Notes from the NYU Film Conference, Pt. 5 - Q&A hosted by Girish Shambu

Before I wrap up this report, I must express gratitude to Paul Grant and Martin Johnson, the organizer of the NYU Film Criticism workshop, for permitting me to live blog from the workshop. This has been a very exciting and informative event and I hope the reports will help bring public recognition to the efforts of them and the NYU Cinema Studies department to foster a serious dialogue on the practice and the future of film criticism. the following are some summarial notes on the open Q&A session between Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and moderator Girish Shambu.

GS: The blogosphere offers unique forms of film criticism that can't be found in traditional formats (print, etc). They can take on a remarkable variety of lengths, approaches and insights, from the fleeting, pithy remark to an extensive study. Girish subscribes to over 130 film blogs and utilizes blog digest software to stay abreast of them - not a day goes by that he doesn't find a fascinating remark somewhere on his blog network.

JR: People on the blogosphere seem to write before they think, and get into family spat-like exchanges with others.

JR: Recounting experiences from Reader film blog. Was heckled by at least one visitor but noticed that others would come in to chastise hecklers and regulate conduct. Interesting sociological phenomenons and culture formations emerge on internet.

AM: Shared experience of finding a website called adrianmartinisa*******idiot.com,contacting the administrator of the web, who expressed surprise that Martin had even found and read the site. Strange experience of a cultural hierarchy collapsing within the space of the internet.

AM: Quoting Daney: "I want to militate cinema for cinema." - cinema activism on behalf of cinema itself as a political or social movement, as opposed to being a function of political or social purposes.

JR: Reflecting on the book co-written by Martin, Movie Mutations - when they started it, email wasn't a common fixture - they began through postal correspondences but was finished by the time email began to be widely adopted.

JR: Film as criticism - distinguishing homages between superficial references vs. critical commentary "it needs to be more than just showing a baby carriage going down the steps" - what does it mean in this film, or how might it illuminate something new about this reappropriated image or moment?

JR: Recognizes the Cinematheque Francais programs of Henri Langlois that revolutionized film culture by juxtaposing films of different origins and eras together such that they generated a running dialogue on film history and aesthetics.

AM: Describes the blog The Art of Memory which creates a visual essay out of dozens of still captures showing frames containing light flares, such that it resembles its own experimental photo montage. Points out how online critics are eager to extend the art of "writing" to incorporate images and film clips.

GS: Poses question about the seeming “gulf” between journalistic writing and academic writing about film.

JR: By and large there's a lot of mutual antagonism between these two camps. Attributes it to the forces that helped engender a formal film studies curriculum in the '60s and '70s. Literature departments were antagonistic to film studies courses as the latter were extremely popular yet perceived as light. Film studies had to prove itself as a discipline as rigorous as other academic fields of study. Theories needed to be adopted. Agee and Farber were less adopted than Kracauer and Warshow. Recalled AM's earlier remark that criticism ceases to be interesting when it reinforces a familiar way of thinking. JR cites a popular academic essay, Counter cinema by Peter Wollen, as an example of a systemic, institutionalizing text. Opposes both academic and journalistic writing that is too specialized and fixed in its own interests.

AM: Wants practice of journalism as striving to be more intellectual, and academic writing to be be more accessible. Agrees with JR that both academic and journalistic writing are under tremendous institutional pressures. Journalistic writing is under pressure to cater to film industry interests and dumb down to lowest denominator of readership; individual expression is subject to the authority of editors. Academic writing seems to lose sight of an intended audience; individual expression is subject to the authority of peer review; discourages experimental writing approaches. Some of the best work these days seems to come from outside institutions, "hobbyistic" practices by retired professionals or non-professionals.

JR: When he wrote his first book Moving Places, he took a stint writing for the magazine American Film make a living, which he considered to be "alienated labor." Expresses admiration for Ronnie Scheib, who is able to flourish as a writer within the unlikely auspices of Variety.

GS: On his experiences gleaning the blogosphere on his RSS reader, Girish has learned to glean his readings to hone in on choice passages to highlight. Regarding DVD commentaries, he finds he tends to bail on the first 10 minutes. Girish praises Jonathan's commentary track recorded with James Naremore on the Corinth Version of Welles' Mr. Arkadin on the Criterion DVD.

JR singles out Criterion's Elizabeth Helfgott in the crowd to comment - EH shares that these days Criterion staff deliberate the necessity of a commentary track on a release-by-release basis.

AM: When you think of the number of words that someone speaks on a commentary track, that could constitute a book's worth of material.