PRACTICAL FILMMAKING vs AUTEUR THEORY

For the discussion of Movies, Television, Comics, and other existential distractions.

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FrankChurch
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Postby FrankChurch » Fri Apr 06, 2007 1:51 pm

The auteur is the gated community, the defender is the gate.

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robochrist
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Postby robochrist » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:07 pm

Barber...I am truly going to feed you to the Bruins!

Y'know, tribal cannibalism is among their active campus pastimes.

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:49 pm

Josh Olson wrote:Farting is a creative act, so, yes, writing criticism is creative. It is not AS creative as creating the art that inspires the criticism. It is significantly more creative than farting.


And here I was, thinking that the aftereffects of the bean burrito I ate last week was equivalent to Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel. Thanks for clearing that up! (At least you're admitting that, yes, Virginia, critics can be creative sometimes, and more so than farts!)

And, in fact, I'd rather read one of John Simon's bile filled reviews of a Barbra Streisand movie than have to sit through a Barbra Streisand movie. That does not lead to the logical conclusion that Camille Paglia is as significant an artist as Coppola. Sorry.


I don't think Paglia is on the same level as Coppola, either, though I do believe David Thomson is a hundred times the artist Ed Wood, Jr. was. Ultimately, comparing individual critics and filmmakers is a mug's game as their respective fields are vastly different and are filled with geniuses and clods of all stripes. That does not, however, mean that we can't identify a film review as a work of great art in its own right.

I am not going to get sidelined into a nit-picky, Brad Davis "Let me show you an exception"" style argument. We are not talking about one of the great moral gray areas of the day. We are discussing whether or not critics are as much significant artists as the people they write about.


When you make absolute statements like "Criticism is a refuge for people who cannot create" and "Critics do not create art," it's a valid response to point to critics who are, in fact, creative and whose work does constitute a form of art. What's "nit-picky" about that? If you'd said, "Black people can't write great novels," and I'd replied with "Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed, Samuel R. Delany, and Toni Morrison did," would that be nit-picking then? (And no, I'm not comparing you to a racist.) It does seem you've adjusted your views somewhat as you now allow that criticism can be art, so that's progress, I guess.

They are adjuncts to the work they write about.

A critic who believes that what he does is as important as what he's writing about has drunk his own Kool Aid, and it is time for him to move on.


Of course criticism is an adjunct to other works; reviews and critiques are necessarily dependant on their subjects, else they wouldn't even exist. That doesn't mean that they can't, in their own way, be pieces of writing as compelling and well-constructed as the very things they're critiquing. It's not a matter of saying that Pauline Kael's review of Nashville is as good or better than the movie--that's absurd! It's recognizing that, on its own terms, Kael's writing can sometimes be as expansive and artistic as anything Altman put to film.

Interesting that many of the critics you named are people who did it as a sideline to their day jobs as full on artists.


Assuming, for the sake of argument, that critics are not "full on artists," only four out of the twenty-four I listed had significant artistic careers: Graham Greene, James Agee, Susan Sontag, and Manny Farber. Everyone else had criticism as their primary discipline, though they certainly dipped their toes into other forms from time to time. As for Greene and the others, there's nothing to indicate that they saw their critical writing as a "sideline" to their other work, which is a notion they'd probably find insulting as hell. They took their criticism as seriously, and put as much as much talent and sweat into it, as anything else they did.

James Agee the critic is not as significant an artist as James Agee the writer of A Death In The Family. Were James Agee to praise my work, I'd be thrilled because the praise would be coming from a great writer, not a great critic. (That he was a great critic is lovely, but it's hardly the same level of acheivement. That's why it's always mentioned that he "also" wrote film criticism. I "also" play five chords on the guitar. I suspect it's not what I'll be remembered for)


Why the false dichotomy of "great writer" and "great critic"? Can't one be both? In fact, doesn't being a great critic necessarily mean that you're a great writer, too? (When Agee wrote his film reviews, all of the skill that went into A Death In The Family didn't just suddenly evaporate.) And are you honestly comparing knowing five chords on the guitar to the substantial work Agee did in film criticism (just published, along with his other prose, in a new Library of America edition)?.

I do not now, nor will I ever even remotely humor the concept that writing a great critique is as significant an artistic acheivement as writing a great movie, or a great book, or painting a great painting, or composing a great piece of music. I find the notion as absurd as Brad's assertion that Zalman King is a serious filmmaker who will one day take his place in the pantheon.


Depends on what you consider a significant artistic achievment. Can we seriously compare Kael or Agee or Fiedler to Shakespeare, Joyce, Rembrandt, and Beethoven? No, but much of that has to do with criticism's relative youth compared to the other forms, some of which have been around for hundreds, even thousands, of years. (There were many people who didn't think much of the novel in its early years, don't forget.) Also, the relative brevity of a review makes it hard to emulate the dense structure of a novel or play, though if we compare it to a short story or poem, it fares much better. But even if criticism can't quite measure up to the pinnacles in other fields, does that mean it can't be powerful and striking in its own right? After all, most novels and movies don't measure up to the best, either, but we don't say they're not artistic achievements.

Another problem is that criticism is not as "pure" an art form as the others, which can make its artistic effects, when they exist, kind of diffuse. Criticism is a strange hybrid of the essay, journalism, and history, so it will always be a red-headed stepchild in comparison to its more august relatives. But if you don't think John Simon's three new volumes of criticism, written over four decades, constitute a great artistic achievement, I don't know what to tell you. (And what's with this "I will never remotely humor the concept" stuff? Must be nice to know you'll never change your worldview!)

And AGAIN - and it would be nice if this could be the last time - I have nothing but respect for critics and the best ones raise what they do to a level of art, but when you assert that what they do is as significant as what the artists they write about do, you force me to place them in a heirarchy they cannot compete in.


In the end, I'm not really concerned with heirarchies and competition, and if you don't think the best critics' work comes close to the best in other fields, that's your opinion and your right. But here's the funny thing: once you admit that a form can be a vehicle for art, anything is possible. I would never say collage is as significant or complex an artform as painting or photography, but there are collages that have absolutely stunned me with their beauty. The banjo isn't as expressive an instrument as the violin, but there are banjoists who move me just as much as any violinist you can name. And, like I said before, I love my novelists and short-story writers, but I can't imagine life without Robert Christgau's reviews, which are as precise and intricately-structed as any story by Raymond Carver or Chandler.

As for criticism being as significant as its subjects--putting aside the many reviews I've read that were better written, even in a brief space, than the novels being reviewed--let me give you a concrete example: Lester Bangs' review of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Bangs was, for my money, one of the best writers of the past thirty years, and though Astral Weeks has, by its very nature, a directness and force Bangs could never touch, in this review he rivals and even exceeds it in empathy and insight.

I love my ten year old nephew. He's a brilliant kid, and I'd jump in front of a truck for him. He wrote a short story last year that knocked my socks off, and convinced me that if he devotes himself to it, he could become a genuine writer some day. I'll challenge you to find another ten year old who writes as well as him.

Tell me his short story is on par with Repent, Harlequin, and you force me to judge his work by criteria it cannot stand up to.


So . . . what are you saying? Critics, even the greatest ones, are on the level of your ten year old nephew? Of course a child's story isn't on par with Harlan Ellison's! You could just as well say a ten year old's book report isn't on the same level as a piece by Lionel Trilling!

Tell me with a straight face that you're not being a wee bit condescending here.
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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:52 pm

Jan wrote:
Josh wrote:I can't believe, in the year of our Lord 2007, you're actually claiming that criticism (a) isn't a creative act, (b) can't be challenging, and (c) can't, at its best, consitute an artform as valid as any other you can name.


I hate to tell you that Josh is not saying any of these things.


Um, yes he did. His quotes are right at the top of my post!

We should distinguish between creativity and artistic creation. Artists can not fully realize themselves in criticism, and merely creative people can not make La dolce vita or Brief Encounter.

I think it's correct to say that writing is a creative act, if there are original ideas in it or original combinations of old ideas. When a review crosses over into art, however, it presumably misses its primary purpose - to inform, to evaluate, to provide guidance in a direct manner. You move past that, you're writing an essay. The essay is an artform.


I have no idea what you're trying to say, here.
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"His plan therefore was not to refuse admission to the idea, but to keep it at bay until his mind was ready to receive it. Then let it in and pulverise it. Obliterate the bastard."--Samuel Beckett

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Postby Jan » Fri Apr 06, 2007 3:28 pm

I apologize for my stupidity, Your Highness.

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:22 pm

You forgot to kiss my ring.
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"His plan therefore was not to refuse admission to the idea, but to keep it at bay until his mind was ready to receive it. Then let it in and pulverise it. Obliterate the bastard."--Samuel Beckett

Josh Olson
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Postby Josh Olson » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:21 pm

Robo,

Honestly, I have no idea what you're reading, but it's not my posts. You're arguing points I haven't made. I have never argued there aren't auteurs. I have simply rejected the notion that it is the natural, default way of things. Some films have genuine auteurs. No question. But it's not always the director, and sometimes what seems to be a unified voice is actually the combined vision of a group of people collaborating well.

"I would venture to say - yeah, to say the least - that anyone like Kurosawa or Fellini was a TRIFLE more than THAT. These are artists we're talking about. Not a mere "guiding force", for chrissake, but the independent voice of a singular visionary. THAT is what I refer to as an auteur.

Your ego aside, Josh, if you'd bagged a job with either one of those guys when they were alive...you'd have been a writer HIRED to WORK on a film BY Fellini or Kurosawa. "

Perhaps. Every job's different. I was hired by Peter Jackson to write for him, and I was perfectly aware of the fact that I was there to implement his overall vision for the film. (Which he was producing, by the way. Not directing. But he was intimately involved in every aspect of the film's development, and had it gone, would have been just as involved in the production.)

History, on the other hand, was deeply personal. I took the premise of the title and the book and made it into a story that mattered to me a great deal, spoke to themes and ideas that have motivated me as a writer for a long, long time. The end result reflects that.

I dunno, man. Every time I grant that you have a point, you come back and accuse me of saying things I haven't said, arguing positions I haven't taken.

"When you have constructive insight to offer about the field - that's great; and no one here would deny you due respect. But quit pushing the notion that your own view is the final word. It is as filled with blind biases as badly as Brad's."

Uh, no. With all due respect, that's horseshit. We are speaking about the creative process that leads to the creation of a film here. It is a subject I speak on with authority. It is a subject Brad speaks on with ignorance.

Do I have biases? Absolutely. Am I as blind as Brad? That's an absurd assertion. I speak from experience. He speaks from observation.
----
Jim,

" I do believe David Thomson is a hundred times the artist Ed Wood, Jr. was."

This sort of comparison always fascinates me. You compare one of the best of one field to one of the worst of the other, and it makes what point? The best critic is not one tenth the artist as the best filmmaker. THAT'S a comparison that means something. My point was NO critic is on the same level as Coppola.

"As for Greene and the others, there's nothing to indicate that they saw their critical writing as a "sideline" to their other work, which is a notion they'd probably find insulting as hell. They took their criticism as seriously, and put as much as much talent and sweat into it, as anything else they did. "

I doubt it highly. They'd pound out a review in a day or two. There's a reason the work they're noted for took longer.

"So . . . what are you saying? Critics, even the greatest ones, are on the level of your ten year old nephew? "

Jesus. No. Please read the post again. I was commenting on the nature of this sort of discussion. I have nothing bad to say about the art of criticism. Nothing. But when you put it in the context of trying to convince me it's as viable an art form as, say, filmmaking, you force me to denigrate it. That was my only point.

I find the discussion absurd and truly - no offense - beneath me.

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Postby Moderator » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:43 pm

"So . . . what are you saying? Critics, even the greatest ones, are on the level of your ten year old nephew? "

Jesus. No. Please read the post again. I was commenting on the nature of this sort of discussion. I have nothing bad to say about the art of criticism. Nothing. But when you put it in the context of trying to convince me it's as viable an art form as, say, filmmaking, you force me to denigrate it. That was my only point.


Josh -
I understood fully the point you were making and don't think it needs defense. The reference and analogy were apt and appropriate. My guess is Jim also "got it" and was poking at the comment knowing full well you weren't equating the two -- he's a sharper guy than that.

However...

I find the discussion absurd and truly - no offense - beneath me.


You might. And it might be a valid visceral reaction (I've only met you once -- for about ten seconds in the middle of ComicCon -- so am not an expert on your thought processes). But, frankly, this strikes me as belittling everyone who is participating in this discussion. You are very good at what you do -- but please, don't assume we're "little people". I cannot, for the life of me, believe you meant it the way it came across.

I may be misreading completely your intent, but find myself a bit put off.

Steve B
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Postby David Loftus » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:50 pm

Barber wrote:
I find the discussion absurd and truly - no offense - beneath me.


You might. And it might be a valid visceral reaction (I've only met you once -- for about ten seconds in the middle of ComicCon -- so am not an expert on your thought processes). But, frankly, this strikes me as belittling everyone who is participating in this discussion. You are very good at what you do -- but please, don't assume we're "little people". I cannot, for the life of me, believe you meant it the way it came across.

I may be misreading completely your intent, but find myself a bit put off.



I'd like to think Josh's closing remark was more of a rhetorical tactic. I can't imagine he's found my contributions irritating; in fact, I'm guessing he's glad someone else has been tag teaming Brad for a few days.

But Josh, if you keep saying such things and then keep coming back for more, the rhetorical line wears thin. Either get the hell out of Dodge because you really DO dislike the discussion, or admit that you're having a little fun, too.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Josh Olson » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:55 pm

Steve,

"But, frankly, this strikes me as belittling everyone who is participating in this discussion. You are very good at what you do -- but please, don't assume we're "little people". I cannot, for the life of me, believe you meant it the way it came across. "

Ah, sigh. The price of... whatever the hell it is I have. After I hit post, I figured that would be misread. I guess, yeah, it probably IS beneath me as the creator of great works of Art, now that you mention it. But I meant it's beneath me as a thinking human being. Didn't mean to dismiss anyone here, except, perhaps, those that genuinely believe criticism is as valid an art form as... hell, ANY art.

So sorry for that. Not what I meant.

David,

I enjoy the discussion about the nature of film and authorial vision. Honestly, I don't enjoy getting sidetracked into a silly debate over the value of critics. You can take it on faith that I value critics highly. You can also take it on faith that I do not value them as highly as the artists they write about.

Given a choice between a world without critics or a world without art, can you really say you'd have to think before choosing?

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:57 pm

Josh Olson wrote:This sort of comparison always fascinates me. You compare one of the best of one field to one of the worst of the other, and it makes what point? The best critic is not one tenth the artist as the best filmmaker. THAT'S a comparison that means something. My point was NO critic is on the same level as Coppola.


The point was stated in the rest of the paragraph, which you omitted: directly comparing critics to filmmakers in an attempt to rank them, no matter who they are, is ultimately kind of futile.

"As for Greene and the others, there's nothing to indicate that they saw their critical writing as a "sideline" to their other work, which is a notion they'd probably find insulting as hell. They took their criticism as seriously, and put as much as much talent and sweat into it, as anything else they did. "

I doubt it highly.


You doubt that they took their criticism seriously? How do you know this? Please, I'd like to see your sources, if you have them.

They'd pound out a review in a day or two. There's a reason the work they're noted for took longer.


Again, how do you know how long it took James Agee or Graham Greene to write a review? And even if they only "pounded it out in a day or two," what does that have to do with anything? Some of Harlan Ellison's most acclaimed stories were punched out in one afternoon in a storefront window, after all. Are you saying he didn't them seriously as a result?

"So . . . what are you saying? Critics, even the greatest ones, are on the level of your ten year old nephew? "

Jesus. No. Please read the post again. I was commenting on the nature of this sort of discussion.


I understood the point you were making: your ten year old nephew isn't an artist on the level of Harlan Ellison, just like critics aren't on the artistic level of . . . well, everyone else, apparently.

I have nothing bad to say about the art of criticism. Nothing. But when you put it in the context of trying to convince me it's as viable an art form as, say, filmmaking, you force me to denigrate it. That was my only point.


How can I force you or anyone else to denigrate something? That's some power I have!

I find the discussion absurd and truly - no offense - beneath me.


And yet, here you are.
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"His plan therefore was not to refuse admission to the idea, but to keep it at bay until his mind was ready to receive it. Then let it in and pulverise it. Obliterate the bastard."--Samuel Beckett

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Postby Josh Olson » Fri Apr 06, 2007 6:52 pm

Jim,

"And yet, here you are."

Indeed. But I'm not arguing that anymore, because it is, without a doubt, one of the stupidest arguments I've ever found myself in. You cannot possibly believe the point you're trying to make.

By the way... nice avatar. Is it from your favorite movie review?

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Postby Moderator » Fri Apr 06, 2007 6:59 pm

I guess, yeah, it probably IS beneath me as the creator of great works of Art, now that you mention it. But I meant it's beneath me as a thinking human being.


Got it. No offense taken, in the grand schema. We're all capable of the great works (for me, I come with a jazz singer securely stapled to my side. Have roadie, will travel), and yes, it's fortunate yours has been allowed to be expressed the way you've earned. I just read it with a bit more individual personalization than perhaps you'd intended.

Steve
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robochrist
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Postby robochrist » Fri Apr 06, 2007 7:27 pm

Josh,

". I have never argued there aren't auteurs. I have simply rejected the notion that it is the natural, default way of things"

Well...everytime you post to me you SOUND like you're taking issue. But I've been arguing exactly what YOU just said here. I'm too busy tired right now to go scrolling back for quotes to use against you in court, so we'll leave this juncture of the discussion right there. My point has been consistently that the auteur is NOT a manifesto; it is simply the only tag I can think of that's appropriate for very specific criteria.

But don't mention Peter Jackson in the same breath - please - as those few I was referring to. He's a good craftsman; but, given what I consider an unnecessary remake of a great classic, that's ALL I can say about him. I'm tired of this sell-out shit in Hollywood to remaking what doesn't NEED remaking. I used to be a fan of Tim Burton's, as an example, but the boat's turned over for him...and Jackson isn't all that far behind now.

(I'm still waiting for the "big budget" remake of CASABLANCA)

(It's become a wasteland out there, man; where flicks like TITANIC and DESCENT get 4-star ratings and the closest thing to character development is every archetype that's been worn to the bone for 10 years)

...and I think there's something else I've been trying to get at - where I've been weak in the phrasing here; criteria that JUSTIFIES the label auteur (it isn't the same to say, well he has this idea of how he wants it to look, blah blah, so I'm hired to work with him in order to achive that look; it's a step up from THAT, whereby an artist singlehandedly sets a new standard in voice and language with the medium...inspiring generations of followers.

It isn't just a guy keeping everything in order. It's the degree of artistic control and influence he has on the world. That's the rare breed of a great artist. Kubrick freed himself from studio control and was able to "indulge his 50-plus takes and utter hands-on production methods unmolested". He produced a compact body of work that was distinctly HIS; one that can be analyzed, perhaps, as a single work of art, the grand tapestry of one of the 20th century’s most important film artists. Same for the handful of names I rattled here earlier.

I guess, then, I'm saying that any legitimacy for a director to brand himself an auteur is unique.

Anyway, if there were points I DID miss in your posts it wouldn't shock the hell out of me; I'm reading haphazardly right now because of time, AND I have this tendency to run off in my OWN thoughts (in other words, I'm rambling).

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Postby Moderator » Fri Apr 06, 2007 7:44 pm

robochrist wrote:Josh,

". I have never argued there aren't auteurs. I have simply rejected the notion that it is the natural, default way of things"

Well...everytime you post to me you SOUND like you're taking issue.


Yes and no. Josh's argument has been consistent though emotive, that the universalist approach doesn't work from on "operational" standpoint -- and I'd agree.

There are exceptions to everything, but if only a handful of examples support the thesis, then perhaps the thesis itself is too narrow. There may indeed be "auteurs", but those auteurs are so rare and far between it fails as a universal film theorum.

IMHO, as always.
- I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.


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