Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gaining some 'Critical Distance'

At the start of the year, I announced I would be reviving The Cinematic Art and re-appropriating its content to suit my current interests and capacities. Four months in, I am generally pleased with the results. What started as the posting of simple, short capsules has evolved into the regular (and still brief) reviewing of movies and shows. While the format has limitations, it has also helped me understand and address my own limitations as a writer. If you've read this blog before, you know that I take to criticism with a high degree of reflexivity. Although I don't inject this into my writing these days, I am always wrestling with it and trying to improve my writing and approach with each review.

Another benefit of the recent writing I've been doing has been my rediscovery of long-form criticism. It started when I saw The Artist in February. I drafted a short review, but found myself reading more and reflecting on it. I returned to my capsule review and started adding to it. Eventually I molded it into a grander piece that was posted over at Slant Magazine's blog, The House Next Door. I had a similar recent experience with Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, which I began writing as short review but gradually developed it into a longer polemic. Both essays don the "Critical Distance" tag, a name that suits my long-form critical approach and also reflect my own film-viewing limitations. (I often do not see new movies until DVD release). "Critical Distance" covers both of these angles and more broadly represents my approach to come at a film from the perspective of having absorbed the hype and attacking it with a new set set of eyes. I already have a few ideas for movies to explore future Critical Distance pieces (e.g., Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises), but it's equally important to allow these essays to naturally develop from my reaction to something. (That I often am seeing films and shows well after their initial run adds to this approach). I realize that there isn't much need for a series like "Critical Distance." As David Hudson recently noted over at his new spot, KeyFrame Daily, "never has the mediasphere been noisier, nor have attention spans been shorter." Movies, even mega-commercial releases, have a brief moment in the sun on release, but are quickly chewed up and digested to make room for the next discussion of the moment. That goes for criticism, too. And that's why I like the idea of an essay series that runs against this trend. For the very same reason, I don't expect these article to resound much within the bigger conversation about a given movie. But it is my hope that they contribute a fresher perspective to works that have had their moment and are worth considering in a new light.

As I move forward with the Critical Distance pieces, I hope to put as much effort into the regular reviewing I've undertaken in recent months. Given that I am not a critic by profession, I am usually about six months behind the rest of the circuit with viewing/reviewing. This is an occasionally frustrating reality, but it also reminds me (as the Critical Distance series evidences) that there are other ways of spotlighting critical discussion than what constitutes the current moment. Nevertheless, I plan to have one foot firmly implanted in the new-to-DVD/streaming front and will also review select films in theaters. (On queue: A review of The Avengers, and perhaps also a Critical Distance piece on the same subjects at the end of May.) But as I am now winding down my engagement of 2011 movie fare, my review base will broaden in coming weeks and months, as I return to watching older films and television shows more regularly. This represents a relatively new direction in my reviewing habits, one that I am looking forward to carving out.

In terms of old movies, I want to dive into as many as I can. I've been off the international circuit for some months. Ditto to silents and Golden Age entries, and I have only flirted with real independent cinema. I anticipate heading back to all of these areas and going where the wind takes me. I have a few "projects" in mind, as well. Although my sextuplet of Star Wars reviews didn't match my expectations, I enjoyed diving into them and lending some perspective on each movie in succession with a new review each week. I am planning a few other similar projects, organized around certain directors and concepts. (I'll be revealing one of these very soon.)

The other subset of reviewing I plan to undertake is in the television realm. My approach here is similar to Critical Distance, which is to take the long-view of a show, looking at an entire season rather than mounting an episode-by-episode campaign. My The Walking Dead—Season 2 review provides a decent example of this. Television has been the subject of much discussion lately, which is a reflection of the medium's growing relevance and general quality (particularly on cable and HBO). Some have argued that the television drama has supplanted film in terms of relevance, as James Wolcott most recently did in the pages of Vanity Fair. Though these arguments are largely matters of semantics, the divide between television and film is ever-interesting, particularly in the context of changing media platforms and conditions. I hope to address this in a longer essay somewhere along the line, but in the mean time I will make a concerted attempt to become more involved in the TV scene. This effort partly arose from my recent ability to stream media content to my television. (By the way, despite its bevy of flaws, Netflix offers a decent library of TV shows. I decided to start with an old favorite of mine, The X-Files, the excellent first season of which I devoured in April and will soon reflect on. I will attempt to balance reviews of older shows like this with newer ones, such as Mad Men, Louie, and Downton Abbey.

So where do all these changes leave The Cinematic Art? Well, primarily as a personal venture, but a growing one. As an ongoing experiment in a hybrid of cinephilia and criticism, I hope to keep challenging my approach to media and writing, maybe even pushing in some kind of new direction. I don't know how exactly the site will take shape as the future unfolds, but I will strive ever to balance serious critical approaches with personal reflections on media and my relation to it and see where it takes me. So if you've made it this far, I'm glad to have you along.

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