In his essay for “Project: New Cinephilia” posted today, Adrian Martin places a moratorium on all current discussions of crises and death in criticism, arguing that the “rapid changeover in technologies and viewing modes” are yielding a “rise in experimental ways of writing about film” that he calls “creative criticism”:
Do you agree with Martin on this point? Has the new digital culture spurred more openness, more cross-cultural communication, more innovation in film writing?
Sometimes it can I suppose, but it also has spurred more superficiality than ever before (and not just in film criticism).
Criticism (whether film, art, music or books) is rather a silly pass-time anyway. They should just go out and create something of their own rather than sit back and bitch about what somebody’s made who has more motivation than they have. The same goes to the sycophant critics that suck up to creative people.
I agree that there’s a lot of superficial criticism one comes by while searching on the internet, and the difficult part is often to single out those articles which are truly worth reading and provide rare insights. But I wouldn’t go as far to overall describe criticism as a silly pass-time. The in-depth studies of people like Bordwell, Stam or Elsaesser have shaped my appreciation of film as much as most directors did, and often lead me to a more thorough understanding of the images I perceived. I think one can regard film criticism as an essential part of dealing with film as art, and I would never want to miss it. As for the creative aspect, I seldomly tend to come by a film that seems to be without significant influences by other works of art, and in general I’d say that most filmmakers rely as much on the works of others as do most critics, though the former more often work with their unconscious than the latter and are not always aware of where their ideas are actually coming from. It’s obvious that in a world where rationality is asked for only few people maintain this ability to systematically make use of their unconscious, and those who don’t certainly do better with dedicating themselves to criticism. I think it’s the individual approach and artistic discernment which makes each specific output (film; criticism) worthwhile.
Criticism (whether film, art, music or books) is rather a silly pass-time anyway. They should just go out and create something of their own rather than sit back and bitch about what somebody’s made who has more motivation than they have.)
Criticism, when written by talented people, is a creative act in itself and can be appreciated in itself. There are people who can express themselves better from writing than from filming and there are people who can express themselves better from filming than from painting and so on.
Also, a critic with integrity has an important place in the art world. Without certain critics, works of art that deserved attention would have been ignored and possibly deleted from the culture. It’s when a critic considers themselves above the work of art, and consequently the artist, that I lose respect and patience.
Before the Internet, the criticism landscape, while dominated by a few giants of writing and thinking, was dominated by local newspaper and local TV critics many (though not all) of whom didn’t understand that their profession could be worth more than declaring if a film kept them awake or not.
The presence of the internet and the ocean of amateur critics that came with it, swept in and revealed most of these critics for what they were… no better than anyone else. But the tide also brought with it, insightful voices who otherwise had no outlet. This is the value. As for innovation, well, surrounded by voices on all sides, people have had to become innovative to stand out. I wish more would.
“They should just go out and create something of their own rather than sit back and bitch about what somebody’s made”
So . . .there’s no such thing as “creative criticism,” then?
The internet is a tool, a conduct. This forum serves as a perfect example of how the internet only creates an outlet, not a voice.
At first this forum was a conduct for all the serious cinephiles, but as trafic increased, the quality of the threads decreased. Instead of conversations people begin to have arguements about film/themselves. Not to mention the elitist vibe that has driven many users away. This site even changed name from The Auteurs to Mubi to attrack a wider audence, and its goal is now to be “a social network”.
The internet has given a forum, and nothing more, to those who ALREADY cared about film.
What is the value of innovation and greater creativity in criticism? That’s the question I would ask the author. For me, if these things don’t make film criticism clearer and more illuminating, then I’m not sure innovation has much value. How will writing a criticism in the form of haiku help me gain a better understanding of a film, filmmaker or filmmaking? Will writing about three different arbitrary time codes from a film help me understand the film better—better than if the critic wrote in a more conventional way? If the answer is affirmative for these questions, then I’m all for innovation, but if it’s not—if makes criticism less clear and less illuminating, then I think innovation is a bad thing.
For me, I just want clear writing. I want writing that makes a compelling case for or against a film. If I don’t really understand a film or I don’t understand the reasons people think a film is great, I want criticism that can help me understand this. If film criticism gave me that, I’d be perfectly content—even if it was written in a conventional five paragraph format.
@Jazzaloha- I can’t answer for Adrian Martin but based on his work I think He sees criticism in and of itself as a creative activity that has many purposes beyond merely clarifying individual works of art. Personally, I see criticism as being more about the discourse that is inspired by cultural work. I guess this might be a distinction between reviews and criticism. I don’t know if the kinds of innovation Martin references makes sense within the context of the review but they do within the context of a more creative form of criticism.
Some art work itself exists as a form of creative criticism. Works like Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, James Franco’s recent film installation Endless Idaho, Cater’s film Erasing James Franco, Godard and Gorin’s Letter To Jane: An Investigation of a film Still, work by experimental filmmakers like Peter Tscherkassky and Martin Arnold, Godard’s Histories(du)Cinema, Toonelgroep Amsterdam’s experimental multi-media theater piece The Antonioni Project, Pere Portebella’s Vampir, Agnes Varda’s deconstructions of her own work such as the short film Ulysse etc.
Martin references work like Rosenbaum’s MOVING PLACES and film critic David Thompson’s novel SUSPECTS to suggest that creative criticism has been in the works long before the internet took over contemporary life. I think He is celebrating this kind of creative work.
Jazz, it also points to one of the differences we have been having over film’s and “intent”. To some of us the film is an open text that can have multiple interpretations or can be explored by more pathways than simply seeking to define what the film is intending to do as if there was a sort of concrete way to define such a thing. The interaction between the viewer and the film creates meaning it isn’t just finding it.
Whoa. I was definitely not thinking of criticism in the way you defined it, and I guess it is a valid approach, something that can produce interesting results. However, the feeling I get is that this approach basically uses a specific film or filmmaker essentially as a springboard to other ideas and endeavors (the discourse), and it feels like a slight towards the film or filmmaker. In other words, the critic, in this sense, is not really interested in the film or the filmmaker per se. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but calling this film criticism seems somewhat misleading, at least that’s the way it feels to me.
I guess the question for me is how “open” is “open?” Are there no limits to an interpretation? Are all and any interpretations equally valid? I can’t go that far. I think the viewer plays an active role in constructing meaning of a film—and, to an extent, I could say “the viewer and film create meaning.” However, the film itself does limit the valid interpretations constructed by the viewer, imo—if the intentions of the film interests the viewer.
Now, for some people that may not be the case—a good understanding of film on its own terms may not be a high priority. Instead, an individual might experience and perceive a film within a broader context—the way the film catalyzes other thoughts and ideas about culture and society; the way it relates to other films, works of art or even the individual’s life. In this approach, the film seems to be a springboard, something the viewer riffs on, leading him/her to other ideas and connections. If that’s what you mean by a film having “multiple interpretations” and “explored by more pathways,” then I think I know where you’re coming from and I think that is a valid approach.
For me, however, I’m more interested in understanding the film—especially on its own terms. This is not an easy thing for me. There are still many films out there that I don’t think I understand fully. Maybe if I felt like I had more understanding of these films—especially the ones that are great—I’d be much more interested in the type of interpretations you’re talking about (not that I’m completely uninterested, mind you, but I fee like I have my hands full with the other approach).
One of the things that bothers me about the internet beyond its seeming need for immediacy is the way the blog culture has developed into being one where it feels as if many bloggers are channeling the spirit of Sidney Falco, or even worse, Joe Buck, and are always hustling to make a name for themselves. It often feels as if that is more important than the actual writing. The desire to get page views, to be seen, becomes almost an end to itself and can lead to something almost the opposite of a community or a place to develop new or better ways of thinking about films. Competition can be a spur to achievement, but it can also lead to pandering or sensationalism as more involved, complex, or longer articles take too much time to create or read compared to a haiku or some other short tidbit type of amusement.
I do have some fear that there will be a loss of a sort of accumulative knowledge as the individual “take” steals space from more in-depth thinking or exchange. When there is some sort of “authority” or perceived one, then there is a place where ideas can grow from a base, where challenges can be issued and ideas can be debated and all can be heard. The internet seems to create a more amorphous space where something can bounce around in one area without gaining much mass as it is ignored or not seen by many other people who might have found something useful in the ideas. At the same time, I also think that getting past seeing criticism as something that a select few can engage in, often with a very narrow set of backgrounds and points of view, and be seen as “serious” or “important” is a good thing. Deposing the undeserved authority figures is all for the best, as long as it doesn’t lead to chaos.
@Jazz- I think one can be deeply interested in exploring a text and still take a very creative approach. It really depends on what the particular historical status of the work of art is. For a well known classic I think perhaps the only useful attempt at criticism is the creative approach. What more is there to say in a straight forward way about PSYCHO or CASABLANCA or THE RULES OF THE GAME or 8 1/2 or TOKYO STORY? At the same time a highly creative approach to commenting on a new and obscure film would be indulgent and rather useless as a critical process. In this case clarification, advocacy, firm research would be the best approach.
@Greg- I think we are still in process of figuring out how criticism (and cultural work generally) functions in the age of the internet. I agree that in someways something seems a bit lost in terms of particular works of criticism engaging/enraging a public but that is because we haven’t figured out how cultural work functions in the more radically democratic culture that the internet affords it. I think there are some noble efforts to grapple with this new space and that actually this forum is one of them.
I largely agree with you Craig, I’m just hoping that the internet doesn’t go too far in reconfiguring the dynamic of merit or in shedding things that were so valuable during the pre-internet days. This is why I would love to see someplace develop where those interested in criticism would come to discuss some of the broader ideas r themes floating around the web. David Hudson’s columns provide the sort of grounding I think is so useful, now if we could only get more people to discuss the articles he links to, it might create the sort of dynamic I’m thinking of.
“I do have some fear that there will be a loss of a sort of accumulative knowledge as the individual “take” steals space from more in-depth thinking or exchange.”
Yeah, this worries me to— “Dan Kois Disease”—but I hope that the end result is critical/discussion mechanism that fosters a multiplicity of approaches rather then just continually pushing forward an emphasis on novelty and speed.
Excellent article. I love the idea for an experimental critical exercise. We should attempt something like that here on Mubi. I’m also interested in this new internet film journal he’s planning. I got tired of checking Rouge for updates.
Alright, I’ve got to ask…
Who is Dan Kois and what is his disease?
“Who is Dan Kois and what is his disease?”
Yeah I can see that becoming a Wikipedia article (it’s cited by another source) and spreading through critical boards such as these. And I can see how it would infect collaborative criticism.
For what it’s worth, just to put this out there, there is plenty of Internet-based collaborative criticism what is currently known as “podcasts”. I think if we want to develop a shared critical discussion beyond something board-based such as the Simultaneous Watching and Analysis or Director’s Cup threads, that’s the sort of area to look into.
I have to admit I’d love to have a critics podcast, but I am not in a position to have access to enough diversity of movies to do so… and simply may not have the time. But I really like the idea.
“I have to admit I’d love to have a critics podcast, but I am not in a position to have access to enough diversity of movies to do so… and simply may not have the time. But I really like the idea.”
They’re fun, I was doing one for awhile with a colleague, but it was a lot of work because we had to coordinate schedules and were in different cities and different time zones.
Time to revisit this question perhaps. Any new ideas or changes in thinking a year later?
Revisiting Martin, one year later he launched that new journal Lola. It’s good, but seems just as inert as Rouge. I think they’ve released one and a half issues in a year’s time. The internet is all about immediacy. Every day I’m prowling around looking for fresh content.
In general I’ve found that most all podcasts are virtually unbearable. Unless you have the skills of a radio announcer, it is hard to be engaging for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Few people have good voices for broadcast.
Something I would love to see more of are critical roundtables. Where 3 or 4 critics get together and discuss a film festival, or maybe a director. Those are usually highly entertaining reading. I’m for less innovation and more quality.
Yeah, I like that format as an occasional alternative to the monological stuff. I like the Notebook one on Dark Knight and I hope they’re planning on doing some more of this.
Not a new idea, and I’m pretty sure we talked about this, but I would think that the internet would allow for more video analysis—sort of like what Greg is doing in the Darjeeling thread, except with video, not just stills. I guess doing this would be too time consuming, but it’s something I’d like to see.
Yeah, that’s something I’d like to see more of too. Here’s one pretty good source for that sort of thing.
Thanks for the link, Matt. I watched the first part of the Malick videos. The commentator makes some interesting points, but it was a little disappointing Still, I should wait until I watch part 2. Any videos on the site that you would recommend?
The internet breeds populism in film criticism.
It breeds skepticism of the trends created by insular culture. Kind of like how when twins form their own language for talking to each other, then when they spend more time around other kids they stop speaking it as much. I think that’s the cause for the doomsayers’ alarm.
The Internet has certainly spawned more film critics with all the blogs it has engendered, but it is still same old, same old as far as I can see. Most film criticism appears to be emotionally based, not accepting a movie on its own terms. I don’t think we have moved far away from the undeserved lambasting Heaven’s Gate got when it was released in 1980, largely because many critics were miffed that Cimino wouldn’t let them have a look behind the scenes during filming.