Monday, February 15, 2010

1939: La regle du jeu (Jean Renoir)






1939: La regle du jeu (Jean Renoir)















Here's a film that will probably forever be mentioned among the greats. It always seems to find its way to the top of those "best ever" lists, and I don't really ever see that changing.  


It's a film that I greatly admire, I'm even in awe of it, but it's also the kind of film that makes me want to put together a "favorites" list.  What I mean by this is that if all I ever saw were "the greats", films with as much universal support as this one, I'm not sure I'd have the same passion around film.  


Many of my favorites are more flawed, less perfect, but they affect me more personally.  When I first started being a cinephile, circa 1994, I wanted to like all the "best films", the ones the critics I respected loved the most.  But then something happened.  I found that I adamantly disagreed for the first time with Pauline Kael, one of the critics I most admired.  It was probably either with Michael Mann's Thief or Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon.  Kael hated it, I loved it.  And then I began to start questioning some of her other picks.  Soon I decided that it was important to see "the greats", but it was even more important for me to determine my own set of classics, my own favorites, regardless of whether anyone else had championed them or not.  


Tony Dayoub over at the excellent blog Cinema Viewfinder posted a similar discussion late last week.  I thought Tony, as well as Sam Juliano (of another excellent blog Wonders in the Dark), made some fantastic points, and articulated this issue as well as anywhere I've ever seen.  


All this to say I can't help but include La regle du jeu on this list.  It doesn't affect me personally as much as some films from some of the other years or even some of the other Renoir films.  But the direction is as graceful as anywhere I've ever seen and the performances are all magnificent.  It's probably as perfect a film as any I can think of, but in my very humble opinion, perfect and favorite are not, and don't have to be, the same.



Other contenders for 1939: I probably have more gaps in this year than in any year so far.  And some are downright embarrassing.  The most notable films I still have to see are:  Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind (I'm embarrassed to say, but it's true!), Kenji Mizoguchi's The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, and Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings.   Other films from this year I still need to see are: William Wyler's Wuthering Heights, John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, George Stevens' Gunga Din, Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers, Leo McCarey's Love Affair, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk, George Cukor's The Women, and Mitchell Leisen's Midnight.  Of the films I have seen, there are three main runners-up.  I find John Ford's Stagecoach to be one of the most entertaining westerns ever made.  Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties echoes many of the themes of another favorite of mine, Once Upon a Time in America, and is an absolutely fantastic crime film. Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz still affects me as one of the most beautiful and magical films the cinema has ever produced.  Finally though I went with the Renoir as I admire it (maybe even love it) for it feels in some sense the most like real life -- complex, chaotic, and vital yet still harmonious and in some kind of balance. 


7/18/10 I watched Mitchell Leisen's Midnight.  Charming enough, but I could never really connect with Don Ameche, and the story never involved me fully.  I like Claudette Colbert a great deal, but this is not one of my favorite films with her.  


7/25/10 I watched Leo McCarey's Love Affair.  An extremely sad movie, full of some incredible moments but often a little unfocused.  McCarey proves once again that he is fantastic with actors and can create fresh and real feeling about as well as anyone.  


7/30/10 I watched Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  It has a good deal of the hokeyness that Capra has become known for. But it also boasts some terrific moments with James Stewart and the most rich and unhinged performance I've ever seen from Claude Rains. A forced happy ending but an interesting watch with some food for thought.   


8/4/10 I watched John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk.  Although it's a little long-winded at times for my taste, it reminds me of how important Ford was at retelling our country's history.  Like Capra, he tries to remind us of our past, our values, and the events that led to the liberty that most of us are able to enjoy.  Fonda was a strong heroic character and some of Ford's unusual visual abilities shine through.  


8/9/10 I watched George Stevens' Gunga Din.  Rollicking but a little long-winded at times for my taste.  Seems to have been a major influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark and certainly has its share of memorable moments.  


8/10/10 I watched John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln.  Ford could be overly sentimental in moments.  But Fonda's transition into Lincoln is eerily close.  And the way that Ford stages and shoots the one murder in the film is among the most poetic and memorable things I've seen in his work.  It rates up there with the titular murder in Valance.  Also, some of Ford's static shots of Fonda thinking, particularly near the end, are powerful, deep, and affecting.


8/15/10 I watched Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind.  I'm very ashamed to admit it, but this is the first time that I've seen it.  The characters are much more ambiguous than I imagined they would be, and Fleming doesn't really linger on anything.  A little too long and its almost contempt for contemplation wore me out after awhile.  But I'm very glad to have seen it.  


8/16/10 I watched Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings. Although it's more complex, thematically, emotionally, and formally, than His Girl Friday, I still prefer HGF.  But this Hawks is definitely top-tier, featuring one of his very best scripts, and one of Grant's most sophisticated characters.  All that is Hawksian is on display here, and it's a great ride, albeit slightly cold at times.  


8/17/10 I watched George Cukor's The Women.  The verbal mania really wore on me after awhile, and the gimmick of having no men ever on screen stopped working for me pretty soon into the film.  Pretty good performances, and I'm sure it has value for certain people, but I never could really connect.  


10/20/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn.  An uncharacteristic film from the master.  It felt messy and under-budgeted.  Pretty much a slog even with a strong Laughton performance.  

10/5/13 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey:  The 1930s The Great American Movie Genres and the Brilliance of European Film.  Perhaps the least interesting installment to me so far, but I did really like those sections on Cocteau, Vigo, and Renoir.  

36 comments:

  1. A banner year for Hollywood in particular, but really for world cinema, as there are a number of outstanding French films as well. This is one where I'm going to second-guess myself and choose a different movie from what I took in my own countdown. I picked The Rules of the Game there and while I still love it, my mood has changed a bit. There are four films in this year that I could pick as my #1 at any give time. But here is a Top 10 for 1939, that will probably hold true from at least a couple days!

    1. Gone With the Wind (Fleming)
    2. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)
    3. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
    4. Le jour se leve (Carne)
    5. Stagecoach (Ford)
    6. Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
    7. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
    8. Wuthering Heights (Wyler)
    9. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
    10. The Four Feathers (Korda)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jeffrey: I also came to the conclusion a long time ago that one needs to forge his own path when assessing any work of art. I can't even count how many times I've disented on the edict of the intelligensia, but still felt I was enriched by their findings. Add to that a bit of humility that 'maybe I may have missed something' always helps to keep things in the proper perspective. In any case, coming to the table with some experience, built on years of filmmaking is always the bottom line for me when it comes to sharing cinematic viewpoints. Kael and company are revered, but yeah, agreement is not always reached. She once referred to Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece SAWDUST AND TINSEL as "powerfully awful" and she's dissed many other greats as well.

    Alas, I am with you on your #1, one of the cinema's supreme masterpieces, but THE WIZARD OF OZ comes within a hair. Perhaps one day I'll reverse these.

    My Own #1 Film of 1939:

    La Regle du Jeu (Renoir)

    Runners-Up:

    The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
    The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi)
    Wuthering Heights (Wyler)
    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)
    Gone With the Wins (Fleming)
    Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Wood)
    Le Jour se Leve (Carne)
    The Stars Look Down (Reed)
    Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
    Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
    The Four Feathers (Korda)
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Dieterle)
    Intermezzo (Ratoff)
    On the Night of the Fire (Desmond-Hurst)
    Stagecoach (Ford)

    The Renoir, THE WIZARD OF OZ, CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WUTHERING HEIGHTS and GONE WITH THE WIND are irrefutable masterpieces and the magnificent GOODBYE MR. CHIPS is as dearest to my heart as any film, boasting as it does one of the greatest performances of all-time by Robert Donat.

    1939 of course is the Golden year in Hollywood history.

    The great countdown at The Last Lullaby continues!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I didn't comment on Tony's discussion, as I came a little late, and I didn't post on Sam's until very late, but (with all due respect to both bloggers) I think all this talk of greatness and objectivity is somewhat misleading. Critical consensus is something that is manufactured over time by critics, historians, academics, etc., and by alluding to a film's perceived greatness in such stark terms, I think we accommodate that amount of collusion in ways I'm not comfortable with. The inconvenient fact is that both Godard and Kael hated Kubrick, and that Farber hated Ford and Huston (actually, Godard hated Huston too), but those facts are willfully ignored because they don't fit into the critical narrative, and challenge the idea of a so-called "objective" canon.

    Anyway, I would definitely go with Only Angels Have Wings for '39. It's one of Hawks' very best films, and Cary Grant is surprisingly good in a tougher role. I love Rules Of The Game too though, Renoir's understanding of the way people work, and his human generosity, really elevates it for me. I've seen almost every one you mentioned here, and they're all worth seeking out, but I think it's really worth defending Gone With The Wind, one of those unfortunate casualties of auteurism. It's a really, really great film, and one of those classics that truly earns its title. If you're interested, Molly Haskell wrote a spectacular book last year on it well worth checking out.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Donophon, there is no film on this planet that I've watched more than GONE WITH THE WIND in my lifetime. It's perhaps the most deliriously entertaining film of all-time, and it contains a performance by Vivien Leigh that must surely rank among the best in the cinema. It is indeed a victim of auterism, but anyone worth their weight must recognize this as a masterpiece of the heighest order.

    I don't dispute what you say there about the bickering between critics, and yeah there's always an agenda, but like anything else there is still much value and writing and perception brilliance there that can't be negated by these rightful issues. The best volume out there that examines the strengths and weaknesses of Kael, Sarris, Simon, Kauffmann, Agee, MacDonald et al is NINE AMERICAN FILM CRITICS by Professor Edward Murray. it's invaluable.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dave, I'm sure my list will change over time, too! (It better, as long as the heart still beats.) Obviously, many on your top ten I still need to see, and will soon.

    I have seen the Carne. I like it, although I can't say I'm as big of a fan of it as you are. And, NINOTCKHA is one I like a little less, as well.

    But a year where I definitely have a lot of work left to do. Thanks, as always, for the wonderful perspective!

    ReplyDelete
  6. "but I think it's really worth defending Gone With The Wind, one of those unfortunate casualties of auteurism. It's a really, really great film, and one of those classics that truly earns its title."

    Brilliantly phrased analysis, here, Doniphon and I could not agree more. Just a great, fully engrossing experience. I'll have to seek out that book that you mention.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much, Sam! I completely agree with you that humility and the "maybe I may have missed something" response have value. Numerous times I have revisited a film that I didn't like very much the first time and had a completely different experience the second time around.

    That said, sometimes I re-visit and have exactly the same experience. When that happens, I think it's particularly important to accept that you and whatever other person that has esteemed that film simply have different tastes and preferences. And that your taste and preference are just as valuable, well probably more valuable since they're your own.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Doniphon, thanks so much for your great comments! If I understand correctly, it sounds like you and I agree on this issue of "great" versus "favorite".

    I will definitely seek out GONE WITH THE WIND soon. As I said, I am a little embarrassed that I haven't seen it up to now. That Haskell book sounds great, too.

    Thanks, as always, for the wonderful perspective!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sam: And I forgot to thank you for the excellent comments, as always! I haven't seen GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS either but will add that to the list. Thanks so much, Sam!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sam, I'm glad we agree on Gone With The Wind, I saw Haskell present a screening of Gone With The Wind over the summer, with a talk afterward. It was wonderful. I'm heading to the library today, so I'll see if they have Murray's book. I look forward to it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "...I think all this talk of greatness and objectivity is somewhat misleading. Critical consensus is something that is manufactured over time by critics, historians, academics, etc., and by alluding to a film's perceived greatness in such stark terms, I think we accommodate that amount of collusion in ways I'm not comfortable with."

    I don't suggest that we should venerate these "classics" because a consensus has determined we do. My separation of "best" and "favorite" had more to do with a ditinction analogous to reading a work of literature that one can recognize is well-constructed yet doesn't touch you as much as another work might because of something in the latter which you relate to or engage with on a personal level.

    Often times "best" and "favorite" DO overlap. On many occasions, it may just be a matter of time before they overlap. But I can't deny, for instance, that I love the near incoherent BIG SLEEP by Hawks much more than Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON despite the fact that Huston's film is better constructed. Though Huston's film is undoubtedly great, SLEEP is a must-have in my collection, whereas I haven't really rushed out to get FALCON. I do allow that age and wisdommay change my feelings on it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Tony, in a way I'm sympathetic to your position, but just because a film is well-constructed doesn't mean it's good, or better than an incoherent one. In my opinion The Big Sleep is a FAR greater film than The Maltese Falcon, and what is most remarkable about it is how much Hawks can marginalize the narrative, and how little it matters. There's real poetry in The Big Sleep that The Maltese Falcon lacks, and just because Huston's craft is more accessible and linear doesn't make him a superior filmmaker.

    The problem for me with your distinction is that, for whatever reason, "best" linguistically sounds superior, more important than "favorite" when it actually is just recognition that a lot of other smart guys that write for newspapers or have PhDs liked it. While it's important to recognize that certain films were influential or deemed important by certain scholars and critics, I prefer a less equivocal, more personal approach to blogging, criticism, whatever.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Totally agree. A film I've grown to admire (though it left me totally cold at first) and like, but I feel more passionately about "lesser" Renoir films like French Cancan or The River.

    Incidentally, I just put up a piece on my blog marginally tied to Rules - one of my favorite scenes in the film (the dance of death which, along with the chase through the mansion and especially the hunt scene are the most visceral moments in the movie for me).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Doniphon, I don't think that's the only criterion for "best." I've been around the bush with another blogger, Stephen, on this matter but I think there's a useful distinction to be made, on a personal level even, between "best" and "favorite."

    ReplyDelete
  15. See now a few hours later, I am think THE WIZARD OF OZ is rightfully the greatest film of 1939, so I should really declare a tie for the top spot, which I think I will now do. GONE WITH THE WIND, MR. SMITH, CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WUTHERING HEIGHTS and MR. CHIPS are all there though close to the top.

    Donophon, I'd be thrilled to know what you thought of Professor Murray's book!!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sam, I think a tie is totally allowed! :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. MovieMan, thanks so much for your comments here! I thought you and I are were pretty much on the same page with this one (I've been following the fascinating discussion between you and Stephen.)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Jeffrey, I feel partially responsible for kind of taking this so far away from Renoir, and I feel kind of bad about that. But I need to respond to a couple things here (ha!). First off, re-reading my last post I realize I kind of misrepresent my own view, it almost reads like I'm accusing Tony of equivocation or impersonal film criticism, I'm not at all, and if it comes off that way I'm sorry Tony, I don't mean it that way. I agree with you in a lot of ways, but I think by designating between best and favorite in a stark way, you could accommodate the kind of academic film criticism that is impersonal and equivocatory, which is not something I'd want to do.

    Movieman, your conversation with Stephen is extensive and nothing I could write here could really do justice to it. My problem with differentiating between best and favorite is this (and sorry if this is redundant): by differentiating between the two, we suggest that we can make certain judgments that are more objective than others. I don't believe that's true, I think that's in some sense self-delusional, and so I think it's more helpful to argue whether or not a film is great. From there someone else can argue whether or not they agree, thereby starting a conversation around the merits of a film that is based more around our personal experience of it than compromised and confused notions of critical distance and objectivity.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Doniphon, no problem at all! As you can see from my own post, I spent more time delving into this issue of "great" versus "favorite" than I did the Renoir. So your perspective is much appreciated on either.

    I did want to discuss a couple of the things you wrote. First off, this sentence struck me, "...by differentiating between the two, we suggest that we can make certain judgments that are more objective than others." It's interesting that you say this because for me it's exactly the opposite. In other words, by making a distinction between "great" and "favorite" I feel like I allow myself (and am letting everyone else know that I'm about) to make a very SUBJECTIVE judgment. A judgment that is true for me but not necessarily the truth, or one that will be true for anyone else. That's the real utility of the distinction for me.

    Also, when I think of a good deal of academic film criticism, I think of something that is almost purely cerebral or intellectual. That's a place I'm trying to avoid in my own writing, and I feel that this distinction of "great" versus "favorite" allows me to privilege the emotional experience by saying I will give great value to something that moves me. So I find it useful in this regard, too.

    Thanks so much, Doniphon! I'll be interested to hear what you think about the above.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Jeffrey, just caught up with your countdown. Have not seen this one but here ar list of some of my favorites

    #1 Wizard of Oz

    Othe contenders are Stagecoach, Only Angels Have Wings, Of Mice and Men, Rules of the GAmes and mosr recently I saw for the first time Carne's Le Jour Se Leve which I will add to my list. I will have to check out some of your prior selections.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hey, John, thanks so much for your great comments. This is RULES OF THE GAME. Sorry I just used the French title.

    I need to add OF MICE AND MEN to the viewing list. Yet another title I've yet to see.

    Thanks so much for the great comments!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Jeffrey, I think we see pretty eye to eye on a lot of this. My problem isn't with the use of "favorite" at all. If we want to just say, these are my favorite movies and leave it at that, that's great (I'm doing a series myself right now on "My Favorite Films Of The 00's"). My problem is this implied dichotomy between favorite films and great films, which I think really should be synonyms and not separate categories. You say that by calling it your favorite it allows you to make a subjective judgment, but all judgments are innately subjective. Objects can't make judgments; if they could, they'd be subjects! The implication seems to be that favorite films are more subjective, but again that's impossible. There are no set standards, right? If someone watches a movie, and they say, "Well, Sarris loved this one, and that actor is pretty good, and I appreciate the aesthetic vision, but it leaves me cold, and I don't think it's a very good cinematic experience," there's no reason to say, "Well, I guess it's a great movie, but it's not one of my favorites," when we can just say "It's not a very good movie." And then an assertion, an opinion is established, and then a wonderful conversation can be started around that, with people agreeing or disagreeing. Film criticism isn't the single essay that Rosenbaum writes, or Agee does, it's the dialogue that is established between all these different pieces.

    A quick example; one of my all-time favorite movies is Blow Out, which I see you love too. There are very few movies that move me as much as that one, and in all honesty it may be my favorite ending of all movies. So, I'm gonna say, obviously, that it's one of the greatest movies ever made. Because I love it so much, I'm obviously aware the influence Blowup has had on it, a film I loathe. But I'm not going to say, "Well Blowup is a great movie, but it's not one of my favorites." I'm going to say "It's awful!" and write an essay explaining why I think it fails as a cinematic experience, and then a dialogue with other people can be built around that, and how it does or does not work for me or anyone else.

    But once these different categories of "great" and "favorite" are introduced, and the odious divisions of high and low culture that follow, all this becomes needlessly complex. Instead of the dialogue between different minds being emphasized, single "objective" conceptions become deified, and suddenly it's morally wrong to dismiss Citizen Kane, because it's a "great" movie. The subjective judgment becomes something more than it actually is, and to contradict it can have really nasty results, as we saw in the comments section on Stephen's blog the other day.

    Hope this is helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Doniphon, great comments!

    We do see eye to eye on most of this, and it seems that our ultimate hopes are the same, to empower people to like what they like. However, I guess, at times, I do find the division helpful. Here's the best example I can think of off the top of my head.

    For my current countdown, I chose HOOSIERS as my favorite film of 1986. I can't really argue though that it's a great film, in the way that most critically-minded people would define greatness. Formally, in fact, it's pretty uninspired -- the editing, the music, the mise-en-scene all a bit hackneyed. But I love Hackman and Hershey in it, the story manipulates me in a way that I find inoffensive, and it's a good-looking film.

    Since HOOSIERS is my favorite sports movie of all time and a movie I just really love, I chose it over BLUE VELVET and SOMETHING WILD, even though I think both of these films are better made. Without some sort of division, however, I'm not sure how to account for including HOOSIERS on a list like this?

    ReplyDelete
  24. The problem for me with your distinction is that, for whatever reason, "best" linguistically sounds superior, more important than "favorite" when it actually is just recognition that a lot of other smart guys that write for newspapers or have PhDs liked it.

    Sorry, I'm responding a bit late here. Obviously, I don't agree with your assertion that "best" denotes some sort of critical consensus. In my own example, I draw the line between "best" and "favorite" much the same way Jeffrey does. "Best" appeals to my mind. "Favorite" appeals to my emotions. But neither is influenced by what the critical cognoscenti's opinion is except for the fact that their opinion might initially push me to see the film.

    Once I've seen it, "best" and "favorite" (or for that matter, just plain "sucked") is my way of classifying a film in my own mind. "Best" means that I can recognize the film is an important one even if emotionally detached from it. "Favorite" means the film is simply important to me even if it isn't to anyone else.

    But once these different categories of "great" and "favorite" are introduced, and the odious divisions of high and low culture that follow, all this becomes needlessly complex. Instead of the dialogue between different minds being emphasized, single "objective" conceptions become deified, and suddenly it's morally wrong to dismiss Citizen Kane, because it's a "great" movie. The subjective judgment becomes something more than it actually is, and to contradict it can have really nasty results, as we saw in the comments section on Stephen's blog the other day.

    I railed against Stephen somewhat in the comments section you refer to. But not because he was morally wrong in his criticism of KANE. As I also pointed out in my comment, Manny Farber also takes KANE down a peg in his essay, "The Gimp." My objection to Stephen's essay was that his assertions existed in a vacuum. One must view art within a context outside of simply the personal, whether its a temporal, situational, societal, artistic, political, philosophical, etc. Simply asserting a movie isn't good because he doesn't like it belongs more to the school of movie reviewing than that of film theory. A subscriber to the different critical approaches to film can still make the same assertion on KANE supported by sound theoretical influences.

    ReplyDelete
  25. There is really no competition this year; sorry Renoir, but Only Angels Have Wings is one of my favorite films and one of the films I'd hold up (along with Holiday) as among the best works ever produced in classic Hollywood. It's simply a sublime masterpiece: the fog, the doom-and-gloom romance, the constant aura of death, the bonding in dire circumstances, and of course a memorable wake for a fallen pilot, his friends clustered around a piano celebrating and trying to forget him. There's no other film that's better at sustaining a mood like this.

    Anyway, Rules of the Game is of course also a fine movie, though I have a few problems with it that would prevent me from really ranking it so high, and I prefer the other Renoir films I've seen.

    And I totally agree with Doniphon re: "great" vs. "favorite." Not to reprise the recent debates, but what he said there is pretty much exactly my own view. All opinions are subjective by their very nature and to separate out "great" and "favorite" is to pretend to an objectivity that doesn't really exist, so that "great" becomes the opinion of consensus while "favorite" is reserved for individual opinions. If Hoosiers does something for you, whatever limitations it might have in the areas normally used to evaluate films, then clearly there's something there, at least for you. If you can express that "something" in some way, that's all that matters.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Ed, based on some of what you've written, I expected to see this choice from you! I can't wait to see it! It sounds fantastic.

    I hear the great points that you and Doniphon are making, but I'm not ready yet to give up the distinction. I guess my biggest question remains in the last paragraph I wrote to Doniphon:

    "Since HOOSIERS is my favorite sports movie of all time and a movie I just really love, I chose it over BLUE VELVET and SOMETHING WILD, even though I think both of these films are better made. Without some sort of division, however, I'm not sure how to account for including HOOSIERS on a list like this?"

    I like Tony and Sam's idea of creating two separate lists: a best and a favorites list. And I like that with the introduction of the latter, we'll probably start seeing some films that have long been left out of critical discussion or recognition (a film like HOOSIERS, for example.)

    I'm not sure either of us will persuade the other side, and I'm totally fine with that. My biggest problem of all though with not having some sort of distinction is the consequence I see of the more common approach (i.e. no distinction). What happens now, it seems to me, is that critics say something is great and that is supposed to lay claim to a universal truth. It has suffocated me in the past, and I can only imagine it suffocates others. In other words, it seems to say, "This is great, and if you don't like it, you are wrong because it is great."

    I'd much rather see a distinction, or at the very least, critics admitting their own lack of objectivity. I’d love to see more of them write, "I think this is great. But, it could very well be simply my taste or preference. I'm sure there are of those of you that won't like it, and that's okay." Now you could argue that as a reader, we should simply understand that any review or essay is opinion. But, I’m not sure that’s how most of us interpret it.

    A good example of what I’d love to see more of is Pauline Kael's review of David Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS. Kael went on and on about how well made the film was, but then she ended the review by saying, "I didn't enjoy it very much." I realize that Kael was as hardline as they come, at times, but at least here she seems to be making some allowance and room for an emotional and personal response. Whereas I’m not sure most people writing about film allow for this.

    A distinction between “best”and “favorite” doesn’t have to be the answer. But I think film criticism (and probably all art criticism) has given too much weight over the years to intellectual response and too little to the way the work affects us emotionally. I would love to see some sort of corrective introduced, whatever that may be.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Jeffrey, I think in a way we've taken this pretty much as far as it's going to go, so I'll try to be somewhat brief, and we can certainly agree to disagree. By distinguishing between favorite and best, you inadvertently encourage the kind of film criticism you are trying to get rid of. A film is more than the sum of its parts, more than its construction. A well-constructed film is not necessarily a good one. Dead Ringers is one of my favorite films, but not because it's well-made, although that's part of it. It's simply one of the most intense viewing experiences I've ever had, by the time it was over I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably and I thought that I might throw up, that's how much it affected me emotionally, and that's why I consider it a great film. Hoosiers may not be especially well-constructed, but there's something there more than the sum of its parts that affects you, something that can't be analyzed, and that's legitimate and in a way it is the most important thing. There's something there indescribable, that's what cinema is about! Look, my favorite film of '86 is easily Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, and the same thing goes. You could analyze every line, every shot, every gesture in that movie, but it would not explain why it is such a moving, devastating film. It's more than the sum of its parts.

    And no critic has authority, they just think they do. Every piece I write on my blog, or that Ed does, or Roger Ebert does, or you do, makes assertions, but they're never objective, and the fact that they're written by a person guarantees that they can't be. So while I totally understand your frustration over critics' perceived assertions of a universal truth, they're just putting forth their opinions in a particularly forceful way. It can be really annoying when you disagree, but the other alternative I think is worse. Saying "this is a great film" might imply objectivity in a disingenuous way, but differentiating between favorite and great actually suggests it much more concretely, because you're saying history has objectively determined this one to be great but I prefer this one. Instead, I think it's healthier just to say, you know "Hoosiers is a great film," and then examine it, make an argument for it, start a conversation about it.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Doniphon, thanks for yet another excellent post! We agree on so much of this. It's just the need for a distinction where it seems we don't agree.

    I realize that we might just keep going around and around, but I did want to address this one sentence of yours, "Saying 'this is a great film' might imply objectivity in a disingenuous way, but differentiating between favorite and great actually suggests it much more concretely, because you're saying history has objectively determined this one to be great but I prefer this one."

    Certain films do have a critical concensus around them, yet some of these films do not impact me, for one reason or another. I'm not saying that history has OBJECTIVELY determined them to be great, but I do think with certain films that history has tried to confer this sort of shield and status. It's in these kinds of situations that I think a distinction is useful and helpful.

    As for the semantics of "objective" and "subjective", I'm not as concerned. I simply would love to see a slight altering of critical approach and language to give a little more value to the emotional experience that I wish were more recognized as a major part of taking in films, or of all art for that matter.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "By distinguishing between favorite and best, you inadvertently encourage the kind of film criticism you are trying to get rid of. A film is more than the sum of its parts, more than its construction."

    I do think that Donophon is really on to something here. That's why up until this past week, where I provided two lists at Tony Dayoub's thread, I have steadfastly regarded 'best' and 'favorite' as the same thing, meaning of course that I have resisted differentiation.

    As far as Ed Howard's declaration of the Hawks as the best film of 1939, well this reflects his own personal taste - which is exceptional and brilliant founded- but I think a valid case could be made for several films from this exceedingly rich year for a choice of "best." As I said yesterday, I am beginning to think now that John Greco is right, Fleming's THE WIZARD OF OZ may, fanatical popularity aside, be the most unforgettable film of this year. It's certainly the one I've seen the most (GWTW arguable seen as much although WIZARD is easier to manage because of its length).

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sam, thanks so much for the great comments! What led you to put together the two lists? I think it's interesting that you made that decision.

    That one sentence troubles me a little, "By distinguishing between favorite and best, you inadvertently encourage the kind of film criticism you are trying to get rid of."

    I think it's exactly the opposite. I think having a distinction between "best" and "favorite" makes criticism a little less dogmatic and more inclusive and accepting.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Ya know Jeffrey, it depends on what day of the week you ask me. Both are arguments are valid.

    No matter what I say here, or at Tony Dayoub's blog, or in response to Donophon -whose blog I will be visiting shortly - I have always forwarded lists that combines th etwo headings. So that's what's telling as far as I am concerned.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Sam, I hear you! In fact, I hadn't noticed your heading until now. But I like it quite a bit, "My Own #1 film...".

    Thanks, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your perspective, as always!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thanks Sam.

    Jeffrey, if it's all right with you, I'm not going to answer your last series of objections, giving you the last word, simply because the arguments I would use I've already used and it would be redundant on my part. I mean this with complete respect, and I think we largely agree. We have some slightly different ways of looking at things, which is only natural, but I think we're after the same things, and have the same problems with dogmatic criticism, even if we attack it a little differently.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Doniphon, thank you. I appreciated the discussion very much.

    ReplyDelete