Friday, June 18, 2010

Slow Down

... and speaking of 'slow cinema,' just to put my two cents in ... I have to admit that though I am a "fan" (or whatever) of this contemplative cinema adventure - and though I adore Kiarostami, Hong, Tarr, etc. - I do feel some empathy for people, like Steven Shaviro (or perhaps, I would extrapolate, also Olaf Moeller?), who get a little uncomfortable with the polarization of these taste (sub)cultures. Someone like Takashi Miike deserves his due, too! For I have also sat in on the contemplative films of authors I've loved, as with Tsai Ming-liang in Goodbye Dragon Inn, or Claire Denis with L'Intrus, and thought to myself: 'This doesn't seem rich, heady, risk-taking, or beautiful so much as it seems a bit stale, predictable, hitting only pre-approved notes.' I will go to the mat, anytime, for Tsai and Denis as terrific filmmakers; but if I am honest with myself & you there were also some of their films that seemed to be missteps precisely because they appeared to satisfy the conventions of a mold before anything else. This mold seemed to be the aesthetic/stylistic expression of a highly stratified structure of funding & distribution for an elite minority of audiences.* I mean to effect no posture of "anti-elitism" here, as though attacking the cinema of (e.g.) Carlos Reygadas somehow gave me political street cred. In fact I readily embrace a number of filmmakers who cater to this rarefied pocket of connoisseurs. But I think it is worth noting (again if necessary) that this hierarchy is not at all simply aesthetic or intellectual, that it is bound with actual money and coalesces with certain class positions. And therefore it is crucial to maintain the space in which one can speculate that, yes, these art films cater to an audience and to financial masters too ... if not always in the ways of the more vulgar entertainment industry. And so it is legitimate to suspect that sometimes these slow, contemplative festival films are "playing to their market" just as Twilight and Sex and the City 2 are.

One of the great things about (later) Abbas Kiarostami (whose films after Five I've still not yet seen, though I've seen virtually everything up until then) is just how mischievously he toys with these distinctions, consistently finding a middle line among the viewers who've championed him, and then creating a film that divides them again.

* It should go without saying, I hope, that I mean no disrespect to the many people whose tastes I do respect who like, say, L'Intrus and Goodbye Dragon Inn. I am willing to, sooner or later, go back to these movies and re-evaluate them, and would happily change my opinion if that meant I suddenly loved these particular art films that had initially disappointed me. I'm not trying to argue that any particular title is a bad film, only that one's cinephile card - or taste culture passport - should still be honored if one should be so déclassé as to "raise the question."


Walter Biggins said...

Zach, thank you for an evenhanded and non-judgmental account of what's become--to me, at least--a supremely silly spitting contest. Along with Kiarostami, I'd add Apichatpong Weerasethakul to the list of filmmakers who knowingly tweak the conventions of what we call "slow cinema" or "art-house cinema" or whatever. He seems to willingly defy the crowd that serves as his largest base. As James Quandt wrote: "More than almost any other figure in contemporary world cinema, Apichatpong presents a phalanx of critical problems and unpickable contradictions, like Pasolini did in his day. Paradoxically, this difficulty both helps to elevate his stature to the international art house elite, and prevents him from entering its empyrean."

Anonymous said...

I don't know, there is something ugly about how all this debate started. Suddenly western film criticism (i.e james, shaviro) decides it is bored with this "slow cinema" stuff and demands something new and exciting.

ZC said...

Thank you, Walter. Apichatpong is definitely a possible example of this self-aware phenomenon. I must admit that Syndromes of a Century did not captivate me at all in the way that, say, Tropical Malady did ... I could have used that alongside L'Intrus or Goodbye Dragon Inn as an example. But I do respect AW and sincerely love some of these films, which is why I'm always ready to concede that maybe another viewing or another point of view is necessary if I want to appreciate what's offered.

(And sometimes there are directors who just obviously do 'the same,' i.e., very very similar things, but with whom I seem to never tire - in my case, perhaps, the tremendously great Hong Sang-soo.)

Anonymous, I don't know if I'd put it that way - it's not as though Western (?) film critics decided to shift allegiance from Kiarostami to Miike, but rather that certain critics who hadn't been part of the lovefest have voiced their reservations in a broader way than before.

I almost wonder if one of the cornerstones of the issue up for debate is the presence of an authorial signature - to what extent is the (festival) auteur entitled to this signature? It's given him, a priori, and we don't need such thematic-gestural retreads to establish authorship or provenance, and yet we get authors telling extremely similar scenarios in sometimes very similar, even predictable ways, over and over again. (And let it be known that I'm suggesting this non-judgmentally. Novelty, as a sacred cow of modernism, may be overrated after all.)