Thursday, March 24, 2011

Erudite Suckers (or The Grudge)

by Steven Boone
... in which a reluctant internet troll (me) responds to a years-old post about film editing by The New Yorker's Richard Brody (<---and you better read him first before reading the following):

I stumbled across this post back when it was first published and let it slide but, bumping into it again just now, I find I can't let its distortions stand for film geek posterity. First, you reduce my argument to the typical Old Man Cinema Rant, which it most certainly is not. I was born in 1972 and am of Tarantino's and Anderson's and Soderbergh's generation. I love all those guys and don't equate their rich talents with that of 1960's studio hacks. My argument is that basic editorial craft, which, in the past, ALL filmmakers great and small were at least adept, is now all but dead as a language. It simply isn't taught or appreciated. What's taught now is software and workflow proficiency-- how to cram a certain amount of story "data" into a certain interval of time.

The end-of-cinema arguments of the past have no parity with what I'm saying in the quote you selected. Yes, cinema is evergreen, but to mistake what is happening in mainstream commercial movies today for some kind of innovative next step in continuity with the past is the fatal mistake of most academic film critics. The Ho'wood cinema we are subjected to now is generally more prosaic and word-bound than anything Stanley Kramer might have hacked together in 1962. Don't let the opulent surfaces fool you.

You talk about the "look" of films then versus now but not the most important aspect of the image that makes cinema cinema- how it FEELS. Cinematography and production design continue to push fascinating new boundaries but film editing, the vehicle by which the FEELING of a film takes root in the mind and body of the viewer via the seductive interplay between TIME and SPACE, as arranged on a rectangular screen... is, to quote a Tarantino character, dead as fucking fried chicken. And those film critics who stand by contentedly as this great sell-out to the visual language of Wall Street and Madison Avenue proceeds apace... are suckers. Erudite suckers.

I sure told him, right? But I forgot to address his points about how vast and varied cinema language is now. He basically cited the cream of the mainstream crop and some arthouse icons, past and present, to illustrate his point. This is exactly what I once meant about discerning Whole Foods shoppers reveling in their wonderful culinary options while the Food Stamp recipients dine on potted meat and Ring Dings. It's the best of all possible worlds for the former.

I mean, how many Joes in line at Best Buy hearda some damn Apichatpong Weerasethakul? Or Tsai Ming-liang? Or Carlos Reygadas? But eeerbody's heard of, seen, and endured the brutalities of gargantuan noisemakers like Battle: L.A. There is a consequence of this split in nutritional intake, in which only the educated and relatively affluent now receive images that are put together with some basic understanding of how a thoughtful human being responds to the behavior of light and shadow projected on a screen. That was something you useta could get from just bout anywhere.

The consequence is a firmly stratified society where what should be our common church, the multiplex, is only rarely the site of fellowship and spiritual transportation. That's just how the folks who control the big money want it. They don't want true social cohesion (just consumer obedience), clarity (just order) or patience. They want the Richard Brody's of the world to be content that cinema marches on even as its power as art for illiterates (not just elites) has been bled out like an oil rig in the Gulf.


VĂ­ctor Escribano said...

You are my hero.

I insist: this and "Inglorious Snatch" directly to film school. Please.

Steven Boone said...

Hey, thanks, Victor. That made my day, to know that this very eccentric post has struck a chord. I remember you really dug Inglourious Snatch, too.

From your lips to NYU's/Columbia's/Westchester Community College's ears, haha. But I doubt they'd hire a college dropout spouting anti-corporate invective.