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November 01, 2011


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I haven't been following the discussion all that closely, but I'd be surprised if anyone tried to suggest that moviegoers change throughout their lives, and the things they once "failed" to get, can still be gotten.

I am not at a place where I find Antonioni and Tarkovsky oblique, inaccessible, or cryptic - but I can remember when I did, and it wasn't pleasant. So I sympathize with the idea that someone can watch their films and come away thinking, "that was difficult," which for lots of folks mutates into "that sucked."

But I'm past that now, and to be honest, if I can get past that stage, anyone can. 'Cuz I'm as dumb as a box of rocks.

That's why I tend to give this whole controversy a wide berth. Nothing about people surprises me, after working the jobs that I've worked. Given the choice between attaining a result that will satisfy them, or having their current status confirmed as right and correct, most folks will choose the latter. So hey, if Kois doesn't want to buy SOLARIS, I just think of that magic word they taught us when I was trying to sell cars: "Next!"


Thought provoking post, Glenn. I'm still digesting it, but to paraphrase Mr. Taylor—quoted here both complimentarily and critically, and rightly so, it seems to me—my appreciation of this post begins in pleasure. The Zabriskie stills made me laugh, but I really dig your including the still from Identification of a Woman. Some of us are still suckers for that ole "coffee table" Antoniennui. I am acquainted with Mr. Taylor—whose work I respect, even if I often disagree with him, as I do about Kois—and I have tried to argue Michelangelo's cause before him. To no avail.


Does anyone know where I can find a physical copy of "Dissent"? I've tried a couple of Barnes & Noble stores, but have had no luck. I'll have more to say on Glenn's post after I've read Taylor's piece (and the Kael biography, which I'm halfway through).


That's a whole 'nother Jaime up there with the 1st comment - yet, eerily enough, quite in sync with my own views. I myself did narrow and roll my eyes WRT the aspect-ratio wars, given my experience with the physical realities of televisions (in the CRT days and flatscreens of both sorts) and the architectural facts of movie theaters wherein, unlike tweaked-to-the-nth degree screening rooms, most people get to watch films.


Christ, I was hoping this debate would die out by now - I'll just say that Taylor's remark about Antonioni is film "criticism" at its worst, a cheap putdown that does the critic a huge disservice rather than adding anything to the discussion. The best film critics don't just espouse their own personal tastes - they actually help the reader understand films better, especially the ones that lie outside of a person's comfort zone, the ones that take on challenging viewpoints or take you to unfamiliar territory. Cheap dismissals like that just make a writer look thick and unwilling to look beyond what they know.

And Glenn should be commended on his eloquence (excellent choice of shots).


Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?



- A Viet Cong rat attacks. Obviously, he intends to bring my breakfast under the influence of Communism.-

Gus Hasford RIP


There are perils to both sides of this argument: on one hand, one risks liking the movies they are supposed to like and talking about them the way one is supposed to talk about them; on the other, one risks abandoning the worthy and honourable project of expanding one's taste. My taste remains my taste as well, Mr. Kois, but that taste is growing more inclusive as I watch ever more widely. I just have to find the right connective tissue. I may not be able to jump from The Dark Knight to There Will Be Blood, but I may get there via, in order, Batman Begins, Blade Runner, Die Hard, L.A. Confidential, City of God, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Animal Kingdom, and No Country For Old Men - and that would be MY path only. Yours?


The juxtaposition of the quote excerpts and screen captures forms the kind of dialectic I have come to love and expect from THIS foo-foo film site. Now, Glenn, could you please turn your attention to the new controversy brewing on whether home viewing is "cinematic" (Brody vs. Lane @ The New Yorker)?

David Ehrenstein

To call Dan Kois a Philisitine is not to bully him. He's not a gay teenager.

He's simply a Philistine.

Kael was also a Philistine, but of a far more clever variety as I have indicated here --




Tom Block

There are a couple things in Charley's article that don't sit right with me. (Exhibit A: "It doesn’t matter whether you’re defending 'The Dark Knight' or 'The Tree of Life' if you declare the people who don’t share your enthusiasm incapable of appreciating movies." Coming from one of the most opinionated critics around--cf. that Antonioni quote--that takes some real balls.) And I can also see how Glenn might take the line about aspect ratios personally (though God knows there are plenty of other sites that worry about ARs, too). But Taylor's larger point--that the "democratizing" effects of the Internet haven't been all that great for either our society or our culture--well, *that* I'd have a hard time arguing with. Without the net and Twitter to keep it alive, Sarah Palin's flirtation with fame would've sputtered out two years ago. Michelle Bachmann? We may never have even heard of her. And in film it's been nothing short of napalm. For every person who dials up the Siren every day, a hundred are checking out Harry Knowles every hour. I don't know about y'all, but that pretty much bums me out.

Glenn Kenny

Points well taken, Mr. Block. As some of my readers might recall, I was once a print guy, and nobody gags harder on the cheerful Jeff Jarvis "everyone's a critic" formulation than I did and do. But let's get real for a second. Charley—I too consider him a friend, and I hope to remain one, despite this airing of substantial differences—knows exactly who he is and exactly what he's doing. While I don't take his swipe at aspect ratio discussions personally as such, I truly doubt that he had the likes of Harry Knowles in his sights when he wrote the piece. "Leave Britney alone!" (substitute "Dan Kois" for "Britney" here) followed by "When I slap Antonioni and his admirers, you'll take it and like it" are essential components of his critical platform, I believe. Because he is convinced, as Kael was, that his taste is, finally, correct.

Bruce Reid

Kois and his ilk would be a lot more palatable if they came up with gags as funny as labeling the third Zabriskie Point photo "Blow up".

David Ehrenstein

Harry Knowles followers have no interest in the cinema whatsoever.
They're Fanboys looking for a "coolness" fix. Nothing more.

The Siren doesn't offer that. She's serious about the cinema -- as are you Glenn.

Ryland Walker Knight

word. up.


Well, I think ZABRISKIE POINT is pretty funny on its own. Everyone remembers the shooting of the cop, the orgy, the exploding house - maybe even Rod Taylor. What few remember, what struck me when I saw it - was how loose and funny and sexy it was, almost entirely free of the weight and obfuscation MA's naysayers seem to think defines his career in toto.


Sort of unrelated to the main point, but that last Charles Taylor quote comes from a "Holiday DVD" column (“New DVDs To Warm Your Toes By,”) of titles more than a month away from release. It appears that he doesn't even have the discs yet to "review" - so it's just a sort of heads up? A little bizarre when most readers interested in the films he is writing about would want to know if the discs are any good - particularly something like Nothing Sacred where prior (publc domain) releases have pretty much sucked. Here's hoping someone like Dave Kehr writes about the acutal discs.

Scott Nye

When I was first discovering his work, I absolutely "consented to be bored by Michelangelo Antonioni," and quite often was. I was also exhilarated. L'Avventura, the first of his I saw, stayed with me for weeks, even though the experience of watching it was, I'll admit, more than a little tedious. I watched it again, and fell totally in love with it. Now he's one of my absolute favorite directors.

Also, Zabriskie Point is a blast. Outside of Blow-Up, it's probably Antonioni's most frequently eye-catching movie (and not just because of his subject matter, though hey, a plane like that is any director's gift, among the film's other points of interest), it's gleefully anti-authoritarian, pointedly provocative, and totally free-wheeling. If you haven't been told what happens in the film, you'd NEVER guess what happens next. Not an instant mark of quality, certainly, but there, Mr. Taylor, is a bit of the pleasure I take in art house cinema.

Glenn Kenny

@ Skelly: You ask: "It appears that he doesn't even have the discs yet to 'review' - so it's just a sort of heads up?" So it would appear, unless preview discs have been made available awfully early. Given it's the Times, that's not out of the question. Given what I know about DVD manufacture relative to release date, it's highly unlikely. In which case, you know, the write-up is a cherry gig for someone who doesn't give a fuck about aspect ratios.


"It doesn’t matter whether you’re defending 'The Dark Knight' or 'The Tree of Life' if you declare the people who don’t share your enthusiasm incapable of appreciating movies."

Did Taylor, of all people, really say this? I'm going by memory here, but he was always pulling this card out during his Salon days. If I recall correctly, I think that people who disliked Mission to Mars and The Dreamers were utterly incapable of enjoying cinema. Or they didn't understand the reason for cinema. Or something like that. Taylor has written some great pieces that stuck with me--his Beau Travail review was one of my favorites--but this is one of his worst habits. I'm glad to see that he's still writing, though. Does he have a regular column somewhere?

Not David Bordwell

For a brief moment I thought the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor had weighed in on these film-critical catfights. It would be bad for an intellectual of that stature to be wrong about Johann Gottfried Herder's philosophy of language AND Antonioni (while also calling David Bordwell a bully).


NDB: I wouldn't mind hearing what former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor--or maybe popular style of Converse, Chuck Taylor--thinks about Dan Kois' article. Perhaps they are also sick of the elites telling them to eat their cultural vegetables.


I rarely comment on any blog/website, but I feel compelled. I loved this. It was akin to comics, the juxtaposition of text and image creates meaning. Thank you.


Glenn's response to Tom Block's comment gets it ever-so-slightly wrong: better it read "Because he is convinced, as Kael was, that Kael's taste is, finally, correct." All the guy's ever done is sit around with his hands on the Ouija board trying to conjure up Pauline's response to whatever he's supposed to be writing and thinking about.


I think the best, most poignant, and hilarious part of this post is still that final reference to the title of Charley Taylor's NY Times DVD review piece. "New DVDs to Warm Your Toes By" pretty much says it all, doesn't it? (And I'm sure that was just an editor picking the title, not CT himself.)

However, I'd like to say that, as someone who finds his share of canonical works "boring" (not the right word, but whatever), I've never quite understood Antonioni being regarded as such. He's certainly, erm, deliberate in his stylistic approach, but there's also a certain Serie Noire sensibility at work in his films that usually keeps me riveted. You can actually watch an Antonioni film wondering what's going to happen next.


So if we say Kois is wrong then that is bullying? But if Kois says Takovsky's films are boring then he is somehow being profound? What a crock.

The only thing I can say to Charles Taylor [and Kois] is there are snobs in the world of film viewing and they aren't the ones who like Tarkovsky or Antonioni. They are the ones who insist only mainstream Hollywood films should count. For the rest of us who like a wide variety of films from silent to experimental to old and new Hollywood to films from every country on the globe there is a lot to love. Kois will never understand that. His loss.

Adam R.

@ Escher: That's incredibly true. The Antonioni sneer doesn't seem felt, just a dutiful bow before the Kael canon. Hence the odd lengths certain Paulettes like Taylor went to find not just "redeeming qualities" in Mission To Mars, but outright greatness. That's the absolute WORST way to see a critic - not as someone with the time and knowledge to open up YOUR reading of the film via their work, but as someone who lays down unbreakable law.

I used to read Salon pretty regularly back when Taylor wrote there, and I liked a lot of his work, so don't get me wrong, but at his worst he was pretty bonkers. For example, his review of the decent-but-no-more Ray, which, he thought, could "bring the country together" in the way that Charles fused genres on the C&W record. Maybe it's just that I'm Australian, but the idea seemed....INSANE. But that was the other Taylor coming out, I suspect - the Greil Marcus worshipper.


It'd take the (former) Liberian tyrant Charles Taylor, backed up by a legion of amphetamine-fuelled, AK-47-toting child soldiers, to make me sit through 'Mission to Mars' again, I know that much.


MISSION TO MARS would be pretty great if it had no dialogue in it. (Unfortunately, it does -- lots and lots of almost unspeakably awful dialogue.)

The key difference between many critics is that some of them consider this fact to be a tragedy, whereas others consider it to be Yet Another Sign of De Palma's Infallible Genius.


"They understand that the true appreciation of any art begins in pleasure"

I was never a fan of Kael let alone Taylor. Yet, I'm always baffled when I hear this logic from critics. Why do we need critics if this is the case? Is their pleasure somehow deeper? Are they born with heightened abilities to feel more than the common man or woman? And of course, most " pleasure critics" never seem to realize how narrow and proscriptive their ideas of pleasure are. I mean surely there is something wrong with me personally for finding "The Turin Horse" more pleasurable than most films I've seen this year.

Poor unfeeling me thinks a critic should articulate taste based on aesthetic judgment grounded in historical knowledge. And perhaps my perspective is warped as a film academic, but I have zero interest in a critic who primarily explains away his/her pleasure even if, like Kael, their prose is good.

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