Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Tryin' to Make Ends Meet
(a) media culture places far too much emphasis on endorsement, as though all opinion were ultimately nothing but polemics, and in service of polemics.
(b) though there are certainly "divisive" films or filmmakers I'll "take a stand" on, only a thoughtless person would allow the received imposition of the property of "divisiveness" to force a public all-or-nothing stance on any and every purportedly divisive entity.
(c) which is not to say that contradictions and oppositions don't exist and are not sometimes of exceptional importance, naturally.
(d) as if one person's public stance, in more than a minuscule percentage of instances, has any bearing on anything of importance at all - outside, perhaps, that person's own sphere of acquaintance and intimacy, in which case, "public" isn't always the right word, is it?
(e) in Jackie Brown the face of Pam Grier is a beloved ghost, the haunting of a screen idol, but the film (and her image in it) is not a direct homage but, if anything, an indirect one - an echo, a detachment -
(f) because Jackie Brown (like much of Tarantino, who is not "just" an upgraded video store clerk, though that he is too) is a filmic translation or expression of a particular kind of genre fiction, a Leonard-Willeford realm of writing that is itself a take and a twist on older forms of pulp knowledge.
(g) a dimestore author-psychology observation, to be thrown out but not necessarily accepted: Tarantino likes leisurely long shots, holding the frame (like the final two shots of Jackie Brown) because he is constantly revisiting totemic, imaginary constellations of images and moods from his own experiential, audiovisual past; his work is a form of yearning, which is why title cards and musical accompaniment seem to elicit just as much as care & attention as, say, plot mechanics. If not more. The character of this yearning may be immature, underdeveloped, pointless, or any number of things wanting - and yet, a problem of film culture is that, I fear, some reader too snarkily intelligent for her own good may read that I have even ascribed so noble and counter-intuitive a property as that of yearning to a guy like Tarantino. Because one must "endorse" or "reject."
(h) in the current issue of CinemaScope, Olaf Möller summarizes shortcomings in the scholarship on German filmmaker Veit Harlan by insisting that, of course, not only were his allegedly "apolitical" melodramas hardly apolitical, but his greatest work is often absolutely also the worst, politically and ideologically.
(i) Serge Daney warned of the dogmatism of a question of film critical intervention, in one case, where "the aesthetic criterion and the political criterion are given equal status. We assume that 'if there is something missing on the formal level there must also be something missing on the political level.' We remind those inclined to forget it that 'forms are not neutral,' but this is just an excuse for not investigating their very real content, for not spelling out this content in political terms - we leave that to others." (from "The Critical Function," 1973-1974) Daney, in this piece, also points to the problematic importance of discerning, apparently, what is being said by a film, and how. But in trying to go to the roots to find the strongest and most powerfully effective answers, criticism may paralyze the critic, so that they are "bound to have nothing to say when called upon to make a concrete 'intervention' in respect of particular films."
(j) the abandonment of polemics is not even possible as far as I can speculate, but I do think that to subordinate all thought to polemics is the death of thought, and the death of culture.
(k) it's the small detail, like e.g., Irving Lerner, in whose two great late '50s Vince Edwards vehicles, Murder by Contract and City of Fear, we see some of the through-lines from real filmic "noir" to this later oblique-homage "pulp" almost imperceptibly ... accomplishing the latter by the accumulation of small offbeat details and characterizations, characters noted for their character-ness.