Recommended reading #2

I love putting together our Link Dumps. They’re a valuable platform for disseminating high-quality online writing. But sometimes, bulleted lists just aren’t enough. Such is the case with two terrific blog posts from late January, pieces that cut very close to my cinephile heart. They’re “Spirits and Influences” by Jim Emerson (part #13 of the “SLIFR Movie Tree House” roundtable) and “What the Siren Will Be Doing on the Night of Feb. 26” by the Self-Styled Siren herself.

Both posts demand more than a mere hyperlink and an injunction to “go read this!” Emerson’s, for example—arriving midway through an incredibly erudite six-way conversation—reads almost as a moviegoing manifesto. He deftly jumps across myriad topics: the troubled release of Margaret; his distaste for We Need to Talk About Kevin; the death and ethos of his friend Bingham Ray. And all the while, he espouses a desire for greater diversity in the worlds of critical thought and film production. A pair of quotes especially caught my eye. First, this one:

All that matters is what the critic has to say about the movie. Everything else is irrelevant and/or speculation. On the other hand, if a critic can’t articulate why he/she loves or hates or is ambivalent about something, then how can his/her opinion possibly matter? It doesn’t. Opinions are a dime a dozen, but they have to be tested to find out whose carries any weight.

Which pretty much sums up my beliefs about what criticism is and should do. Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one. At the end of the day, a critic’s worth (and the worth of their opinions) comes down to the quality, meaning, and power of their writing.

A couple paragraphs on, Emerson addresses the fact that he and Armond White both listed Kevin as one of their least-favorite movies of 2011. (Emerson explained his decision, but White just answered the film’s title with a glib “Must we?”)

So, do I “agree” with AW? There’s no way of telling. I gave my reasons. He didn’t. We may hold entirely different views about the movie, even though we both, evidently, don’t think very highly of it.

I’m reminded of the legal concept of a “concurring opinion”: when one justice on a court agrees with the majority, but for a different reason. The point being, you can come at a movie from radically different critical mindsets (as Emerson and White certainly do) and still “agree.” Cinema isn’t just a world of thumbs-up, thumbs-down, “yes” or “no.” It’s a thorny world of reasons, aesthetics, context, and personal histories. (Or, to borrow from Renoir in Rules of the Game, the wonderful thing about discussing movies is that “everybody has their reasons.”)

As for the Siren’s post, well, it’s an impassioned plea for a history-centric Oscar ceremony, and you need to read it. It’s an excellent case for why The Artist or Hugo should win all the awards, and why the filmmakers behind them should then turn the ceremony into a soapbox for film preservation. It’s a pipe dream, yeah, but a beautiful and noble one. This isn’t, after all, about two specific movies of mixed quality; it’s about the thousands of movies that no one will ever learn about or see. (In part because they might not exist anymore.) That’s a tragedy, and it’s one that these two backwards-looking films could, possibly, go a little way toward reversing.

So thanks to the Siren and Mr. Emerson for elevating online film discourse and inspiring me with their incisive prose!

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