she also resisted?

Good topic. I would highly recommend David Dark's book Everyday Apocalypse for some good writing on the concept of Christianly "listening" versus Christian evaluation.

I am surprised Stef hasn't responded to the above question. It seems like we watch more films that elicit this response than don't. There is a thread somewhere on this board on Irreversible that touches on that question quite a bit. Linking that film to what goes on in Haneke's Funny Games is a one-two punch of "films that move me even though I despise them."

And it is probably because we despise them that moves us to apprehend them on the level that we do. Noe's I Stand Alone is a vile piece of filth. But it isn't filth like all of Breillat's despicable films. Breillat makes pornography. But if you take both of Noe's films and just listen, just really listen, you can hear the subtext of intelligent despair whimpering in the background.

But it isn't the typical: "Life means nothing therefore I despair" kind of despair. If you really listen, you hear people emoting about how life and society force despair on us, as if we have no other choice than to agree with Foucault. And then Noe's films become embodied criticisms of how keen society is on hiding the things that it produces. These criticisms are so powerful and inescable because they are now travelling on the same channels they are subverting.

So I guess the long and the short of it is that we could probably make a list about films that we despise because they are functioning in a way that forces us to despise them. And thus they do their job. Or something like that.

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I added that book to my wish list at Amazon. I've been looking for something like this, only I didn't know it.

So I guess the long and the short of it is that we could probably make a list about films that we despise because they are functioning in a way that forces us to despise them. And thus they do their job. Or something like that.

Yeah. It's hard to "sit" with these films but something comes of them. I guess complexities like this make life more interesting.

Peter, I never considered watching Secretary until I read what you had to say.

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Noe's I Stand Alone is a vile piece of filth. But it isn't filth like all of

: Breillat's despicable films. Breillat makes pornography.

Much of the time, yes. But are you saying ALL of Breillat's films are despicable? Because I think I would disagree. While I was bored to tears by Romance (which WAS basically pornography), I rather liked Fat Girl and Brief Crossing, at least. There was definitely more going on in those films than simply getting us to watch people have sex.

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I hated Seven. (Se7en)

Hated it. And I went home nauseated.

But then I had to ask why I was nauseated.

Because it was effective in transporting me there, and I was, effectively, disturbed.

So I saw it again because I wanted to know how Fincher did it.

Same thing with Reservoir Dogs.

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Noe's I Stand Alone is a vile piece of filth. But it isn't filth like all of

: Breillat's despicable films. Breillat makes pornography.

Much of the time, yes.  But are you saying ALL of Breillat's films are despicable?  Because I think I would disagree.  While I was bored to tears by Romance (which WAS basically pornography), I rather liked Fat Girl and Brief Crossing, at least.  There was definitely more going on in those films than simply getting us to watch people have sex.

Ugh. Romance virtually sent me on a crusade to stamp out critical appreciation of Breillat in all of its forms. Someday...

That is true about Fat Girl I suppose. But it still is a film that is entirely preoccupied with Breillat's preoccupation with sex. Here is my deal with Breillat: If you were to do a shot by shot analysis of the naughty scenes in her films next to a shot by shot analysis with some standard soft-core (and at times hardcore) porn, you would find absolutely no difference in camerawork or tone. Critically, there is no distinction.

So a film like Romance basically hardly deserves to be discussed at a cultural level. I suppose with Fat Girl there is a bit to talk about. But honestly? Not too much. It is still marred by her preoccupation with sex. It literally is a misuse of film. I was fortunate enough to skip a screening of her latest, Sex is Comedy, because even though I try to catch all things French, I knew there would be nothing there.

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