PRACTICAL FILMMAKING vs AUTEUR THEORY

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

Moderator: Moderator

Brad Stevens
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:01 am

Postby Brad Stevens » Wed Apr 04, 2007 2:07 pm

"Well, yeah, Brad. I would. Like anyone who works in a particular field, I studied mine first. Part of that led me to film school for a period, where, believe it or not, I had to write thoughtful analyses and criticisms"

I wrote some short stories in high school - I guess that qualifies me to tell Norman Mailer that I know more about writing fiction than he does.

User avatar
Ezra Lb.
Posts: 4547
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:02 am
Location: Washington, DC

Postby Ezra Lb. » Wed Apr 04, 2007 2:49 pm

Josh sez

...A subsidiary art form, if you will. At its best, it exists as a supplement to actual art. Artists can exist without critics. The opposite cannot be said to be true.

You fortunate man. You've obviously never waded through a steaming pile of "postmodernist discourse interrogating the concept of the metanarrative".

Formal literary criticism abandoned the primacy of the text years ago and now imagines itself a branch of philosophy. I imagine that this will be the ultimate fate of film criticism. The sooner the better, huh?

C. S. Lewis wrote that the critic should ask three questions.

What is the artist trying to do?

How well does the artist do it?

Is it worth doing?

It seems to me that to go much beyond this is to be jerking off. And it's useful to remember Shaw's old line about the guy who assumes the laws of his own tribe are the laws of the universe.

Which of course partly explains why I'm not an academic anymore.

I've been enjoying (and not) films for 30+ years. At this point I've developed my own own tastes and preferences and enthusiasms and dislikes. It's very enjoyable to argue these over a beer. To try to explain them to yourself.

For instance, why didn't I like PAN'S LABYRINTH as much as everybody else obviously did?
“We must not always talk in the marketplace,” Hester Prynne said, “of what happens to us in the forest.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Brad Stevens
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:01 am

Postby Brad Stevens » Wed Apr 04, 2007 3:23 pm

"C. S. Lewis wrote that the critic should ask three questions.

What is the artist trying to do?

How well does the artist do it?

Is it worth doing?

It seems to me that to go much beyond this is to be jerking off."

It seems to me that there are numerous additional questions one might legitimately ask: "Is there a gap between what the artist is trying to do and what the work actually does?", "What does this work tell us about the culture that produced it?", etc.

Josh Olson
Posts: 206
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 6:59 pm

Postby Josh Olson » Wed Apr 04, 2007 4:34 pm

I am laughing to keep from going mad.

In reality, when someone presents you with an absolutely, categorically ridiculous premise, you laugh at them, and are done. On the internet, they can hound you with their idiocy until the end of time, no matter how utterly bereft of sense they are.

Now it can be told - I am a screenwriter because I couldn't cut it as a critic.

Any acheivements I may lay claim to are feeble compared to those who write about art after the fact.

Sweet Jesus. It truly is as if living in a dream....

User avatar
Moderator
Site Admin
Posts: 10607
Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2006 12:17 pm
Contact:

Postby Moderator » Wed Apr 04, 2007 4:51 pm

Josh -
I find myself in the odd position of defending film criticism here, but emphasizing I still don't agree with Auteur Theory (but we've evidently moved well past that end of the discussion).

On criticism: Are you suggesting that, for example, there's no value or skill in Arthur Knight's lifelong work? The Liveliest Art f'r instance.

Jim Davis points out a bunch of other critics on the previous page of this thread -- some of whom were very, very influential. Pauline Kael, f'r another instance.

The art may not be of the literary kind, however. I've found that the art of a really good critical analysis came from its conception and defense -- which, if done right, can be as rewarding and enriching a read as the best fiction.

My two cents.

Steve B



(BTW - Rich, I caught your changed icon and tagline. Just thought somebody ought to comment. Subtle, but funny.)
- I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Josh Olson
Posts: 206
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 6:59 pm

Postby Josh Olson » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:21 pm

Steve,

Critics write about art.

What I hate about discussions like this is you invariably end up being put in the position of slagging off people you have tremendous respect for. There are some brilliant critics. Some of them are more entertaining and thought provoking than some of the things they write about, no question.

But they write about art. The do not create it.

Writing the best critique ever written of The Godfather does not compare with having written The Godfather.

I hold good critics in the highest esteem, but I will not condescend. Saying critics are not the artistic peers of artists is not insulting. Saying they are, however, is.

Put it this way - if you write a book, which would mean more to you - a hundred critics saying you're a great writer, or one great writer saying it?

I've been there. You'd be hard pressed to find a bad review of my movie from any of the serious critics or film magazines. It's a lovely thing, and will definitely get me through when I make one they DON'T love. But you combine every single rave we got, and it doesn't even begin to compare to the fact that Harlan loved the film and asked me to write with him. Or the moment when I met David Simon, creator of The Wire, and he flipped over my work. Or a dozen other stories I could tell.

God bless the critics. They serve a purpose, and when they're good, they're a joy to behold. But writing about the Mona Lisa ain't the same as making it. And seriously, man, if you want to debate this one, count me out, because it's like arguing whether or not the sun sets in the West.

Brad Stevens
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:01 am

Postby Brad Stevens » Wed Apr 04, 2007 5:33 pm

Josh Olson wrote:I am laughing to keep from going mad.

In reality, when someone presents you with an absolutely, categorically ridiculous premise, you laugh at them, and are done. On the internet, they can hound you with their idiocy until the end of time, no matter how utterly bereft of sense they are.

Now it can be told - I am a screenwriter because I couldn't cut it as a critic.

Any acheivements I may lay claim to are feeble compared to those who write about art after the fact.

Sweet Jesus. It truly is as if living in a dream....


And in this dream world you have constructed a phantom enemy which you do battle with as a way of avoiding the actual arguments being presented to you.

And frankly, I am somewhat baffled by your description of my Abel Ferrara book as hagiographic. The book received a mixture of reviews - some excellent, some pretty negative - but as far as I'm aware, not a single person has previously described it as hagiographic. So I'd be genuinely interested to learn what you mean by that. Did you find the whole thing hagiographic, or just parts of it?

User avatar
Moderator
Site Admin
Posts: 10607
Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2006 12:17 pm
Contact:

Postby Moderator » Wed Apr 04, 2007 6:05 pm

Josh Olson wrote:God bless the critics. They serve a purpose, and when they're good, they're a joy to behold. But writing about the Mona Lisa ain't the same as making it. And seriously, man, if you want to debate this one, count me out, because it's like arguing whether or not the sun sets in the West.


And I agree with all of this, but your previous posts gave the impression that you felt critics and critical analyses were baseless and useless (at least, that's the impression left upon this reader).

I'm glad we seem to agree -- and I like the characterization you finished with the other day: "One creates. One comments on that creation."

And I'll leave it at that.
- I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Anthony Ravenscroft
Posts: 490
Joined: Sun May 07, 2006 4:04 am
Location: Crookston, MN
Contact:

Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Wed Apr 04, 2007 10:41 pm

I think I kinda -- that's kinda -- understand where you're coming from on this, Josh. The strong caveat is entirely for my own preconceptions & limitations.

I delight in some critics, like Lucius Shepard's movie crits in F&SF. Such as he often explain to me why a film I saw is bothering me, even though all my friends (or whomever) rave about the thing.

Then again, I sometimes force myself to read critics of the plastic "fine" arts, particularly the Manhattan scene. Oh, crikies, there's "rhythm" this & theme" that & the inevitable Soul Of A Human Being Cast Adrift In A Malign Universe twaddle.

If a piece grabs me, great; if it doesn't, no problem, I continue to cruise like a bored shark. But just because my shrivelled pedestrian soul doesn't manage to Get It, I don't want to put up with longwinded screeds as to what the hell I'm supposed to be seeing & why I need to swap my rose-coloured mirrorshades for their own fine-chosen tint so that I too can Get It.

Critics of the literary arts -- I'm presently reading essays by Lovecraft & Stevenson -- at least can have some hope of entertainment even if the basis is lacking to offer enlightenment. (Twain & Lawrence come to mind, too.)

So, you're right: critics are by definition parasitic upon & hardly central to art. I'm still of mixed feelings as to whether individualised analysis is better or worse than sweeping theoretical pretensions, but I get the feeling it may be such a matter of unique circumstances that it'd be tough to parse out properly. And who the heck really wants to critique critics, anyway?

Josh Olson
Posts: 206
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 6:59 pm

Postby Josh Olson » Thu Apr 05, 2007 12:26 am

Anthony,

"So, you're right: critics are by definition parasitic upon & hardly central to art."

Well, yeah... but I mean... this is not some strange theory I'm putting forth here. That's what criticism IS. By its very nature, and I honestly can't say I've ever heard anyone put forth the idea that it's anything but.

And again - it is only due to the context created by Brad that saying any of this somehow denigrates critics.

I love good critics. Even some bad ones. I've had tremendous discussions with some of them, and gotten a lot out of them. But having one tell me he A) knows more about my art than I do, and B) does a job as creative and challenging as mine.... uh.... No. Sorry.

Brad Stevens
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:01 am

Postby Brad Stevens » Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:45 am

"I love good critics. Even some bad ones. I've had tremendous discussions with some of them, and gotten a lot out of them. But having one tell me he A) knows more about my art than I do, and B) does a job as creative and challenging as mine.... uh.... No. Sorry."

Here's one of my favorite passages from D. H. Lawrence's STUDIES IN CLASSIC AMERICAN LITERATURE:

"America has never been easy, and is not easy today. Americans have always been at a certain tension. Their liberty is a thing of sheer will, sheer tension...Men are less free than they imagine; ah, far less free. The freest are perhaps less free. Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away...Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom. The shout is a rattling of chains, always was."

When criticism leads to insights of that clarity and is written in language of that quality, would anyone really be foolish enough to insist that it is not an art form in its own right?

And it occurs to me that there's a real irony in the example I've chosen: one of Lawrence's greatest limitations was his refusal to acknowledge that cinema could be an art form. If Josh had suggested that the things he did (wriitng and directing films) were more imporatnt than the things Lawrence did - as the writer of either fiction OR criticism - Lawrence would probably have bust a gut laughing. Prejudice is a sad thing, but there is clearly no reason for us to take Josh's prejudice against criticism any more seriously than we take Lawrence's prejudice against cinema.

User avatar
David Loftus
Posts: 3182
Joined: Fri Aug 20, 2004 2:15 pm
Location: Portland, Oregon
Contact:

Postby David Loftus » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:03 am

Brad Stevens wrote:And it occurs to me that there's a real irony in the example I've chosen: one of Lawrence's greatest limitations was his refusal to acknowledge that cinema could be an art form. If Josh had suggested that the things he did (wriitng and directing films) were more imporatnt than the things Lawrence did - as the writer of either fiction OR criticism - Lawrence would probably have bust a gut laughing. Prejudice is a sad thing, but there is clearly no reason for us to take Josh's prejudice against criticism any more seriously than we take Lawrence's prejudice against cinema.



And here's a classic example of why debating with Brad has become a total waste of time. He acts AS IF Josh MIGHT have taken a position which he clearly never did, as a method of characterizing his opponent's "prejudice."

Give it up, Josh. Mr. Stevens is clearly enamored of sounding erudite at the cost of trying to understand the opposition and possibly, just maybe, learning something and becoming a wiser person.

At least in this instance.

When one of your fellow critics remains firmly unconconvinced by your position, Brad -- or maybe it's just your shoddy methods that are getting in the way -- it's time to pack it in.
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

User avatar
Jim Davis
Posts: 496
Joined: Fri May 23, 2003 9:27 am

Postby Jim Davis » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:19 am

Josh Olson wrote:Jesus. No. A critic can bring art and craft to his work, but criticism is not an art form in itself. It is a handmaid to art. It is a refuge for people who cannot create, or for creators who are not, at the moment, engaged in the act of creation. Not knocking it at all. Just clarifying what it is.

One creates. One comments on that creation.


[Critics] write about art. The do not create it.

I hold good critics in the highest esteem, but I will not condescend. Saying critics are not the artistic peers of artists is not insulting. Saying they are, however, is.


I love good critics. Even some bad ones. I've had tremendous discussions with some of them, and gotten a lot out of them. But having one tell me he A) knows more about my art than I do, and B) does a job as creative and challenging as mine.... uh.... No. Sorry.


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. Look at the critics I listed before, and add these: James Agee, Graham Greene, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, David Thomson, Camille Paglia, and Andrew Sarris. Are you really going to tell me that the writing of Kael's I Lost It At The Movies wasn't a creative act? That it wasn't supremely challenging for Greil Marcus to come up with Lipstick Traces? That Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung isn't a work of art as audacious and lasting as, say, Naked Lunch?

Nonsense.

You argue that the auteur theory denigrates screenwriters, but you have no problem slagging the life's work of authors who have sweated just as hard as you over their creations. (Imagine telling James Agee or Susan Sontag that their work wasn't challenging to write!) You argue for legitimacy and respect for your art form, yet you deny it to John Simon and Manny Farber's because . . . I'm not really sure why. Because it interprets the work of others? (The same could be said for your screenplay for A History of Violence.) Because it's "commentary"? (So are a hundred novels I could name.) Because it's inherently dependant on other works and can't be enjoyed on its own? (I've enjoyed countless reviews of books that I've never even read!) Because it's not fiction? (Neither are documentaries.) Please, explain this position, 'cause it's not making a lot of sense to me.

Now, I'm not denying that there are differences between criticism and the other "purer" artforms like the novel or poetry, or that criticism, with its reliance on analysis and interpretation, is more utilitarian, for lack of a better word.

But to say that it's not creative? Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds, and how that's as insulting as anything you've ever read regarding the auteur theory?

I love Bradbury. I love Shakespeare. I love Hammett. All the same, if I were stranded on a desert island and could only bring ten books, I know damn well that Robert Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies is making the cut before anything else. (So is How To Survive on a Desert Island, but that's neither here nor there.)
--
"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

Brad Stevens
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:01 am

Postby Brad Stevens » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:52 am

"And here's a classic example of why debating with Brad has become a total waste of time. He acts AS IF Josh MIGHT have taken a position which he clearly never did, as a method of characterizing his opponent's "prejudice.""

David - As usual, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. In fact, the last post of yours which I even managed to make sense out of was your initial one, in which you suggested that I would probably not even bother contributing to this debate once it moved to the forums! How, exactly, am I misrepresenting Josh's position? He's the one who said that artists were always more important than critics. Indeed, it has been Josh who has consistently misrepresented MY position - at one point, this behavior became so flagrant that I offered to send him a $1000 cheque if he could quote any statement by me which even vaguely corresponded with what he had just accused me of saying! (Needless to say, he didn't take me up on the offer.) I have consistently asked you to explain what you meant when you suggested that I made the ridiculous claim that "exceptions prove facts", and you have consistently refused. Pot calling kettle black much?

Josh Olson
Posts: 206
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 6:59 pm

Postby Josh Olson » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:33 am

Jim,

"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. Look at the critics I listed before, and add these: James Agee, Graham Greene, Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, David Thomson, Camille Paglia, and Andrew Sarris."

I said writing about the Mona Lisa is not the artistic equivalent of painting it.

Writing about The Godfather is not the artistic equivalent of making it.

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, 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 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.

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.

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

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)

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.

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.

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.


Return to “Pop Culture”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests