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Posts tagged ‘Film Critics’

Sight & Sound Roundtable Part 2/2 – Personal Cinephilia as Public Cinephilia: Individual Lists in the Sight & Sound Poll

This roundtable discussion of the 2012 Sight & Sound Poll continues where we left off on PART I. Participating in today’s conversation are Jeff Heinzl, Natalie Ryabchikova, Ryan Pierson, and Felipe Pruneda Sentíes. This panel was moderated and edited by myself, Katie Bird. For today’s roundtable, my colleagues and I will be looking specifically at the individual critics’ lists and the politics of personal list-making (both in the published poll and in our own top tens). Katie: To build off the current discussion: What is the value of the individual lists (critics or directors) against or as a complement to the main poll? I’m thinking first of those individual lists that do seem to change (Jonathan Rosenbaum is a good example here as he forces himself to choose a new list every time). Secondly, the critics this time were, as S&S editor Nick James describes, invited to think not just about the ‘greatest films,’ or the films of the ‘highest achievement,’ but particularly those films that had “the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.” Many of the critical responses include this idea in their explanations. Felipe: In theory, encouraging that kind of cinephiliac and personal response to the task of making a list would allow for more recent films to enter the highest positions, as new films that take cinema in new directions also reshape the critics’ and directors’ ideas of it. Not that that relationship is always linear. Read more

Sight & Sound Poll Roundtable Part 1/2 – When Institutions Collide: Academics Reading the Sight & Sound Poll

Today begins a two-part 2012 Sight & Sound poll roundtable by PhD students and candidates at the University of Pittsburgh’s Film Studies program. In this roundtable we take on a variety of issues raised by the recent release of Sight & Sound’s 2012 Greatest Films of All Time poll in both its aggregate list and its individual critics’ lists. We also discuss some of the reception and debates in the weeks surrounding the release of the poll. In particular we sought to highlight how the poll is situated in the academic film studies community and the cinephilic community at large in its canon-building debates. We especially wanted to ask what the S&S poll really says about these institutional relationships (between academics, film institutions, critics, filmmakers, and cinephile audiences). Part One of the roundtable will explore in depth how the S&S poll participates in or evades a project of canon-building, how and if at all academics should engage with the S&S poll, and finally how much the Vertigo/Citizen Kane upset really has to do with an increase in academic participation in the poll. Part Two of the roundtable will take a closer look at the individual critics’ lists and the politics of participating in such a project. Participating in today’s conversation are Jeff Heinzl, Natalie Ryabchikova, Ryan Pierson, Felipe Pruneda Sentíes, and moderated by myself, Katie Bird.

Part I: When Film Institutions Collide: Academics Reading the Sight & Sound Poll

Katie: The first question I wanted to pose for the roundtable is: What role does the Sight & Sound poll serve in today’s (2012′s) film environment? (In a variety of contexts: cinephilia, criticism, film studies, etc.?)

Jeff: I think of the S&S critics’ list, even sixty years after the original S&S list, as a starting point of sorts (and a lot of people who have written about the S&S list seem to share this view). It’s a place for those who are interested in film to begin exploring or continue exploring. For those of us who have been looking at these sorts of lists (or canons?) for quite a while now, it may not be quite as mysterious or exciting as we would like it to be, but it signals blind spots – films lots of people have seen, possibly important, that I just haven’t gotten around to (“I” both as a cinephile and a film studies representative).

Felipe: A first impression of the list reeks of a certain nostalgia, one that brings to mind the mindset that, with the advent of the digital image, film has become irrevocably impermanent. The list remains, for some, stodgy, precisely because it seems to resist change.

Ryan: The list continues to speak from a particular time and place of tastes, the kind of cosmopolitan film culture that flourished after WWII; going over even the newer entries, you get a relatively stable profile of cinema as technically stylish, on the ponderous side, and serious … basically the sorts of traits Bordwell pointed out in his “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Practice”.

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New Sincerity and its Discontents

With Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom being condemned as “the whitest movie ever made” and Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild being dismissed as a palliative for white guilt, why are the supposed merits of these otherwise acclaimed films obscured by charges of social misrepresentation?  Is there value in these films despite these charges? I don’t so much have a stake in these debates of taste, race, social responsibility as I am interested in how they shape reception (especially among academics).

Both films, it seems, are faulted with placing fantasy dangerously close to sensitive historical realities. Beasts actually dabbles in Fantasy proper (the eponymous “beasts” are frozen prehistoric creatures newly-thawed and revived by a cataclysmic heat wave), but its setting and plot also recall the Katrina disaster, inventing an (implausibly?) idyllic, close-knit community forced to survive after a storm of mythic proportions. The fantasy of Moonrise is a bit less magical; it takes place on an enchanted island in 1965, conveniently untouched by the racial politics of the times (Jeffrey Sconce reminds us that the hurricane in Moonrise hits just two weeks after the Watts riots), and just as conveniently uninhabited by anyone who is neither white nor privileged. The problem here isn’t that such homogeneous places didn’t exist; it’s just that nobody today should be nostalgic for them.

The politics of these films is indeed questionable. Wes Anderson could have avoided a lot of this hot water if only he didn’t set his film so precisely in 1965[1] (his films are characteristically insular, and generally ambiguous in chronological setting). The director of Beasts maybe could have avoided his own hot water if he weren’t white or middle class (the way angry critics talk about him, one imagines he might have grown up on Anderson’s fictional island, braiding lanyards and listening to symphonies–but no evidence confirms this).

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