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Is there an aesthetic bias in the film community?

greg x

about 2 years ago

You can use the terms art and entertainment however you like Jazz, I’m saying that reliance on an idea of intersubjectivity or intersubjective criteria to determine art is a dead end. It simply doesn’t work. The terms for the criteria you are referencing are intersubjective only in their relatively common usage for describing response, without common agreement on their measure or meaning, which those terms certainly do not have, the criteria itself isn’t held in common, just the words. Those same words are just as useful, or not, in describing taste as it would apply to everyone in all circumstances regarding assessment and judgment of movies whether art or entertainment. Most people might not think of such things in precisely that way, as the subject isn’t of interest to them, but in matters of discrimination the same criteria will still be there lurking in the background. Those same criteria are what makes someone think Star Wars is the greatest film ever, they speak to the preference for Gone in 60 Seconds over Eat My Dust for a car buff, or informs the decision of a Helen Mirren fan who likes Prime Suspect more than The Queen. The way these criteria are applied comes from a different context or starting point than it might be for you or I, but then again you and I would have different points of reference as well.

The application of the criteria as I hear you describing it is more a process of rationalization, of deliberate selection of which movies are worthy of being called art and which aren’t. The term becomes something of an honorific in that way. Nothing wrong with that as your process of selection works for you, but at the same time it doesn’t translate to others regardless of how carefully one tries to select the criteria or finesse the use. The main difference is in the selection of a desired end result, you are seeking to label a film as art or not art and someone else might use similar criteria to select their favorite slasher flick. One thing that has stood out throughout our conversations is how often you use this idea of intersubjective criteria to describe a negative outcome rather than as “proof” of a positive. This, to me, is suggestive of a concern for making sure one has some sort of “proper” respect for art, a concern which most people do not share so the criteria used to claim the term will never reach the desired effect if the starting point is so different.

One of the things I find interesting about the discussion is how you’ll suggest that one needn’t look at something like Raiders of the Lost Ark the same way as one would a movie like Tree of Life. This goes to the issue of convention and context which I was referring to earlier. I don’t have time to go into that now, but it is something which I think needs more discussion.

Matt Parks

about 2 years ago

“If I think of a typical moviegoer, I don’t think that notions of art and good art really matter very much.”
.

Yeah, in a limited sense, I would agree with that. Greg said, though, “What we ‘enjoy’ is at least as much shaped by intersubjective factors as thinking about art, I’d even say more so since it is both so much more common and so much less examined than notions of art as you seem to hold them” . . . which is basically what I’m thinking. An individual viewer might not been thinking about a film in same way as another, but s/he’s still going to have a concept of what a “good” (or “great”) film is, and that concept is still going to have arisen from an analogous field of available options, preferences, influences, etc. The specifics may not be the same as the “film as art” narrative, but the general process of how such concepts of “good” are formed is pretty much the same.

.

In other words, it seems like you’re attaching the term “intersubjective” only to a very specific instance of intersubjectivity—the Bordwellian “aesthetic bias,” (still trying to tie this back to the OP) that there are a “general criteria of excellence” vis-à-vis film criticism.
While I would agree that Bordwell’s description works at the level of broad generalization as a description of how one begins to put together a vocabulary with which to talk about films in relatively objective-ish terms, I don’t see that there’s any way to satisfactorily work it into a functional prescriptive system. At most it may help us match up words and concepts that may be understand by a relatively diverse group of people to the emotional/perceptual “notes” (musical metaphor intended here) that a work may strike in you before any of that other stuff takes place.

Oxymoron

about 2 years ago

I realized last night when I read this thread from the beginning, that I had jumped into the deep end of the pool when I came to this thread. I had stumbled upon one of our mega-threads where some of our heavy-hitters like Greg, Robert, Matt, and Jazz like to hang out. Many separate issues have been discussed, so I’m going to respond to Jazz’s last post response to me and then deal with a couple of the issues raised by Jazz’s commentary and others in the thread.

First, to clear up a misunderstanding (I believe), Jazz. When you say re CCC films and my comments:

I don’t think this is a good example. First, slow pacing, minimal action, etc. aren’t criteria for artistic excellence so much as qualities we associate with CCC films. So we’re not agreeing that these are general standards of excellence.

Jazz, I wan’t saying these were measures of excellence, just some ways of describing a certain type of film that might show some common aspects of these type of films – as in a genre. I didn’t mean these as absolutes to define quality. There was no value-judgment implied in using these terms, just to be clear. Evaluating whether one likes this style of filmmaking or a particular film in that category is an individual thing.

The important thing is that the opinions come from using the appropriate principles and criteria for judging whether an artwork is good or not. This is not insignificant. This process allows us to screen out inappropriate criteria and principles, which there are many.

OK, so here’s the problem: Just exactly what are the ‘appropriate principles and criteria’? I think this is the key, Jazz, as Greg and others are wondering if there are any that can be defined. If you can establish a group of principles that works for you in your own evaluation, apply it to specific films, and then throw it out for discussion, maybe each of us could then see how it works. Prepare for fireworks, though. Good luck with that!

Otherwise, it seems we are all talking in circles around this issue and that the term ‘intersubjectivity’ is being used in various and contradictory ways by all (including myself) in this thread. Because I’m not clear how this term fits here (or what it really means relative to criticism), I’m not going to use it when reflecting my own take on the subject. I am leaving the ‘intersubjectivity’ ship in case it sinks somewhere in this thread.

Now, back to the thread…

First, I think Greg has brought up a valid point that frames of reference re art and film as art are inherently blurred. By pointing us to the Anthony Tommasini article where Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and Eleanor Rigby are compared and both found of somewhat ‘equal value’, a distinction is lost between, to use a loaded term – high art and low art. As Greg reminds us, it is difficult or impossible to distinguish and separate art films from entertainment films in any significant way within the current framework of discussion.

I think that any thinking about how any work of art – in the case film – should be interpreted must rely on a detailed, critical assessment of it. I think this might be what Jazz is advocating. Where there seems to be disagreement with others here is just how that evaluation should happen, what terms and contexts, and is it possible to make any final claims as to what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘great’ art.

Because this is all tied into complicated questions of aesthetics and our understanding of them, I don’t think we are going to arrive at any terms or contexts that we can apply to each and every work of art or film. Just deciding on what does indeed constitute a work of art relative to a film is a sticky business. One thing is clear, however, we must lose the distinction between art and entertainment. These are not mutually exclusive terms, but ultimately value-judgments – just like saying this is ‘good’ art and this is ‘bad’.

Jazz, using his ‘intersubjective’ approach (I think I see where you are coming from in using this term now, Jazz, as a sort of process of evaluation one goes through with others), tries to establish a method for film appreciation one can apply to any film. He is advocating looking at the film in terms of how well it achieves certain aims. But where the problem comes in is whether these methods can really ultimately define what is ‘good’ or ‘great’ in art or film.

Certainly, a detailed, critical analysis of any film or work of art can illuminate it. However, we can apply a detailed, critical analysis to any film in any genre or time period. We can look at the film in context to its time period and other similar films, in terms of technical aspects (lighting, framing, mis-en-scene, individual acting, script, etc.) However, we can’t then establish a hierarchy of ‘good’ and ‘bad films’ relative to one another. We could at best say this film is a good example of its genre or type because it achieves certain goals. But such an approach, involving all the details one likes, won’t tell us if Star Wars is a better film than Citizen Kane. That’s why canonical ratings are so dangerous, as they are ultimately a value-judgment made, where one film is ranked higher than another. Only by going into a detailed analysis can we see how any film measures up, but just to its own specific type or films that are similar.

What we value in a work of art or film will vary from person to person. Someone may value a film that retains an air of mystery, where all the puzzles defy our easy interpretation. Another may value films that they find are close to life, realistic, or express some verisimilitude to real life. Others may value a literate script, or good dialogue. Some may value the beauty of individual frames. Some may want a narrative that flows logically. Some may like a film that is quick paced with action and movement from frame to frame. All of these, and many more, are valid measures of whether a film works for us or not. All are however ultimately subjective approaches that we make, based on our own view of what we value in a film.

Therefore, there is not one size fits all. Each film is different and each viewer comes to the film with different expectations. How well these expectations are met means how highly we value the film. It will inherently vary from person to person. Appreciation of art is ultimately relativistic. There are no absolute frames of reference. The reason we still do rate films in some sort of hierarchy is ultimately subjective. We can then cherry-pick the results from any ranking and form our own results. The only analyses that matters then, are those that best conform or expand on our own viewpoint. We can’t escape our own taste and expectations no matter what critical language we use as our frame of reference.

There are no absolutes in art or taste, just an endless circling by each moth around the flame.

I know I’m just whistling Dixie down a dark alley (mainly to myself), but there you go.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

The only analyses that matters then, are those that best conform or expand on our own viewpoint.

That^

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Robert

Art can be enjoyed as much as any ‘great’ entertainment.

Right. This is mainly a matter of semantics. I could use the word “enjoy” to describe my experience of art films, but it doesn’t seem appropriate when the art films are difficult to understand and appreciate. Enjoy seems more appropriate for art that require little or no effort on my part—the more labor and effort to understand, let alone appreciate, the less appropriate the word “enjoy” seems to be.

When we go back to Bell/Langer, there might be separation of the type of emotions involved i.e. direct vs aesthetic – but at the point of impression, I’m not sure we could tell the difference; hence, the need to believe that the expression somehow contains the difference between direct vs aesthetic emotions.

FWIW, I’m referring to direct emotions like sorrow, happiness, etc. versus aesthetic emotions. I’m thinking of the difference between art that is pleasing because it really satisfies our personal tastes and preferences—and it’s basically effortless because of that versus art that we struggle to understand and appreciate, partly because the film doesn’t suit our tastes. We may eventually come to greatly appreciate and admire such works, but the difficulty of getting to this appreciation, as well as the conflict with our personal tastes, make this experience significantly different from the former. Does that make sense?

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Matt

An individual viewer might not been thinking about a film in same way as another, but s/he’s still going to have a concept of what a “good” (or “great”) film is, and that concept is still going to have arisen from an analogous field of available options, preferences, influences, etc. The specifics may not be the same as the “film as art” narrative, but the general process of how such concepts of “good” are formed is pretty much the same.

The general process might be similar. HOWEVER, defining the concept of good in terms of the “film as art narrative” is very different from defining good in terms of what the individual viewer likes. I’m sure that there is at least a little bit of overlap, and perhaps, for some people, the two concepts may be one and the same—what they like is the same thing as what constitutes good art, as determined by intersubjective notions of art. My sense is that for many people, these ways of defining a good film are quite distinct, with more differences than overlap.

Thinking out loud, I wonder if, for you and Greg, the differences between the two are minimal—to the degree that you see what you like and what you think is a good art are almost the same. That’s not the case for me, although maybe the two definitions have been converging over time. (Can we say that for the development of a cinephile, little overlap occurs between the two definitions, and then gradually more overlap occurs over time?)

In other words, it seems like you’re attaching the term “intersubjective” only to a very specific instance of intersubjectivity—the Bordwellian “aesthetic bias,” (still trying to tie this back to the OP) that there are a “general criteria of excellence” vis-à-vis film criticism.

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

While I would agree that Bordwell’s description works at the level of broad generalization as a description of how one begins to put together a vocabulary with which to talk about films in relatively objective-ish terms, I don’t see that there’s any way to satisfactorily work it into a functional prescriptive system.

If by “vocabularly” you mean the criteria of excellence, I’ve tried to go beyond that by offering principles for the process. For example: a film is good if it fulfills the terms, conditions and goals it has set for itself, and it is great if it does this in an extraordinary way. To determine this, one must determine what a film is really about—i.e., understanding the core or heart of the film—as well as determining the terms, conditions and goals the film has set for itself. To determine if a film has succeeded in an extraordinary fashion, we look for the general standards of excellence.

At most it may help us match up words and concepts that may be understand by a relatively diverse group of people to the emotional/perceptual “notes” (musical metaphor intended here) that a work may strike in you before any of that other stuff takes place.

I’m not really clear on this part. Do you mean the general standards of excellence allow as to communicate the areas of merit—in a way that people with different outlooks might understand? (What do you mean by “before any of that stuff takes place?”)

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

Yes, that makes sense.
When I say I enjoy a Godard film, that is a direct emotion. It would be the same ‘enjoy’ for a piece of entertainment like The Mechanic.
But I not parsing art or entertainment then – it is just a gross impression.
Therein is a potential difference between high and low art.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Greg

You can use the terms art and entertainment however you like Jazz,…

Wait, to be clear, this isn’t about defending my definition of art and entertainment. I thought that maybe we were defining some key terms differently and that caused some of the confusion. So I wrote about some of the key terms we may have been defining differently, and I wanted to know if that was the case. Was this the case? Did I understand you correctly? Which parts did I understand correctly and which parts did I get wrong? (Btw, this is sort of what I meant when I talked to you about a dialectic approach.)

(Based on you recent post, I still think you’re imposing an art versus entertainment dichotomy on my position—which isn’t where I’m coming from. My issue isn’t separating art from entertainment, but finding a way to determine if a film—either an art film or “entertainment” film—is good, bad or even great—while determining this in a way that isn’t purely subjective, which I think is possible. This is the whole problem I’m been trying to resolve ever since I’ve been on this site!)

The terms for the criteria you are referencing are intersubjective only in their relatively common usage for describing response, without common agreement on their measure or meaning, which those terms certainly do not have, the criteria itself isn’t held in common, just the words.

We may not agree on the precise meanings of the terms, but we do have a general understanding of them. For example, we may have define originality in slightly different ways, but we do have a general understanding of the term—and that’s sufficient, imo. The fact that we define the terms in slightly different ways partly explains we can disagree about a film being good or bad—and I don’t see this as a problem. I’m not looking for pure objectivity.

Those same words are just as useful, or not, in describing taste as it would apply to everyone in all circumstances regarding assessment and judgment of movies whether art or entertainment.

The question, for me, isn’t that the words can’t be used to describe one’s taste. Where the general standards of excellence overlap with one’s personal taste, then the intersubjective terms could be used to describe one’s personal tastes.

The application of the criteria as I hear you describing it is more a process of rationalization, of deliberate selection of which movies are worthy of being called art and which aren’t.

No, I don’t think this is accurate. I’m not talking about distinguishing art from entertainment or non-art. I’m trying to figure out how to determine if a film is good, bad or even great. The film could any type of film—even Raiders of the Lost Ark or Tree of Life!

One thing that has stood out throughout our conversations is how often you use this idea of intersubjective criteria to describe a negative outcome rather than as “proof” of a positive.

You mean I haven’t shown how the intersubjective process can show how a film is good? Or I’ve only talked about how an intersubjective process helps avoid a negative outcome? ?

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Robert

(Correction: I meant to say, “FWIW, I’m NOT referring to direct emotions like sorrow, happiness, etc. versus aesthetic emotions.” Argh!)

Wait. I’m not talking about high art versus low art or entertainment versus art films.

Let’s take two art films that I think are great—L’Avventura and Werckmeister Harmonies.

The former was not difficult to watch. It kept my attention from the beginning and I was always curious to see what would happen next. While watching the film, I also felt like a had a good idea about what was going on (although I wasn’t entirely sure until the final shot). Compared to the other film, I enjoyed this movie and thought it was a great.

On the other hand, the latter was difficult to watch. I dozed off at several points because of the long static scenes. I had no clue what was going on in the film. I had no theories about why these scenes went on for so long, and I didn’t know what the film was about. So I didn’t enjoy this experience. Only later when I interpreted the monologue did the film make sense to me—so much so that I thought the film was a great one.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

You mean I haven’t shown how the intersubjective process can show how a film is good?

Here’s maybe a different perspective:
When one ‘becomes’ inter subjective, one is moving away from the ‘greatness’ of the object.
Listing or defining the inter subjective criteria, doesn’t move one any closer to the object.
Those criteria relate to an understanding of intersubjectivity.

Matt Parks

about 2 years ago

“The general process might be similar. HOWEVER, defining the concept of good in terms of the “film as art narrative” is very different from defining good in terms of what the individual viewer likes.”

Only in the sense that they’re making reference to different vocabularies/narratives (or perhaps the same vocabularies/narratives in different ways) And, as Greg sort of said earlier, even if you and Bordwell and me and Robert and Greg and Oxy can all match “criteria” labels on a term for term basis, the underlying “meaning” of these criteria would still come down to the individual/personal sphere.

“Thinking out loud, I wonder if, for you and Greg, the differences between the two are minimal—to the degree that you see what you like and what you think is a good art are almost the same. That’s not the case for me, although maybe the two definitions have been converging over time. (Can we say that for the development of a cinephile, little overlap occurs between the two definitions, and then gradually more overlap occurs over time?)”

Yeah, we’ve had this conversation before (though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where exactly)—at first it’s like learning a new language, you have to think about vocabulary and grammer and such a lot, then eventually you get fluent and you don’t.

“Do you mean the general standards of excellence allow as to communicate the areas of merit—in a way that people with different outlooks might understand? (What do you mean by “before any of that stuff takes place?”)”

When you talk about “criteria” and “principles”, you’re talking about an awareness of chracteristics that are really part of second-level mental processing. Prior to all that you have the perception of the expressivity of forms and sounds. Arnheim:

“We have been trained to think of perception as the recording of shapes, distances, hues, motions. The awareness of these measurable characteristics is really a fairly late accomplishment of the human mind. Even in the Western man of the twentieth century it presupposes special conditions. It is the attitude of the scientist and the engineer or of the salesman who estimates the size of a customer’s waist, the shade of a lipstick, the weight of a suitcase. But if I sit in front of a fireplace and watch the flames, I do not normally register certain shades of red, various degrees of brightness, geometrically defined shapes moving at such and such a speed. I see the graceful play of aggressive tongues, flexible striving, lively color. The face of a person is more readily perceived and remembered as being alert, tense, concentrated rather than being triangularly shaped, having slanted eyebrows, straight lips, and so on. "

. . . so, by “any of that other stuff,” I mean the conscious, rational-minded part of attaching “criteria” and “principles” to a work, and by “before any of that other stuff,” I mean the gestalt of the work, the perception of the expressivity of the form of a work that precedes the conscious, rational processing that you’re talking about.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

@Jazz
I’m NOT referring to direct emotions …
A direct emotion ‘enjoyment’ was mentioned, not aesthetic emotions in the films – so my answer can be unchanged.
….difference between art that is pleasing because it really satisfies our personal tastes and preferences— (it’s basically effortless because of that)sic versus art that we struggle to understand and appreciate, partly because the film doesn’t suit our tastes.

Okay – got it. Let me ask you: what is the motivation to make that distinction?

re: L’Avventura and Werckmeister Harmonies
I thought WR was awful, yet it is a great film? how?
Being able to rationalize the film seems to be a part of your criteria for greatness:
Only later when I interpreted the monologue did the film make sense to me—so much so that I thought the film was a great one.
Yeah, I can interpret it too, but that didn’t make it great for me. I would compare it to Limits of Control, because of the amount of work I had to do analyzing the films.

It’s the ‘how’ that should be determinant for one’s appreciation. A film doesn’t have to ‘make sense’ to me only achieve a totality. Thus, what I’m saying is that a totality can be made up of aesthetic emotions that don’t make sense.
I realize my response is difficult because I can’t answer your questions directly. I don’t relate to greatness or taste because these things are outside of my concern – they belong to the uh… social network.

I’m guessing the social network is the motivation to make that distinction between:
art that is pleasing and effortless and art that we struggle to understand and appreciate.

The social network IS a motivation, but using that to build inter subjective criteria, seems unworkable to me.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Robert

When one ‘becomes’ inter subjective, one is moving away from the ‘greatness’ of the object.
Listing or defining the inter subjective criteria, doesn’t move one any closer to the object.

Oh! that’s really interesting (no sarcasm intended). I’m doing more than listing or defining insubjective criteria, but let’s leave that aside for now. Let me try and understand the approach you’re suggesting. Why do you say that “becoming intersubjective” moves way away from “greatness?” I suspect you’re saying that because the greatness must be experienced personally or subjectively—and the “intersubjective mode” moves one away from the personal/subjective. Is that right?

A direct emotion ‘enjoyment’ was mentioned, not aesthetic emotions in the films – so my answer can be unchanged.

No, I mentioned direct emotions and aesthetic emotions. I meant to say that I wasn’t applying the direct vs. aesthetic emotional dichotomy.

Let me ask you: what is the motivation to make that distinction?

First, I don’t want my appreciation or understanding of films to be limited by my personal tastes. There’s a tendency to automatically blame a film if it doesn’t suit one’s tastes or if one has trouble understanding the film. This can lead to equating one’s personal tastes with general standards of excellence—e.g., if the film didn’t suit my tastes, the film isn’t any good. This is a trap that I want to escape. By making the distinction, I don’t just give up on a film if I don’t immediately get it or like it. Can you relate to that? Maybe you’ve passed this point so long ago that you’ve forgotten about it. It’s still fresh in my mind, and I think a lot of Americans who have a strict pop culture diet (which includes myself) have to deal with this problem—IF they become interested in art or “film art as narrative” as Matt called it.

Basically, I’m interested in identifying and experiencing great art. If I ever lose interest in the notion of great art, then these matters won’t mean much to me. All I’ll care about is if the I liked the film or didn’t. (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Second, I wanted an answer to the problem of subjectivity and objectivity in assessing art. Here’s what I mean: one person says Tranformers is the greatest film and CK is a terrible film. If you disagree with this—if you believe that not all opinions are equally valid (i.e., that judging films are purely subjective), how do you explain this? Making the distinction is an important way to answer this question. Once you acknowledge that personal that the quality of a film doesn’t entirely depend on personal taste—that one can like a film, but think it’s bad or vice versa—then you can begin to solve this problem.

Yeah, I can interpret it too, but that didn’t make it great for me.

Right. Spending a lot time interpreting a film doesn’t mean you’re going to think it’s great. (That happened with Enduring Love and Sideways for me.) As for WH, we did go back and forth on the film (I don’t think you responded to the last question I asked you, though), but I don’t mind explaining myself. If you’re interested how about we continue the discussion in that thread? Here’s the link.

I would compare it to Limits of Control, because of the amount of work I had to do analyzing the films.

Was the film confusing and unpleasant to watch? Did you only “get” or like the film after the analysis? Just curious.

It’s the ‘how’ that should be determinant for one’s appreciation. A film doesn’t have to ‘make sense’ to me only achieve a totality. Thus, what I’m saying is that a totality can be made up of aesthetic emotions that don’t make sense.

But suppose a film doesn’t initially achieve a totality? How do you know that if the deficiency lies in you or the film?

I realize my response is difficult because I can’t answer your questions directly. I don’t relate to greatness or taste because these things are outside of my concern – they belong to the uh… social network.

I don’t know what you mean by “social network,” but I think I understand we’re you’re coming from. You don’t care if a film is great or not—all you care about is if the film is good to you—which is primarily based on achieving a totality. Everything hinges on that. I might get to the point where I don’t care about the question of greatness or whether something is good or not—beyond my personal satisfaction.

I’m curious: do you basically like a film is it achieves a totality and not like a film if it doesn’t?

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

and the “intersubjective mode” moves one away from the personal/subjective. Is that right?
Yeah basically, and from a cognitive perspective the social network (you want me to use that instead of herd right?) thinks differently. Group thought elicits different chemicals in the brain. It might be why rational individuals do irrational things in group behavior.

LoC was easy to watch just difficult to understand on one view.

But suppose a film doesn’t initially achieve a totality? How do you know that if the deficiency lies in you or the film?
I don’t, but I can do some research. With LoC there was that feeling but I just needed to wordify it. Werckmeister Harmonies there has never been a totality for me and I think it was because Tarr’s intent was to be anti-narrative in a way that he didn’t work out visually. You can get a taste of what I think is wrong from Bordwell, on another Hungarian film director, Miklós Jancsó starting here on page 30: Every critic who writes on a Jancsó film is tempted to count the shots, plot the camera’s gyrations….

…do you basically like a film is it achieves a totality and not like a film if it doesn’t?
As much as I remember every film I’ve seen, yes.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

I wanted an answer to the problem of subjectivity and objectivity…

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. —Linji

Matt Parks

about 2 years ago
So . . . it seems like one of the underlying issues here is the role of learning in relation to what one thinks is “good.” How does the accumulation of knowledge of film history—both in terms of seeing a greater and greater number of films and accumulation of knowledge via discussion (such as these), reading, etc.—impact what we think is good? Maybe I’m way off here, but I get the sense that this is what Jazz is struggling with, how do I make sense of changes in interest, differing perspective, shifting ideas about what film is, etc.? There’s sort of an arc from relative certainty about one’s opinions, to relative uncertainty, then back to relative certainty?

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Robert

Yeah basically, and from a cognitive perspective the social network (you want me to use that instead of herd right?) thinks differently.

“Think differently” in a bad sense—e.g., “lowest common denominator?” I don’t think intersubjectivity in this way—not the process I’m talking about anyway. For example, the principle of fulfilling the terms, conditions and goals in an extraordinary fashion is closer to something elite than lowest common denominator, imo.

Also, the process I’m describing isn’t mindless, but the opposite really. The individual has to make the determination—even though the process utilizes principles and criteria that many people agree upon. So it’s possible I could use the process and conclude that Transformers is a great film and CK is not. Whether this argument is compelling will depend on how well I use the principles and criteria I’ve described.

I don’t, but I can do some research. With LoC there was that feeling but I just needed to wordify it. Werckmeister Harmonies there has never been a totality for me and I think it was because Tarr’s intent was to be anti-narrative in a way that he didn’t work out visually.

Well, if you’re game, I’m willing have another go at making a case for the film. (I think I understand visuals except for a few.)

You can get a taste of what I think is wrong from Bordwell, on another Hungarian film director, Miklós Jancsó starting here on page 30: Every critic who writes on a Jancsó film is tempted to count the shots, plot the camera’s gyrations….

I’m unfamiliar with Jancso, so will the piece still make sense? (Are there spoilers?)

As much as I remember every film I’ve seen, yes.

OK, that makes sense. (I mean, it makes sense why we might not connect or why you might not be interested in anything I have to say on this matter—and I’m being serious. If you’re not interested in greatness, than what I’m saying means very little, I think.)

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. —Linji

That’s a bit too dramatic, don’t you think? ;)

greg x

about 2 years ago

What exactly is the connection between this criteria and “aboutness” as you see it Jazz? They seem to be two different things to me, each with their own problematic aspects.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Matt

Maybe I’m way off here, but I get the sense that this is what Jazz is struggling with, how do I make sense of changes in interest, differing perspective, shifting ideas about what film is, etc.?

Well, I think this is related to what I’m talking about. I will say that the key change, at least for me, was the interest in what makes good art (Note to Greg: this applies to Hollywood films, too), and the interest in more “objective” evaluations of art. Had I not become interested in these questions, I don’t think what I’m saying would matter very much.

There’s sort of an arc from relative certainty about one’s opinions, to relative uncertainty, then back to relative certainty?

Here’s what this makes me think of:

Stage 1: What is a good film is equivalent to what one likes. Personal tastes and intersubjective standards and principles of excellence are either conflated or one and the same. Perhaps, the person adopts the position that all judgments about film are subjective. The stage is characterized by a feeling of relative certainty.

Stage 2: Awareness that personal tastes and preferences are not necessarily the same. The person may have a growing awareness that not all opinions are equally valid; at the same time the person may not believe that objectivity is possible. The subjectivity-objectivity conundrum leads to uncertainty.

Stage 3: Intersubjective approach resolves the subjectivity-objectivity conundrum. The person has an easier time delineating judgments based strictly on personal tastes and those that are intersubjective. The person feels more certain*. (*Note: By “certain,” I don’t mean the person feels like all their answers are definitive and immutable. Change and growth can still occur over time, but a solid framework for dealing with subjectivity-objectivity has been found and this is what provides a sense of certainty.)

Basically, this describes the process I’ve been going through.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

That’s a bit too dramatic, don’t you think?

It’s a Koan: become one with subjectivity and objectivity

Well, if you’re game, I’m willing have another go at making a case for the film. (I think I understand visuals except for a few.)

WH? I’d have to watch it again. I’d be looking to see whether a lack of causality is the problem.

why you might not be interested in anything I have to say on this matter…
I’m interested in it in an academic sense.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Matt

Only in the sense that they’re making reference to different vocabularies/narratives (or perhaps the same vocabularies/narratives in different ways)

Maybe we should give some concrete examples of “vocabularies/narratives”—just to be sure we’re thinking of them in the same way. By “vocabularies,” I’m thinking primarily of criteria and qualities of a good film. So maybe “originality” might be an example (intersubjective); or the presence of a lot of action and stunts (personal taste)

By “narratives,” I’m thinking you mean the history of ideas and culture that produce the concepts and ideas that helps one understand and appreciate movies. This can come from the larger culture, but it may also include the influence of one’s parents and the experiences one has while growing up.

So when I evaluated movies without really caring if the movies were “objectively” good or not, I drew upon a very different set of vocabularies/narratives then I do now. Actually, to be precise, the older vocabulary/narrative still exists, but I have a different set for more “objective” judgments. (At the same time, there is overlap between the two.)

My point is that this concern with a more “objective” judgment was really crucial. Most of the people I know don’t care if the film is “objectively” good or not. They only care about if they like the film. Caring only about if one likes a film and a more “objective” judgment are very different processes. (Maybe you’re already saying that, but I just want to emphasize this point.)

And, as Greg sort of said earlier, even if you and Bordwell and me and Robert and Greg and Oxy can all match “criteria” labels on a term for term basis, the underlying “meaning” of these criteria would still come down to the individual/personal sphere.

As I mentioned to Greg, we may have define these terms in slightly different ways, but we’re in the same ballpark. But I don’t think this is a problem. For example, suppose we’re all using “originality” as a general criterion for excellence. We might all define this in slightly different ways, and that may even lead to different conclusions. But this is something that can’t be avoided and it’s a relatively minor issue when you compare it to the almost infinite amount of criteria that determine whether a person enjoys a film or not. The fact that we can narrow the process down to a few criteria and principles—while excluding many, many others—is not small accomplishment, imo.

Yeah, we’ve had this conversation before (though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where exactly)—at first it’s like learning a new language, you have to think about vocabulary and grammer and such a lot, then eventually you get fluent and you don’t.

Hmm, I think we’re still on different pages. I think I remember the conversation—it involved learning about film theory and gaining greater knowledge of filmmaking. That’s a different issue. There, I was concerned more about the seeing the filmmaking and not experiencing the film.

What I’m suggesting, instead, is that maybe you, Robert and Greg have a personal taste for art, as well the concept of art. So maybe what you like is almost synonymous with what your “objective” assessment of art. For me, the overlap isn’t so great, although it might be converging over time. See what I mean? (Or are we still on different wavelengths?)

. . . so, by “any of that other stuff,” I mean the conscious, rational-minded part of attaching “criteria” and “principles” to a work, and by “before any of that other stuff,” I mean the gestalt of the work, the perception of the expressivity of the form of a work that precedes the conscious, rational processing that you’re talking about.

OK, I think I understand what you’re saying (although I have a question about primary level of perception, which I’ll ask later). You’re saying the value of criteria and principles of excellence are valuable because it allows us to describe our “perception of expressivity” to other people.

But I think the criteria and principles give individuals a basis for evaluating whether a film is good or not—in a way that is not purely subjective. I’m not using the process to simply describe my reaction, but a way to make a case for whether a film is a great or not. With this intersubjective criteria and principles, it’s just my personal taste versus someone else’s. So if someone says that CK is a terrible film, while Tranformers is a great film. Without the intersubjective criteria and principles, I can’t really respond in any meaningful way (except expressing agreement or disagreement). The value of the intersubjective criteria and principles lies in the way it allows us to argue about whether one film is good, better or whatever. But if someone is not really interested in this question, then the intersubjective criteria has significantly less value to me. (Allowing me to describe my reaction of a film is valuable, but I’d be a lot less enthused, if this was the main source of its value.)

Matt Parks

about 2 years ago

“You’re saying the value of criteria and principles of excellence are valuable because it allows us to describe our “perception of expressivity” to other people.”

Roughly speaking, yeah.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Robert

It’s a Koan: become one with subjectivity and objectivity

And that’s pretty dramatic, right?

WH?

Yeah. (Not sure what you mean by “lack of casuality.”)

I’m interested in it in an academic sense.

As I was saying you might not be interested in what I’m saying…no, I’m kidding. Seriously, I appreciate any level of interest.

@Matt

But do you disagree that an intersubjective process allows us to argue and dispute whether a film is good or not in a way that is beyond just subjective reactions?

@Oxy

Jazz, I wan’t saying these were measures of excellence, just some ways of describing a certain type of film that might show some common aspects of these type of films – as in a genre.

OK, got it.

OK, so here’s the problem: Just exactly what are the ‘appropriate principles and criteria’?

I gave a brief response to this on page 5:

To be as brief as possible, I think the intersubjective approach entails two key steps:

1. One must determine what a film is really about and what it’s going for. Another way of saying this determining the terms and conditions a film has set for itself and identifying its objectives;*

2. One must then determine if the film has a) succeeded in reaching its goals and; b) how well it has succeeded. If the film has succeeded, we can conclude that the film is good. If it has succeeded in an extraordinary fashion, then we can conclude the film is great.

There are limited set of valid criteria one could use to determine how well the film has succeeded—e.g., technical skill, unity, strong emotional impact, originality, influence, timelessness. But these criteria can only be meaningfully applied within the context of #1.

I say a bit more, but I’ll stop there. There might be more criteria, but these are a few. I also mention that individuals may weight the criteria differently or may even exclude some of them. I feel this is an individual decision. For example, I don’t place much emphasis on influence when measuring greatness. (I have reasons for this, but I’ll leave here for now.)

Steps 1 and 2 are really important in the process.

Now, I describe this as an intersubjective process because I believe this is process most people would agree is a valid way to judge art (whether art films or Hollywood ones). Can one really judge a film if they don’t really have a good understanding of it—i.e., knowing what it is really about; what it’s terms, conditions and goals are? Can a film be good or great if it fails it fulfilling the terms, conditions and goals it has set for itself? Can a film be good or great without any of the hallmarks of greatness—e.g., originality, influence, timelessness, strong emotional impact, wholeness/unity, etc.? I think most people would say no—as far as I can tell the answer must be no.

(*Here’s another principle: a strong reading of the film stems from using as much of the film as possible, in a way that is reasonable and compelling. A strong interpretation of the film’s aboutness should illuminate the entire film as well as specific scenes and components of the film.)

I think this might be what Jazz is advocating. Where there seems to be disagreement with others here is just how that evaluation should happen, what terms and contexts, and is it possible to make any final claims as to what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘great’ art.

I think we can identify processes that are valid and processes that are not valid for determining what is good or great art. I don’t think there is only one process, but I do think the number of valid processes is fairly limited, and my guess is that they’re very similar, with some subtle differences.

Jazz, using his ‘intersubjective’ approach (I think I see where you are coming from in using this term now, Jazz, as a sort of process of evaluation one goes through with others), tries to establish a method for film appreciation one can apply to any film. He is advocating looking at the film in terms of how well it achieves certain aims. But where the problem comes in is whether these methods can really ultimately define what is ‘good’ or ‘great’ in art or film.

Yep, your reading of my approach is basically correct. What makes you uncertain that the process can’t ultimately define what is good or great in art? If by “ultimately” you mean arriving at some objective truth—no, I don’t think that’s possible, but that is not the intended goal. I think the process is a legitimate way for determining whether an artwork is good or great—but that judgment is still an opinion; it can be wrong or one can change the opinion over time.

However, we can’t then establish a hierarchy of ‘good’ and ‘bad films’ relative to one another. We could at best say this film is a good example of its genre or type because it achieves certain goals. But such an approach, involving all the details one likes, won’t tell us if Star Wars is a better film than Citizen Kane.

You could be saying several things here, and I’m not sure which:

1 Are you saying that there is no such thing as a good or bad film—that the value of all films is absolutely relative? If I think Transformers is just as good a work of art as CK, then this is the case.

2. Are you saying, instead, that choosing one excellent film over another is impossible? This is a different problem, and I can respond to this, but let me wait for your confirmation.

3. Are you saying that the nature of the films—the terms, conditions and goals films set for themselves—are so different that we can’t determine which films are better?

What we value in a work of art or film will vary from person to person. Someone may value a film that retains an air of mystery, where all the puzzles defy our easy interpretation. Another may value films that they find are close to life, realistic, or express some verisimilitude to real life. Others may value a literate script, or good dialogue. Some may value the beauty of individual frames. Some may want a narrative that flows logically. Some may like a film that is quick paced with action and movement from frame to frame. All of these, and many more, are valid measures of whether a film works for us or not.

They’re valid reasons for personally liking or enjoying a film, but I don’t think these attributes can be applied in a checklist fashion for any film—not without evaluating these qualities within the context of the terms, conditions, goals and “aboutness” of the film. For example, a person may value a literate script with good dialogue, but we wouldn’t agree that Koyaanisqatsi was a bad film simply because it “failed” in this regard. Why? Well, the film doesn’t depend on or attempt to use dialogue. The films wants to express its ideas through music, sound and images, so how can we penalize the film for not having this aspect? Now if the individual in question dislikes the film because it doesn’t have that feature, that’s fine, but the person would be crossing the line if he concludes the film is bad art or a failure because it didn’t have literate dialogue. The intersubjective principle at play here is—a film shouldn’t be penalized for something it doesn’t attempt to do or isn’t vital to what it’s about. I don’t think anyone would disagree with this, right?

Therefore, there is not one size fits all. Each film is different and each viewer comes to the film with different expectations.

But aren’t so expectations (like the example above) inappropriate. My father likes a lot action movies. If he approached and evaluated every film with that expectations couldn’t we agree that this isn’t appropriate? Now, again, I don’t mean that my father doesn’t have the right to like films with action and dislike films without it. In terms of his personal enjoyment, that’s perfectly fine. But for him to say that a film is a good work of art because it satisfied his need for action or that film is bad because it didn’t, is clearly not appropriate. He has a right to his opinion, but I don’t think we would take it seriously.

Just to reiterate one thing with regard to “one size fits all.” The process I’ve describe accounts for this in steps 2—identify the terms, conditions, goals and “aboutness” of a film and evaluate the film based on how well it has fulfilled these conditions. This approach should be able to accommodate all films—b-movies, experimental films, Hollywood genre films, art films, etc.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Greg

What exactly is the connection between this criteria and “aboutness” as you see it Jazz? They seem to be two different things to me, each with their own problematic aspects.

Basically, the significance of “aboutness” relates to really understanding a film. Knowing the terms, conditions and goals the film has set for itself is also related to this understanding.

With regard to the criteria—which are hallmarks of greatness—I believe that you can’t assess these criteria independently of this deep understanding of the film (i.e., its “aboutness”, terms, conditions, and goals). Doing so would be a mistake, imo. Does that make sense?

What are some of the problematic aspects you were thinking of?

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

I think aboutness can be thought of as related to content. It’s the stuff the ‘how’ is attached to.

“Think differently” in a bad sense—e.g., “lowest common denominator?” I don’t think intersubjectivity in this way—not the process I’m talking about anyway. For example, the principle of fulfilling the terms, conditions and goals in an extraordinary fashion is closer to something elite than lowest common denominator, imo.

Another word one could use is dilution – group think is diluted. Agreement is found by moving the object down such that it becomes the lowest common denominator amongst the group, it might even become popular. Complexity, subtly, and nuances are smoothed out and replaced by consensus. To know CK is ranked number one saves the time of actually knowing CK in any detail.
The entire Inter subjective process is more about the thing common to all cultures, social status. Inter subjectivity tells me what the group values at the moment. If I am in on it, I have social status.

Oxymoron

about 2 years ago

Thanks, Jazz, for your detailed response. Basically, I think you have found a system of evaluation that works for you. You have defined these step clearly. As I see it, you are analyzing any film from the standpoint of what it sets out to achieve and then evaluating how well it accomplishes its goals.

As long as you are aware that this can be a rather complicated process to accomplish if the works in question are difficult to categorize or are purposefully opaque. For example, take films like Werckmeister Harmonies (which you and Robert have already discussed), Persona, Last Year at Marienbad, Silent Light, Ordet, 2001, The Shining, The Sacrifice, Mulholland Drive, Colour of Pomegranates – typical art-house puzzlers. As you can see, it could be difficult to establish for each film just exactly what is intended and what is the aim. Because each film can be subject to multiple interpretations (any of which, if well thought-out, could be valid), trying to establish the ‘goals’ of the films and how well these are achieved could be very tricky.

Were we to take films like (i dunno) Transformers, The Wild Ones, Stars Wars, The Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, Titantic and similar fare, it might be considerably easier in terms of the evaluation system you are using. In other words, the more straight-forward the narrative, the easier it is to grasp the goals of a film and then see how well it achieves them.

This process of critical evaluation goes on all the time in any detailed review. It applies to all kinds of films, from art-house to more conventional fare.

So, well and good. Now, the tricky part still for me is how we take your method and then say with any certainty this film is ‘great’, as to just saying this film is ‘good’ – in terms of whether it achieves its goals. I realize you qualify this by saying that if a film is ‘exceptional’ in achieving certain goals – ie, originality, timelessness, etc – then it could be considered ‘great’. As long as you realize that such qualifiers as originality and timelessness could be viewed differently by any two viewers of a film (ie, relative to the viewer), then to each his own.

Are you saying, instead, that choosing one excellent film over another is impossible? This is a different problem, and I can respond to this, but let me wait for your confirmation.

Basically, yes. What films we then choose as ‘excellent’ will depend on the individual things we want or take from any film. For me, for example, I like films that make me think now over films I can watch and then say simply, “That was enjoyable” (but imminently forgettable). My criteria for excellence would involve films that do lend themselves to multiple interpretations because of the their complexity. The problem with this is what might appear complex to me could just be seen as vexing or unnecessary obfuscating by someone else. All the art-house type films I mentioned above work for me in different ways as defining this ‘complexity’, but they won’t work for everyone.

This means that no final judgments on a film’s merits can be valid for all viewers – as I’m sure you are aware.

I have nothing further to add. As I’ve said, if you have found a method of evaluation that works for you, then go for it. We all have our own way of looking at things. I still think the best laboratory for film evaluation are the individual film or director threads where we each give our reasoning on why a film works for us or not. As long as everyone realizes there is no science involved in a critical evaluation, and that ultimately personal taste is still the over-riding factor on what films work for us and which don’t, I really don’t see a problem with your approach.

Matt Parks

about 2 years ago

“But do you disagree that an intersubjective process allows us to argue and dispute whether a film is good or not in a way that is beyond just subjective reactions?”

Well . . . I’m not exactly sure I understand what you mean by “intersubjective process”—any conversation we might have is by nature intersubjective—but if we can agree (provisionally, of course) to talk about art in a particular set (or sets) of terms, then it certainly smooths out some of the noise in the discussion.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Matt

…but if we can agree (provisionally, of course) to talk about art in a particular set (or sets) of terms, then it certainly smooths out some of the noise in the discussion.

That’s basically what I mean by an intersubjective process.

Well . . . I’m not exactly sure I understand what you mean by “intersubjective process”—any conversation we might have is by nature intersubjective…

Technically, I guess this would be correct, but when I use the term “intersubjective” I’m referring specifically about the interesubjective ideas relating to art—and what constitutes good art. When people talk about art, they often confuse and conflate their personal taste with intersubjective critiera. What I’m trying to do is pick out the principles and criteria that are appropriate for judging art, which will in turn show which criteria and principles are not appropriate. Does that make sense?

@Robert

_I think aboutness can be thought of as related to content. It’s the stuff the ‘how’ is attached to.

I pretty much agree with that, although I also tend to think of “aboutness” as closely related to the heart or core of the film. By this I mean that there is often an idea or feeling that drives the film, and you’ve got to get at this core if you really want to understand a film.

The entire Inter subjective process is more about the thing common to all cultures, social status. Inter subjectivity tells me what the group values at the moment. If I am in on it, I have social status.

The intersubjective process isn’t about social status. Instead, it is about the legitimate principles and criteria one can use to determine if an artwork is good or bad. Suppose I say that great action sequences is a hallmark of a great film, and suppose you say that originality is a hallmark of a greatness. The fact that most people would the latter seriously, but not the former doesn’t involve social status or dillution of quality—just the opposite, imo.

Robert W Peabody III

about 2 years ago

The fact that most people…

‘Most people’ is the essence of inter subjectivity isn’t it?
If one thinks that a great action sequence is a hallmark of a great film, that’s subjective.

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@Oxy

As long as you are aware that this can be a rather complicated process to accomplish if the works in question are difficult to categorize or are purposefully opaque….As you can see, it could be difficult to establish for each film just exactly what is intended and what is the aim. Because each film can be subject to multiple interpretations (any of which, if well thought-out, could be valid), trying to establish the ‘goals’ of the films and how well these are achieved could be very tricky.

Oh, I totally agree. However, I do think the number of valid interpretations is limited—and the number of really convincing interpretations will be even smaller.

In other words, the more straight-forward the narrative, the easier it is to grasp the goals of a film and then see how well it achieves them.

Generally speaking, I think suspect this is the case.

As long as you realize that such qualifiers as originality and timelessness could be viewed differently by any two viewers of a film (ie, relative to the viewer), then to each his own.

Criteria like originality and timelessness CAN be viewed differently by two viewers. However, I would also say these concepts don’t just mean whatever the individual wants them to mean. There are limits to how they define and use these concepts. Moreover, the arguments used to defend claims about a film meeting some of these criteria are also crucial as well.

What films we then choose as ‘excellent’ will depend on the individual things we want or take from any film. For me, for example, I like films that make me think now over films I can watch and then say simply, “That was enjoyable” (but imminently forgettable). My criteria for excellence would involve films that do lend themselves to multiple interpretations because of the their complexity.

Again, I agree. When I mentioned that individuals can weight criteria differently, what you say above is an example of that. Btw, the weighting reflects the individual’s personal tastes and preferences—so this is an example of how personal tastes play a role in the process I’ve described.

Now, this could lead to very different judgments about films, but I don’t see this as a big problem—because at least we’re now discussing the quality of films in the same ballpark.

Let me also say one think about distinguishing good or great films. I’m not really into making precise rankings—i.e., picking the 65th best film of all time versus the 66th. That seems a little silly to me because making the distinction between the 65th and 66th best film seems abitrary and next to impossible. In any event, I don’t think it’s that important. But I do think we can group films together in classes or tiers (i.e., first tier, second tier, etc.)—we can group great films, which would be different grom a group of good films. At the very least we can say there is such a thing as good films and bad films.

The problem with this is what might appear complex to me could just be seen as vexing or unnecessary obfuscating by someone else. All the art-house type films I mentioned above work for me in different ways as defining this ‘complexity’, but they won’t work for everyone.

True, but as one can evaluate this complexity in relation to the film’s goals, terms and conditions, then that’s the main thing. A film may be confusing and vexing to an individual, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t any good. The person may be more to blame for the confusion than the film. Moreover, a quality like complexity, should be seen within the context of the film—does it enhance and work well with what the film is about? A film could be complex, but not very good. (At the same time, you might not care if it isn’t any good—you might still personally enjoy the film—and that’s perfectly fine.)