Slow Cinema

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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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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Despite having only made seven feature films, Andrei Tarkovsky is largely considered one of the most important Russian filmmakers of the twentieth century, perhaps second only to Sergei Eisenstein (who was, aesthetically-speaking, his polar opposite). However, after enduring enormous troubles with Soviet censors, Tarkovsky expatriated to Italy, where he made his sixth film Nostalghia (1983) and later to Sweden where he made The Sacrifice (1986), which became his final film as he succumbed to lung cancer shortly after its production. Earlier this summer, one of Tarkovsky’s most beloved titles, Solaris (1972), was updated to Blu-ray by Criterion, and now Kino has updated their DVD of The Sacrifice to Blu as well, making this summer something of an embarrassment of riches for American Tarkovsky fans who have longed to see the filmmaker’s intricately beautiful work in high-definition.

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Culture Warrior

You’d be hard-pressed to find two filmmakers who are more wildly different than Woody Allen and Terrence Malick. One is a notably prolific and economic filmmaker who still releases one movie a year well into his senior years, while the other is a perfectionist who labors over his films and has thus far released, on average, barely more than one movie per decade. One has an unmistakable public persona, while the other is a notorious recluse. One makes films about life in a great city, while the other turns his lens to nature and the experience of the rural. One is as much an atheist as his characters, while the other is a spiritualist who searches for “God,” whatever that may be, through the lens of the camera. Allen and Malick are, in many ways, perfect opposites. But after watching the strong new work by each of these talented filmmakers this past weekend, it became apparent that, at least in the shared thematic preoccupations of Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Malick’s The Tree of Life, these two ostensibly dissimilar filmmakers may have more in common than meets the eye.

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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

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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