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Doug C

In Praise of Great Films

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Although I contributed a humorously token post to the "Walked Out" thread yesterday, it dismays me that A&F currently has so many threads devoted to how we dismiss films instead of engage them. In one of these threads, the intelligence of Abbas Kiarostami--a filmmaker voted by Film Comment as the world's greatest director (along with Hou Hsiao-hsien) of the 1990s--is compared to a Gatorade cap by a man who has never seen one of Kiarostami's films (but who is otherwise extraordinarily charming and wise).

If anyone is interested in a nuanced reading of the ending of Kiarostami's film, Taste of Cherry, I'd highly recommend Jonathan Rosenbaum's already classic essay, "Fill in the Blanks", which throws down the gauntlet in favor of films that do not conform to our expectations or immediate understanding. I have seen this essay quoted in a variety of film fora as a particularly fine articulation of why degrees of modesty, adaptability, and adventure are crucial for a healthy engagement of art, and I'd love to encourage a conversation regarding it.

For example:

What films have you seen that initially bored or angered you, but that you now regard as personally meaningful?

Has a film's critical legacy helped you discover a wonderful film you might otherwise have ignored?

Have your critical reflexes evolved over the last few years?

How have established critical opinions helped you explore, adapt, and formulate your own tastes?

In what ways do you think watching and thinking about difficult films can provide more substance and quality to your life than ranting about them?

What are some of the best resources you know for engaging global cinema? (Such as critics, websites, festivals, video stores, publications, or documentaries.)

Etc. etc...

Edited by Doug C

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I knew dissing Kiarostami would draw you out.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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smile.gif No offense taken, Darrell. Not everyone has to like Kiarostami.

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Title: "In Praise of Great Films"

Subtitle: "Art can be challenging and boring. So?"

Hmmm. Not sure this fosters the sort of "safe zone" mentality that the other, complementary thread, singular, does.

Seems to me we ALREADY have a complementary thread, and it is called 'Guilty pleasures'.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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What films have you seen that initially bored or angered you, but that you now regard as personally meaningful?

Off the top of my head, Wings of Desire was a film I saw upon its video release that really left me cold. I revisited it when the R.1 DVD debuted and found that all of the things I had counted as debits-- the ponderousness and slowness-- now seemed to me to be strengths.

Has a film's critical legacy helped you discover a wonderful film you might otherwise have ignored?

Really, when the dominant film/entertainment culture is either pushing this week's theatrical releases or DVD releases, there aren't many places one can independently look to have film qua film exhorted apart from the critical community, whether that's print media, columnists or online communities like this one.

Have your critical reflexes evolved over the last few years?

I hope so. I really think so. Seeing more films (and seeing them more than once) and reading more criticism has made it easier for me to identify techniques and pieces of films that I find compelling and true and honest and, alternatively, those ones which I find to be less honest or meaningful.

How have established critical opinions helped you explore, adapt, and formulate your own tastes?

They give me insight into a particular person's aesthetic, which is so helpful because it's almost always notably different to some degree from mine, helping me to expand or contract my own vision and see what I might want to accomodate, appreciate or notice in a film.


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Title: "In Praise of Great Films"

Subtitle: "Art can be challenging and boring. So?"

Hmmm.  Not sure this fosters the sort of "safe zone" mentality that the other, complementary thread, singular, does.

Seems to me we ALREADY have a complementary thread, and it is called 'Guilty pleasures'.

Peter, I can't see that your throat-clearing here is contributing anything productive. Can you stick to addressing the topic?

You're not a moderator of this forum. If one of the chosen moderators feels this topic is duplicative or misplaced, he will address it.


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Oh, fine, I'll bite.

: What films have you seen that initially bored or angered you, but that you now regard

: as personally meaningful?

First example that comes to mind is Barry Lyndon. (And that was boredom, not anger.)

: Has a film's critical legacy helped you discover a wonderful film you might otherwise

: have ignored?

Yes. But I make no distinction between "critical legacy" and the reviews I read in the papers here and now -- if I hear about a film and it piques my interest, I might see it, simple as that. Of course, the fact that people are still talking about a film decades later is bound to make that film seem more impressive.

: Have your critical reflexes evolved over the last few years?

Not particularly. Now that I'm married and on a budget, I cannot be as obsessively completist with my filmgoing as I used to be, but my reflexes whenever I happen to be watching a film are more or less the same.

: How have established critical opinions helped you explore, adapt, and formulate your

: own tastes?

Sometimes they open my eyes to new insights, sometimes they give me a perfect example of the sort of flawed thinking that needs rebutting. But again, I make no distinction between "established" critical opinions (established by whom? established where?) and the critical opinions I encounter in the here and now. Opinions are either right or wrong, helpful or misleading, regardless of how old or popular they are.

: In what ways do you think watching and thinking about difficult films can provide more

: substance and quality to your life than ranting about them?

Hey now, you're supposed to rant about the rant thread IN THE RANT THREAD ITSELF, silly! smile.gif

All I can do is quote C.S. Lewis, as I have often done before, to the effect that no book (or film) is any good to me until I have seen it twice. But I believe Lewis also wrote the words "NEVER AGAIN" on the front pages of some books after a single viewing, because they simply weren't worth the time to re-read.

: What are some of the best resources you know for engaging global cinema? (Such as

: critics, websites, festivals, video stores, publications, or documentaries.)

Hey now, I thought we were supposed to praise FILMS, not the people who praise them!

You're looking for someone to plug FilmJourney here, aren't you? wink.gif

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Russ wrote:

: Peter, I can't see that your throat-clearing here is contributing anything productive.

Let's just say I think it needs to be pointed out that there is a difference between COMPLEMENTING a thread and OPPOSING a thread.

: You're not a moderator of this forum.

True. So?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Russ wrote:

: You're not a moderator of this forum.

True.  So?

Um, so please stop acting like one by interrupting nascent threads only to impose rigid and unhelpful obsessions with categorization for categorization's sake.

Pretty please.


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Russ wrote:

: Um, so please stop acting like one by interrupting nascent threads only to impose rigid

: and unhelpful obsessions with categorization for categorization's sake.

Just exercising the same freedom of expression that you and Doug have expressed in this very thread, is all. I'm not "acting like one" any more than you guys are.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Oh dear.

Doug, good idea for a thread, which I happen to think is complementary to the Rant Room (as is Guilty Pleasures, but in a very different way; there's four quadrants in liking/disliking great/bad films, and now we've covered three of them).

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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At the risk of turning this discussion even further off course (and making Russ's head explode in the process), I also want to point out the Want to Watch Some Great Films? thread I started last week. I link to it here not because I think it makes this thread redundant, but because it is, in part, my answer to Doug's questions.

I long ago surrendered to the fact that the "critical establishment" knows a helluva lot more about films than I do, and so when I first became interested in deepening my understanding of the art, I found a forum where people were watching Sight & Sound's "Great Films" together, I queued up my NetFlix account, and I started watching whatever showed up on my door.

I love that this thread was inspired by a response to A Taste of Cherry, as it was one of my first S&S discoveries. It was also my first Iranian film and another of my great "What the?" experiences. What makes it a particularly great example is that, while you have Rosenbaum writing this wonderful essay on one side of the debate (I love that essay, by the way, and quote it at every opportunity), you also have Ebert calling Kiarostami a naked emperor.

After reading those two reviews, plus many others, and after reading a bit more about Kiarostami and Iranian cinema, I watched Cherry again and felt a certain obligation to carve out an opinion. That doesn't mean that I had to declare Rosenbaum or Ebert victor, only that I needed to wrestle with the film on its own terms and judge, to some limited extent, where I stood in relationship to the film. I'm a bit embarrassed by the writing now, but I'm proud that my battle with Cherry became one of the very first postings on my website, inaugurating an on-going discussion between myself, artists, and other critics/readers.

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A question here.

I find myself often disliking or not understanding, or being angered by a film and while part of me wants to get it I hesitate to revisit the film for one of two reasons:

1. I wonder if life experience or knowledge is what is preventing me from enjoying the film and if so, will popping the thing in the DVD player a few days later really change anything. In other words, should I let my disdain rest longer before approaching it again.

2. I have SO many wonderful films to experience, should I invest a second viewing on a film that may hold no value for me again, or should I move on to one that might immediately hold importance and significance to me.

My strategy thus far has been to move on, and to usually say "I have to revisit this film."

What is more often the case is that a film that I get a little or like somewhat grows rapidly upon a second viewing.

This has happened recently with Vertical Ray of the Sun, The Man Without a Past, and Yi-Yi.

Edited by DanBuck

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I had a really useful conversation with a young faculty member soon after I began graduate school. I was seeking his advice about how to integrate critical theory into my seminary paper and decided to admit right up front that I just didn't get some of the prominent critics in the field. He said, "Well, set those aside for now. I like to say that some theorists are more 'useful' to me than others." He said it with a knowing smile.

Dan, I think it's perfectly acceptable to say that some of the great filmmakers are less "useful" to you right now than others. I've had the same experience several times recently. The idea that's floating through this conversation (and the "getting Bresson" thread) is that admitting you haven't connected with a particular film is far different from claiming that the film is unworthy of its critical reputation or even that the time you spent not-connecting with the film wasn't time well spent. (Is that a triple-negative sentence construction?)

My experience with A Taste of Cherry was like your option 2. Something in that first viewing triggered my curiosity. I didn't get the film but I wanted to, and the film opened up considerably with further viewings. I wonder if part of the experience of giving a film a second look is simply the freedom that comes from having no expectations. You know that Kiarostami is going to test your stamina with languid pacing and that he'll throw a major wrench into the narrative during the final minutes. It's no longer a "great film," with all of the baggage that term implies; it's just a piece of art that you're now free to engage on its own terms.

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Wow Ken, L'Avventura is a film that I myself probably haven't fully explored yet. It's certainly a great example of an acclaimed movie that made a genuine mark on modern moviemaking yet it's also one that is slower and somewhat remote and works according to its own rules. I'm glad you enjoyed it; the next time I watch it, I'll be scratching at your door.

Russ, I like your comment that a critic's aesthetic is "almost always notably different" from yours; I've pretty much lost interest in critical commentary that works primarily as a consumer guide more than a potential doorway to larger conversations. I'm much more interested in what kind of information and connections and interpretative possibilities a critic can offer than whether or not he or she liked the film in question. In a very real sense, I just don't care what their taste is; mine will always be different. Maybe this is why I value positive reviews more than negative ones, because one generally finds the most engaged and expansive writing in the former. The latter tends to emphasize verbal witticisms and self-congratulatory hubris, which ultimately doesn't offer me much to chew on.

I also like how you mention that some critics help you "see what I might want to accomodate, appreciate or notice in a film." That's well put; you're still owning your personal reaction but testing the waters to see if its a new perspective that you might actually enjoy or find useful. I like that.

Darren, your post wasn't a derailment at all and illustrates the investigation, listening, and wrestling that often typifies our engagement of unusual films. A more recent example where I was inspired by the way you questioned your own initially negative reaction to a film in order to participate in some meaningful conversations was Claire Denis' L'Intrus. I'm not completely won over by the film yet myself, but regardless, I've admired your willingness to set aside your resistence and reconsider the film from new angles. I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes.

Great questions, Dan. I agree that sometimes, we're just not "ready" for certain films, books, paintings, what have you. I may not fully resonate or draw a lot of meaning out of L'Intrus for years to come, and that's okay, but I wouldn't want to completely dismiss it or rant about how it doesn't make any sense, either. There are other films I am discovering, as well as new entry points into old ones, that are stretching me at the moment, and plenty to explore in the meantime. It's definitely a continuum that I hope never ends.

I used to rewatch a lot of films, and still do, but increasingly, I consciously try to balance that with exploring new works. Maybe the ideal is to do both on a consistent basis? You're right that one shouldn't forsake one for the other.

My strategy thus far has been to move on, and to usually say "I have to revisit this film."

What is more often the case is that a film that I get a little or like somewhat grows rapidly upon a second viewing.

I can appreciate this. And the films you listed, Vertical Ray, Man Without a Past, and Yi Yi are all films (I'm guessing) you probably never would have watched in the first place if you hadn't gotten a sense of their critical legacy here or elsewhere, yes?

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Curiously, Yi Yi is one of those films I really liked the first time I saw it -- I can almost remember my admiration growing for it as I wrote my review -- but when I caught snippets of it at Flickerings, I was less impressed. Maybe that's because Flickerings was showing it in its pure digital-video form, and the first time I saw the film was via a film projector, and I'm something of a film snob, I dunno.

Darren, I like what you say about not getting a film but WANTING to. It's interesting, though, how sometimes the second viewings make you wonder what you saw in a film the first time around -- the first example that comes to mind in my own case being Eyes Wide Shut. Loved it and found it very mysterious the first time, was bored by it and found it very hollow the second time. Kind of the opposite of Kubrick's earlier film Barry Lyndon, which I "praised" earlier in this thread. smile.gif

Doug, are films like Yi Yi and The Man without a Past old enough to even HAVE a "legacy"? For the moment, I shall defer to goneganesh (I think it was) who made a distinction between "hype" and "championing", and introduce the intermediate phenomenon known as "buzz". All three words imply something present-tense to me, and these two films in particular got a lot of "buzz" in these boards just a few years ago, when they were brand new. "Legacy", OTOH, implies something that we apply to films made further back in the past. Not necessarily THAT far back in the past, though. Alien is only 26 years old, but I would say it has a "legacy"; last year's Alien Vs. Predator, OTOH, does not.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hi--

Saw this posting, and couldn't help jumping in here. As you all may or may not be aware of, I am a big fan of many of the great, older films that came out in the 1960's and part of the 1970's, as well. Not that there wasn't plenty of junk being produced back then, because there was, but there were also some really great films that weighed in on my emotions and were really meaningful to me in lots of ways. Examples of this are as follows: Lawrence of Arabia, The Graduate, Georgy Girl, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Endless Summer, A Hard Day's Night, Help, Bonnie & Clyde, 2001: A Space Odyssey, (the original)Planet of the Apes, and, last but not least, my alltime favorite: West Side Story. The Music Man and Merrill's Marauders were also quite good. Films of the 1970's were Taxi Driver, Mean Streets(Saw these when out of date, but enjoyed them) Dirty Harry I and The Front. I've always enjoyed movies with a real "bite" to them, as well as a real story and plot, and lots of action, and I don't even mind a certain amount of gore and violence, although I myself don't like gratuitous violence either.

I've recently also seen some good up-to-date films, though I believe that good films are fewer and farthur between these days. Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom, Million Dollar Baby, Catch Me if You Can, are some examples. So was the film Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, which I saw twice. As the owner of an exotic bird, a Noble Macaw, this film also had some special meaning for me.

Perhaps the most BORING films I've seen are "1776" and S. O. B. (Standard Operational B***-S**t). My friend and I walked out of 1776, and I came close to walking out of SO.B, but was prevented from doing so, by the fact that my family got together for a great dinner at a fabulous restaurant nearby.

With regards to West Side Story, which is my alltime favorite film, it would take me much too long and too much time and space on this post to describe it here, so I might put it on a separate post sometime.

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Perhaps part of my patience with L'Avventura was previous experiences with Hitchcock that got me used to being able to deal with movies where people were acting strange and the film seemed in no hurry to explain their behavior to me. Not saying they are near as cryptic, only that sometimes a film that does something a little bit can "break the ice" and make it easier to understand something that's harder or more developed because you've had practice.

I love that you pair the legendary control freaks, Hitchcock and Antonioni - two formal masters who only rarely achieve a perfect relation between form and content. What's frustrating to me about Antonioni is that so often this brilliant style and mise-en-scene (which I never find boring, by the way) is set in the service of rather literary, generic and banal ideas about "alienation" and "modern life", which probably seemed dated even then. Antonioni's "insights" into the human condition startle only on occasion, and even then I often feel that it's because the actor has momentarily escaped the tyrannical mousetrap universe that Antonioni has created for him.

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I have never seen any Antonioni, but I very much like goneganesh's last post. I especially like the phrase "tyrannical mousetrap universe."


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I had a tough time in undergrad with Faulkner's As I Lay Dying because of non-traditional chronology and narratology.  Sometimes students, though, who have seen Pulp Fiction a zillion times are not nearly as confused by these temporal jumps as I was at their age, because their reading experiences entailed other works with similar structures. (Which is not to say there aren't plenty of things they are confused about in Faulkner.)  My former prof always used to say Moby Dick was a collosal failure not because 19th century readers were stupid but because they had no idea what to do with it and so they tried to read it like a traditional south-sea narrative, like it was Treasure Island, and expressed disatisfaction at the ways it failed to be something it was not even trying to be.
What great examples, Ken. I'm really fascinated with this phenomenon, knowing how we're equipped to process art, recognizing our preconceptions and resistances, weighing our willingness to suspend judgment and adapt, wrestling with works over time, and ultimately being more "ready" for individual works at different points of our lives. This is the crux of how art transforms us. (In fact, it's how a lot of things transform us.)

The idea that's floating through this conversation (and the "getting Bresson" thread) is that admitting you haven't connected with a particular film is far different from claiming that the film is unworthy of its critical reputation or even that the time you spent not-connecting with the film wasn't time well spent.
Absolutely, Darren. Very well put.

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Antonioni's "insights" into the human condition startle only on occasion, and even then I often feel that it's because the actor has momentarily escaped the tyrannical mousetrap universe that Antonioni has created for him.

That is a great line, and I think it's why, among the four or five Antonioni films I've seen, La Notte is my favorite. Jeanne Moreau, even more than Monica Vitti, has a particular ability to transcend Antonioni's calculations. There's a great moment where she and Giorgio Negro sit alone in a car, talking and laughing. We're stuck outside and can't hear what they're saying over the sound of the rain, but Moreau's smile is really something. I think it might be the only time we see her happy, and it's like this unexpected jolt of life in a film that has, until that point, been fairly hopeless.

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I thought of this thread about boredom while I read SOJOURNERS today and found this quote:

It is a curious thing. Parents by and large carefully instruct their children in the values that are important to them. But many of those same parents are cavalier about the kind of media - and the values those media convey - that their kids immerse themselves in on a daily basis.

The majority of kids spend a good slice of their day consuming mass media. Studies show that children spend on average four-and-a-half hours a day in front of televisions, video games, and computers.

And what are the messages they receive? Dr. David Walsh, author of Selling Out America's Children: How America Puts Profits before Values and What Parents Can Do, identifies six key values that dominate mass media. It is hard to argue with his list:

1. Happiness is found in having things.

2. Get all you can for yourself.

3. Get it all as quickly as you can.

4. Win at all costs.

5. Violence is entertaining.

6. Always seek pleasure and avoid boredom.

Denny


Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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Thanks Denny--Sojourners rocks.

I'm not proud of a lot of the things I do, but not having owned a television in 15 years ranks pretty high on my list of accomplishments.

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Thanks Denny--Sojourners rocks.

I'm not proud of a lot of the things I do, but not having owned a television in 15 years ranks pretty high on my list of accomplishments.

Wait! Does that mean you never watch films at home or do you watch them on a computer?

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