Sulla critica: ANCHE HULK PUÒ ESSERE PRETENZIOSO

I don’t read a lot of film criticism. Robin Wood inspired me to become one of the first out gay critics in Indianapolis — I don’t know but I may have been the first — and, like a real fanboy, I’ve followed Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s work for years, and often check in to find out what Roger Ebert thinks about this or that — not because I like his writing but because I trust his humanity. I sometimes read Manohla Dargis e più spesso, Jim Emerson e David Bordwell for their intelligence and breadth of knowledge. When I could afford and had access to The Nation, I read Stuart Klawans, too. I loathe Salon’s film criticism and for the most part, Slate’s and Slant’s, too.  Most of the bloggy variety either leaves me cold, makes me roll my eyes or pisses me off.

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Molte di queste cose sono disoneste, o comunicati stampa mascherati da critiche, o posture ideologiche mascherate da analisi. Molto è pretenzioso, verboso, cinefilo. Pochissime cose sono chiare.

And some of it, like the post I’ll briefly critique below, is a muddled mess, combining aspects of all of the above.

FILM CRIT HULK SMASH is someone writing about movies and television via a gimmick. He’s the Hulk. AND SO HE WRITES IN ALL CAPS. He knows a thing or two about film or so he thinks. For someone obsessed with type, readability and yeah, film, questo post è estremamente difficile da leggere.

He’s writing to defend Girls, a television show I really like, as well. But he does it so awfully. So very awfully.

Rather than veer off into name-dropping Stephen Soderbergh for no apparent reason or misreading Stanley Kubrick (Kubrick is not cold and I have no idea what “cold framing” even means.) HULK should have just done what he claims to want to do in the post’s title or in the first few paragraphs — confront the adolescent sexism and lazy criticism of post come questi. E nonostante la lunghezza del post, non sono mai riuscito a capire perché HULK pensasse che Girls fosse notevole.

Per prima cosa, usa la parola "semiotica" come se tutti i lettori sapessero cosa intende, essendo cinefili superfighi e istruiti che leggono il blog, e come se stesse usando la semiotica nel post stesso. Non è così. Si limita a digitare la parola e a suggerire vagamente che l'uso della semiotica sarebbe un buon approccio alla comprensione di Kubrick, e credo che questo abbia a che fare con il fatto che Girls sia notevole. Questo è, per definizione, pretenzioso.

La semiotica cinematografica è stato uno strumento brevemente alla moda, utilizzato inizialmente dal critico Christian Metz negli anni '70 e basato sulle teorie della semiologia di Ferdinand de Saussure. Metz ha anche preso in prestito dalla psicoanalisi freudiana e lacaniana. La semiotica viene insegnata nelle scuole di cinema come storia, e gli studenti sono spesso incoraggiati a scrivere critiche utilizzando i vari strumenti che studiano. Di solito, quando si laureano, scoprono che ha senso mettere via quegli strumenti. Io l'ho fatto.

(Per la mia tesi di laurea ho analizzato Stand By Me using, almost exclusively, Kaja Silverman’s Il soggetto della semiotica, but also Stephen King’s original novella. It was fun but I never wrote like that again. As I got older and the world changed, I realized that what once seemed subtextual in 1986 ends up looking pretty fucking obvious in 2013.)

Come qualcuno che ha affrontato Il significante immaginarioper divertimento, e mi è stato assegnato Linguaggio cinematografico La cosa migliore che posso dire della semiotica come strumento critico è che può essere divertente, proprio come possono esserlo molti giochi di riconoscimento di schemi. Ma non è affatto un modo privo di problemi per comprendere il cinema, o un singolo film. L'idea che il film sia un linguaggio è di per sé un'idea controversa e non una questione risolta. La cosa peggiore che posso dire sull'uso della semiotica, quindi, oltre a dire che la semiotica è il collare Nehru della critica cinematografica, è che non può fare nulla di più utile di quello che può fare uno studente liceale ragionevolmente intelligente quando si trova di fronte, ad esempio, alla Morte che gioca a scacchi sulla spiaggia. (Anche identificare le metafore non è semiotica, anche se potrebbe essere un punto di partenza).

Now, I hate obvious metaphors (and I’m indifferent to The Seventh Seal) and believe the imposition of such rigid interpretations of visual elements in film is a really good way to shut down discussion, not to mention enjoyment, of a film. It’s certainly the last thing one should do when watching 2001 or Eyes Wide Shut.

HULK does just that by interpreting a shot in Lena Dunham’s feature film, Tiny Furniture. He says that the alarm clock in the final shot means “THE COUNTDOWN TO THE CLOSE OF ADOLESCENCE” and further, “WHAT ELSE COULD THE PURPOSE BE?” If Dunham is really making such a literal point then she’s a far less interesting film-maker than I thought she was.

Ma, non contento di aver fatto la figura dello sciocco in relazione alla storia della critica cinematografica, THE HULK scrive cose ancora più sciocche.

Per esempio, ha coniato la frase, L'ARTE DELL'INVERSIONE, or NARRATIVE INVERSION. I’d never heard of this phrase as it relates to film, at least as he’s describing it, and so I did a Google search. Apparently, Google hasn’t heard of it, either. Narrative inversion would mean, literally, changing the temporal order of the story. It does not mean what THE HULK says it means. When he mentions Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods as being an example of “narrative inversion,” what he’s describing is self-reflexiveness or self-reflexivity. Whedon directly refers to other movies and modes of story-telling within the narrative,  in a self-conscious way. Both the audience and the characters who get the references are in on the jokes. We all know it’s a movie based on other movies and aren’t we all really smart for noticing that. (Tarantino has built a whole career out of doing this.) But this method of storytelling is bastardized Brecht. Brecht broke the fourth wall in theater as a way to point out the ideological forces at work to produce meaning in conventional narratives, duplicating dominant power structures. When Brecht did it, and when Godard, Tashlin, and Lewis did it much later, it was avant garde. When Joss Whedon does it in Cabin In The Woods, it’s clever pastiche and no longer new or radical. The television show Chiaro di luna, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, for fuck’s sake, did something similar in the 80s. Whedon did it much more successfully and artfully in Ancora una volta, con sentimento, the musical episode of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy directly addresses the camera (as well as indirectly addressing genre and form) and thus the audience at one point, singing with a very strange look in her eyes, “And you can sing along.”

Cosa ancora più importante per questa discussione, non ricordo nessun episodio di Girls in cui ci siano stati momenti di auto-riflessione come questo. Quindi non ho idea di cosa THE HULK stia cercando di ottenere. Oppure, ci sono momenti brechtiani nei film di Kubrick? Forse, ma non nel modo in cui HULK sta insinuando.

I’m not going to fisk THE HULK’S entire post. I don’t have time. But it’s filled to bursting with fatuous and nonsensical assertions about film form.

Here’s my take on two of them:

All film-makers try to make you think, not just “art” films and “art” film-makers. Provoking thought is not what distinguishes an art film from some other form. For some thoughts as to what an art film is as opposed to a more mainstream film, see Bordwell. Also, a preliminary definition of an art film, offered by Jim Emerson, might be that an art film teaches you how to watch it. Maybe that’s what THE HULK means by “making you think” but that’s not how THE HULK uses the phrase. Further, there are art films, like those of the late Stan Brakhage, that try to make you feel and experience something through editing rhythms and color, or art films that call attention to their form above all else, such the films of Michael Snow. You might start thinking, or even drifting off, during the landscape films of James Benning, but I’m not sure that’s the whole point of what he does. It’s also not hard to think of an art film that makes you think all the wrong things. So “making you think” is not an absolute value in and of itself.

Non esiste una trama emotiva e psicologica.  THE HULK confonde la struttura narrativa e lo sviluppo dei personaggi. I registi impiegano strategie che cercano di suscitare risposte emotive e utilizzano la psicologia dei personaggi per incoraggiare il pubblico a identificarsi con loro, per farli sembrare reali. Non c'è nulla di strano o di non convenzionale in questo. È il definizione of conventional. What I think he’s getting at is that the things that happen in Girls to move the plot or evince emotions are very small — Marnie hits her head and breaks up with Aaron; Adam masturbates and Hannah yells at him in a show of dominance — but they are nevertheless, things that happen. They’re not bombs blowing up or presidents getting assassinated but they nevertheless constitute a more or less conventional way of developing both plot and character. Emotional and psychological plotting sounds like a camera moving through an empty room and finally bumping into a  character who’s crying or getting angry; end scene. That sounds experimental and it might be interesting, but that’s not what Girls is doing.

What makes Girls remarkable is not its form, but rather it’s the writing — honest, sometimes brash, fearless — and the performances — fresh and fearless, as well. I think that makes it great art. It’s not necessary to refer to Kubrick and Soderbergh to make that case, nor is it wise to write about concepts and methods which you don’t really have a handle on.

There’s nothing badass about writing about film in this way. Dumbass is more appropriate.

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