Friday, February 16, 2007

Film Reviews

I want to discuss film reviews.

A series of questions, some overlapping. Feel free to take up any of them:

- Why do we have them (what is their purpose)?

- What are they capable of (what are their limitations)?

- Is a film review capable of in-depth analysis?

- Who writes your favorite reviews? What is it about their reviews that draws you to them?

- When it comes to reviews, what should be the proportion of content to style?

- Can a review ever be called film criticism (read: scholarly) or is reviewing films necessarily a journalistic venture (can a journalistic venture be scholarly)?

- How do you feel about reviews as a medium for your own writing? Do you prefer writing in any other particular form?

- How have reviews contributed (or detracted from) film scholarship over the years?

- With respect to a review itself, what role should/can images play in juxtaposition with the text of a review?

- What role do reviews play in your film viewing?

- What role have reviews played in your film education?

I'll continue to add questions as I come up with them. Go ahead and start responding already!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Film Moments: "The Horror, the Horror"

Alright, film moments, moments that have been important to us as we have experienced them in the film universe, that we take with us into our own lives as significant. We shelve these moments away, sometimes drawing upon them for example or reference outside of what we're currently focusing on, but I want another excuse to discuss them, to share. As appreciators of film, we should be able to tell stories about our viewing experiences, just in the same way that you might tell a story about something that happened to you walking down the street the other day or even something bigger, like an important conversation with an old friend or the start of a new relationship. Films happen to us. Sometimes, a film comes slinking in the night and takes us by surprise, sometimes, a comfort movie strikes us in a new way (a tender slap in the face). I think what catches us off-guard is often a specific moment when we find ourselves drawn completely into the film universe. I don't think that for a whole film complete emotional involvement is possible, but for a moment, yes.

At any rate, I know it's not always the best thing to live from movie moment to movie moment, but in this space, we can indulge!

The first "kind" of moment I want to touch on is described by a statement one of our favorite literary characters, Kurtz, from Heart of Darkness makes: "The horror, the horror." Now, we can certainly discuss what Kurtz means by this statement, but I'll put forth my own (probably wrong) definition of the moment as we might experience it in film. When we experience this kind of moment, the film has drawn us in and led us down a certain path, and then, something for whatever reason shifts (either in the narrative or visuals or whatever) and we have a moment of recognition in which a new way of looking at things floods into our heads within the world the film has constructed (actually, that could probably describe all important film moments). But this specific moment deals I think with the depravity of humanity. It is a greater, fuller knowledge of the negative impulses that sometimes drive our lives. I want to leave the idea vague at this point, so you can put your own spin on what exactly we're dealing with here, whether it's a matter of sin or a secular ethics or whatever. This moment of recognition can either be something the film intends or maybe something that hits you at a random time.

I'll have to give an example. In L'Avventura, at the end of the film, when Claudia discovers Sandro on the couch with the prostitute, we fully realize the depravity of these characters. The moment comes slowly and carefully. Claudia wakes up in the morning after the big party, and finds that Sandro, with whom she has engaged in a whirlwind love affair, is not in the hotel room with her. She wanders through the mansion with the remnants of the party laying scattered around the spacious rooms. A dim light seeps through the windows, creating a sense of dread as Claudia moves toward a couch at the end of one of the rooms. There, on the couch, is her lover Sandro, necking with a prostitute. We know its coming when we see the couch, but we hold our breath with Claudia. The moment draws upon our hope that Claudia and Sandro (or any of the characters in this film) might find some brief happiness in the midst of their idle and indulgent lives, but the recognition is knowing that this happiness is not possible, that there will inevitably be a catch. The distractedness of these characters will not let them take part in any meaningful relationship.