Monday, September 08, 2008

Film Criticism and Internet

I generally stay away from these discussions but this "symposium" about film criticism and internet in Cineaste magazine has lots of eminent (American) film critics and bloggers weighing in on the issue. Nothing new but it is nice to have all sides and all arguments on the same page.

I agree with most of the objections that serious professional critics have with the film criticism found on blogs. I have often observed that I get distracted very easily while reading on the Internet, specially if it is a long form essay. You read a paragraph and then you click something else and you have already lost that thread of thought. Earlier people used to get impatient while reading but in this age of youtube videos even watching a two hour movie (forget something like Berlin Alexanderplatz) feels like asking a little too much. There is also the common complaint about the tone: high on opinion and low on thoughtfulness. But ultimately it all depends on the reader. One can choose what to read and what to focus on and try to hold on to a state of mind for some time without letting oneself be distracted.

On the other hand it is also true that for people who are not in academia or those who don't have access to academic libraries there is often no other alternative to Internet for access to criticism or in fact to secondary literature in any other form. I wish more serious criticism were available online, at least those back issues of journals and reviews.


Kubla Khan said...

I remember reading a similar piece about literary blogging too last year. in response, to myself, i wrote a post called Dilettantism and blogging.

watching and seeing movies are different things. writing about them entirely different. i look at the few movies i have written about and i generally refrain now. however, the question is, why do people blog then at all? perhaps, in this process of writing, some kind of clarity comes in.

professional critics might be trained to "see" or read but ultimately, the essence of reading is unique, unique for everyone. thus, minus critics, there is a big audience. though, critical opinion can help in sorting things out, understanding the context in which movies are made, books written etc

to rely on critics alone is a facile task. inexpert opinion matters too for this opinion is born of an unaided way of seeing or reading and while it might be off mark at times, it is a good judge of emotions, if not the content at times.

and critical opinion is also relativist, subjective and inherently biased. and also deeply informing. thus, when i re-read Austen or Conrad after reading Said , i discovered i was reading something different.

and i guess, we constantly learn from each others biases, choices etc.

with critical reading, a new dimension is added. i must say that sometimes a close reading spoils things. for me at least now, reading Camus is desultory after a "contrapuntal" reading. however, when i re-read say Bolano, i discover problems but presently, i am willing to forget these.

many professional bloggers will write about say Makhmalbaf or Kiarostami.....and yet these people do not know persian!( their standard critique is limited to angst in persialand or post- islamic blues) so, they are as dilettantish as the naive blogger is.

in the end, as you once said, it is one click only. then everything vanishes.

Alok said...

I also don't like a particular kind of close-reading myself (which tries to take apart a work of art and tries to see it in mechanical sounding terms) but I do value certain kind of criticisms. Criticism which provides context and teaches you how to think about certain things. For example with Iranian cinema I would love to know from someone who has been to Iran or who has met kiarostami. There are quite a few of them actually. There are fanboys and dilettantes as you say who just fetishize these things, treat these works of art as aesthetic objects and I certainly agree that it should be disapproved of if not outright condemned.

Reading or watching films or in fact thinking in general - all these require skill. It is not something that is natural, one has to learn it like anything else. I have myself had a very utilitarian sort of education where thinking was always supposed to be solving mathematical problems or problems which can be reduced to mathematical terms. I still find it difficult to read philosophy or a certain kind of poetry for example which requires thinking of a very different sort. I do think one can learn this by reading other people who have already done this - the great critics for example. I admire someone like Susan Sontag for the same reason... it is true for so many other critics too - Edward Said certainly. You learn how to read, for most people it is not so obvious that reading is also something to be learned.

Madhuri said...

I always find that reading professional criticism before reading a book/viewing a movie alters the way I look at it. On the other hand, reading user experiences by 'untrained' eyes gives you an impression of what to expect. So in a way both writings have some role to play.
And I agree with Kubla Khan here - writing about what you have just gone through gives you a clarity.

Besides, blogs could become a platform for discussions, though many times the discussion is ignored in favor of opinions.

Alok said...

"I always find that reading professional criticism before reading a book/viewing a movie alters the way I look at it."

i think that happens only if you take the judgment of the reviewer as it is rather than thinking about his arguments and the process by which he or she reached that judgment.

Although I do agree that generally speaking one shouldn't read reviews before watching the movie... There is also this idea which has become widespread now and which I think is harmful - the idea that all opinions are equally valid because, you know, they are just opinions. there are some opinions which are more well-informed and thought-through than others and we should certainly respect them more than we do others.

Madhuri said...

Even if you think through the argument and do not accept them as it is, there is a certain bias that creeps in before you have even had the experience.
All opinions are not equally valid. But so long as they can be explained with a logical thought process they have some merit.

Alok said...

Yes that is begins to pigeonhole one's experience to fit a framework or that pattern of thinking. May be you can call it "bias" too. Somehow it doesn't trouble me that much. You can always revisit and re-evaluate things whenever you like.