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Daily Briefing. "The Problem[s] with Film Criticism"

Also: Untouchable's breaking box office records in France. And some terrific movie posters.

"The probable death of movies as popular art, and the retreat of serious critics into contemplation cells, points up a larger problem: the falseness of the claims made for the Web as a new beacon of democracy. In many ways, the Web has been a disaster for democracy." Charles Taylor stirs it up in Dissent. The title of the piece, "The Problem with Film Criticism," is a little misleading, as he's actually addressing umpteen interrelated problems all at once. But there's no pussyfooting around on any of them; at least one of his arguments will tick you off. 

"An unlikely 'buddy movie' has struck a nerve in a nation stalked by economic calamity and beset by political divisions and is threatening to break all French box-office records," reports John Lichfield in the Independent. Agnès Poirier in the Guardian: "We are not talking masterpiece or dazzling mise-en-scene — this is not the point." Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's Intouchables (Untouchable) "tells the story of a quadriplegic aristocrat who hires a black ex-convict from the banlieues as his new minder. You will have guessed: it is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two men from opposite milieu. François Cluzet and Omar Sy may give tremendous performances, but the public hasn't flocked en masse for the film's artistic prowess. What they run to go and see is a story of class transcendence and national unity."

New York's BAMcinématek launches See You Next Wednesday: 8 Films by John Landis this afternoon with Animal House (1978). Last week, Landis was a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

It's "200 years to the day since the German writer Heinrich von Kleist killed the salonnière Henriette Vogel and himself on the shore of what is now Berlin's Kleiner Wannsee," notes Katy Derbyshire; she's gathered links to a variety of commemorations.

Wildgrounds collects Cuban posters for Japanese movies; and Adrian Curry, who writes up his "Movie Poster of the Week" every Friday here in the Notebook, has launched a new tumblr, Movie Poster of the Day.

Image at the top: From Éric Rohmer's The Marquise of O (1976), based on the novella by Heinrich von Kleist. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

Wish you had devoted more space to the Dissent article. “THE debate about the state of film criticism has settled—or calcified—into two camps: traditional print critics claim the Internet has replaced expertise with amateurs, fanboys, and obscurantists.” I would disagree about the expertise, but the second part with the amateurs, fanboys, and obscurantists is close to the mark. I enjoy the criticism here at MUBI, even though it can head into obscurantism every once in a while. It’s the podcasts where I have the most problems. There are the clearly uninformed, the ones making fun of bad movies, and a couple of them that really take it seriously. The problem with the ones that make fun of the bad movies is that there are hundreds of them, and they’re not as funny as they think they are. All have the same problem in terms of editing. Nothing is concise. That’s why my preference will always be for the well written analysis whether it appears in print or on the web.
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And I’ve been highly unimpressed with most all of the video criticism I’ve seen. Usually it’s no more than unedited blocks of scenes strung together while someone reads from a paper. I think the best (and simplest) video criticism I’ve seen is the “3 Reasons” series from The Criterion Collection. It would be great to see a capable video critic anthologized here on Notebook.
It does appear that most articles about the poor state of film criticism appear in a NY publication or are written by a NY based author. I don’t think that is a coincidence as NY has a healthy amount of diverse cinematic options for people to feed themselves on. However, the cinematic choices are not the greatest when one moves outside of a few select major North American cities. Depending on where one lives, things can be pretty dismal when one is looking for a cinematic choice that does not involve robots, ogres, super heroes or things that go bump in the night. The lack of indie/foreign films in theaters is a big concern as that points towards distribution issues in getting non-Hollywood fare to theaters. However, hardly any critic talks about that. Their articles are either about the end of film criticism or end of film in general. Well, what about that the fact that theaters do not have that many options for people to choose between? I also don’t buy this lazy argument that good films are not getting made anymore. There are plenty of good films out there but they hardly make it out to theaters, unless one lives in a select city. Most people I know watch films on DVDs or turn to the internet because they do not have worthy theatrical choices available to them. There appears to be an erosion of democracy when it comes to cinematic choices anyway. The same few titles dominate most screens. With 35mm, there was a cost associated with making prints and only a few productions had the budget to generate hundreds of prints. Now with digital, it is common to find some North American theaters having 25 shows of the same film per day. So there is a bigger chance that studios can easily flood the market with even more copies of their films than before squeezing out any chance for non-sequel based films. Maybe the problem is looked at from the wrong angle and instead of criticism it is really about distribution. If the North American film distribution model is fixed so that diverse options can make it into theaters around the continent, then papers would carry more film criticism articles as opposed to celebrity gossip news. The big question is do critics have an influence in getting the film distribution model fixed? Can a critic influence a theatrical owner to take a chance on a non-studio film?
Re: Sachin’s post I have become so accustomed to watching movies on the small screen that I don’t have so much problem getting a good selection of fine movies. By the way, MUBI has an excellent selection of films. Hello? I like the pause button, control over the volume and temperature in the room. I also don’t like commercials before my movie, and the commercials in the movie. Yes, I don’t go to many mainstream movies anymore. I absolutely abhor 3D movies and the ever spiraling movie costs. Just preaching to the converted.

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