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The Noteworthy: Zizek Dark Thirty, Soderbergh Speaks, Slow Criticism

Sundance awards, PTA & Joaquin to reunite, Zizek takes on Bigelow, Soderbergh opens up about his career and the state of movies & more.

Edited by Adam Cook


  • It sounds like it won't be a long wait to see Paul Thomas Anderson re-team with Joaquin Phoenix; the actor will be taking the lead role for Anderson's next film, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which Robert Downey Jr. was originally thought to be attached to.


  • Jonathan Rosenbaum was interviewed by Brazilian newspaper Estado de Minas last summer about Charlie Chaplin and film criticism, and is now sharing the transcript on his blog.

"Really? One doesn't need to be a moralist, or naive about the urgencies of fighting terrorist attacks, to think that torturing a human being is in itself something so profoundly shattering that to depict it neutrally – ie to neutralise this shattering dimension – is already a kind of endorsement.

Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. Where is Bigelow here?"

  • This one is spreading pretty rapidly, and for good reason: Mary Kaye Shilling's interview with Steven Soderbergh is one of the better recent ones on record (though I recommend you keep your eyes here on the Notebook...). The director expounds on the direction he's taking his career, the state of movies and his reworking of Kafka:

"Well, I’m remaking—it’s been a long process—but I’m overhauling Kafka completely. It’s funny—wrapping a movie 22 years later! But the rights had reverted back to me and Paul Rassam, an executive producer, and he said, “I know you were never really happy with it. Do you want to go back in and play around?” We shot some inserts while we were doing Side Effects. I’m also dubbing the whole thing into German so the accent issue goes away. And Lem and I have been working on recalibrating some of the dialogue and the storytelling. So it’s a completely different movie. The idea is to put them both out on disc. But for the most part, I’m a believer in your first impulse being the right one. And I certainly think that most of the seventies directors who have gone back in and tinkered with their movies have made them worse."

  • The International Film Festival of Rotterdam is under way (our man on the ground, Daniel Kasman, has already published some coverage). To get you started with related writings, check out this year's edition of "Slow Criticism" at De Filmkrant, led by editor Dana Linssen:

"The idea was to bring film critics from all around the globe together with premieres from the International Film Festival Rotterdam from countries that were as far away from their current location as possible. ¡Vivan las antipodas! so to say. Since film critics are always traveling, in real life or their minds, we had to cheat a little, many people took detours, most of us crossed time zones, if only in the many nocturnal emails we exchanged to make it all happen."

From the archives.

  • Speaking of Slow Criticism, the annual project has been around since 2009, so take a look at past editions (2010, 2011, 2012), which have featured contributions from Adrian Martin, Gabe Klinger, Girish Shambu, and the Ferroni Brigade, among many others.
Zizek always makes my eyes roll. By far one of the most overrated popular critics/philosophers/theorists. Where is Baudrillard when you need him?
Slavoj’s opinion here adds nothing substantive to the debate surrounding Zero Dark Thirty.
I will gladly disagree with the two commenters above – I think Zizek raises several interesting points in his whole piece on the Guardian. ZD30 pawning itself as as a piece of “journalistic” cinema about one of the most important political events in America requires a lot of different angles and critical examinations. To use and ad hominem attack like Nicole B “adds nothing substantive” to the conversation. Liam if you don’t think his opinion is substantive, why? I find Zizek’s points about the free pass ZD30 gives to America is propaganda, plain and simple. She and the film’s defenders act as if the torture scenes are “ambiguous” and makes an American audience feel sympathy for the terrorists. Horseshit. The whole film dances around the issue, just like Zizek claims, by pretending to be objective and showing what happened free of politics. Notice how the film never shows any blowback or repercussions for the torture? We just get a scene later in the film where the CIA agents wish they could torture some more. The film is always shown from the American’s POV which privileges them and America. I find the film on par with Triumph of the Will – exciting filmmaking with horrible political propaganda stuffed in.
Slavoj adds nothing substantive to the debate because these opinions have been stated before, and with comparable fervor. You no doubt focussed on the “Slavoj” portion of my sentence instead of the “adds”, which is crucial. He certainly raised points worth noting, but, sadly, such commentary has been launched toward ZD30 since its first screening. This is all to say that the sum of extant criticism concerning ZD30 has not benefitted from his speaking. His name is definitely attached to it, though, so, there is that. In the end, I am glad that he decided to speak; many would have been left wondering had he not. Also, I have no doubt that he is pleased with your defense of his thought. Cheers.
As Jeff Reichert notes in his excellent review of Zero Dark Thirty in Reverse Shot, the film journalism community has done little to promote meaningful discussion. I find Žižek’s commentary welcome in a conversation that seldom breaks past the “does the film depict torture as an effective method of extracting information?” question created largely in Washington, to address the key issues of the film, a highly problematic (one might say flatly irresponsible) statement on the legacy of the War on Terror, postmodern realism, and promotion of a culture of violence. In a clear follow-up to The Hurt Locker‘s success, Bigelow takes that film’s central message of “shoot now, ask questions later (or not)” too far in this latest work. I’d be thankful if readers could post links to critics’ pieces on Zero Dark Thirty considered to add something valuable to the debate. P.S. Žižek often makes my eyes roll as well, but isn’t that why we return to him?
In defense of Bigelow, not that she needs it, I don’t see anything wrong with her “neutrality” on the subject of torture. She took a very similar approach in Hurt Locker, and I think that added to the film’s authenticity. ZD30 takes the point of view of its characters, as a good drama should.
Joel Neville Anderson: Where have you been? By far the best piece of writing on Zero Dark Thirty is found here on MUBI: I find most of the writing on Reverse Shot subpar. Reactionary, posturing, cliched, and often far too involved with non-cinematic issues. They are closer to popular journalism than film criticism in my book. I’d rather return to someone with something more thoughtful and insightful to say, rather than someone who merely regurgitates what is common intellectual knowledge. Maybe if I were a college freshman, I’d find some value in Zizek’s writing.
Thanks for your response, Nicole. After posting my original comment I actually perused Notebook for some in-house perspectives on the film, and read Vishnevetsky’s piece as well as Phelps’s response. I must say, I’m far more convinced by Phelps’s nuanced reading of the film as itself manufacturing ambiguities in place of a constructive problematization of not only the War on Terror, but film realism and the politics of historical dramatizations. The journalistic posturing of Bigelow/Boal would reveal the film as a genuine toothless fabrication if it weren’t for their project’s momentous aims toward portraying the contemporary moment, and more importantly a popular critical mishandling of the work in question, which Reichert’s piece rightfully calls out. While I leave room for good intentions on the filmmakers’ part, what they have given us is a work which denies audience curiosity through the narrative’s compaction and satisfaction, to say nothing of its disinterest in engaging suppressed cultural perspectives; inviting such an inane discourse on the efficacy of torture. As the public dialogue continues—and it will with this film; clearly my sense is time will not be kind to today’s #ZD30—I’m taken by Steve Coll’s article at NYR of just today, which, among many valid points unpacking the film’s numerous “composites,” orients the film as shaped inversely in relation to The Hurt Locker’s macro in the micro method of dramatization.
Both Ignatiy and David are fine critics, worth more than Zizek and Reverse Shot combined, but I’m personally less interested in the perceived morality of the film than in its cinematic qualities. Whatever moral position people take on Zero Dark Thirty, I find that the least interesting aspect that one could possibly discuss with regard to it. I also didn’t post the link to Ignatiy’s piece to convince anyone to appreciate the film. People have already taken their positions on Zero Dark Thirty, and no amount of argument will change anyone’s minds. Frankly, I don’t care. I simply wanted to show how Zizek is really just an intellectual lightweight. Probably the most interesting thing I will ever read about this film is something written by someone not steeped in any knowledge of or embedded in American politics. On my part, though, I find 300 and any snuff film much more reprehensible than something like Triumph of the Will.

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