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February 16, 2011


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jim emerson

Good stories. This is a pet peeve of mine, too. It's so easy for a critic to trip up when assigning intent to an artist. We all do it to some extent; the trick is to avoid making it sound like a pronouncement from on high, or to insinuate that you can retroactively read the artist's mind in the act of creation. If it's there, it's there -- and it might remind you or I of something because we're critics and that's what we do. We make associations. But I do my best (and I inevitably fail on occasion) to avoid attributing intention to the filmmaker. It's enough to describe what I saw in the movie. Whether somebody put it there on purpose or not is irrelevant.


Your music stories are always my favorite, Glenn. And Jim, beautifully put.


You're being way too charitable. Saying a cafe named Montage is a reference to Godard is like if you make a movie about a hunting party in which someone says "that was a LONG SHOT" and I say, "oh, tricky Ophuls reference!" Except even that's less stupid because Ophuls is actually one of the people you think of when you think of long shots. Nevertheless, it's such a commonly used phrase in connection with so many people that one would have to be very daft to think it was a hidden reference to any given filmmaker. What really makes it rankling, rather than just dumb, is that it's so middlebrow media outlet, and so Brody. Because what he's doing is trying to sell some quirky indie film on the basis that it "refers" to a famous European filmmaker whose films most of his readership has never seen, and even though referentiality isn't an inherent good unless there's actually some kind of thematic or aesthetic basis for the reference, and even though Brody's theory for what these references are doing in the film is literally, "the movie's really about filmmaking and therefore Katz refers to a famous filmmaker," and even though these references are nonexistent, it probably had the desired effect on his readers of making them think, "oh wow, this movie is deep because it sneakily refers to Jean-Luc Godard, whose films I've never seen - which only makes it deeper and more esoteric and this critic more erudite for pointing out this hidden connection." It's like when A.O. Scott reviewed SOMEWHERE and said it "betrayed an engagement with the films of Michelangelo Antonioni," and said nothing more on the subject. He's not interested in comparing the two or discussing whether Coppola has something interesting to say about Antonioni; the point is solely the reference itself, which somehow makes her film smarter by osmosis, and if the reader doesn't really know who Antonioni is, which is probably the case of most people reading a Times movie review, that's all the better, because references to European directors one hasn't heard of are by definition even smarter than references to European directors one has heard of. On the other hand, Brody will never, ever compare his beloved Swanberg to an American director with a big name, whether it be Woody Allen or Van Sant or Hawks or Preminger, because that wouldn't be pseudo-erudite enough to impress his readers; no, Swanberg's approach to cinematic time is so distinctive, so original, so unprecedented in the American cinematic firmament, that he can only be compared, in a series of analysis-less name-droppings, to Eustache, to Pialat, to Garrel, to Bergman.


The cinematographic phrases 'long shot' and 'long take' are too often used interchangeably; they aren't (and neither are 'low angle' and 'low height').

Chris O.

Speaking of questioning intent, I was wondering aloud to a friend earlier this week, considering the epilogue of the Coens' TRUE GRIT and *spoiler alert* Mattie's loss of limb, whether or not the use of "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" was tongue-in-cheek, or if the dark joke is simply coincidental.

Nice anecdotes and good points, nonetheless.


Chris: That song should've been used in 127 HOURS, too. I wonder if producers are now adding a limb-loss plotline to upcoming Oscar-bait films? With 20 percent of this year's Best Picture nominees featuring that twist, it might be worth a shot.

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