The thing, itself: I bow to no one in my admiration for the wit and persipicacity of the film critic Dennis Lim, but I have to admit that every now and then he shows a tendency—one might call it "monklike," or maybe not—towards eyeball-roll-inducing pronouncements. In a recent Los Angeles Times review of The Criterion Collection's new DVD of Marco Ferreri's 1969 Dillinger Is Dead, he makes much of the film's Marcuse-inflected political content, and ends his notice ruefully: "Present-day viewers of 'Dillinger Is Dead' are likely to respond less to its overly literal satire than to its riot of colors, its Pop Art flair, its modernist design. In other words, a furious attack on capitalist society lives on, ironically, as a consumer fetish object."
"What incredible irony!" as one of those kids on South Park would say. "Oh, please," is what I said, as I've always believed that, to put it more bluntly and crudely than I probably ought to, if you don't on some level actually enjoy what Lim calls consumer fetish objects than you ought to fuck off and go live in a tree or something. "We have to deal with it/it is the currency," The Clash once sang on the subject of "Hate and War." Well, same with consumer fetish objects. And consistently pointing out that consumer fetish objects are consumer fetish objects doesn't make them go away. (For some reason Lim's observation also reminds me of a recent aperçu from Terry Eagleton: "To save yourself too laborious an attention to Marxism, you can dismiss it on the grounds that it dreams of a world of equality in which men and women will all be spiritually wretched and materially miserable in exactly the same way.")
And isn't a well-produced piece of plastic and aluminum that preserves/reproduces what some might call a work of art something more than what Lim categorizes it as? It is not the work of art itself, but it is for all intents and purposes the only object that is going to allow anything that is something resembling a mass U.S. audience is going to get to experience the work of art. Ferreri's film never got a U.S. release until last year, when Amanda Films arranged a very small theatrical run for it. I rather doubt that Criterion manufactured more than 5,000 copies of this disc. Think about 5,000 copies in a country with how many millions of moviegoers, television watchers, DVD-player owners. Yes, a select group of copies goes to Netflix and libraries and so on. But that's still not going to get the sum total of American viewers of the film anywhere near, or past, 100,000. I suppose that the relative scarcity of the object is what makes it a fetish, then, but Lim doesn't bother to put forward, or even consider, for that matter, what might be a preferable alternative. In this light, his complaint comes off as practically decadent; puling leftist posturing from within a capitalist institution.
But I didn't begin writing this for the purpose of castigating Lim. I began because a blog post of my own last week prompted a few friends and confreres to share with me their musings on criticism as it applies to films as projected in theaters on the one hand, and as they appear on DVD on the other, and as it may be pertinent to such emerging/future delivery mediums. How does one review a bit torrent, if at all? (I know that's a silly question on its face, but I think you get what I'm saying.) The New Yorker's Richard Brody, who had a post singled out as "ill-advised" by a commenter on a thread for the aforementioned post, defended a particular approach to DVD assessment thusly: "The most important thing about a DVD is its availability; even at its best, it's a faute de mieux simulacrum of the movie-going experience, and to obsess about the quality of a transfer without discussing the film that's being transferred--what its significance is, or why readers should even bother caring that it's available on DVD--is a kind of technical fetishism that's skew to movie-love. (So many of us have seen so many movies we love on TV, cut by commercials, in the wrong aspect ratio, or on low-fi 16mm. prints, or in theatres that did dreamlike-bleary rear-screen projection, and, though it matters, it doesn't matter as much as does the film itself.)"
So does Brody's recent expression of enthusiasm for an upcoming Criterion Blu-ray of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited represent a sudden reversal of his position? If it does, it's an extremely ironical reversal, as Brody completely acknowledges. Read the whole thing, as they say. I always enjoy the referential curveballs that Brody can pull out of his hat, citations that compel one to consider a topic from an angle that never quite occurred to one so blatantly before. In any case, here he awakened my own mostly dormant inclination to examine my own enthusiasms—and in a non-scolding way, to boot!