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February 16, 2011

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Ryan Kelly

I think it will please you that this ongoing debate, or whatever, has effectively squashed what little desire I had to see the films of Joe Swanberg. I'm not saying I never will, but considering the extent of my blindspots, it seems like a not very pressing matter.

Fabian W.

I saw Swanberg yesterday and sure enough, he really DOES move his lips while texting. A magic moment.

haice

Sad to see it end.
You brought back the enjoyment of John Simon vs Godard and the Godardians. I liked Simon. I liked Godard.
Too bad Swanberg is no Godard.
Unless Brody has made the comparison?
I guess he filled that slot with Bergman.

The Siren

Mr. Danielsen's cogent and well-written piece makes for excellent reading, even for someone like me who is unfamiliar with Mr. Swanberg's oeuvre. And in writing it, at least Mr. Danielsen has a concrete reason for earning Richard Brody's ire. I am, for the record and for whoever may be reading this, still wondering what on earth I did to merit an onslaught of snoot-cocking. Near as I can figure, I insulted Cyrus' camerawork, wrote about loving old movies, and defended Deanna Durbin. None of this was in any way directed at Mr. Brody; as Jean-Luc Godard is my witness, I'd have found Cyrus' camerawork ugly, enjoyed Durbin in Christmas Holiday and It Started With Eve and written about loving old movies anyway.

Oh well, Mr. Danielsen and I have exalted company. From her seat in the screening room of the afterlife, I'm sure Pauline Kael has muttered "WTF" as well.

Jon Hastings

I used to think Swanberg's movies were more "interesting" (for zeitgeisty, tea leave-reading reasons) than good (although I like Alexander the Last okay), but, at this point, I think Brody's growing extremism in defense of Swanberg is more fascinating than any of the psychology in Swanberg's movies. On this subject at least, he's turning into some kind of Nabokovian/Dan Clowesian parody of a critic!

Brian P

I'm sad to see it end as well. It was a good run.

also, this is probably not the appropriate forum for this grievance but why oh why is the berlin film festival showing 2 swanberg movies? to think of the more deserving films/artists that got rejected makes my heart hurt.

James Keepnews

Brody's work is very often well-considered and thus provocative in the good, not-trying-to-get-a-rise-outta-ya manner (cf. White, Armond &c.). But Brody also says the darnedest things and his both-ways championing of Mr. Swanberg -- over (and under?) Herr Bergman, thank you very much -- is a of a piece with the many occasions for head-scratching in his Godard bio. As above, a bio certainly well-considered and amusing in Brody's interactions with le grand homme lui-même. And then you get his summation on PIERROT, which, as he characterizes it in his Criterion liner notes, was "an angry accusation against Anna Karina, and a self-pitying keen at how she destroyed him and his work". Must've been all those "I don't know what to do"s, right? And if only Belmondo had sang "I Will Survive" instead of (what's French for "spoiler alert"?) blowing his ass up with some yellow dynamite. Or, trying to NOT blow his self-pitying ass up. Or something, something angry and keening, évidemment, ou peut-être -- you tell me.

Glenn Kenny

@ James: One of the more amusing incidental ironies of how advocacy can make for pretty strange bedfellows is the fact another major champion of He-Who-Shall-No-Longer-Be-Named is the always reasonable and easy-to-get-along-with Craig Keller, who despises Brody and his Godard book to the extent that he's actually gone out and referred to Brody as "evil," which I, despite my reputation in some circles as a crazy-ass loose cannon dude, have never gone out and called ANYONE, at least not in writing. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, indeed!

Erin

Here's an example of what's frustrating about Brody

"The idea is underlined by a pair of references to Jean-Luc Godard—one, to a film, when, at a key moment, Doug’s sister dons a disguise, and the look she adopts is borrowed from that of Anna Karina in “Band of Outsiders” (which is, itself, a movie about a trio of amateurs who decide to pull off a criminal plot); the other, to a critical concept, as seen in the name of a café where that key action takes place: “Montage,” or editing."

- From his blog post re: Cold Weather

From my perspective it's completely and entirely fine to suggest that these might be, or could references to Godard. They're not, but sure they could be. However when you insist they are, as if it's fact, it feels a good deal more like you are forcing the film to pass through the very narrow prism that is your existing world view.

Simon Abrams

I want to see a buddy cop film starring Joe Swanberg and Jean-Luc Godard.

This honestly has nothing to do with siding with either Glenn's POV or Richard's on the subject. I just would want to see that movie very badly.

"TOURNEZ A DROIT, JOE!"

"TESEZ VOUS....UH...JEAN-LUC!"

High-speed hijinks ensue that would make the rc-toy car-bomb in THE DEAD POOL looks silly.

Simon Abrams

Me grammar is terrible. Tesez vous, everybody.

Asher

"From my perspective it's completely and entirely fine to suggest that these might be, or could references to Godard."

No, it's not fine. Well, I guess it's fine to suggest that the first is a reference to Godard; Karina-like get-ups are in the eye of the beholder. But how could he be so dense to insist that a cafe called Montage is a Godard reference? Sure, as Brody goes on to say, Godard wrote about montage (albeit not in the passage Brody quotes), but so has every other film critic, ever, and then there are all the directors who are a great deal more associated with montage theory than Godard. That's like if the cafe had been named 'Justice' and Brody wrote, "oh look, a reference to Aristotle."

Jason Melanson

@Erin: I wouldn't have a problem with Brody making such hyperbolic claims if he would just own them, which usually he doesn't. The already discussed Bergman comparison being the best example, where he wants to outrageously assert that Swanberg has had a greater impact on film than Bergman did at 30, but then he makes it impossible for anyone to counter his argument by insisting it's not fair to hold Swanberg to the standards of Bergman.

All of this Swanberg stuff irritates me because I actually enjoy Brody's writing, anyone who is as big of a Shutter Island fan as Brody is alright in my books, but when he writes about Swanberg he seems to lose his ability to make reasoned arguments.

cmasonwells

Erin -- *exactly.* Aaron K's a friend and I can say with certainty the costume is *not* a BAND OF OUTSIDERS reference and the cafe called Montage is, uh, actually called Montage in real life Portland, and that's the place they just happened to get to shoot the scene. To suggest they may be Godard references is fine; to say so with certainty is awfully problematic, especially when the pesky facts suggest otherwise.

Zach

Brody is indeed an interesting read; I can't help but check The Front Row regularly, even though what I find there pisses me off about 65% of the time. Often, with Brody, it's a matter of tone even more than content; he has to have one of the most supercilious critical persona's going. I disagree with pretty much every critic I read as much as I agree with them, even the ones I admire most, but most other critics don't have the same kind of holier-than-thou attitude, and no other critic has as obvious an axe to grind as Brody. His preening attempts to create a "body of work" are painfully boring - it's like he's trying to start his own miniature New-New Wave, and he'll miss no opportunity to underline his iconoclasm, forward thinking, and impeccable taste. (For one of many egregious examples, note his tendency to repeat his tendentious proclamations from post to post - the recent one about Hong Sangsoo reminds us that he could tell from the very first shot of Man is the Future of Woman that this was a "true and rare artist." To which I have to respond, reasonably, "Who the shit cares what you could tell from the first shot?")

He lacks humility, he lacks a recognizable sense of humor (don't get me started on his other foolhardy crusade - the one to canonize Judd Apatow) and he occasionally lacks clarity in his writing. The proof is in the pudding - his praise of Swanberg has only become more ardent, more desperate, as it is either argued against or falls on deaf ears. He's just digging himself in deeper, the same way he does whenever someone points out anything that would vitiate his precious theses; even the slightest counter-argument, in Brody's eyes, is treated as an existential threat.

Plus, apparently he slung some mud at the gracious and eminently tasteful Siren, which is not cool.

And I say all of this as someone who agrees with him on several subjects, such as James Gray. Every critic is entitled to quirks and tics; what gets annoying is when these become the focus of the writing, instead of, y'know, movies.

Erin

Mr. Wells, you are correct. If one bothered to read interviews or do any amount of research they would likely learn that Montage was a restaurant frequented by the cast and crew during the making of Dance Party USA, as much of the film was shot within a stones throw of the establishment. It was included because of it's industrial location and because the people who own it and run it are very nice. If anything the filmmakers were hesitant to about including 'Montage' in the frame as it seemed inevitable that Brody types would insist on reading way too much into it.

cmasonwells

Erin, I remember seeing an early cut of COLD WEATHER and mocking Aaron for the "Montage" inclusion, knowing full well that kind of reference is exactly what he hates most in movies. I jokingly warned him some critics were sure to interpret it as a *statement*; he seemed genuinely worried.

R D

I agree that Aaron Katz's reluctance to say anything meaningful was on clear display in COLD WEATHER. Avoiding making any sort of statement on anything did seem like a goal, at least. So, I guess kudos for that.

And:

--Why should it be the critic's responsibility to find out that the restaurant in COLD WEATHER was frequented by the cast and crew of DANCE PARTY USA? How inside baseball does a critic need to get here? Does the reference even affect interpretation? The condition here seems to be that a critic must be privy to inside production dope before talking about what's onscreen. The Hipster's Guide to Film Criticism, page 5. "It was included because of its industrial location and because the people who own it and run it are very nice." Who gives a shit? Should we re-interpret Rosebud after finding out it was just some sled Welles had handy in his garage?
--Including the name "Montage" is a choice, and it's strange to think a director WOULDN'T anticipate a film critic's analytical reaction (even a film critic not named "Richard Brody") to a bar called "Montage." Why is it wrong to "interpret" such a thing as a "statement"?
--Resisting interpretation/meaning: a valid if hackneyed goal, I suppose, but also a good way of hiding, no?

Very much agreed on notes re: Brody and Swanberg. I still value his writing, but "supercilious" is on the money. Let's not even discuss his weird complaints about Everyone Else.

Jake

Maybe Richard Brody is trying to emulate Ray Carney in some way, trying to make Joe Swanberg is ultimate scholarly project for life.

Evelyn Roak

My current internet connectivity issues may be a blessing in disguise here, keeping this limited. The biggest problem I have in all this is Richard Brody's continual mischaracterizations , distortions and uncharitable attitude toward any idea that differs from his own and that may threaten his position being staked. Talking points, and their consistent reiteration no matter what, trump perception, discussion and thought.

Everyone is a conservative shmuck blind to the present due to an unhealthy commitment to the past if they dare muster a critique of Swanberg et al while in reality this is his own fabrication and is shockingly rude, arrogant, adolescent and unproductive. Creating at the outset figures and means of critique and derision so when any may come there is a place to briskly file them, whether they fit there or not is ruinous to any productive conversation and either the product of willful or just wrongheaded misreading (and a childish rhetorical strategy). As these patterns and misreadings abound in his other work this is not new and they do seem equally motivated by both agenda and simply being wrong.

I don't know. It reeks of critical posturing and positioning and in some ways that seems better than misreadings, agenda trumping stupidity. I mean, and not to seem a kiss ass, to claim our host here dislikes Swanberg because of some past worshiping blindness and pigheadedness, when his numerous writings show this not to be the case, well, those seem like the two explanations one can come up with and neither is flattering. So be it. Gosh, I'm going to stop now as I've already rambled too long and been to the limit, and past, of rude myself, eh shit happens.

Glenn Kenny

Yeah, limited internet connectivity CAN be an advantage. So can its extension, that is, not having Twitter. Not that I want to make this thread a referendum on Mr. Brody, but over on the 140-character wonder he accuses me of "demagogy" over my "normal people will reject Swanberg" remark (which, by the way, I was entirely prepared for), and cites...and this was the surprise part...Straub, Ayler, and Webern as prime examples of artistic radicals that normal people don't "get." And here's where you give up, because whatever issues of "taste" may enter into an appreciation or lack thereof for the aforementioned artists, what you CAN say they had/have going for them was some substantive grasp of not just style but craft, but of course when you bring up craft with Brody that's always a reference to an outmoded ideal that only cinecrophiles embrace, blah blah blah blah blah, until it's time to move the goal posts back again to rationalize the intellectual and competency failures of He Who Shall No Longer be Named. Webern. Jesus.

cmasonwells

All fair points, RD. I got sidetracked from Erin's (and my) main gripe: it's dangerous to make *definitive* claims about a filmmaker's supposed intentions. Interpretations, of course -- that's what we're all here for.

James Keepnews

We did get Straub, Ayler and Webern in the same, (funny) ha ha, tweet, itself no small accomplishment. It won't happen again real soon. And all it took was Swanberg's oeuvre and Brody's swerve...

Yeah. Wow. Webern. See above in re: ha ha. Because, what? Elliott Carter's a little too crafty, rococo, too much of a Steadicam sellout, less of a rigid serialist and/or National Socialist...?

Yeah. Jesus. Additionally, WTFF? That soup's too rich for my blood this full moon. I'm off to have some internet connectivity issues while cranking "Truth Is Marching In". Recall Mr. Baraka's recollection of Mr. Ayler's standard putdown of the corny: "He thinks it's about him. And it ain't about him!"

Erin

@RD

A fair point. My point, as noted in the first post, was that it's entirely fine to speculate as to what an artists intentions might be, to assert those speculations as fact however, only highlights the very narrow window through which Mr. Brody chooses to view the film.

I cited that particular piece of production history as it simply highlights disconnect between reality and an interpretation that Mr. Brody presents as fact. Given the restaurant's name it's certainly understandable that one might conclude that there's some other intent, beyond simply presenting a place as it exists. I get that. However, making the additional leap that it's some sort of Godard reference gives one the impression that Mr. Brody is intent on pushing that line of thinking, the facts be damned.

I would also disagree with your characterization of the film. Perhaps it's simply a matter of preference, but I think that it says plenty that is meaningful, but chooses to do so quietly.

Evelyn Roak

I have a number of large problems with Richard Brody’s book on Godard, clearly the most sustained/in depth dealing with his writing one can have, be they issues with scholarship (and lack there of), broad approaches and attitudes (the continual insistence on the autobiographical as the ultimate interpretation) and readings of specific films that I find misguided, misinformed or simply wrong (Nouvelle Vague is not just a film about Godard‘s place vis a vis cinema, to read it so reductively, to not engage with its ideas for the simplistic autobiographical reading put forth, is off base to say the least, and the less said about his readings of JLG/JLG and Histoire(s) du Cinema the better). That said, I don’t think Brody is entirely a dumb guy and there are writings of his that I have found to be top notch (this short piece on a recent Straub short (ah the irony) http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2010/10/light-viewing.html is excellent….and oh the further irony that he writes well on music while hardly championing the ever-new in that art, but no one assumes he is thus enthralled to the established past there and must be some backwards looking stuck in his ways ass ((see how it works?))) which is what makes these pronouncements and dismissals all the more frustrating (if one didn’t care or found him to be an entire waste, well, then why even get frustrated or engage). They make one echo McEnroe and say “you can’t be serious!” because someone who possesses even a modicum of intelligence would blush at both the form and content of these outrageous assertions, the broad insults that have less to do with his interlocutors than the imagined, pre-conceived reactions, the seemingly giving oneself over to critical positioning, the disrespect shown to other intelligent minds on the grounds that they hold a different view, and that their intellect, motivations and character are then impugned and dismissed so readily….well, you can see where one wants to say “you are above this” intellectually and decently. Perhaps I’m wrong but there are glimmers that say it isn’t so, maybe I need to reassess. But who knows (and this probably isn‘t even the right place for this anyways). I have had too much to dream/drink this evening. I have engaged in dialogues on his blog, and yeah I found his ideas on philosophy to be problematic to say the least (for one example), but it gave me an avenue for thought and at least some sense that there was a back and forth (to a degree) and was actually a productive exchange, so it isn’t impossible. Well, this has become impressionistic and scattershot and maybe swayed too much and turned into my own topics and ramblings, so thank you for indulging me in trying to explain some of these things further without this becoming a wild slug at Brody fest.

p.s. And, yes, Twitter can be dangerous. It certainly elevates immediacy and short all-encompassing pronouncements, two things which can exasperate these tendencies and perhaps don’t suit Mr. Brody well, only furthering these unsavory qualities (and Jesus Christ has he posted some things there that echo the facts be damned attitude pointed out by Erin that make you say fuck it, maybe this ain’t worth a moment or a dime, which then makes one think of pernicious instances of that in the Godard book and the whole damn cycle starts over again).

Shane Danielsen

Since I don't Twitter, or Tweet (I'm not sure of the correct term), I might as well respond to Mr. Brody's barrage here, and note that, for a supposed scholar, he's not a very close reader. I never actually say, in my Indiewire piece, that I like Anthony Mann and Frank Tashlin; I simply note that no American critics like himself ever compare American filmmakers of today to them.

In point of fact, I do like both Mann and Tashlin - though neither are exactly my favourite filmmakers. But this fondness doesn't necessarily make any more a backward-looking, Bosley Crowther type (ouch!), than my deeper admiration for, say, Philippe Grandrieux and Lucretia Martel and Pablo Larrain, makes me a forward-thinking hipster.

As for the rest: a typo (on Rouch/Roach) and a single phrasing? Shit, son ... is that the best you can manage? (I once typed Bergman with two n's, and it snuck by the subs. Does that also attest to my idiocy?)

And as for calling me an 'ex-bureaucrat' - presumably, a reference to having been, for a while, the artistic director of a film festival – that's actually pretty funny, as I venture anyone who knows me, even slightly, would hesitate to call me a political animal, much less an anonymous functionary.

James

I don't understand: what's not to get about Peter Straub?

Account Deleted

Danielsen used to be the Director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, bloody good he was too. It's been all downhill since he left sadly...

IB

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Joe Swanberg tailors his films to Richard Brody's taste. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and suggest this is what Swanberg's creative process consists of:

-Swanberg makes shockingly solipsistic, glibly 'self-critical' black-hole of cinematic nothingness
-Richard Brody praises Swanberg's shockingly solipsistic, glibly 'self-critical' black-hole of cinematic nothingness as the second coming of Pialat
-Swanberg reads Brody's review, discovers Pialat, makes shockingly solipsistic, glibly 'self-critical' black-hole of cinematic nothingness, complete w/ press statement dedicating film to Pialat, his "guiding light"
-Richard Brody feels vindicated by Swanberg's comments, praises Swanberg's latest shockingly solipsistic, glibly 'self-critical' black-hole of cinematic nothingness as the second coming of Rozier
-Swanberg reads Brody's review, discovers Rozier, makes shockingly solipsistic black-hole of cinematic nothingness, complete w/ press statement dedicating film to Rozier, his "guiding light"
-Richard Brody feels vindicated, praises Swanberg's shockingly solipsistic black-hole of cinematic nothingness as the second coming of Eustache

etc, etc...

Bilge

I have no problems with critics reading things into movies that are not there (let's face it, we do it with literature all the time). But I think we're quickly getting away from the real matter at hand here, which is that assuming a cafe named Montage is a reference specifically to Godard (as opposed to, I dunno, Eisenstein) is not only stupid, but borders on the paranoid.

I mean, it's kind of like assuming that a bar called Noir is a reference to Roman Polanski.

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