Checking in on Film Criticism

Before looking back on the highlights of his 2017 in an entry for Filmmaker,Vadim Rizov has a note or two on attending the recent New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner:

The very concept of a critics’ award ceremony is kind of charming—as my colleague Sam Adams has observed, being a full-time critic is an increasingly theoretical and vestigial idea. In the future (which is basically now), in his terms, we will all be “cultural generalists”—more lists and TV recaps, thinkpieces definitely preferred to reviews. For obvious reasons, Tiffany Haddish’s eighteen-minute acceptance speech was the most-written-about part of the evening, but the segment that really got my attention was Molly Haskell accepting a career achievement award. It wasn’t anything she said, particularly—she’s just an extremely important, very good writer who I hadn’t seen speak before, and whose retained Southern drawl (transplant or no) put my Texan-born self instantly at ease. It was, nonetheless, more than slightly disorienting to see someone speaking in the capacity of lifelong critic.

In honor of her award, the Village Voice, for whom Haskell wrote in the 1970s and 80s, posted a few of her reviews from the archives. In chronological order:

  • Her 1970 review of The Out-of-Towners, written by Neil Simon, directed by Arthur Hiller, and starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis
  • A “Critics’ Duet” co-written with Andrew Sarris, a marvelously entertaining dialogue on Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975)
  • Later in 1975, a piece that measures François Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H against Max Ophuls’s The Earrings of Madame de . . . and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

And for the sheer pleasure of it, here’s the opening paragraph of a 1976 review of Burt Reynolds’s directorial debut, Gator:

Burt Reynolds is a man not necessarily for all seasons, but surely for summer, for sunshine beer, and ice cream sodas, for drive-ins and long, lazy nights. I continue to find him one of the more interesting and appealing male stars for those qualities that others condescend to—the bright, even antiseptic, high gloss and a genuine light touch. There’s a glistening, “Draw Me” cartoon quality to his looks: the jet black hair, the bushy eyebrows, the smooth, round contours of the baby face, the square physique, and the denim outfits that always look lemon-clean, as if his mom has just used a new miracle detergent in the wash. When he pops up in some sweaty, unsavory locale—a bed of corruption, a prison, a men’s locker room—he’s a little out of place, like a “gosh darn!” in a chorus of “motherfucker!”s, and for better or worse, he sanitizes the milieu and tone accordingly.

“My major interest is in movies and looking at movies and how movies are looked at and written about and thought about,” Haskell tells Kate Erbland at IndieWire. “And I worry, as I always have, about a sort of ideological prism through which people look at movies. I worried about that in the 70s, and I still do.”

Erbland: “Haskell is still actively confronting those issues in her writing. In 2009, in support of her book Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited, she penned a piece for the Guardian about the film’s ‘so-called rape scene.’ ‘There’s something wonderfully contradictory and interesting about that scene,’ Haskell said. ‘I wouldn’t put it in a movie today, but I would never take it out.’”

Haskell, by the way, has also joined Monica Castillo, Violet Lucca, and Aliza Ma for a panel discussion, “Reckoning with Misogyny,” available as a Film Comment Podcast (65’27”).

“I have been a writer much longer than I have been a film critic,” Jonathan Rosenbaum tells Sara Donoso in the Spanish journal Fotocinema. “My attitude about cinema, in a way, is that cinema is like literature by another means.” The conversation turns to film criticism in relation to journalism, art criticism, and the academy.

Adrian Martin’s site, gathering reviews and essays he’s written over the past few decades, carries on expanding. Among the recent additions are a 2002 review of Jean-Luc Godard’s In Praise of Love (2001), a 2010 review of Luis Buñuel’s The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), a 2012 review of Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail (2011), a 2016 review of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, and a fresh review of Joseph Losey’s The Assassination of Trotsky (1972).

Martin’s also been writing about movie-going lately. In a piece for Film Alert 101, he recalls catching a 1955 film by Fritz Lang in Paris in 2002: “To find oneself crying at Moonfleet alongside Jacques Rozier . . . well, that was a genuine moment in my cinephile life.” And writing for the Metrograph, Martin looks back on three unique experiences in the 1970s, watching films by Nagisa Oshima, Jacques Rivette, and Howard Hawks.

Sabzian has posted a review of Georges Rouquier’s Farrebique (1946) that James Agee wrote in 1948: “Rouquier’s idea is simply to make a record of the work and living of a single farm family, and of the farm itself, and of the surrounding countryside, through one year. I cannot imagine a better subject, or one that is as a rule more degenerately perceived and presented. In a sense, all that can be said of Rouquier’s treatment of it is that it is right.”

“I was born in Georgia, grew up in Tennessee, did short stints in Kansas and Virginia, and have spent the past eighteen years here in Arkansas,” writes Noel Murray in the Los Angeles Times. “Through all those moves, I’ve remained a film fanatic.” So how does he keep up? He explains why it’s a lot easier now than it used to be. “But when I hear my urban friends complaining about digital projection, or about Amazon snapping up their favorite Sundance movie, or about how someone’s best-of list is too predictable, I’m reminded of how much cinephilia is a spectrum, and how often the opinions on that spectrum are shaped by location.”

For their episode “Contemporary Film Criticism,” Neil Fox and Dario Llinares, the Cinematologists, have spent six months interviewing film critics: Tara Judah, Sam Fragoso, Simran Hans, Ashley Clark, Violet Lucca, Mark Kermode, Linda Ruth Williams, and Tom Shone (64’16”).

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