Friday, December 07, 2007

The New International Art Film

I don't read online film reviews too often, not because they aren't worth my time, but because I as yet don't have a good mechanism to direct my limited online-reading time to the best use. But I'm glad I read Steven Shaviro's review of Control, in which is embedded this nice pithy genre summary:

There’s a certain international-art-film style that works to convey a sense of desolation through the rigorous avoidance of any interiority. These films are shot mostly in long shots and long takes, with a camera that either remains entirely still, or moves slowly, in order to continually but discreetly reframe. The acting is generally low-affect, or entirely affectless; the plot is sufficiently elliptical, oblique, and estranging, as to prevent us from assigning any motivations, or even emotional qualities, to the characters. There are great films in this style (like the works of Bela Tarr, which make us feel like we are seeing the world in an entirely new way), as well as a lot of less successful ones that come across as strained, pretentious, and desperately arty (I’d prefer not to finger any specific bad examples; anyone who watches lots of international art films will have their own sense of this).

This art-film tendency dovetails with America's contribution to the art film, the independent film. I've previously diagnosed the "cinema of anomie" in makers like Miranda July. It makes me wonder how much a neo-functionalist sociology underpins bourgeois artistic practice across national context in the industrialized West. Shaviro is mostly concerned with aesthetic judgment -and along the way produces a great textual outline of the new international art film. I'm just as interested with the possibility that the cinema of anomie is a political mystification in guise of cultural critique.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Theory's Empire Event

Back in the day, I participated in a blog-based dialogue that literary-studies group blog The Valve put on to discuss the book Theory's Empire - the discussion was an occasion to debate the larger role of critical theory as literary studies departments in particular understand it. John Holbo announces today that book version of this debate is out. This small-run book, Framing Theory's Empire, includes an entry by yours truly... nothing profound, but I wanted to call attention to film studies' potential contribution to the debate. It's flattering company to be in: Michael Berube, Brad DeLong, Tim Burke, and many others. Anyway, thanks to John for the dogged work in putting it together.