May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
June 23, 2011
Over at Film Journey, Rob Koehler has posted some interesting comments on what really matters in the festival world. He does this by opposing two general approaches to film criticism, which can be identified by the films that interest each type of critic:
The difference between these two approaches–both quite simple on their face, yet quite complex beneath the skin–produces an entirely different cultural effect. For one, the latter requires critics to expend inordinate amounts of energy lambasting bad films that the culture hardly needs reminding are bad. (Green Lantern, for the latest example, despite the noble efforts of Ryan Reynolds to inject it with humanity. Green Lantern is somehow screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival.) “Bad” can also mean “worthless,” therefore, not worth my time to write about it, and not worth your time to read about it. The latter exchanges in an endless grind of pointless negativity, filling web pages and column inches attacking the obvious, like dropping more NATO bombs that only make the rubble vibrate in Libya. Much American criticism does little more than watch the rubble move. The former approach actively supports directions in cinema, represented by the film at hand, that call for our attention, and care. This approach implicitly condemns other cinemas; by ignoring them, passing them over, the silence accorded them directly equates with their value.
As we read on, we discover that there are even more, potentially sinister distinctions between these two approaches that are related to the way one is directed by the “The Ideology of advertisers…” And this, of course, is all true. The critical rubbernecking Koehler condemns at the beginning of his post is just part of the annual scorekeeping process that allows the marketplace to assess and correct itself. And he is right to implore us to move along. Get out of range of the advertisers and you will find some beautiful stuff. Hey, that is a large part of what we have been trying to do at Filmwell for the past few years. Advocate. Which etymologically has the connotation of “bearing witness.”
Poland’s comment in response below the post suggests that the pretty stark distinction Koehler is making here is far more complicated, as critics with considerable interest in the marketplace stuff often invest a lot of energy in legit cinema. But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that any critical act is ideological, and as Koehler suggests, many critics assume that submitting to “the condition of things as they are” is a neutral position. In reality, this kind of critical submission to the marketplace is an active campaign for its conventions.
We are always bearing witness to something; we might as bear witness to the condition of things as they really are, which is something all those “little” films do pretty well.