Sunday, September 03, 2006


Over at his wonderful blog, Scanners, Jim Emerson has a couple of thought-provoking posts on film-criticism, The death of film criticism has been greatly exaggerated, Part I and Nobody knows criticism, Part II. I highly recommend them.

The thing I find most puzzling is the notion of objectively judging art. I've had a number of people attempt to explain the notion of judging art in a wholly objective manner, but I've never been able to even grasp the standards one should use. Oddly, the trend definitely runs toward those people having bad taste, so I'm not sure I much want to join their little circle anyway.

Mind you, I agree there are objective standards one should attempt to use as part of one's argument. The purpose of this, however, isn't actually because the is judging by objective standards, or even expressing an objective idea. The idea is to explain the reasons you had the reaction that you had in terms that others will relate to having similar reactions to other work.

There's actually the beginnings of this discussion in his earlier Eyeless in Monument Valley and Eyeless in Monument Valley, Part II, which takes Slate critic Stephen Metcalf for his sloppy re-examination of John Ford's The Searchers.

I'll suffice it to note that I enjoy The Searchers a great deal. Time and again. I certainly would never consider it an "excruciating necessity".

The part here I'd like to make special note of is the discussion of the performances.

"Call them melodramatic or expressionistic," he writes, "I prefer 'balletic' or 'poetic.' Watch the way the mother reaches out in anguish and desperation after her youngest daughter as she is passed out the window to escape a deadly raid. Or the way Ethan stands in the doorway at the end. Or (as we shall discuss in a moment), that indelible moment in which Ethan grasps Debbie and lifts her into the air. Are these stylized, exaggerated movements sullen or convulsive? Some may think so; I think they're essential to the style, the atmosphere -- and the spell -- of the movie, and help account for why it remains so beloved and fascinating today."

I've noted this increasingly in my film discussions. Somehow, in recent years, "realism" has become the only standard an incredibly large number of people gauge can conceive to judge acting by. Hell, judge movies of any sort by.

It seems a very sad world to me indeed where one couldn't enjoy film noir, musical comedy, screwball comedy, broad fantasy, Universal Horror, gialli or any of number of whole categories of cinema... and not because of the quality of the individual works, but simply because of the very qualities that define them.

Whole messages pass one by, whole ranges of emotional experiences, whole artistic statements on man's place in the Universe.

These people seem often to feel themselves superior, but I think their lives are much poorer for it.

By the way, he's also doing the Opening Shots Project with a lot of help and it's quite fascinating.

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