Saturday, 5 January 2008

The Zen of Cult

I’ve been reading David Bordwell’s Planet Hong Kong. I don’t really follow Hong Kong cinema as much as I used to and have some reservations about the kind of cognitivist/historical poetic approach Bordwell advocates insofar as I sometimes worry that it could become an overarching capital T theory in itself should more cognitivism or formalism be seen as the unreflexive answer to any problem confronted in the data of the films.

This said, one of the strengths of Bordwell’s approach is his willingness to let meaning emerge out of the films and their cultural and industrial contexts, rather than trying to impose some set of ready-made Theory upon them. It’s an approach which, in the context of the book’s subject, is like Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do, where the ideal is to learn from all other schools but without succumbing to having a doctrine of one’s own because doctrines are limiting.

Just like Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon, who says that he does not strike but rather that his fist strikes all by itself, it’s what I’d like to aspire to in relation to genre cinema: I do not approach the film for meaning, its meaning also approaches me.

I would love to see someone do a Planet Hong Kong of the Italian popular cinema of the 1960s and 1970s in a similar vein. To give one example: Bordwell notes how Hong Kong screenwriters, knowing that they were dealing with a 90 or 100 minute narrative, would often construct their stories around the nine reels this represented, ensuring that there was some incident in each. Their films aren't badly constructed, just constructed with different assumptions to Hollywood.

In this regard, it would be useful to know , for instance, what the effect of the interval in the Italian film of this time was on screenwriters’ practice: did they consciously figure that at the 40, 45 or 50 minute mark there had to be a dramatic moment, then some kind of recapitulation to ease the audience back in? (The Anchor Bay DVD of Don’t Torture a Duckling is a good example of this – we have the funeral climaxing part one, then watch the police film of this same funeral as the opening of part two.) How arbitrary was the positioning of the interval – was it done by the filmmakers, or the theatre projectionist? Did the more professional figures – Ernesto Gastaldi, say – think through their craft in relation to things like this in a way that their lesser counterparts did not?

Normal service should be resumed shortly by the way – I have just been very busy with work and the inevitable seasonal whirl of socializing and recovering from socializing.


herman said...

"let meaning emerge out of the films and their cultural and industrial contexts, rather than trying to impose some set of ready-made Theory upon them."

Thanks for that keith. You are amongst friends. We do need more of this, especially in the realm of genre film.

I went over the top replying to an earlier thread then relaxed by reading through the Grauniad website where the comment was on genreification and space- and the eviction of the indies in Leeds. We have seen it here in Cardiff.

An answer, but not the final answer, comes in all realms. Film criticism is one amongst many areas, my brother added music criticism to the list when I spoke to him earlier. The NME in the 90s was truly awful for this form of criticism. When many of us had a simple question "is it any good?"

To recognise film in the terms you suggest is a step closer to recognising the real human input rather than to abstract it all away into some possibly pseudo freudian obscurantism.

Good god I long for the day where there cn be a non mechanistic materialist approach to criticism of film- reading a lot of it is liking watching some toff wamking over a victorian corkscrew on Antiques roadshow for the fine piece of art that he thinks it is. I am speaking personally as an industrial worker but workmanship and craftmanship trumps all in terms of the appreciation of quality, to do otherwise is to ignore the wonderful effort people made in bringing film to you in the first place.

On an aside, I thought the social context setting in "The Book OF The DEad" was great, but in terms of a book that delivers the goods 100% in its terms of reference would recommend "Violent Professional", it dispenses with the BS and tells you what that actor did in his films.

I don't seek a mechanistic approach to film viewing, but think that if you can appreciate that a cameraman or an actor or whatever has done a bang on job, then you can settle down and just enjoy the film.

K H Brown said...

Thanks for this.

The thing that really impressed me about A Violent Professional - besides Kier La-Janisse's enthusiasm for her subject and FAB's willingness to even put out a book like it - is the beauty of it, as a piece of design.

On the subject of music, have you ever read Joe Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic? He was one of the people behind SST records and tries to look at rock music without concern for the politics and image aspects, asking what does it do as music.

herman said...

I have not read that book no Keith,

but with Kier La-Janisse I did not just ee the enthusiasm, and my god that was there in bucketloads. i did bask in the beauty of the presentation.

personally i think we need more of that kind of thing. In this case I got an actor i overlooked and now I see him,

You know how films, are you watch them, you move on, in 90 minutes you have seen many actors sometimes there briefly. it was a voice for the little guy this time. We all know franco nero, but now when we watch Django we see rossi too.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think the key thing ultimately is whether the person loves the film. If they love the film, that's enough, and fans with the love of it in them will always recognise each other and not rip each other off God willing, even though they may disagree about everything else. So if someone loves the film and it makes them blather away about Marx and Deleuze, good luck to them - they probably talk the same way in bed.
Whats not nice is when fans are snotty, but I really don't find it among Fulci people.


K H Brown said...

Part of the issue might sometimes be loving the film too much, that we get defensive about it and feel that someone is trying to take it or the pleasure we get from it away, rather than replace it with a different sort of pleasure, intellectual rather than emotional, detached rather than engaged and all those other too neat binaries.

I think also that what can make this particularly acute in the area of cult cinema is that sense of a game between the textual poachers and the gamekeepers, where individuals can shift their positions over time and with circumstances.

But yes, we know our own, as it were.

herman said...

Being defensive is a good point keith I am not too fussy on the view that genre cinema is "trash" any more than the pretence that it is somehow some form of high art that has to be read on thoe terms. I shouldn't have to feel the need to defend genre cinema either camp, Star Wars fans don't seem to have this problem- and they are well served with books etc on their film.

I think here tom has a good point

"So if someone loves the film and it makes them blather away about Marx and Deleuze, good luck to them"

indeed good luck to them, it is where these people write books and I buy them by mistake that I get a bit angry, I could have better spent my money on more DVD's and fill some of the gaps in my Fulci collection.

I would happily buy more stuff like "Violent professional" mind. That stayed on topic and did not go off on one of those michael barrymore style crazy tangents.

Oh btw i've put a brief Leonard Mann interview up on my blog if anyone is interested with a great annecdote about filming Cut And Run.


This may wll be spam but its far more facinating listening to leonard than reading a book that explains that somehow death is "feminine" or whatever guff i was reading in that book the other day.

Hoping to get a Barbara Magnolfi interview up soon too, she's been a good sport in agreeing to do one for us.

Anyhow back to the topic to hand, Italian genre cinema it seem has never been especilly well served with literature- Jay Slater's book is okay in a coffee table kind of way and spaghetti nightmares is pretty informative but to be honest I get more these days off dvd "extras" than any book offers up. There are some great lengthy interviews and commntary out there where you get the chance to hear directors etc telling us what they intended to do instead of some wacky freudian speculation.

Anyhow, off now to watch Raiders Of Atlantis.