Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Notes on the Blogaissance

A refreshing meme came my way from Greg F's corner of the web, Cinema Styles. The post is titled "Why Being a Cinephile Matters", and it discusses the importance of cinephilia and blogging in the context of the current movie scene. This was a refreshing thing to see first thing in the morning, as most discourse surrounding movie bloggers tends to involve disparaging of them. Mere "hobbyists" who are stealing thunder from the oh-so-mighty and essential canonized crew of "professionals". The evolution of blogging is a perfectly natural evolution of the mass-communication of the internet and traditional film criticism.

Though if there's one thing I despise it's the 'one or the other' mentality with respect to the print criticism/blogging dichotomy. Blogging, to me, is a natural extension of the art of criticism; and the two certainly need not be mutually exclusive. Look at people whom I would consider Teachers to us all on the way this exciting new technology should be harnessed; David Bordwell, Matt Zoller Seitz, Jim Emerson--- these critics/bloggers have shown us the way digital technology can be harnessed in order to approach a greater sense of objectivity in criticism. They've used frame-grabs and videos to, what I feel, is a revolutionary effect: to back up their critiques with actual evidence. No longer are you left scratching your head at what may seem like baseless observations--- it's right there, in the movie, and this allows for a more detailed illustration of the criticism itself. Film is a visual form. Criticism is a literary form. The two are only compatible to a certain extent.

And this move towards a larger sense of objectivity is perhaps the most important thing about blogging to me. Blogging has torn down the notion of a 'consensus' surrounding films. With more voices out there, film criticism is not as black and white as it used to be. Which isn't to say that there isn't a uniformity to a certain extent--- but you're more likely to find dissenting or niche views on the internet than you are in the mainstream press. In an age where so many print critics pander to audiences and regurgitate ad copy, the blogsosphere is a place where anyone can put their voice out there and be heard. And the sheer volume of voices indicates that movies do indeed matter to a great many people. If a movie doesn't have discourse surrounding it, the film dies. Bloggers help keep the spirit of cinema alive.

There are a great many lessons to be learned from the blogosphere. Here are some of my most valued:

* Spielberg isn't exactly hated, but I still like him proportionally more than most.

* You're allowed to make a case for Hollywood and genre. You don't get voted off the island for making a case that Rio Bravo is as good a movie as The Seventh Seal.

* Ebert is a better blogger than critic.

* Comments don't necessarily need to have anything to do with the topic discussed in the post. There is no such thing as a non-sequitir.

* Speaking of non-sequitirs: waffles.

* That Jonathan Lapper dude is really named Greg.

* It's pretty commonly accepted that Verhoeven is totally boss.

* Opinions come in many shapes and sizes.

* The Siren is a class-act through and through.

* Sometimes, one of the net's most eloquent bloggers will inexplicably join your blog when you don't have a single reader.

* Maybe Lars von Trier isn't so bad after all.

* People actually like Marnie.

* Saying you like Mission to Mars will still get you into trouble.

* In fact, you still kinda get weird looks for liking De Palma.

* No, actually, there's no performer too obscure.

* Girls blog about movies, too.

* They will never, ever let me play "Name that Movie".

* Bill R. will fucking kill your ass.

* Just be yourself, engage with others, and you will make friends. Thanks to all my blogger posse, you guys and gals are what make it fun.

*There's so many movies in this world worth seeing. It's a banquet that can never, ever be depleted. And every time you think you're a littler closer to having it all figured out, the well grows even deeper. It's truly humbling.

And there's my 20. I even managed to avoid being sappy right up until the very end there.

Th-th-th-th-th-th-th-that's all folks.


Ed Howard said...

Great post! A few random thoughts.

Rio Bravo is a BETTER movie than The Seventh Seal. So there.

Ebert is a great blogger indeed, I always love reading his personal essays, which simultaneously read like off-the-cuff storytelling and brilliantly structured thoughts.

Verhoeven IS boss, but I know a lot of people still don't like him. Bill stops by my place every so often to remind me of that.

Goats are awesome. (That's my non-sequitur for this post.)

Marnie is both a mess and a really fascinating movie. I kinda love it, and find that it's one of those movies where the more you talk about it and discuss all its many layers, the better it seems.

t-h-r-e-e said...

nice article!

Kevin J. Olson said...

This is great stuff Ryan. I wish I could be succinct like you! I rambled and rambled and rambled on my blog about this topic, opting for a more biographical approach to why I am a cinephile.

Oh, and yes, Verhoven is great. More people need to see the brilliance that is Flesh + Blood. What a weird, trippy flick that is all kinds of awesome. I used to watch it all the time as a teenager whenever I couldn't sleep because our local Fox affiliate would always show it at 3am.

I have a confession to make: I've never seen Rio Bravo...should I duck??

Great stuff as always Ryan. I gotta make it a point to get over here and comment more often. I've been reeeealy lazy lately, sorry.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Oh, and I like the Jay Sherman pic. That show was so ahead of its time to bad it could never get enough momentum and catch on with audiences. I guess it still exists...just in the lesser funny version known as Family Guy...

Krauthammer said...

"you still kinda get weird looks for liking De Palma."

I feel that I get funny looks for NOT liking him. Funny how that works.

bill r. said...

I really will kill your ass. I mean it.

I don't like Verhoeven, but I did kinda like Mission to Mars. I don't think it's great or anything, and it's too dependent on two or three MUCH better films for its very existence, but I don't think it deserves all the vitriol it gets.

Now I feel bad for not doing 20...

Greg said...

"you still kinda get weird looks for liking De Palma."

I feel that I get funny looks for NOT liking him. Funny how that works

I get funny looks when I say De Palma is okay AND I have something coming out of my nose. Come to think of it, it's probably the nose thing that's getting the funny look.

Ryan, your obversation on Ebert is so true. He really is a better blogger than a critic. His style is that of a conversational film buff more than an erudite and analytical critic.

Thanks for taking part in my little memesy thingy.

Ryan Kelly said...

I wouldn't worry about not seeing Rio Bravo, Kevin. I'm sure if you sit any movie fan of any age down you'll find that they have blind-spots just like that. It's a fun movie, though, and I do suggest you check it out some day. Carpenter's pseudo-remake, Assault on Precinct 13, has a lot going for it, too.

And there are no words for the majesty of The Critic. Glad to find another who loves the show so much. It'll pop up here from time to time, I'm sure.

Thanks for reading.

Ryan Kelly said...

What, you don't like De Palma, Krauthammer?

*gives him a funny look*

Ryan Kelly said...

That's all I mean, Bill, it's always plotzed me how a movie so pleasant can be so vitriolically hated. I don't expect everyone to love it like I do--- not eveyone's a big giant sap like I am--- but it's definitely not that bad.

Ryan Kelly said...

Greg, like I said on your blog--- it was a GIGANTIC meme--- don't undervalue yourself.

Marilyn said...

Great work, Luke Skywalker! You had more fun with this than I'm having. I think I'll change my approach. BTW, your blog name is the best one on the Internet. In tribute, I'm thinking of changing mine to Alewife Kill

Kevin J. Olson said...

Count me in as someone who is constantly on the fence about DePalma's work. Part of me loves him for how visually interesting almost all of his films are, and part of me can't stand the fact that he's lauded as an auteur despite the fact that he so blatantly steals other peoples material. I've always felt uneasy about how much liberty DePalma takes with the word homage...but damn, his films are beautiful to look at.

Ryan Kelly said...

Marilyn, welcome! Thanks for the kind words of support on my entry. I look forward to reading yours whenever you get finished (I just figured out that you can 'follow' blogs that aren't on google. Huzzah!) I'm sure whichever approach you do take it will be an enjoyable read.

Alewife Kill is a wonderful blog name. Wish I'd thought of it. I remember watching Short Cuts one day and when the shot of the sign (that is now my banner) came up I said to myself "That's it! If ever I make a blog, that will be what it is called." And here we are.

Thanks for stopping by! Please don't be a stranger.

Ryan Kelly said...

I understand where you're coming from, Kevin, but there's so much more to De Palma than an aping of other films and film makers. I think my buddy Keith Uhlich put it best in a "Senses of Cinema" piece he wrote about De Palma (essential reading for ANY appreciator of the man), that it's more like him having a dialogue with certain film makers, especially Hitchcock, though there are others (Eisenstein, Antonioni, Godard) that seem to be equally as big an influence on his style.

It's almost unfair to hold De Palma to the same or even similair standards of Hitchcock. Hitchcock had a style so idiosyncratic that he practically invented a language all his own. De Palma speaks that language, but a different dialectic. A different riff on the same tune. Dare I say, with some of his films--- especially Obsession and Femme Fatale, he goes even deeper with some of the themes Hitchcock initially presented, not to say he's a better director (I love them both to death).

Kevin J. Olson said...

I like that idea of a conversation with the great masters. There's a great 3-Disc DVD Scorsese did years back where he takes the viewer through the films of his life that inspired him. In it there is a brief interview with DePalma and he mentions how the camera "lies 24 frames a second" or something of that nature (if I'm butchering the quote I apologize), and therein lies the problem I have with DePalma.

I think the man is talented, there is no debate about that, but does he use his camera "lying" all the time as an excuse for lazy filmmaking? Sometimes I feel like he does. It's not enough for me for a film to just look neat or cleverly allude to other films; I have to care about the characters in that film. I didn't care one iota about Nic Cage in Snake Eyes or the characters in The Black Dahlia, and I feel like those are good examples of DePalma run amok. He's at his worst in those films.

I agree with you about how usually the man is not simply an aper of the great masters, however, I think sometimes he does fall back on his allusions too much and it's only a matter of time before you stop calling it homage and you call it thievery.

Of course, that's a tad too harsh, but I guess what I'm saying is DePalma is right, the camera does like 24 frames a second, because really what do we see today that isn't in someway an allusion to something that came before it? All art is indebted to those who came before, but sometimes I feel like DePalma uses that as a crutch, rather then a means to explicate a film more deeply.

The Argento shot in The Untouchables was neat because I was invested in the film, I was worried about Sean Connery's character and didn't want to see him die -- so when DePalma throws in his homage to Argento's giallo pictures, it's a nice touch for those who will recognize the allusion, and it adds to the intensity...much like the subsequent "Potemkin" scene in the train station. Those allusions add to the intensity of the story -- they feel fresh in DePalma's hands there because he seems motivated...lately I feel like the man has gotten lazy.

That's my DePalma dilemma...

Krauthammer said...

I don't want to get into some long polemic against DePalma (who I do think is capable of making good films) but I feel that often he only apes the most obvious aspects of other films, the baby carriage in The Untouchables is actually a good example of aping I dislike from DePalma. It feels plastic and uninteresting when it should be exiting and invigorating.

The weird thing is that I tend to agree with the theoretical points that people make while defending De Palma, there was a wonderful article from 24LiesASecond called "The Shape of Substance" where I was nodding my head the entire way through, but I simply don't connect to De Palma on a personal or formal level.

Ryan Kelly said...

Kevin, a lot of film makers have echoed that sentiment. I think De Palma is just making a statement on films inherent manipulative capabilities. Like Godard said, it's the most beautiful fraud in the world.

And I think that sentiment is definitely from the Hitchcock school of film making. Hitchcock loved to manipulate you (in some of his films), almost to the point where you could hear him cackling with delight at how clever he was being.

And I think people just get hung up on The Hitchcock Thing. Discussion of his 'aping' of Hitchcock tends to revolve around mechanical plot-points. Hitchcock's thrillers are generally just a masking of sexuality, and you could say the same thing of De Palma (though, ironically in his Vertigo- inspired Obsession, he removes the sexual subtext in a very clever way. Amazingly, it's even more about love than Vertigo is because it's strictly about love. De Palma, at his best, just takes the ideas Hitchcock presented and goes deeper with them.

And I also think he's gotten more assured with his style as he's gotten older, so the connections between his career and others have become much less firmly drawn. Femme Fatale is, if anything, De Palma aping himself.

I understand having problems with his career--- I certainly have my criticisms of it too. But on the whole the guy is a personal favorite.

Ryan Kelly said...

Krauthammer, that's a very well articulated argument, and one I'd agree with if you're leveling it against that specific film. The Untouchables is nowhere near a favorite of mine, though I've warmed up to it more. I think it's fun, but relatively inconsequential (sorry, Kevin!). But in short, I agree--- the Eisenstein things feels plastic, but to me that's in keeping with the way the rest of the movie feels.

Maybe you agree with theoretical points about De Palma because you just haven't found that De Palma film yet? I don't know how much of his you've seen, so naturally I can't answer that. But some of his less-spoken-of films would rank among his best.

Kevin J. Olson said...

"I think De Palma is just making a statement on films inherent manipulative capabilities. Like Godard said, it's the most beautiful fraud in the world."

Well said. Like I said I'm on the fence with DePalma. I'm glad you mentioned Femme Fatale which I think may be his most brilliant film since the 70's. You're so right about how it's a total meta film: a DePalma film being homaged by DePalma. One of his most visually striking films, too.

Your thoughts on the man make me want to ask you this very ordinary question: what would you say his five best films are (maybe there's one I haven't seen that will help me better understand the man)?

Ryan Kelly said...

To appreciate Femme Fatale is to appreciate De Palma. I have reservations with some of his stuff, too, but even the weaker efforts I enjoy, because I'm something of a fanboy. But I would agree with you, Kevin, it's probably his best film since his storied 70s period.

Top 5 would be hard, as I really am incredibly fond of him. Along with Spielberg, he was the first director I remember actively searching out the films of. But here it goes:

1. Femme Fatale
2. Obsession
3. Hi, Mom!
4. Casualties of War
5. Phantom of the Paradise

Ryan Kelly said...

6. Mission to Mars

I tried, but I couldn't do it! I couldn't have a list of my favorites of his without Mission to Mars. So I cheated a bit.

Patricia Perry said...

Blogging, to me, is a natural extension of the art of criticism; and the two certainly need not be mutually exclusive

Amen, Ryan!!!!

So,since you're saying nice things about Lars Von Trier, does that mean you saw "Dancer in the Dark."?

Kevin J. Olson said...

Thanks Ryan. I've seen all of those except Obsession and Hi, Mom. I'll have to give those a shot. I'm mostly familiar with his popular flicks like Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double, and of course stuff like Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito's Way.

I will say this: He made the best Mission Impossible film.

Thanks for sharing your list.

Ryan Kelly said...

Pat--- no, but it's absolutely in the itinerary for this weekend. I'm seeing Up on Sunday so I'm figuring I'll need something to lift my spirits after that.

Kevin, at least we agree on Mission: Impossible and Femme Fatale. What else is there?

Miranda Wilding said...

"Girls blog about movies, too."

What an astute observation, Mr. Kelly.

I knew there was something I liked about you...

Ryan Kelly said...

God damn, I sure am a pig sometimes...