Andre Bazin

Criterion Files

First is a precarious position to be in, for in retrospect you stand in for the entire legacy (or, at least, for inaugurating the legacy) of the thing itself. It’s tough being the first, and can be burdensome. And of the first ten movies that were admitted into the Criterion Collection, there are some confounding choices. The Lady Vanishes (Spine #3), for instance, is a great film, but hardly amongst Hitchcock’s best (or even his best British work). It’s an…interesting choice for the first Hitchcock film in the DVD collection that would come to define 21st century cinephilia. But then again, way back in 1998, whose to say that the Criterion Collection had any idea the reputation it would cultivate? Criterion’s choices for its first two releases, however, are pitch-perfect. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the film that defined his legacy and had a greater influence on world cinema than even his Rashomon, sits prominently at Spine #2. And Jean Renoir’s anti-war, prewar masterpiece, Grand Illusion, sits deservedly in Criterion’s #1 spot, with the weight of important classic and contemporary cinema resting comfortably on its shoulders. Grand Illusion may admittedly not have the empirical evidence of definitive influence of Seven Samurai (in other words, it has yet to be remade into a Western). But that is perhaps to its benefit. While Kurosawa made tens of samurai films, Renoir never made another movie quite like Grand Illusion, and the film still occupies a singular place in the history of war cinema – […]

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Criterion Files

Much of Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic output is inaccessible to American audiences. His most prolific period, the 1960s (in which he made 18 feature films) is almost entirely available, due in no small part to the Criterion Collection’s well-justified infatuation with the cineaste’s important and influential work. The output of much of his later career, however, isn’t commercially accessible in the US including much-lauded work like Nouvelle Vague (1990) and the Histoire(s) du Cinema entries (1988-98). In fact, Tout va Bien (1972 – his most recent title included in the Collection) is to my knowledge the only film he made in the 1970s that’s available on Region 1 DVD. This is all to say that here in the US, what we know of Godard we know mostly the first decade of his career. While it’s unfortunate that cinephiles have minimal access to his later work, this complaint is not meant to undervalue the importance of the work he did in the 1960s. Godard made an unbelievable amount of brilliant and challenging work in an astoundingly short amount of time, and by 1970 he had emerged as a different kind of filmmaker altogether. Godard’s 1960s work is, in a sense, the only logical starting point in order to approach an understanding of this later work. Godard’s films are an ongoing exercise in personal growth, aesthetic experimentation, and political criticism. Each work builds off of what came before. With this weekend’s US release of Godard’s most recent work, Film Socialisme, the gaps in […]

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Criterion Files

Just as film noir isn’t one single definable thing, noir itself contains many offshoots and categories. And every Noirvember, it’s important to not only examine good ol’ film noir, but its corresponding variants as well. One aspect of noir that complicates its designation as a genre or a style is the persistence of neo-noir, a cinematic form that arose in direct reaction to noir. In the US, canonical neo-noirs include films like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. These were films made by filmmakers who knew cinema’s history, who have seen and studied noir’s origins and staples. These were filmmakers who worshiped film history and used classic cinema as a prototype for their own creation, embedding references to the old while departing from it in creating the new.

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Culture Warrior

Culture Warrior is our weekly walk on the wild side with actual film school graduate (now with even more Doctoral candidacy!) Landon Palmer. In this week’s installment, he takes on the biggest film of the summer, name drops Andre Breton, and tackles the notion of art dealing with the real world. Not that Armond White’s anti-for-anti’s-sake, straw-man-constructed brand of film criticism deserve the merit of serious examination, but there was something in White’s review of Inception that struck me as particularly problematic…

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Culture Warrior

There has been a heated debate happening in the world of art cinema criticism, from the printed words of Sight and Sound to the blogspots of grad students, about the status and function of a continually dominating aesthetic known as slow cinema. The discussion basically goes like this: on one hand, slow cinema is a rare, unique and truly challenging methodological approach to film that exists to push the boundaries and expectations of plot and pacing to an extreme antithetical to expectations conditioned by mainstream filmmaking, disrupting the norm by presenting a cinema that focuses on details and mood – in a way that only cinema can – rather than narrative; on the other hand, slow cinema has become such an established and familiar formal approach witnessed in art houses and (especially) film festivals (like Cannes, where such films are repeatedly lauded and rewarded) that they have devolved into a paint-by-numbers approach to get an “in” into such venues rather than a sincere exploration of the potentialities of cinematic expression, and furthermore the repeated celebration of slow cinema devalues the medium’s equal potential to manipulate time by condensing it or speeding it up (‘fast’ cinema).

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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