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December 30, 2010

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Fernando

Nice work as always, Glenn, but I'm really commenting to say how much I absolutely love the "glug glug glug" noise, especially when accompanied by the appropriate hand gesture (thumb and pinkie extended, hand tipped toward the mouth, if anyone needed clarification).

bill

Because that's the thing about HUMAN CENTIPEDE (have you seen it, Glenn?): It doesn't even have the courage of its convictions.

bill

Which, I hasten to add, is only one of the many bad things you can say about it.

lipranzer

Very nice review of ANOTHER YEAR, which I saw this afternoon and loved (I'm seeing BLUE VALENTINE tomorrow, so I haven't read your review of that yet). You mentioned HIGH HOPES, which is interesting not only in having the same kind of couple at the center, but also Lesley Manville played again a character who's over-the-top all the time, kind of knows it, but can't stop herself (although her character in that movie is nowhere near as desperate as the one here). I was also reminded of the couple in NUTS IN MAY, although I don't think Broadbent and Sheen are as self-satisfied as the couple in that movie.

Graig

Would I get a total shellacking around these parts if I said I thought HUMAN CENTIPEDE was, um, okay, or at least watchable for what it was....? Sure, it's a half-assed cheapie, but the main villain is kind of a hoot, and I remember some genuinely squirmy bits. Oh, and it ends on a nifty and nasty note, which as Ms. Longsworth correctly (yes) points out, subverts the horror movie trope of the virtuous "final girl" who makes it out at the end. Not a great movie, and I'm not going to defend it too stridently, but I dunno. I thought it got the job done, so to speak.

Haven't seen ANOTHER YEAR or BLUE VALENTINE yet, but I am looking forward to both, the Leigh more than the other one.

Glenn Kenny

No shellacking from me, Graig. Your description of "Centipede" as a "half-assed cheapie" hardly contradicts my point, which is just that it's kind of funny that callow inexperienced pseud cinephiles such as KL discuss it in the prose equivalent of hushed tones, as if they've experienced something apocalyptically upsetting and genuinely subversive and, gosh, morally reprehensible. You'd think it was "Cannibal Holocaust" or something. Which it isn't.

Graig

I haven't seen CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST yet. I need to.

LEAVES

I've come around to the belief that the most interesting and beneficial manner of criticism is one of pure appreciation, finding ways to get everything possible out of the greatest films through detailed analysis or the origination of new viewpoints in great films or simply pulling out the hidden morsels of creativity that are found in even the least appealing films. To simply detail one's experience does not strike me as even of a critic; everyone will have an experience in one way or another. Recently there have been a number of people attempting to dig into the films of Ridley Scott, discussing the ways they rise above what appear to the surface to be simply formulaic action films. Some of the time I can't even figure out whether they're actually talking about the same film I saw, and I would hope they see more than I see, otherwise why waste the time? And that, really, is what it seems like some people settle for: wasting time being little more than a vanity blogger.

Which is not to say that vanity blogging doesn't have its own virtues! But why even pretend to be talking about Another Centipede if you're simply talking about a series of bodily convulsions?

MovieMan0283

"it's kind of funny that callow inexperienced pseud cinephiles such as KL discuss it in the prose equivalent of hushed tones"

Who is KL? I'm assuming not Karina Longworth...

MovieMan0283

"it's kind of funny that callow inexperienced pseud cinephiles such as KL" I was going to ask who KL was (assuming it wasn't who it seemed to be ) but actually, after googling the review I see it IS that KL. The next Kaufman round table should be interesting...

I haven't seen Human Centipede or Another Year, so no comment there.

MovieMan0283

Well, now I feel a bit like Donnie in The Big Lebowski. After checking out the previous thread, I see a Longworth backlash is in full force. I never really cared for her particular style, and was always surprised/slightly irritated when she was held up as the model of "good" blogging (and she was, constantly - usually by the critical establishment and often by people who didn't much like blogging to begin with; those two categories, of course, have substantial overlap).

So I'm neither shocked nor dismayed to see that she's increasingly a whipping girl, but a bit taken aback by the degree of venom involved! Another Donnie question: is there an incident/background here I'm missing, or is this all about the prose style?

Glenn Kenny

@ MovieMan0283: I think "venom" is relative, really. Kent's analyisis is hardly what I'd call ad hominem, and my back-and-forthing with Bill over "Human Centipede" stuff is more taking-the-piss than anything else. At least that's how I see it. That said, we haven't had quite so big a flareup of reviews-of-reviewers here in a while, so maybe it looks worse than it is. I don't know. I think an argument against Longworth's work based entirely on the work holds up pretty well on its own merits; if you follow her (which I usually don't; as I mentioned elsewhere, her review of "Another Year" was more or less waved under my nose), it's plain that she's actually getting worse. This isn't "style" we're talking about; it's competence. And no, there's no "incident" or what have you that "explains" this state of affairs; yeah, I do think she's pretty ethically challenged, and I don't go into the reasons for that here when it comes up, because I don't wanna fall into the same trap, but beyond that...whatever. I'm not on any kind of crusade. I don't like Eric Kohn's work either, but when I saw him at a party a couple of weeks ago I didn't ask him to step outside, or use the top of his head as a drink coaster, or anything like that. As long as the Twitterific Kidcritz™ keep their mouths shut about how important they are because they represent the young generation and they've got something to say, and don't write "think" pieces about the "state" of "film criticism," they're gonna continue to not get too much guff from me. But when people cite and laud examples of this crummy work as if it's actually GOOD, well, yeah, I might be moved to opine otherwise.

Kent Jones

Speaking for myself, KL's "prose style" is beside the point. Penning 300 or so words on ANOTHER YEAR that basically amount to "Mike Leigh makes soap operas and I really hate this one" is the issue at hand. It's not a matter of disagreeing about the film or about Leigh. When rhetoric like that rears its head, an actual exchange of opinions seems impossible. It's like kids playing in the sandbox.

Leaves, what happens when you're not dealing with the "greatest films?" What happens when you think the film is poor, or imperfect and not quite the sum of its parts, or flawed, or modest? I don't think "pure appreciation" is what we should be striving for in criticism, but intensity of focus and concentration.

MovieMan0283

Yeah, venom was probably the wrong word - forcefulness, perhaps? But it may be a blog v. print thing - for all the reputed snark of the blogosphere, I find bloggers are generally pretty hands-off when it comes to criticizing each other's work (I know I am, and would probably wince if someone took a shot, even deserved - which it often would be - at something I wrote). In a way this is unfortunate, since the lack of editorial oversight already inclines bloggers toward weak, bad, or messy prose (it's also unfortunate because the flare-ups that do occur, and there are plenty of them, tend to be peripheral and personal in nature). But it is what it is.

Print criticism, on the other hand (or, if the medium is less relevant than the environment/attitude, "professional" writing) has a long history of writers wiping the floor with one another's arguments and/or prose styles. In that context, Kent and your beef is par for the course, even part of a tradition... At any rate, I'm a bit relieved to see Karina's approach challenged as I never much cared for it and winced whenever she was held up as representative of bloggers everywhere.

Glenn Kenny

Also, MovieMan, remember that line from "The Conversation:" "He'd kill us if he got the chance."

Just kidding!

Anyway, I bet that the Slate "Culture Gabfest" people are pretty happy that these threads took these particular turns...

MovieMan0283

Speaking of threads - were a lot of the comments on KL's review deleted? I only saw one when I scrolled the page, though its isolation made it seem all the more withering.

Kent Jones

First of all, I don't care if something is in print or on a screen. It's all writing, and there's plenty of good writing on blogs. The idea that something should get a curve because it's "blogging" rather than "print writing" doesn't wash with me.

But unless I'm mistaken, Karina Longworth's review of ANOTHER YEAR was published by an actual news service, and has presumably been copy-edited and immortalized on paper. So that makes the "blogging" vs. "print" thing even less germane.

But beyond that, what exactly is the argument that you see there, MovieMan? I see no argument being mounted. Just somebody saying: "This movie sucked."

Glenn Kenny

Kent wrote: "...was published by an actual news service, and has presumably been copy-edited..."

Legend has it that on certain late Monday evenings around Cooper Square, pedestrians can hear the sound of a great exhalation of breath, both eerie and thunderous, that causes the branches on surrounding trees to quiver. It is said that this sound is that of Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt sighing, "Fuck it. I give up" before pressing the "Send" button on her computer keyboard. The chattering heard after that is her cursing the name of Drex Heikes.

MovieMan0283

Kent, I think my point is being misconstrued - it's not that distinctions between blog and print are particularly apt, nor that there SHOULD be a curve (there IS a curve, but that's a different matter), nor that Karina had a cogent - or even any - "argument."

It's simply that I was surprised to see the level of animosity towards Karina's work, particularly coming from Glenn (whose past statements had led me to think he respected her writing). As I've noticed her being upheld as a model blogger for a while, the revelation of her present status (which, as Glenn puts it, is "beleaguered") was a bit shocking.

While I'm glad to see her mode criticized, I'll admit I feel a bit sorry for anyone whose reputation undergoes such an abrupt turnaround (which is my, perhaps erroneous, perception of the situation) - that said, my being "taken aback" is more an indication of surprise than disapproval, and I actually agree (based on limited readings of Karina) with the points you and Glenn make.

As for web vs. print, it's an admittedly lazy shorthand for the distinction between amateur and professional writers. Most amateurs are on the web, most professionals are still in print - though figures like Karina and Glenn blur these distinctions. (I should note here that I don't intend "amateur" as a pejorative.)

In print, criticizing one another's work remains fair game. On the web, it is still largely taboo, at least when the bloggers know one another - the unspoken rule seems to be "If you don't have anything nice to say" etc. Therefore the cognitive dissonance comes from reading a "print"-style disagreement in a "web"-like forum.

But when I reminded myself of the context (both Karina and Glenn are pros, for one thing) the dissonance dissipated somewhat. I was thinking aloud about this whole phenomenon, not trying to justify my initial impression.

Kent Jones

MovieMan, thanks for the clarification.

Glenn, don't you mean "Pulitzer Prize Winner Drex Heikes?"

LEAVES

'Leaves, what happens when you're not dealing with the "greatest films?" What happens when you think the film is poor, or imperfect and not quite the sum of its parts, or flawed, or modest? I don't think "pure appreciation" is what we should be striving for in criticism, but intensity of focus and concentration.'

Then you won't have much to say, of course. Most reviews about films that people don't see much interesting in turn out to be slanted attack pieces. This makes sense if someone has little to say and has to fill space, but as far as being an actual critic goes, what's the value? What is it that you are contributing? In my view, a critic is only as valuable as the merit of his contributions. This doesn't seem wholly revolutionary. The best critics provide viewpoints which aid the reader in appreciating film and art. The worst simply point out how films failed to match their expectations of what they at that point conceive to be the best way, be it of form, content, style, theme, message, or whatever, which can only result in an increased aptitude in understanding how not to appreciate a film, typically by way of hilariously absurd constructs: 'unlikeable characters', 'lack of character development'... I try to forget all the terms which refer to these odd constructs. There is a middle ground, of course, and I don't want to read anyone that occupies it.

LEAVES

'In print, criticizing one another's work remains fair game. On the web, it is still largely taboo, at least when the bloggers know one another - the unspoken rule seems to be "If you don't have anything nice to say" etc. Therefore the cognitive dissonance comes from reading a "print"-style disagreement in a "web"-like forum.'

There are certainly shades of grey; if someone criticizes anothers' work because it is shamelessly slanted fiction printed under the guise of film criticism then I see nothing wrong with that. That is to say, I think there's a difference between criticizing a person's criticism and criticizing a professional film critic for not writing criticism.

Kent Jones

In other words, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.

One of the many things I learned from Manny Farber was that in good criticism, the opinion of the writer is at the bottom of the list. It's not really of much interest. Ultimately, the critic owes every film the same focus, no matter what they think of it. The manner in which this or that film fails or overreaches or succumbs to the usual is no less interesting or important to describe than the greatness of something else. The history of cinema is not a tale of ever-expanding greatness. The good, bad, great and mediocre are all flowing from the same stream, and they're all talking to each other.

colinr

"Would I get a total shellacking around these parts if I said I thought HUMAN CENTIPEDE was, um, okay, or at least watchable for what it was....? Sure, it's a half-assed cheapie, but the main villain is kind of a hoot, and I remember some genuinely squirmy bits."

I thought that film was most interesting as a call back to advertising a B-movie with a shocking hook. One of the big problems is that the 'shock factor' of the film exists entirely outside of the film itself but more in the reaction of people when they found out what the film was about. Cue lots of reactions saying "How disgusting!", but of course by that time the 'damage' had been done as people had contemplated the idea contained within the film!

Unfortunately that wasn't really enough to carry a movie itself, which obviously was marking time at many points to get to feature length. And it couldn't really add any extra twist to the initial premise. But then that itself made me nostalgic for the days of horror films promising far more in their advertising than they actually delivered.

colinr

Would it be wrong to suggest A Serbian Film as a favourite ironic black comedy of the year? (Maybe it would get me arrested or put on some kind of register if I repeated it too often however)

I object to the idea that Another Year just shows alcoholism. Anyone who has visited Britain knows that this is just a normal amount of alcohol consumption! As a case in point, I only ever drink Advocat, albeit in pint mugs! ;)

On a more serious note, I like your point on the alcohol consuption in Another Year, which made me think of the way Mike Leigh tackled bullemia with Jane Horrock's character in Life Is Sweet. I like the way that these aspects are not elevated to "issue" status, but instead are used as a symptom of a much deeper unhappiness with the circumstances of the character's life. That seems to hit a much more truthful level about the way such addictions/conditions present themselves.

LEAVES

'In other words, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.'

Hardly. That's the way to state it if you don't consider the value of those things said. I'm saying this: Say that which people will benefit from hearing. Got it? Now, implicit in that is a question of 'What will people benefit from hearing?' As for 'nice', that could be construed as a pejorative to imply 'light, uncritical', which is not what I would imply. So, in other words, no, I do not agree to those words.

'Ultimately, the critic owes every film the same focus, no matter what they think of it.'

I can't imagine this holds up to any scrutiny. You are saying that if a critic is to write a book on a film then he should never write anything less than a book on any other film? This is necessitated by your claim, if 'focus' is to mean anything other than 'a good college try', and it is insane. It also seems to imply that critics have no particular aptitudes, that their skills and experience is not better suited for certain films than others. I don't seem to find any element of this statement reasonable at all.

'The manner in which this or that film fails or overreaches or succumbs to the usual is no less interesting or important to describe than the greatness of something else. The history of cinema is not a tale of ever-expanding greatness. The good, bad, great and mediocre are all flowing from the same stream, and they're all talking to each other.'

'the opinion of the writer is at the bottom of the list.'

I'll simply note the contradiciton between the irrelevance of the writer's opinion and the entirely opinion based terms such as 'fails or overreaches' and 'good, bad, great and mediocre'.

Given your reference to 'overreaching' you seem to think that there is some standard a film must reach and not overreach. I think this is nonsense, and this seems to be the root of our disagreement. It is not 'nice' to detail that which you appreciate about film, as a film has no feelings. It is simply a mater of expanding the viewer's capabilities, a matter of expanding the viewer's focus so that they can actually glean more from a rich film than a meager one. To the person who cannot glean anything more from a rich film than a meager one, they will rightfully call both great. This is what the critic is capable of enhancing, not the supposed taste of the reader but the range of things that the reader can taste. In my view, the more the critic is able to add the better; this means that inequal focus on the critic's comparative advantage makes perfect sense and the ability to create constructs which obstruct appreciation are not (and I have found negative criticism to be nothing but this). Now, if you want to talk about the merits of negative criticism we can do that, but I don't think your case has been made well on the points discussed thus far, and you seem to be more focused on squeezing my viewpoint into your own reach as opposed to 'overreaching' to actually understand it.

Kent Jones

Leaves, I don't really know what you're driving at, and I'm not really trying to make a case, so happy new year.

Glenn Kenny

LEAVES says: "I'll simply note the contradiction between the irrelevance of the writer's opinion and the entirely opinion based terms such as 'fails or overreaches' and 'good, bad, great and mediocre'."

Anyone who's ever accidentally swallowed a "bad" clam or mussel will gladly tell you that "bad" is not exactly an entirely opinion based term. While we may believe that an entirely pure objectivity is impossible to achieve, we can at least acknowledge efforts towards this ideal. That's one reason, for instance, that copy editors exist. To prevent sentences such as, for instance, " 'The Social Network' made it possible for me to go through the thought process that allowed me to recognize the ways in which Facebook enabled the elements of my personality that I most despise" from making it into print. Except when you don't have a budget for a copy editor anymore, such sentences DO make it into print. The mediocre is something else again, but I think I stumbled upon a good example in today's Times' Book Review: "If critics can fulfill this single function, if they can carry the mundane everyday business of literary criticism to the level of art, then they can be ambitious and brash; they can connect books to larger currents in the culture; they can identify movements and waves in fiction; they can provoke discussion; they can carry books back into the middle of conversations at dinner parties." This one is a little trickier, because it appears to be a well, or some might even say beautifully, constructed sentence; I mean, look at that very deliberate and symmetrically pleasing way those clauses pile up! Except of course that it's a little pat, a little pastichey, as it were; the construction is not entirely unrelated to the way, say, a short film can look impressive by accruing a series of cannily edited "bracketed" content modules to build to a big finish, which is of course really just a textbook exercise...But in any event, the real giveaway here is the cast of mind, which, with its final reveal (that would be the phrase "dinner parites") taking the reader out of the realm of ordinary snobbism and into genuine shitiness. The apotheosis, in a sense, of mediocrity. Others, of course, may disagree. Which is what makes it a ball game, I suppose.

Stephen Whitty

Glenn

OK, well this is going back to the original point of discussion now, the film "Another Year" (which features drinking) rather than one of the reviews of it (which I can't even get through with a double)...

However

I do find it interesting that "Another Year" (and "Barney's Version," and "Somewhere," and "Blue Valentine," to name only three films that came out in December) all refuse to talk about alcoholism, even as their characters clearly struggle with (or give in to) it.

For years, Hollywood films treated alcoholism as a perfect three-act drama (seduction, fall, recovery) as well as a grandstand for previously light-comedians (Milland, Lemmon, Michael Keaton, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock) now trying to move up in weight class.

Some of these films were wonderful. Some weren't.

But they all treated alcoholism itself as the protagonist's problem, and the central subject; this is the single bad thing that happened to our heroes, and this is how they conquered it.

What has changed, and I find interesting, is that now it's seen not as the simple cause of the character's troubles, but as a symptom of it. They're not in despair because they drink. They drink because they're in despair -- and, at the end of the film, they're as bad off as they were in the beginning.

You could certainly add "All Good Things" to this (although clearly that couple has deeper problems besides dope-and-chardonnay), "You Will Meet A Stranger" and some other 2010 releases.

Again, no judgement here (although I personally find it all a little depressing). Just an observation about how easily what had once been seen as THE dramatic fulcrum of a film is now seen as just a telling character detail...

Glenn Kenny

Thanks Stephen...

Interesting points. I think in "Another Year" the refusal of anyone to mention alcoholism serves a point, and says something strong and noteworthy about all the characters, and particularly about Tom and Jerri. But I don't necessarily agree that in the Leigh film the cause/symptom dichotomy is necessarily reversed. It is a complex situation for the characters, but by the same token, by dint of their behaviors, Mary and Ken are what you might call textbook alcoholics. The film doesn't shy away from that. "Blue Valentine" is a little more diffuse on the subject. But again, the end of that movie might have been different had not Gosling's character not indulged in behavior that, it is pretty explicitly indicated, gotten him into similar but perhaps less extreme scrapes before.

Yeah, "All Good Things" is a pretty different kettle of fish. As for "Stranger," I had to laugh, mordantly, at the scene in which Brolin's character greeted his wife on her arrival home from work from the couch, half undressed, with a beer in hand. Common sense among sporadically employed married men who aren't even yet alcoholics would suggest that this is not a prudent course of action. And yet...

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