Just got back from this, an evening of screenings intended as a prelude to Friday's full day of sessions led by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and (in absentia) Nicole Brenez. The theme of the workshop is "The Responsibility of Film Criticism." As elaborated in the winning NYU grant proposal submitted by Paul Grant, "As the technologies of filmmaking and distribution continue to proliferate, criticism must also develop in ways that are commensurate with its object in o9rder to effectively respond... In a series of workshops, these critics will address the ways in which their work attempts to be responsible through their respective methods and perspectives. The workshop will close with a round-table discussion using as a starting point the question that begs to be reposed continuously: what is to be done?" Rosenbaum and Martin took turns making remarks to preface the films they had selected for the opening screening. Rosenbaum's presentation touched primarily on the issue of history as being in constant re-vision, with the '60s being his object lesson. He presented two short films, Farough Farrokhzad's The House Is Black and Charles Burnett's When It Rains - the former exemplified a '60s masterpiece that went largely unheralded for decades, demonstrating how assumptions of a set historical cinema canon can and should be left open to new discoveries; the latter, Rosenbaum asserted, exemplifies the how the spirit of the '60s (communalism, anti-capitalism) can be enacted in a contemporary film to reflect its viability in contemporary times, rather than being consigned to a shrine of nostalgia. Both films also demonstrated innovation in synaesthetic forms: Farrokhzad's film is a masterful interweaving of cinema and poetry, while Burnett incorporates jazz and blues structural elements in his narrative and dialogues. Rosenbaum concluded by observing that both these films are available on DVD, two among innumerable treasures previously unavailable to most audiences that are now accessible under a revolutionary culture of DVD and digital film distribution that would have been inconceivable in the sixties.
Martin built on Rosenbaum's argument while focusing it more on the responsibility of the film critic. He emphasized the value of diversity within film criticism, using as a negative example his recent findings that among about 20 film magazines he had recently surveyed, the majority had an image of Daniel Day Lewis and There Will Be Blood on the cover. He found these tokens of hegemony lamentable (at this I couldn't resist giving a consoling pat on the shoulder of the man seated in front of me, Richard Porton, editor of Cineaste, whose current issue has you-know-who on the cover). Martin recalled a recent exchange with Andy Rector, intrepid critic and host of the Kino Slang blog, who wondered if he had been shirking his responsibility by not covering There Will Be Blood. Martin's response was that a critic only thing a critic needed to write was to write bravely - not necessarily to see new things, but to see things anew. Martin's screening selection illustrated these principles brilliantly - it was Jean-Luc Godard's Origin of the Twenty-first Century, a montage of footage taken from as wide a range as war newsreels to porno flicks, mixed with a healthy serving of film clips, including some from his own films, all chopped up and thrown into a bold and poetic remix of the past 100-plus years of violent co-existence between image and humanity.
I'm going to bring my laptop and camcorder to tomorrow's sessions to see if I can simultaneously blog and film as the day progresses. One way or other I'll have some (hopefully multimedia) reports to share either throughout or at the end of Friday. Stay tuned.