Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Culture Warrior

What exactly do we mean when we find a movie to be boring? Does boring mean redundant? Monotonous? Tedious? Wearisome? Frustrating? Tiring? Uninteresting? Not challenging? The proposed definitions here are far from a collection of synonymous effects on what constitutes a “boring” work. The above terms can often be associated with boredom, but when parsed apart these can denote very different, even oppositional, experiences. For instance, tedium and frustration, which imply an active and engaged (though not positive) form of viewership, do not necessarily describe the same experience as something that feels monotonous or tiring, which by contrast suggests a passive viewer. However, the boredom critique deserves to be severed from its associations with “uninteresting” and “unchallenging” cinema, and “monotony” and “tedium” need not always be negative experiences when watching films. Boring cinema can instead be the most challenging and revelatory of all. In 2009, I wrote a piece titled Slow Isn’t Boring in which I defended the type of deliberately-paced cinema Dan Kois later expressed his frustration with, arguing that slow cinema has the capacity to give viewers a unique and hypnotic experience of time that you can’t find in other entertainment media. Thus, with the films of slow filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakhul, and Carlos Reygadas, I find myself the furthest from a state accurately described as “bored”; in fact, I experience the reverse: total immersion.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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Criterion Files

The emergence of Pedro Costa’s films into American cinematic consciousness remains something of a conundrum that discerning audiences continue to wrestle with. On the one hand, for those who desire for a radically unconventional cinema as far from Hollywood (geographically, aesthetically, ideologically) as one can get, for those who seek respite from the increasingly conventional American “independent” cinema, and for those tired of “global cinema” and its associated mandate of universal accessibility, Costa seems to be the pill to quell cinematic frustration.

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives proved to be a divisive film in its commercial release following its surprise Palme d’Or win at last year’s Cannes. On the one hand, the strange film’s recognition exhibited a triumphant glimmer of hope for international art cinema in a world economy that hasn’t exactly been making room for ‘difficult’ art. On the other, for many the film has itself proved to be an alienating experience and was written off as a pretentious exercise that exemplifies the worst tendencies of art cinema.

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Culture Warrior

This time last month, critics across the web and in print were compiling their mandatory best-of lists. While I often get annoyed when some lists with grander goals are given a degree of resonance they don’t in fact deserve (I’m looking at you, AFI), I do see the fun of the end-of year list ritual and honestly enjoy reading and writing such lists myself. But the thing is, I’m not primarily a critic for FSR, I’m a columnist. Thus, it’s nowhere near mandatory that I see everything released in a given year. I’ve been generously given the privileged position here of seeing what I want to see and writing about what I find interesting to write about week-in and week-out. While I receive occasional screeners for indie flicks and docs, I no longer live in a town that holds press screenings, so any new releases I choose to write about come into fruition because I, like your average cinephile (take note, Kevin Smith), have paid to see a movie that I think deserves my time, words, and money. This long digression is to ultimately say that my critical opinion of a given year at the end of that calendar year doesn’t ultimately mean all that much. My annual Top 5 contributions are based on comparatively few films seen by December 31. It’s typically not until sometime in February that I have anything resembling a top 10 list of my own that I can stand by, having finally seen former limited […]

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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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