Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Knowledge, Perspective, and the New Life of Criticism

I have seen only one film by Ingmar Bergman and zero by Michelangelo Antonioni. But I have learned more about them over the past week than I had ever expected having not seeing their films. Why? Because of online writing (or blogging). It's extremely unfortunate that cinema lost two of its most prominent artists in such close proximity, but since their respective deaths there has been an explosion of online writing about them, their work, and their position in cinema history the likes of which few newspaper or magazine articles -- barring perhaps the New York Times -- can replicate. Here in the film blogging world, there is real discussion happening right now, and it's invigorating to be a part of in some small way. I should note that this writing not exclusive to bloggers; after all, Jonathan Rosenbaum's editorial in the Times caused a ripple in film criticism. Being somewhat ignorant regarding these two late auteurs, I can't comment on the validity of Rosenbaum's views. I can, however, observe the great amount of critical discussion that has followed, some responding to print-based writing, others not. And it's completely refreshing.

Jim Emerson has written a number of posts (here, here, here, and here) about Bergman and Antonioni, highlighting discussions at other blogs while contributing his own voice to the dialogue. His most recent piece, which asks the simply but difficult question, "Who Matters?" in light of Andrew Sarris' retrospective article on Bergman and Antonioni, is the last in a string of many provocative pieces touching on subjects of auteurism and contrarian criticism in which he surveys online and print writing in what seems to be a larger inquiry into restrospective observations of cinema. Jim's posts as well as others' such as Girish Shambu's terrific entry on Bergman (and the subsequent discussion), Zach Campbell's dissection of the Rosenbaum piece, Chris Stangl's thoughtful reflection on Antonioni, and Michael Atkinson's theory-based approach to the cultural impact of Bergman and Antonioni have inspired me to reflect on a number of important issues that critics, movie lovers, bloggers, and scholars now face, especially as the critical discussion grows larger and more varied with blogging. One thing I have learned over the past week or so about blogging is that it has the potential to inject life into the greater discussion of film with varying perspectives. Bloggers such as those mentioned above are significant contributors to the changing face of film criticism, one that is challenging dominant theories and assumptions by asking questions of them. In doing so, it seems that we (the bloggers) are collectively yielding new critical approaches to a medium whose continual shifts and changes requires these new approaches. Blogging will not displace print-based criticism, just as journalistic criticism does not displace sholarly criticism. All of these various approaches to criticism have a distinctly different viewpoint from which their members partake in criticism.

No artistic medium can really exist and grow without a strong criticism of it. Both criticism and cinema progress each other by evolving themselves. Cinema needs its critics just as much as critics need the cinema. The current discourse on the film blogging front over the past week has reminded me how true this is. It has also reminded me that the critical body is expanding for the better with the rise in prominence of film blogs. As for where I stand in this discussion, I am more like a sponge than an active participant; I'm trying to soak up as much information I can about these directors before I dive into their work and the films of other directors whose films with which I must familiarize myself if I am to take part in that dialogue.

The beauty of this writing form is that its interactional nature of critical discourse enables me to constantly stretch my own knowledge of and participation in cinema. My exposure to this ever-growing discussion and the variety of uniquely informed individuals contributing to it allow me to challenge and question my own knowledge of the medium and the level at which I engage it in criticism. Now that I've familiarized myself with the criticism, it's time to dive into the movies themselves. Some might look at the fact that I've only seen one total film of either Bergman's or Antonioni's. Most of my life as a film lover and critic has been spent on Hollywood and Indiewood films of today and the golden age films of yesteryear. I have seen a number of international films -old and new- and now with the knowledge I have, I can swim through the cinematic treasures I have not yet been able to reach.

Scholars or bloggers, we are all of us students of cinema and the only way our own perspectives can expand is by exposing ourselves to the criticism of those whose own approaches are informed by different experiences with cinema who have engaged it in criticism.


Adam Ross said...

I'm in the same boat as you -- yesterday I spent a lot of time updating my Blockbuster queue with Bergman and Antonioni, and I have "The Passenger" waiting for me at home. Without the outpouring of writings you highlighted, I wouldn't have had the urgent motivation to discover their works.

Without this damned Internet media, I don't know if many people would still be talking about their deaths, because they got (like all celebrities) the standard AP obit and Antonioni received just a couple of paragraphs in Time.

Ted Pigeon said...

Great points, Adam. With even more articles and blog entries being published each day, I have to speculate that even the print articles that have been published have been influenced by the dialogue that has manifest in the film blogging world. I wonder if those Woody Allen and Marty Scorsese pieces would have been at all were it not for all the conjecture and debate online about these two directors. Maybe, just maybe, we are making a difference.