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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—4 June, 2010

The Perils of Specificity, and Vice Versa; or, how to get your own Two-Minute Hate session at Big Hollywood: Our discourse these days is such that having a morally correct position isn't nearly enough; one must hold a morally correct position for the correct reason. This notion, of course, is the basis for much consideration in Western philosophy, and has been for centuries. But when it falls into the hands of people who write in a more casual mode, who have an axe to grind, and who are opposing "thinkers" even more simplistic than they, it can lead to trouble.

Vadim Rizov is a friendly acquaintance, a nice fellow and a promising film writer who blogs at IFC's Independent Eye and is, I suppose, obliged to produce a certain amount of material on a daily basis. Back in the waning days of May, he put up a post entitled "The disingenuousness of Jafar Panahi's right-wing advocates." His essential point being that the right-wing proselytizers for the release of Jafar Panahi don't care a whit about the man's actual work, but have only rallied to his cause in order to make him "a symbol." And that right-wing support for Panahi is hypocritical given that right-wingers are, by and large, completely in favor of a U.S. policy that "regularly refuse[s] entry" of Iran's "best and brightest" because of Homeland Security's inability to "tell one Iranian from another." (There's actually no inherent contradiction in a point of view that believes that Panahi shouldn't be in a prison in Iran, and also that Iranian citizens attempting to enter the United States ought to be subjected to over-thorough scrutiny. I don't believe in the latter idea, but there really isn't an effective contradiction between the two.)

Two things about certain conservatives who want to participate in the culture war: they'll grab any opportunity to paint themselves as victims, and they're a little slow on the uptake. A riposte to Rizov's post appeared at the conservative site Big Hollywood on June 1, an eternity in blog years. As is usual, this response is almost twice as long as Rizov's original, and while engaging the specifics of Rizov's argument, chides Rizov for not citing any specific examples of those who "could care less about [Panahi] as a director or a representative of the larger film culture." The meat thus thrown, Rizov is tossed around in the BH comments section, and referred to as a "she" by at least one of the brainiacs over there. In the meantime, at Rizov's post, frequent BH contributor John Simpson pitches an elaborate hissy fit about how he's done more heavy lifting on the Panahi issue than mainstream Hollywood and that it really doesn't matter whether anyone supporting Panahi has seen any of his films, although he (Simpson) has, rah rah, bully for him...

And you know what? Although he's a bit of an insufferable blowhard, Simpson's right. He did jump on the Panahi issue well before mainstream Hollywood did, and one need not be conversant with Panahi or his work in order to support his release, any more than one has to like Pirates in order to sign a Polanski petition. As I myself chimed in on Rizov's post, it's absolutely true that in this case, the right is treating Panahi as an object rather than a subject. And while that's irksome, it's not so significant that it's worth laying out a tortured argument that the right's support of Panahi is another example of How They Are Bad. A wry comment, maybe. But not a whole mini-essay. Still, the content maw must be fed, and futile, spurious arguments must be played out; and each side must assure itself that its self-righteousness is better than their self-righteousness. And none of us are in jail, whoopee!

Moving right along, a whole encyclopedia on muddled thinking can be written around the word "they" in the deliberately provocative headline of Matt Zoller Seitz's IFC piece on Sex and the City 2: "Ladies and Gentleman, THIS is why they hate us?" Who is this unspecified, objectified "they" of which you speak. And no, the answer "Oh, you know!" is not sufficient—I really do wanna know. [UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that my citation of this headline could be construed as an overall critique/dismissal of Seitz's entire piece, which, to give credit where due, is more detailed and nuanced than its headline. Seitz's piece is well worth reading in its entirety, and it should be understood here that my main argument is with the headline and the particular tendency it's symptomatic of.] Are "they" Palestineans? Afghans? Iranis? Do you mean the Arabic world? The Muslim world? Iranians aren't Arabic, after all. And so on. Thing is, in this case, when specifics actually are cited, the argument becomes more ridiculous. A film writer whom my editor has designated as a He Who Shall Not Be Named has frequently used the phrase "Taliban recruitment video" to tag pretty much all Sex and the City-related audio-video works; and one really has to wonder, does this guy even know what the Taliban is? Does he have any idea of United States involvement in various Middle East regions well predating even the birth of Candice Bushnell that contributed to a certain, erm, anti-American, anti-West sentiment among certain inhabitants of those regions? As I've averred elsewhere, to say that this shadowy "they" hates the West for its licentiousness and materialism is in a sense as self-congratulatory as George W. Bush's "they hate our freedoms" pronouncement. Oh yes, beat your breast about our permissive, spiritually arid culture, but don't do a real thing to change it; if you did, you'd a) fail and b) not have anything to frigging blog about.

This is not to say that in certain circles of Islamic extremism a picture like Sex and the City 2 won't be deplored as an example of Western decadence and cultural imperialism. But to treat it as a...whaddyacallit?...root cause is really more than a little much. And let's face it: to merely invoke the "this is why they hate us" meme is, finally, to buy into the false consciousness that has justified what is an utterly bogus "war on terror." There. I said it and I'm glad.

As a great lady might have put it, how about a little Zizek, Scarecrow?

"...in the new global order, we no longer have wars in the old sense of a regulated conflict between sovereign states in which certain rules apply (humane treatment of prisoners, prohibition of certain weapons, etc.). What remains are 'ethnic-religious conflicts' which violate the rules of universal human rights, do not count as wars proper, and call for the 'humanitarian' intervention of the Western powers—even more so in the case of direct attacks on the U.S. or other representatives of the new global order, where, again, we do not have wars proper but merely 'unlawful combatants' criminally resisting the forces of universal order. Here, one cannot even imagine a neutral humanitarian organization like the Red Cross mediating between the warring parties, organizing an exchange of prisoners, and so on; one side in the conflict (the U.S.-dominated global force) already assumes the role of the Red Cross—it does not perceive itself as one of the warring sides, but as a mediating agent of peace and global order crushing particular rebellions and, simultaneously, providing humanitarian aid to 'local populations.'"

After reading Simpson’s comments over at the Rizov piece, I can’t help but think that a little more decorum would go a long way for the Right. Even their good points are drowned out by the static emitting from their blown speakers. “GASBAGS!”, indeed.
A great deal depends on where you put the root cause balance between Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Shah, and Sayyid Qutb. If you think it’s the first two (that is, the US policy of backing certain dictators while funding Islamic extremism as an anti-Soviet force), then the headline is pure false consciousness. If you think it’s the third (that is, the author of the ur-text of Islamic objections to Western decadence, frequently cited by anti-Western terrorists as the book that changed their life), then it’s at least a defensible joke.
If one’s knowledge of Panahi’s films doesn’t matter, then why did you make it a point at Vadim’s combox to state the therefore-irrelevance that “Rizov’s larger point holds: for the ‘Big Hollywood’ crowd, Panahi functions more as an object than a subject; I would imagine that John Nolte and/or Andrew Breitbart would rather have bamboo shoots shoved under their fingernails than watch one of his films.” Just a need for another example of How They Are Bad? The fact that few conservatives have seen Panahi’s films is merely a function of the fact that few Americans, period, have seen them — reflecting the American subtitle allergy, which is general and not ideologically determined. And for the record, I would be happy to show OFFSIDE, CRIMSON GOLD or THE WHITE BALLOON (or even THE CIRCLE, though I personally dislike it) to Nolte or Breitbart or any reasonably intelligent American adult, of any ideological stripe. In terms of accessibility to the non-hardcore, Panahi is not recent Kiarostami or Makhmalbaf (much less Tarr or Hou).
Mr. Morton: I absolutely don’t agree with your assertion that the “subtitle allergy” is “not ideologically determined.” I think it’s got very deep roots in xenophobia, which is nothing if not ideological. Exceptions such as “Inglourious Basterds” might not necessarily prove the rule, but they don’t disprove it either. And, no, what I was going for was not another example of how “They” are bad. Rather, I was making a direct assertion that Nolte and Breitbart are bad. And opportunistic. You can disagree with that, but I AM being specific.
Actually no, xenophobia is not ideological in this case, because subtitle allergy is an attitude held by almost all Americans of whatever ideology. Its ideological salience (and therefore the reasonableness of singling out Big Hollywood specifically on those grounds) in the actual current US, or the US of any time since the birth of the talkies, is therefore near-zero. As for Nolte and Breitbart, unless you have a knowledge base about them specifically that is greater than mine (and I doubt you do), the fact you named them doesn’t mean that you didn’t other them as obviously one of Those Bad Ones based on either a stereotype (conservatives are too stupid to read or xenophobic to watch furrin films) or evidence that doesn’t prove the point (neither retarded political opinions nor a bombastic persona equals a-priori disinterest in Jafar Panahi’s movies).
I just realized something else. On Vadim’s blog, you said to the BH poster that you weren’t speaking of him specifically but generally of “the Big Hollywood crowd.” Now you say you were not generalizing. Which is it?
I’d love to see some actual data backing up your speculations on the non-ideological nature of “subtitle allergy.” Fact is we’re both talking out of our butts on this particular aspect of the disagreement, but on the other hand, you’re the one who decided to deliberately misspell “foreign” so at to make the point about why I’m so offensive. As for my knowledge base on Nolte and Breitbart, I don’t feel particularly uncomfortable with it. Just to name a single for-instance out of any number of potential pieces, Nolte’s defense of the film “Kick Ass” and its Hit Girl character is not just objectively stupid, it’s so objectively stupid it could make you go blind. Breitbart’s a rage machine whose preferred method of arguing is to shout down whoever he thinks is in his face. It’s good for him that he seems to have glommed that public speaking while hoisting a beer stein is something to avoid, but that’s about as much progress as he’s made since becoming some kind of mutant alternative media kingpin. That said, you are 100 percent correct in your logic: their traits do not, in fact, necessarily speak to an a-priori disinterest in Panahi’s work. But would you say that the portents, such as they are, actually fill you with promise? And, my, you are a nit-picker. If I write something in a comment on the blog where Rizov writes, and then refine or expand on what I wrote there, if I insist on the privilege of changing my mind, well, then I guess people such as yourself are fully entitled to come in here and point your finger in my metaphorical chest and ask, “Which is it, huh? Huh?” It won’t really win me over in a hurry, I have to say. Still, you must have killed in debate club.
For me, the commercial success of “Inglorious Basterds” is a confirmation of the xenophobia of subtitle-allergic American filmgoers rather than an exception to it. After all, this is a film where every character who speaks in subtitled dialogue perishes or at the very least gets carved up by the time the end credits roll. Thus, far from challenging the xenophobia of the U.S. audience, Tarantino is rewarding it. At the end of the day, they can can go away happy knowing that Brad Pitt and co. have made the world safe for English (or, better yet, “American”).
I’d love to see some actual data backing up your speculations on the non-ideological nature of “subtitle allergy.” Fact is we’re both talking out of our butts on this particular aspect of the disagreement The only figure it is necessary to know is that subtitled foreign films get a tiny percentage of the US box office. You’d actually dispute that? (But for the record, US box office for 2009 was $10.47 billion — http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/. The Top 150 films, by which time we’re scraping the $8 million and less barrel, contained one foreign subtitled film, Miyazaki’s PONYO, at $15 million. The figure of 1 percent would be a combined $105 million, so I feel safe in saying 1 percent is a reasonable surmise for the foreign subtitled share of the US box office.) The rest is simple logic. If Americans gave 99 cents out of each movie-going dollar, an ideological cleavage cannot be the cause because there are too many liberals in the country. Even if not a single person among the 45% who voted for John McCain (an imperfect proxy for ideology, of course, but one that can be stated precisely) went to a single subtitled film all year long (an absurd assumption), that would still mean that the 54% who voted for Obama only gave slightly less than 2 cents of their movie-going dollars. I don’t know where the xenophobia threshold kicks in, but it’s hard for me to see much of a salient difference between 0%, 1% and 2%. As for your knowledge base on Nolte and Breitbart, you should not feel comfortable with it. You said on your own blog earlier today that “I have every conviction, for instance, that John Nolte believes you ought not be permitted to read ‘Lolita’ anywhere.” That is wrong. Totally. Absolutely. And based on what, if not “he’s stupid, therefore I can attribute any stupid thing I want to him”? I e-mailed Nolte, whom I happened to know is a fan of the Kubrick LOLITA film, and asked him whether he thought the book should be banned. His answer (in part): “Banned? Good heavens, no.” But I’m glad to see that you at least acknowledge that I am “100 percent correct in your logic: their traits do not, in fact, necessarily speak to an a-priori disinterest in Panahi’s work.” As for portents, they are what one chooses to see in them. The rational thing to do, if one were interested in doing something other than stroke a prejudice, would be to ASK them if they’ve seen and/or liked Panahi’s work. (I agree with 90 percent of Breitbart and Nolte’s politics, and I have seen 4 of his films and liked 3 a lot.) I don’t think political stupidity has anything to do with it. And if noting it when a person says X someplace and not-X somewhere else is nit -picking … well, yes, I was pretty good at debate in high school. One would think knowing what an argument is, what it can and can’t prove is a good thing, but I guess not.
I’ve never seen his films, but I think Panahi should be free. I’m a fan of almost all his films and I think Polanski should be in jail. I feel like such a terrible person. Please like me, Glenn. I NEED your approval.
Glenn I’m confused. Maybe you can clear a little discrepancy up for me. In one breath you rage against my defense of HIT GIRL, but in the next accuse me of wanting to ban LOLITA…? See the disconnect there? And this is why I’ve given you the Indian name: Pseudo-Intellectual Bitter Man. Even your hate is laughably inconsistent.
I’m a right-leaning dude who would rather watch THE AMERICAN FRIEND than AN AMERICAN CAROL any day of the week. I still think Nolte and his BH ilk are ill-informed philistines who never met an exclamation point, ad hominem attack, or heaping barrel of fuggin boo-hoo/wounded pride that they didn’t loudly slobber over. At least Mr. Kenny has enough respect to acknowledge the occasions he agrees with people he finds otherwise ideologically repulsive. The right seems to lack anyone who isn’t all fists and bludgeons when it comes to articulating their position on so-called culture war issues (with the exception, I will say, of Mr. Morton). To use an Olde Timey, pre-internet tete-a-tete as an example, the left has plenty of George Bernard Shaws while the right has just about zero G. K. Chestertons.
The ole’ I’m a right leaning dude who doesn’t like righties ploy. Well, it worked. I’m shutting BH down. Thank you for your wisdom fellow rightie. I’ve seen the light. But I am very impressed by your last sentence; the name-dropping, the use of “tete-a-tete.” What an intellect.
“…I am very impressed by your last sentence; the name dropping, the use to ‘tete-a-tete.’ What an intellect.” Ah. And here we see Mr. Nolte whip out the best, and pretty much only, weapon in his rhetorical arsenal: The anti-intellectual sneer. Because in his world, anybody whose brain functions at a higher level than that of, say, the trailer for “The Expendables” is by definition some kind of pseud.
Also, you really queered things for poor Victor Morton by stumbling in here with your angry Jonah Goldberg impersonation. He was about to win this thing hands down, and now he might have to forfeit on a guilt-by-association rap.
No, no, Glenn, you misread. I said I was “impressed.” I’m sorry I was trying to fit in. I thought it was a rule ‘round these parts that you must recognize anyone who uses ’George Bernard Shaw,’ ‘G.K. Chestertons,’ and ‘tete-a-tete’ in the same sentence. I remember my city college professor saying something like that, anyway. Well, not exactly that. He also used the words “Pabst,” “Blue,” and “Ribbon.” Anyway, don’t make fun of my limited arsenal or I’ll whip out my thesaurus and Google up some obscure references involving people with middle names to really give you all what-fer.
Phil
I’m interested in this subtitle-allergy/xenophobia argument. I’ve always felt that the prevalent subtitle-allergy among Americans was due, among other things, an unwillingness to put forth the effort. Laziness. To what extent that correlates with ideology I’m not sure. Are we lazy and don’t want to put forth the effort because we’re xenophobic or at the very least xeno-indifferent?
Glenn, The ole’ you were winning till you screwed up ploy. Very nicely played. Now, I’m regretting it all. Hey, did I compliment you for this? “…how about a little Zizek, Scarecrow.” Little movie reference, little Slovenian continental philosopher and critical theorist reference (thank heaven for Wiki!), and that classic dash of Kenny superior-bitterness. Will you e-stalk me now? Come on, you know how to do it. I must say you are much more entertaining as a nemesis.
An early Kurosawa film beckons, so I’ll have to be quick. (1) I have not the slightest shame in being on the same side as Mr. Nolte and I must say that “being judged by the dumbest (let us stipulate) among them” is a piss-poor way of judging among ideologies or settling an intellectual matter. (2) I have proven myself quite capable of criticizing a Big Hollywood writer if I wanted to. At the same time, I see no need to dissociate from it absolutely based on the fact that some of its writers aren’t very good and some of its commenters are worse (this is a feature of all group blogs and popular comment fields — Atlantic, NYTimes, Kos, Free Republic, etc.). This dovetails with my overall point about subtitlephobia — that conservatism gets blamed for something that is not a feature of it but a broader social phenomenon.
Jeez, Mr. Morton. I was making a joke. I thought that was clear from the use of the arcane phrase “queered things.” And it turned out Nolte actually was genunely impressed, so he says. Who the hell can figure out tone on these internets, eh? Which early Kurosawa, and what did you think of it, assuming you return here after you’re done? In all seriousness, I do like the cut of your intellectual jib, as it were…and now that I’ve Googled you I remember you’re Rightwing Film Geek. Of course. I shall have to add you to my blog roll. Which is not an attempt to solicit you to like me or anything.
Nolte: Just sub out “SummerSlam” for “tete-a-tete” and you’ll understand what I was trying to say. Not that you read to understand, just to police phrases you think are too smartypants and needin’ of the ridiculin’. If this were the eighth grade, would you stuff me in my locker? Probably, but only after you looked over my shoulder to get the answer for the test. (I always wondered what happened to school bullies when they grew up. As it turns out, some run shitty, ill-informed media watchdog sites.) Also: haven’t you heard? Drinking PBR is a sacrament for Williamsburg hipsters with shelves of Criterion Collection DVDs. You’ll have to find another libation to flaunt yer blue collar cred.
Careful Vic, Gregarious Glenn is a trap. Experience talking here. When Kenny wrote above “Rizov is a friendly acquaintance,” I wanted to warn him, too.
Philip, If we went back to the eighth grade together I wouldn’t stuff you in a locker, my friend. I’m a man of compassion. Instead, I would warn you not to become the kind of man who writes with no irony: “To use an Olde Timey, pre-internet tete-a-tete as an example, the left has plenty of George Bernard Shaws while the right has just about zero G. K. Chestertons.” Yours Truly, Shitty, Ill-Informed Media Watchdog Site Runner
I’ll make sure that I’m appropriately ironic next time I make a point involving polysyllabic words. After all, you can’t be earnest or intellectual these days if yer gonna make a point. That fag William Buckley and his ilk were the last of our breed to use those stuffy ole references and try to compose themselves with an ounce of dignity. Now it’s not cool to be conservative unless you’re on the verge of Glenn Beck-style apoplexy (or Palin-ish folksiness) at all times. And be sure to brand anyone smarter than you as “pseudo-intellectual” (even though, if you were honest, you’d just drop the “pseudo”). One thing Chairman Mao and today’s “conservatives” seem to have in common — distrust and fear of intellectuals.
And I don’t know why I continue. If this were a face to face debate, the wise thing to do would be to clam up, pay my tab, and split to better environs (check out Proverbs 26:4; sorry to use another high-falutin’ appeal to something literary and old). But I will leave you with this somewhat germane statement from Mr. Nolte: “SEX AND THE CITY 2 is a subversively patriotic, anti-Islamist fairy tale that ultimately comes down on the side of traditional values, and its creator, Michael Patrick King, has more guts than most everyone working at his level in the film industry today." That’s gotta be self-parody and, therefore, ironic, yeah?
Phil, er, I mean, Philip… You just called William Buckley a “fag.” What I love about you lefties is how a little nudge brings out your just-below-the-surface hate. Get a little under your skin and you’re doing what you always accuse us righties of doing. Suddenly being gay is a slur with you guys. Boy, glad I didn’t bring up Thomas Sowell. Who knows where that would’ve led? And no, I don’t distrust or fear intellectuals. Hint Homophobe: Using prases like tete-a-tete and name-dropping George Bernard Shaw (or Zizek) doesn’t make you an intellectual.
Philip, You’re calling Buckley a “fag” and digging ’round my old reviews? Question Homophobe: Do you think that ENcourages or DIScourages me?
The “fag” was meant to be a joke. No offense intended. I was simply branding him with a word that an anti-intellectual bully would use if Buckley happened to unironically drop a “tete-a-tete” or a “bete noire” or an “I don’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon.” That’s all. It was poorly rendered.
Well, I think you just proved your own theory wrong. Who used “fag?” The anti-intellectual or the poseur-intellectual?
Um … early Kurosawa … It was NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH. Setsuko Hara doesn’t know how not to be awesome, even swearily planting rice in peasant drag, and you can see Kurosawa’s debt to 30s Warners. But thus is my least-fave of the three pre-RASHOMON Kurosawas I’ve seen in last few weeks at AFI retro (after SCANDAL and ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY). YOUTH tries to cover too much ground methinks and the direction is sometimes crude and blunt (ditto the 30s Warners), clearly trying to make a post-war usable-history for Japan (the war passes with no American bombs or even much in the way of wartime privation). Thinking over the three films in general, I can’t help but wonder — if these films had been shown in Europe immediately after the war and become the West’s entree into Japanese cinema (instead of RASHOMON at Venice), would we today be referring to neorealism as a worldwide movement rather than an Italian one. All three films have elements of neorealism — ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY is a picaresque through bombed-out poverty and despair like BICYCLE THIEF, NO REGRETS has elements of OPEN CITY’s plotting and “usable history” aim, and DRUNKEN ANGEL has some of the lurid sexual-crime melodrama of OSSESSIONE, plus the same post-war jungle and who’s “up and down” in this milieu plotting.
doh … my first reference to SCANDAL (which played, but I missed it) should have been to DRUNKEN ANGEL (which also has UMBERTO D elements in th title character of an old man who thinks his life is pointless in this new world).
I.B.
Huh… serious news… footage of a pedophile disguised as a school… he’s been getting away with it in Sheffield for twelve years: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlEcGHxfltE Irony and sarcasm should be stritcly kept for those who understand how they work. And away from the BH crowd.
@ Victor: Your speculations on what the perception of neo-realism might have been had Kurosawa’s films been shown in Europe immediately after World War II reminded me of two things: Andrew Sarris’ wondering how neo-realism itself would have been perceived in the United States had rights issues not barred Visconti’s “Ossessione” (his uncleared adaptation of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”) from being screened here; and a discussion on Dave Kehr’s blog, threaded from his post on Rossellini’s “War Trilogy,” on whether neorealism was/is a school/movement at all and whether Rossellini, its ostensible founder, was a part of it! And also reminds me of how much I prefer discussing/arguing stuff like that as opposed to politics, and how I’d do well to remind myself of that. Often! Excelsior!
Mr. Kenny: Did you mean this thread at Dave Kehr’s blog (http://www.davekehr.com/?p=485) that, though exhaustingly encyclopedic on what actor was speaking which language himself vs. being dubbed in such-and-such film, never gets to the topic you mention. The NY Times article Mr. Kehr linked to (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/movies/homevideo/24dvds.html) doesn’t seem to have a comment field at all. But based on what you say here, I guess I’d want to know how far such a claim is being pushed. A weak version of it has been pretty well accepted for some time. For one thing, it’s a matter of historical record that as early as the early 1950s, all three canonical directors had made films that, while not uninfluenced by neorealism, were period dramas and/or outright fantasies fundamentally antithetical to neorealist aesthetics (Rossellini’s FRANCESCO and THE MACHINE TO KILL BAD PEOPLE; DeSica’s MIRACLE IN MILAN and Visconti’s SENSO). By the early 60s, none of the three were doing anything that, on the surface, owes anything to neorealism at all. The woman who taught me how to think about Italian cinema at the University of Texas, Penny Marcus, pointed out over the course of a semester that every one of the neorealist classics diverged at least somewhat from some of the canonical descriptions of neorealism by Zavattini, Rondi, Sadoul, Bazin and others. (For example, BICYCLE THIEF is an adapted novel and has a very literary picaresque moral-fable structure — it’s not real persons acting out scenes taken from or inspired by their own lives, like OPEN CITY or LA TERRA TREMA.) Ms. Marcus also said the following in her book “Italian Cinema in the Light of Neorealism” (http://bit.ly/b3k3mu): “But this is where a definition of neorealism encounters its most formidable problems, for the stylistic differences among its individual practitioners are often greater than their conformity to a given set of rules. Furthermore, neorealist filmmakers never constituted a formal group, such as the Futurists or the French ‘nouvelle vague’ filmmakers, who subscribed to a commonly agreed-upon aesthetic code. ’It’s not that one day we sat down at a table on Via Veneto,’ explained De Sica. ‘Rossellini, Visconti, myself, and the others and said: "now let’s create neorealism".’ Critical formulation of neorealist rules came after the fact — it did not furnish any a priori basis for cinematic practice. When Zavattini defined neorealism in his famous essay ‘Some Ideas on the Cinema,’ his was not the analysis of a disinterested critic but of a scriptwriter seeking theoretical justification for the particular aesthetic of his own work in ‘Shoeshine,’ ‘Bicycle Thief,’ and ‘Umberto D.’ " I don’t know how one could go as far as to say Rossellini wasn’t a part of it, though. His later films and statements just aren’t relevant (artists are allowed to develop, but not to repudiate their past work and its place in history). And I certainly don’t recall Rossellini denying it at the time. Even if neorealism were nothing else but an improvisation responding to the straitened postwar circumstances (the basic “it doesn’t exist as a school” argument Ms. Marcus cites slightly earlier in her book than the excerpt I quoted above) — well, of such stuff are aesthetics made. Art is never uninfluenced by the objective historical-material conditions … (vjm goes to rinse the Marxism out of his mouth), And that brings me back to Kurosawa. For all the differences between postwar Italy and postwar Japan related to how the war specifically played out and the specifics of the postwar regimes, Kurosawa had to deal with some of the same lacks — sets, money, equipment, intact locations — as Rossellini and DeSica. Kurosawa developed some of the same responses to that, like using bombed-out or ruined neighborhoods (and doing so in a bluntly symbolical mode in DRUNKEN ANGEL), and focusing on poor people and the rich-poor gap as a subject matter (ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY). But he also developed some different or opposite ones, like his shot length felt really short in NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH and he used a lot of expository newspaper montages. So again … curiosity. What ELSE was Japan producing at this time. (And this applies to Germany too — don’t forget that 1/3 of Rossellini’s canonical neorealist films were made and set in Germany.) But other than these three Kurosawas though, I’ve only seen two postwar pre-RASHOMON Japanese films, and they’re not congenial to such speculation. Whatever else may be said of them, Ozu’s LATE SPRING and Mizoguchi’s UTAMARO AND HIS FIVE WOMEN are entirely typical films from their respective directors — a marry-off-the-daughter home drama starring Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara, and a period costume piece about an artist using geishas — that make little or no reference to the war and could have been just as easily made in 1938 or 1955.
One other thing, Mr. Kenny. I realize you’ve taken back and apologized for the “he wants to ban LOLITA” claim about Mr. Nolte. So I hope you won’t consider this to be “piling on” or “not letting go,” but I want to explain something, for future reference at least. When a conservative film buff reads the writings of our almost-all-liberal best critics, particularly when they talk (almost always condescendingly and/or angrily) about conservatives or conservatism, he feels as if he is in some parallel universe. Not because of criticism, but because things get stated as facts that couldn’t be coming from even the most basic familiarity with rightist thought. I was 90 percent sure, even before asking Mr. Nolte, that he does not think LOLITA should be absolutely banned. Simply because government censorship (as opposed to private boycotts, nonbinding moral denunciation, and government refusal to subsidize) is something just this side of nobody on the right advocates. Nobody. The insularity and political consensus in film critic circles means that basically any bad thing said about conservatives becomes accepted as true because They Are Bad People. That kind of stuff will get my goat unfailingly. And given that Big Hollywood does have its faults, saying that seemed so turnoff-worthy gratuitous. In the early-00s, I played a game of guessing how far I could get into this week’s Jonathan Rosenbaum review without casting it aside in disgust (I rarely made it to the end). At about the same time, I wound up not extending my Film Comment subscription, from frustration at exactly those kinds of gratuitous shots that weren’t germane to the movies being written about. Anyway … I don’t blame you for not wanting to pursue this. I just say it in the hopes someone may profit from it in the future.
Mr. Nolte: I dunno if you are still reading this, but in the event you are, I just wanna know a couple of simple things. (1) Do you believe Patrick when he says he was using the word “fag” in an ironic way? If not, is that because (a) the word is too toxic to ever be used ironically, or (b) it can be used ironically, but Patrick objectively failed to do so? (2) What do you love more — cinema or anti-liberalism? If the latter, is that the case always and in every circumstance, or can there ever be situations where a lesser absolute love ought to take precedence in this circumstance?
Victor: Unless JN can somehow twist your words or drub you for pseudo-intellectualism, I don’t think you’ll see anything resembling an answer. Meanwhile, he did take time out of his day to mock the people mourning David Markson over at SCR.
Way late to the party, but to wit, favorite parts of John’s reply to Philip: 1. The assumption that, in the process of plainly complimenting Buckley at the expense of John Nolte, Philip meant “fag” sincerely. 2. The assumption that Philip – who identified himself as a conservative – is not just a non-conservative, not just a liberal, but a “lefty” (for the Noltes of the world – which is not to say for the conservatives of the world – political discourse is divided into Conservatives and Lefties, so by default anyone who criticizes a movement conservative, whether said critic is themselves conservative, classically liberal, Maoist, monarchist, or Objectivist, is a “lefty”). 3. The assumption that, Philip now being outed as a lefty, his view is plainly representative of every other lefty. 4. The assumption that, being outed as homophobes, “you guys” (curiously like that generalizations of conservatives that led many to criticize both Vadim and Glenn in the first place) are clearly racists as well. 5. The complete appropriation by John of what has in fact been a traditionally “lefty” tactic – accusing the opponent of prejudice and then withdrawing from conversation in a cloud of huffy self-righteousness, because, after all, such people cannot be talked to. 6. The refusal to respond to Philip’s actual point about William F. Buckley (who had no problem calling Gore Vidal a “goddamn queer”, sans irony I assure you – an exchange I actually found rather amusing, but then I’m not the member of the PC Police John appears to be). Being that Buckley would have no issue with “using prases [sic] like tete-a-tete and name-dropping George Bernard Shaw” and was rather inclined to do so himself. Pity John never returned to set Victor straight as well. In response to question #2: after giving John the benefit of the doubt for some time (as Glenn did too for a while), I would say it’s clearly the latter. And it isn’t even a contest for most Big Hollywood commentators (not true of all, by the way, but even the more astute respondents don’t seem much interested in film). Indeed, some commentators appear blissfully unaware the site is even nominally about movies, and their snark could be cut-and-pasted from Pajamas Media or, for that matter, Huffington Post with a few name-changes, switching “Repug” for “libtard” – the rest of the content could stay the same. Who’s the “lefty” clone again? It’s not so much the brand of ideology which is objectionable, but the use of ideology in the first place – along with the pernicious slander that the anti-ideologues are the true ideologues. All this “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” crap – with respect to the late professor, “you guys” can share that train with Zinn and argue about which direction it should go in all you want, I’m getting off.

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