There's a controversy a'brewin' in some corners of the cinephilic blogosphere over summin' they call "Slow Cinema," which is so called not on account of it's all a'simmerin,' but 'cause its ostensible creators use a shitload uh long takes, or summin'. Okay, I'll stop now. Apparently this concern stemmed from an editor's letter in the April 2010 Sight and Sound (hey, I thought the blogosphere was supposed to be a "fast-reacting" entity?...) in which Nick James expressed some, shall we say, trepidation about what Jonathan Romney calls a "varied austere strain of austere minimal cinema," allowing that there were times while watching, say, Semih Kaplanoglu's Honey during which he may have felt a little, say, restive, but was intimidated by the fact that the enthusiastic advocates of such fare are such that should one "admit you're bored and [one is] a philistine." And as if on cue, the feisty Harry Tuttle at Unspoken Cinema came out and called James a philistine, or at least called James's piece "anti-intellectual banter" that speaks of "a pro-entertainment inclination that plagues today's film culture." While Mr. Tuttle is an impassioned cinephile who frequently provides exciting insight and information, he also tends toward the humorless prig side of the critical scale, as witness my exchange with him on the comments thread of this post. Here, where James frankly describes his direct experience, Tuttle digs himself a rage hole, and defends a "Contemporary Contemplative Cinema" with a lot of name-calling and very few specifics. Discussing Tuttle versus James, Steven Shaviro notes that Tuttle's CCC is "exemplified in the works of such directors as Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-liang, Bruno Dumont,Weerasethakul, Sharunas Bartas, Kore-eda, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Sokurov, Lisandro Alonso, Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa." Subsequently, Vadim Rizov chimed in. But hold on. Back to that list, because that's what stopped me.
I almost never think of those directors as constituting any kind of bloc, front, trend, or aesthetic movement. I think whatever rebuke to Hollywood filmmaking or "pro-entertainment inclination" their work represents is almost entirely implicit (unless you count reading a director's interviews as equivalent to watching his or her films). I am not interested in what their films represent en masse; I'm interested in what their films are, individually. I honestly see very little affinity, if any, between, say, Sokurov and Weerasethakul, or Tarr and Dumont. Hou's work took me a while to hook into,while I "got" Tsai's films immediately. And so on.Furthermore, I'm not so interested in discussing the 'slow' or 'contemplative' aspects of any of these directors' works (and by the way, the screen grab above, from Costa's Colossal Youth, is from a lengthy master shot that happens to be preceded by four shots of varying length tallying up to about a minute or so total) as I am in working out more specific issues. One critic friend who I won't name because I'm not about to drag him into an argument he's perfectly able to engage in himself if and when he chooses, and also because he expressed these opinions privately, has mentioned to me that he thinks Bruno Dumont "doesn't know how to make a movie." I don't (entirely) agree, but I get what he's saying and think it's a topic worth pursuing. On a similar note, we've discussed certain suspicions concerning Pedro Costa. He's more of a sceptic than I am, and he once said to me that he thought Costa "saw a place at the table between Straub/Huillet and Godard and jumped to it." Again, a notion worth engaging, I think.
In other words, I think this particular argument happens to be about...nothing, or rather, something not worth arguing about except for the sake of staging an argument, getting indignant, going off in a huff, and moving onto the next thing. A more mainstream version of this tendency can be found in any review of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood that attempts to make something of its politics. Now I understand that there's no work of art that's entirely devoid of some ideological determinants. But if Robin Wood was a master of parsing the ideology inherent in certain "incoherent" cinematic texts, then Robin Hood stands as a standard-bearer of the inconsequential text, both as far as larger ideology and more localized politics are concerned. Really, there's no "there" there. This hasn't stopped a cadre of critics from speculating whether the picture represents a socialist agenda or an anti-big-government "statement." Jeffrey Wells recounts his failure to put to Russell Crowe the question of whether Crowe believes Hood is "either sympathetic to or in league with tea-bagger sentiments," while Karina Longworth (who, I have to say, has been doing a brisk and efficient job of laying out exactly everything she doesn't know in her otherwise uninspired/uninspiring tenure as the LA Weekly's film editor) tries out the anti-blurb "All the more reason for Sarah Palin to love it." No, Sarah Palin's not going to love it, you insect*, because Sarah Palin is not going to see it, and neither is anybody else, and in a week and a half or two or whenever you're gonna have to go looking for another movie to concoct some fake-ass provocation about. (One does feel a trifle sorry for Longworth, though; a little while back she went for the grandstand play on Kick-Ass, another movie it turned out nobody was gonna give a shit about, so I guess she can't be blamed for making a swing for the fences yet again with this "event" picture.)
*I know, "you insect" sounds really harsh, but for some reason I'm thinking about the late Robert Quine today.
And speaking of Arto Lindsay, here's DNA playing "5:30" and, yes, "New Fast."