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September 28, 2011


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Otto Mannix

I'm sorry this comment is not about this latest post of yours. I stumbled onto this blog looking for pictures of Dan Duryea. You have a great pic of him from Scarlet Street, one of my favorite films of the forties. And Some Came Running has got to be my favorite of the fifties. I'll be checking in on this blog regularly.


Any of these days, we'll start hearing people complaining that "12 angry men" isn't cinematic. Because, you know, it's all set in a room, and there's nothing in it but people talking.

(I personally think that "12 angry men"'s content is quite lame and anvilicious, but that's a different subject).


Yeah, and the ROPE-bashing might start, too.

Haven't seen CARNAGE, but I'm not worried that Polanski has suddenly forgotten how to be cinematic.

Brian Dauth

Your friend calling CARNAGE uncinematic may also be a way to strengthen her charge of misogyny. To assert that a film is misogynist (or homophobic or racist or ...) is to run into the counter-claim that the movie only appears that way because of some extra baggage that particular viewer is bringing to the film (while ignoring the fact that not seeing misogyny/racism/homophobia may be the result of different baggage being brought along. The critical street in these cases often seems to run only one way).

So "uncinematic" is the worst insult, something more "objective" than the seemingly "subjective" charge of charge of misogyny.

Kevyn Knox

I have yet to see Carnage (could not make the screening dammit!) but just this debate/conversation alone ratchets up my interest in the film (an interest that was already racheted pretty fucking high due to the talent involved).

Just judging from the little I have read and seen on the film (and knowing what Polanski is capable of) I would have to assume that Carnage, no matter what one thinks of the movie itself, is a rather cinematic movie in that so-called cinematic way.

Tom Block

Her complaint sounds like a cop-out to me, too--a film is still "cinematic" even if the director leaves the camera in one place for the entire movie--and the charge is especially specious-sounding in the case of Polanski, who probably can't fart uncinematically. But the movie does look top-heavy with "meaning", and sticking in the star of those earnest non-starters "The Reader" and "Little Children" just raises the red flag higher.

Will S

I guess I'm still sort of confused as to what barometer people are using to judge a film's 'cinematic' credentials -- is this as anachronistic a medium-specificity issue as it sounds? Would, say, Michael Snow's Wavelength be the ultimate in un-cinematic filmmaking according to this rubric? After all, the camera hardly does anything...


I never saw God of Carnage, but I can't imagine Reza being considered a misogynist (to the extent that women authors who are not named Highsmith can ever be considered misogynists). This is based on the two other plays I've seen, Art and The Unexpected Man, and her novel, but her main fascination seems to be male pride and how ludicrous that pride makes men act. I've heard great things about this play, and I can't wait to see this version, whether or not it is sufficiently "cinematic."


Having seen the play, I wouldn't expect CARNAGE to be "top heavy with 'meaning,'" since overall it's more a farce than a drama. My only real concern with the film is not that it will be uncinematic but that Polanski's weakest films tend to be his comedies, and the play at least is basically a comedy.

David Ehrenstein

"Not cinematic"? Time to bring up Gertrud, Melo (all late period Resnais in fact) and everything ever made by Sacha Guitry.

Oh yes, and Rope is a masterpiece. In fact it's fast becoming my favorite Hitchcock.

Brian Dauth

What is cinematic is, to an extent, a judgment call (just as what is musical is a judgment call. For some, atonality is not musical). To follow what Glenn said about criticism going beyond the vagaries of taste: I would propose that the cinematic is a field in which different works occupy different places. If a movie is within the boundaries of the field, then it is cinematic. Critical discourse is the continual attempt to fix these boundaries, which solidify/decompose/shift as the discourse does. I would also propose two corollaries.

The first is that is that not every viewer will find equal levels of comfort/appreciation in all regions of the cinematic field. For example, I think Joseph L. Mankiewicz is a cinematic director; others do not. I try to make a strong case grounded in both form and content for his work, but a viewer may still not experience his films as cinematic. Not getting JLM’s work can be a matter of taste; but it is can also be a matter of critical disjunction. A viewer can discern the same content/form that I do, and not respond positively to it as I do. This negative reaction can lead to a conclusion that a work is not cinematic (the underlying premise, of course, is that the cinematic is something that, when experienced, gives pleasure).

The second corollary is a question: if the content/ideology of a film is experienced as racist/sexist/etc. by a viewer, how does that experience affect the viewer’s apprehension of form? Some people are good at compartmentalizing, others are not. Can compartmentalizers shut off content from form so that each is appreciated separately? What about viewers who lack this capacity? Is it something that can be learned? The way a viewer negotiates her experience of the interplay of form/content is more than a matter of personal taste, but still a subjective process.

Adam Skinner

If it was shot on film or DV and shown in theaters, it is automatically cinematic. It is cinema. A 13 second film clip of a guy sitting on a log is unfortunately cinematic.

Brian Dauth

By Adam's concept, the venue must also be taken into account. Does that mean Haynes' MILDRED PIERCE or Fassbinder's BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ not be considered cinematic if they had not been shown in a movie theatre?


ROPE's not a masterpiece, but UNDER CAPRICORN, which puts some of that film's techniques to better use, is.

The Siren

Thanks so very much for the plug and kind words, Glenn.

Andrew Wyatt

"But I think that while conversation about movies can absolutely be about the vagaries of taste, criticism has to go beyond that."


Glenn Kenny

Oh, look, I made an amateur copy editor's head explode. Usually not funny, but in this case I'll laugh anyway.

Andrew Wyatt

To ranks of "Physically Constrained but Cinematically Interesting" alongside 12 ANGRY MEN and ROPE, I would add BURIED from just last year. I think it's a great film, terrifying and even absurdly funny, but not many folks seem to agree with that assessment. That's fair, I suppose, and that's where the "taste" factor comes in. But I don't know how anyone can look at what director Rodrigo Cortés did with the film and say that it isn't objectively cinematic. It's one actor in a 6'x3'x2' box for 95 minutes with only naturalistic lighting. Any filmmaker that can make that such a movie as a honest-to-god thriller (and not, say, as an experimental film a la Andy Warhol's EMPIRE) is by definition a director who understands the craft of cinema.

Glenn Kenny

Agreed—the constraints that these directors impose upon themselves almost constitute a kind of OULIPO of cinematic practice. It'd be interesting to discuss the extent to which the evident self-consciousness of the constraint hinders the effectiveness of the result. If I recall correctly Hitchcock was both frustrated at his inability to make "Rope" look entirely seamless and by his estimation that the final result was too "showy." I haven't seen "Buried" yet but now I'm eager to do so.

Andrew Wyatt

I try not to use "uncinematic" too much for the reasons outlined above--it's inherently fuzzy and applied chiefly to films the user doesn't like--but I would say the closest to a useful definition for me would be a flat, unimaginative use of blocking, composition, shot selection etc. that doesn't exploit the qualities of cinema as a medium. You see this with some romantic comedies, indie dramas, and especially documentaries.

If you see a film and you're reaction is "Why was heck was this released in theaters and not as a basic cable telefilm?," I'd say you're probably dealing with an "uncinematic" work.


Glenn: I'm pretty sure Andrew wasn't correcting you. I think his use of "THIS" is internet-speak for "I agree with the quote above."

Or maybe I'm misreading your post.

Glenn Kenny

No, I was doing that W.C. Fields fooling and pretending thing, trying to make a joke out of a faked misunderstanding. Thinking better of it now, as I don't wanna look like I'm deliberately seriously baiting or anything. But I think we're operating on an it's-all-good basis, so carry on!....

Brian Dauth

Glenn: do you think that the "evident self-consciousness of constraint" is a hindrance? Doesn't every art work contain traces of the "evident self-consciousness of the constraint" of its making? Even a work with "invisible style" is contrained by its attempts at invisibiity which are visible.

Some art works have strong traces and others possess less emphatic ones. A viewer can, as a matter of personal taste, prefer one degree of emphasis over another, but "evident self-consciousness" is only a hindrance if the viewer experiences it as such.

Pinko Punko

Under Capricorn seemed like Hitch's first run at Vertigo from a different direction. It could have been better- I wonder about the longer version.

Pinko Punko

Ignore that comment. I was thinking about the Gregory Peck trial lawyer one. Oy..

Jeff McMahon

"a film is still "cinematic" even if the director leaves the camera in one place for the entire movie"

"If it was shot on film or DV and shown in theaters, it is automatically cinematic."

Okay, these are both true in the strict dictionary-definition sense, but not in the 'that's not writing, it's typing' sense that this discussion is primarily aimed at. I think we can probably generally agree that Nabokov's Pale Fire is more 'literary' than Stephenie Meyer's New Moon even though both are 'literature' and not as a matter of quality but because Nabokov does things in his prose/poetry that are virtually impossible in any other form, whereas Meyer's book could be easily shaped into a book/stage play/box of animal crackers.

And while I agree that Gertrud/12 Angry Men/Rope are each, in their own ways, definitely cinematic, surely there are films that are relatively uncinematic, and that this is a category not necessarily related to quality (Michael Bay is a very cinematic director, for example).

Adam Skinner

"Does that mean Haynes' MILDRED PIERCE or Fassbinder's BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ not be considered cinematic if they had not been shown in a movie theatre?"

The Wire is pretty cinematic.

Miriam Bale

Ugh, I hate responding to these kinds of arguments, but I'll do it if I'm misquoted, even anonymously. (Except if misquoted by Jeff Wells who is insane.)
Glenn, I appreciate your tone and your interest in my thoughts, but would have better appreciated if you hadn't started a debate in writing about something I said as a thrown off comment (that was obviously easy to misinterpret since it was said in one minute, while pissed off and in a rush). I only know how to practice criticism through writing, for pay or for a film that I feel is worth exploring further. This is not a film that I ever intended to critique, for many, many reasons. So I'm a little annoyed at spending time and effort correcting something based on a false claim, or a misunderstanding. [Glenn, you also told me that you thought this was worth reporting because it was a good example of "the accelerated pace at which we can 'publish' our impressions, and how this does create a blur in the path from seeing to thinking to talking to writing." I don't get it. You mean your writing and publishing my comments not meant for print does? Or the reaction from the group of critics that you were part of, who reacted to my comment as if it was real life tweet, does?]

A few comments/corrections:

-First of all I said it was hateful and misogynistic, not "misogynist." It's not just women who are hated on, but all the easy American targets. The director and the actors seem to hate all the characters (except for the Polanski stand-in played by Waltz, who is terrific), which, to me, is simple-minded filmmaking. I like Howard Hawks because he made really good movies. He also made films with a lot of interesting gender dynamics, but that's not why I like him. He made films with interesting gender relationships, though, because he was interested in narrative and in presenting something that wasn't boring. And it's one of my vagaries of taste that I think Howard Hawks is a better filmmaker than Roman Polanski, usually. (Although I loved The Ghost Writer.)

-I don't like the implication, that Brian D. has kindly made explicit, that I said it was "uncinematic" because I was upset that it was misogynistic. Come on! "Uncinematic" was a separate claim, that I'll adddress a little lower down here, but, as I made clear in person, I normally can deal with Polanski's misogyny and smug superiority because his films are good. But when the film isn't good, it's harder to tolerate.

-The source material is obviously uncinematic, but the stylistic flourishes and masterfully designed montage techniques don't compensate for that, or do somthing different, but highlight and signal that, with each shot. It made me queasy. (Another Cronenberg, A History of Violence, is a good example of how to make a very good movie out weak material.)

-As I mentioned to you, everything is signaled, which means there is no ambiguity. A Dangerous Method uses simple and traditional shots to convey emotional and intellectual ambiguity. This film doesn't. To me, what differentiates film from other forms is that ambiguity that comes from the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the competing and overlapping sense impressions. No ambiguity means not cinematic, to me. If I can see the wheels turning of the writer's intentions and then can see the puppet strings being pulled by the director then it is not a particularly good use of cinema, I think.

-Wavelength is about cinema, isn't it? I can't think of many films quite as cinematic as that one. That is another good comparison, since it stays in one room. The camera doesn't move much, and the camera does move a lot here. Rope is, of course, another good comparison, but not worth getting into here. It's another one of my vagaries of taste that I think that Hitchcock is a better filmmaker than Polanski. (Though I like what Polanski does with bluescreen in The Ghost Writer, just as I love the painted cloud sky in Rope.)

-To be clear (this is for you Joel), while I think the source material is dumb, I don't think that's where the misogyny comes from, exactly. It's more in the way the actors (Jodie Foster in particular) perform and are presented/directed. (But of course women can hate other women and this can be reflected in their art, are you kidding? But Highsmith is too good to be a simple-minded misogynist, at least what I've read.)

-Glenn, you said that the "drama's predictable turnarounds" were to be expected in a satire. I disagree. I think a good satire would be better, that it would hate everyone equally (including, in some ways, the viewer or even the storyteller) or would at least not choose such easy targets.

-You're right, too, Glenn that "the whole experience touched me more than the average bad movie experience" because it's a REALLY bad movie, like a mean American Beauty, and I don't think I've disliked a film as much since that one. I certainly don't think it's worth this many words, mine or others.

-[This kind of bourgeois satire seems dated, and was done much better before 1971, in Cheever and other literature, and Weekend is a cinematic example.]

-Maybe the lesson from this is to not blurt out any first reactions when surrounded by film critics! I hope this conversation, even though it was based on misunderstandings, was useful. But i think it's not the statements I made (that are were not criticism) but the aftermath that illustrates what criticism needs to "go beyond."

Glenn Kenny

Thanks for your thoughts, Miriam, but please understand that I wasn't writing the post with the intention of publishing a "blind item" or some kind of a clef account designed to expose some inside-baseball critic dirt. I am also sorry for misquoting you, or misremembering what you had said and quoting that. I admit it was naïve (after all this time on the internet, too!)for me not to expect that the substance of what I quoted would get raked over some coals, and I apologize for that, too. What I was hoping to do was reflect on some general ideas that were spurred by a conversation that I found kind of ironic but that demonstrated, among other things, that just because you're on the exact same page as a colleague on one thing, it doesn't follow that you'll be on the same page about another. And the last thing I wanted was for my more generalized ruminations to be taken as any kind of swipe at your written work, Miriam, which is invariably thoughtful, engaging, and thoroughly worthwhile.

David Ehrenstein

Hichcock is always "showy." Had the cameras we ahve today been available to Hitch then, "Rope" would have indeed been "seamless." But what makes it (and why I love it so) is the palpable tension between Arthur Laurents' script, the two leads -- both of whom were gay in real life -- and Hitch's (no other way to put it) "purient interest" in upper-crust gay New York life in the immediate postwar period. See also Little Jerry Salinger's short story "Just Before the War with the Eskimos."

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