The above shot is from the bustling scene at Manhattan's KGB complex (it's an arts/reading space with an ironic Soviet nostalgia theme—no, Martin Amis would not approve, but it's still a happening joint) in the aftermath of a celebration of/reading from Exile Cinema: Filmmakers At Work Beyond Hollywood, a collection of film writings edited by Michael Atkinson, that, Atkinson says, has been awaiting publication for three years. Among the luminaries in the audience were such thoroughly engaged and engaging films writers as Aaron Hillis, Karina Longworth, Craig Keller, Kevin Lee, Allison Willmore, and David Fear; among the luminaries reading their contributions to the book were Ed Halter, the particularly delightful Stuart Klawans (whose essay is a Talmudically-informed consideration of Chantal Akerman) , and Atkinson himself, who read from both his introduction and from filmmaker Guy Maddin's appreciation of Jose Mojica Marins.
Yes, this is the same Michael Atkinson with whom I picked a fight just a couple of days ago. How could it not be? As I've said before, I think he's a provocative and often astute critic, and I think the book's a worthy project (and most of the readings I heard suggest I'm going to enjoy the whole thing almost unreservedly). But I'll admit that another reason I turned up was in the hope of unruffling some feathers. While I take passionate exception with some of the specifics of the arguments Atkinson's put out there, the fact of the matter is that we absolutely agree on certain essentials, the biggest one being on the need for an informed, literate, non-market-oriented film criticism with an engaged international perspective. Whether it comes from mainstream media outlets (which seems less and less likely) or a loose affiliation of internet-based writers, or some where/thing else. As much as the essays I heard last night, the conversations I had with the above-mentioned folk suggest to me that there's more than a little hope for that. Although I get the feeling that Atkinson is more pessimistic on this front than I am. But in any case, let me give him the last word here—this is from the introduction to Exile Cinema:
It is the critic's job, performed well or not or not at all, to embrace the visual text in question as a totality—as an expression, a creation, a consummable product, a market agent, a social symptom—but as a totality with intent. That intent is to be viewed, by people, for enjoyment, stimulation, and/or satisfaction, and so the critic is the cultural pointman, the reconnoiterer for his fellow citizens for whom a movie is an experience to be had, enjoyed, contemplated, and argued over, nothing less and often little more. Their responsibilities begin and end in the seat, in the dark, watching, with their readers.