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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—4 September 2009

On The Plurality Of Worlds: To those not of it, what is referred to as the "film blogosphere" is a relatively monolithic and one-dimensional virtual space populated by feisty nerdy fanboys on the one side and slightly befuddled old-media refugees on the other, and its concerns are largely...hermetic. Even when they are emanating from ComiCon [sp?], and concern the biggest blockbusters of the day.

Which makes it even more painful to contemplate the coverage of the horrific losses to film criticism and scholarship that occurred this week. In the world of this site, the Thr Auteurs Notebook, the awful murder of the young international film critics Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc is a galvanic catastrophe both personally and in a larger context of criticism's and cinema's development. But on other sites, the more putatively normative, Hollywood-concerned places presided over by Jeffrey Wells, David Poland, Anne Thompson, et. al., it's a non-event. Such is the case even at the supposedly more edgy and indie-sensitive Spout. (And let me just point out right here that my observation does not equal a condemnation, as I don't want the Spout kids to think I'm picking on them unduly again.)

So where does this undeniable and awful loss "fit in," as it were, in the "film blogosphere?" Looking at it from outside its heartbreaking-at-any-level personal tragedy component, the loss is to the most thoughtful and activist and really revolutionary component of the whole thing, the group of critics who, however you might have differed from them in particulars of aesthetics and ideology, really walked the walk for the new, the fresh, the real. Nika and Alexis, as memorialized on this site by Gabe Klinger, were not of the festival circuit routinely fetishized by Wells, Thompson, Spout, and yeah, myself and my former organization; no, they were of Berlin, Rotterdam, Ljubljana, Trieste, Hong Kong, outposts of world cinema shrugged off by the big festival types of the American mainstream press. Alexis championed Philpino film to the extent of showing his Manila students a 12-hour native film by Lav Diaz, a still from which is above. Me, and mine, are still trying to absorb our first viewings of Rivette's Out 1: Noli Me Tangere. Alexis, not yet 30, had gone ahead of that, it seems.

Consider this passage from J. Hoberman's review this week of Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool: "Alonso has stylistic affinities with an international group of youngish Festival directors—Albert Serra, Pedro Costa, Apichatpong Weersathakul, and Fred Kelemen are the best known—who might be called exponents of New Realism or the New Depressives. Each, though, has his own personal interests." Its disinterested tone doesn't lack respect, but it also indicates, as ground-breaking and passionate a critic as Hoberman is and has been, that he doesn't see himself as a force to champion these and other such filmmakers. That would have been the job of the younger guard that included Nika and Alexis.

Above: For Alexis by Apichatpong Weersathakul. Thanks to Gina Telaroli.

And what have I been up to earlier this week? Getting into an increasingly nasty and destructive pissing contest with my old bete noir David Poland, and let me just say right off the bat that while I still believe I'm right, it's not worth it, and I'm actually profoundly ashamed of how low I allowed my rhetoric to go therein. But. Let me note that in the midst of said pissing contest Poland makes the staggering proclamation that "ideas are more important than grammar." As if ideas could even exist without grammar. The epistemological idiocy of Poland's perspective aside, he nonetheless sometimes creates valuable work, as in his recent video interview with former Fox head and current independent producer Bill Mechanic. Mechanic is one of the savviest and aesthetically advanced execs of his generation, and any film lover or critic interested in what's really happening in Hollywood today needs to check this out. So give Poland credit where it's due—he had the access, get the guy in front of a camera, and let him talk. It would be sort of odd for me to leave off an implied plea for better communication within the varied sectors of the "film blogosphere" with a huffy announcement that I shall never cite or even mention a certain party on this site or any other ever again. And yet. I don't know what to do. Constructive criticism seems to be an oxymoron in certain of these parts, and I myself could very well be part of the problem. One of the many reasons Nika and Alexis will be missed is that they were part of the potential solution.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: And, typically, I got something fairly seriously wrong; as it happens, the ever soulful, ever observant Kim Voynar, blogging from an arm of Movie CIty News, did indeed create a very considered and beautiful post about Alexis and Nika, which deserves to be read and absorbed by all, from every corner of the so-called film blogosphere... 

All completely fair, Glenn. And might I note, MCN’s Ray Pride has dealt with this sad story from the beginning, linking many stories on our front page, not just on Movie City Indie. Indeed, I had no relationship with these two people. And you are right. My perspective is limited and their work is not a part of the beat I cover. But it is my philosophical choice to have a person like Ray, who is more a part of that world, keeping an aesthete’s agenda front and center on the website I own and operate, along with the crap about Hollywood. I can’t argue with your view of me as a heathen who does not linger on the things you smartly fetishize. By that standard, I certainly am an ape. When I fall into a romance with a film that you might consider worthy, I sometimes feel like I am a stranger in Art World. Then, of course, I hear some “very smart person” grossly overstate the importance of some hack director as a master or shred a true artist for sport, and I remember that we are all creatures of taste, whether we like it or not. I also realize that I can bring some needed attention to movies that deserve a wider embrace, whether I am in your club or not. I respect your passion for parts of this industry that are not of my primary concern. A passion for quality – whether we agree on what is of quality or not – is never without value. And popcorn is empty calories. I pop a lot of popcorn. But that popcorn keeps people who are more focused on the stuff you care about employed. It allows me the freedom to do 50+ hours a year of long-form interviews, which I offer the world for free, without expecting a cash or page view return. The popcorn price is one that I don’t even mind paying that gives me the chance to be a patron of things that go far beyond my personal interests… because that is a good thing. I don’t think we are all that different, Glenn. We love the same girl. You seem to think I am abusing her, living off her by selling peeks at her tits and ass, while you really love her, body and soul. I don’t see it that way. I thank you for the kind words. I am also sorry and embarrassed that it got so personal and angry. And I hope that we will find ways to comfortably share our beloved mistress. I would love to use my facilities to give you the opportunity (coastal issues aside) to express your passions on camera, whether in an interview with someone you believe in or on your own. I would love to have you on Super Movie Friends to get into whatever you want to get into. Whatever meager resources I have are yours if you want them. The critical community, of which we are both a part whether we like it or not, is too small and too besieged for us to be fighting about who loves The Maiden more or better.
To David Poland: That was a generous and well-considered response that I did not, finally deserve. You are right—we are both in thrall to the same mistress. So are our various allies, enemies, and so on and so forth. I am really very moved by the gesture you’ve made here (is “humbled” the right word?) and I’d be delighted to move detente into entente and maybe create a deeper understanding of mutual methods and so on. Not to wax too idealistically optimistic or anything. Nevertheless—thanks. As it turns out—and as the Yardbirds song says—Mister, you’re a better man than I.
Honestly, Glenn, this round of air kisses aside, I must say that I’m delighted to realize that someone in the void is and has been more of a tetchy, no-apologies John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness at the first sign of low-ball fame sucking, than even I. Too often I’ve thought, often to the dismay of my editors, that I was the only pissant in the stable, happy to mark the shoes of the inspid with my miction. Not so. May your fight-picking bear many irritable children. The filmhead “blogosphere” needs more ire and recalcitrance and spit-take outage, not less. Fuck the self-professed low brows, for they are the lackeys of industry.
Hey Glenn – I’ve been in TIFF prep hell, but thanks for the good words. I look forward to engaging constructively in future. But for now, a flight in 12 hours, an unpacked wife, and the effort to pretend that I am still young enough to operate on 4 hours of sleep beckon…

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