Saturday, 18 October 2008


After seeing 15 films in a week a new hobby suggested itself...

As the London Film Festival gets underway I've been wondering: how could a blog or a magazine work during a film festival? New questions for me, if not for others. I was looking for models, and asking around - principally through the Frameworks listserv - which turned up several responses, from the dailies produced by the likes of Variety and Hollywood Reporter at Cannes or Berlin and other major festivals, to fanzines such as Flick Harrison's Zero For Conduct, produced alongside this years Vancouver Festival, to, of course, a wide range of blogs, individual and collective. 

All very different models of course, in terms of aims, forms, and content, but perhaps together constituting a useful constellation, some of whose key locations would be:

1.An orientation around trade and information. 

2.A focus on gossip and celebrity - more broadly perhaps the tradition of the diarist and social commentary.

3.A critical and theoretical perspective. 

4.The anarchic cut and paste punk-zine aesthetic. 

I am instinctively interested in an approach that somehow holds an awareness of all these simultaneously whilst, of course, having a particular location in terms of its own readership and circumstances of production. I think a lot of my ideas about what is happening here with More Milk Yvette is a combination of 3 and 4 above, but I'm also fascinated how that reaches into the area of the diarist or social commentator- an influence of New Journalism, perhaps.   

When it comes to blogs and other internet based forums for acting out these desires, Cineaste magazine recently held a symposium on Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet along with a list of blogs and other online media  recommended by contributers to the symposium. Both, of course, are largely more positioned within the world of independent film than the artists film/experimental/whatever locus that exists here. 

How all this impinges on my response to the film festival so far, I'm not sure. Certainly I've already developed my walking out skills - GUESS THE FILM: Like Airplane 5 set in Southern India, but without the philosophical depth. Horrible -  and declined interview opportunities because I couldn't think of anything new to explore. 

I've written quick reviews of, say, Azazel Jacobs Momma's Man to offer a quick outline posted before the public screenings, because if there's someone passing by here intent on seeing something I think this would be a good choice. I've grappled more in depth with Philippe Grandrieux's Un Lac, which probably needs more time to say anything about, and is really a non-verbal experience, but what the hell. I've sketched a frame for thinking about Jeremy Deller's The Posters Come From The Walls, which is brand new, and doesn't already have a long loud blog blast of responses from appearances at other festivals, and is also wonderful.

Some of the most useful ongoing thinking on these subjects surrounding film criticism is at Girish Shambu's blog  It was girish which first turned me on to Adrian Martin's talk on The State of Film Criticism, given at Valdivia, Chile on 8 October 2008. Given the thoughtful lucidity of this talk I recommend you leave now and read the whole 1700 words here.

For those of you remaining, Martin identifies three traditional locations for film criticism: the popular, mass media; a "middle-range" of specialised magazines -
Sight & Sound is a good UK example; and the academic. Whilst the later is usually where criticism reaches into history and theory, Martin is keen to suggest there is no hierarchy between his three categories, and also that there are many examples of boundary blurring.

Martin's sense of the present is less of "crisis" and more of "emergency" - in the sense of something new emerging. He notes the professional anxiety over the rise of blogs and the internet but personally sees these new mediums as wedded to what he identifies as the current imperative: a vibrant occupation of that middle ground that expands it and "pull[s] more into it from all directions." He ends with a provocation: 

In terms of a "middle range" film magazine, this means we head straight for the latest interesting films, the latest Festivals, the latest books; we do interviews and write reviews, we talk about directors, and do some "overview" essay pieces. But this standard "spread" is not enough anymore, it is blocking our critical, intellectual imagination. We need to completely redefine what a "film magazine" is or could be, and I am interested to hear how my colleagues respond to that challenge.

Noting that it is smaller countries such as Chile, Argentina and Australia where the best examples of such criticism are appearing, Martin concludes with a provocative example of one possible model: 

About fifteen years ago, before the Internet explosion, the French critic Nicole Brenez spoke of one of the last books by Serge Daney: the diary he kept in the months leading up to his death, gathered into a book which is titled The Exercise Has Been Beneficial, Sir. What Nicole said about this book, prophetically, is that is an incredible mixture of writing modes: intimate confession, scholarly analysis, fugitive notes, poetic reveries, angry complaints – every kind of rapture, and every kind of "settling of accounts". Nicole added that this mixture of styles, in the end, captures something "proper to cinema", something that corresponds to the cinema`s own incessant mixture of documentary and fiction, fantasy and testimony, memory and dream... I know we have to hurry up to produce a new kind of film criticism, a criticism that is proper to our time.

Okay. Time to go to another screening.