...or, more importantly, am I a film critic?

Tell me, myself, am I a film critic?
from Orpheus (Cocteau, 1950)

I cannot process the word film critic quite clearly in my mind.

As Arbogast continues his annual 31 Screams for October (for this is Arbogast's best), and as Senses of Cinema tear their previous design for their new Issue 52, I resorted to revisiting Harry's Critical Falacy Series,well, for fun. It is Friday night, October the 2nd, there is a superstorm coming and i have nothing to do but wait (with flashlights, food supplies, and a ton of coffee). I re-watched some good old classics from the 1930 - 1950s France, some Italians, a bit of 1970s Scorsese's, and a ton full of Bertolucci and Kurosawa, well again, for fun.

The classes in Metro Manila were suspended last Sunday afternoon until Saturday by CHED (Commision on Higher Education) and DepEd (Department of Education). Plague by boredom and desolation, I stayed awake to write this post. Half of the dormitory was empty, most of my friends hoarded a ton full of DVDs from my shelf for the preservation of their own souls. One of them borrowed all Coppolas and the other one dared to re-watched the extended version a.k.a. Director's cut of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2006 - 2007) in one full blow, good luck for the 11 1/2 hours of his life.

As for me, I found a blog post from Harry's archives entitled: Consensual Criteria of a good critic. Harry, noting from La Critique de cinéma by René Prédal, 2004, identifies a film critic as the one who"[s] about films and ponder over the nature of cinema. " Harry notes the following criteria expounding this thesis, and i quote from him:
"The critic is meant to ignore the public reception and speculate on the film's meaning in art history (its value in duration and immanence).

4 main criteria :

  1. Love of Cinema : passion + curiosity (for discoveries and novelties). Watching a lot of movies.
  2. Culture : expert of cinema history (1000 or 2000 essential films to know to be able to relativize the creativity/skill of new movies against past production) + deep general culture (arts and real world, which is the source of cinema inspiration)
  3. Cinema technique knowledge
  4. Writing Quality : style, communicative enthousiasm, readable, clarity, pedagogy.

And also :

  • 5) Sensibility : emotion. To develop affectivity even for disliked movies.
  • 6) Stance without prejudice : Judgement rooted in critical theory trends without rigid ideology.
  • 7) Objectivity : no influence by the majority of opinions, nor by personal mood/instinct.
  • 8) Sense of hierarchy (values) : Being able to make pertinent comparisons. Freedom and independance of thinking, against the editorial line, other critics and social fads)"


Tell me, myself, am I only a cinephile?
from Orpheus (Cocteau, 1950)

I have been watching a lot of films for about a year and a half now, and I consider myself as a starting film critic, more like a cinephile.

In Criteria number 1, it notes that a good film critic must love cinema. Do I love cinema? If not with cinema, what am I doing here watching every Renoir that i find and salivating on every Kurosawa and Hitchcock? Or what makes a 500php ($10) weekly budget for DVDs if not for the love of cinema? Or my monthly trip to the audio-visual section of the main library to watch unwatchable, rare films by Tarkovsky and Eisenstein. How i endured 120 Days of Sodom and Caligula if not for the love of cinema and the full expression of it. How i sacrifice the banalities of life just to arrive two hours in advance for the screening of Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher (2002) during the French Film Festival last June. How i love cinema and how I owe to it!

In Criteria number 2, it says that a good film critic must be expert in cinema history. I am actually at this phase right now. I am attempting to collect all pertinent films from the different cinematic traditions from the primitive era to the recent New Waves, if there no substitute word for it, of different national cinemas. I am specifically interested on French cinema (Poetic Realism to French New Wave and on), Japanese Cinema (Mizoguchi to late Kurosawa), Primitive Era, German Expressionism and Soviet Montage. What had influenced greatly to my own self-expression and, more importantly, to my beliefs, is the Contemporary Contemplative Cinema whose version of the world is much life my version, long takes and deep-staged mise-en-scene. I am at the research phase for the whole year. I hope to see more of my own cinema next year as I refocused my interest to it.

In Criteria number 3, it argues that a good film critic must be expert or at least must know the knowledge of cinema technique, or as Bordwell wants it, the stylisitics of cinema. Because i love Bordwell a lot, i keep tons of notes on this area of film studies. I have read and reread his book on film aesthetics, Film Art, which have increased greatly my knowledge on even the simple difference from a establishing/reestablishing shot to a shot/reverse shot. I am dedicating my time to the elucidation of the ever mysterious technique of contemplative cinema artists in deploying narrative cues and mise-en-scene. I would love to do a big research on mise-en-scene and cinematography for these films because i feel that the cosmic effect of many contemplative films are greatly affected by the crude manipulation of these elements. moving on...

In Criteria number 4, it mentions that a good film critic must have a good writing quality. There lies a question on grammar. Ever since I started writing, before i gave birth to this blog, i have never been grammar conscious. I consider grammar my least priority putting diction and sentence structure on top of my list. I never read Elements of Style by White and Strunk because it is another self-help book for writers. Personally, I hate self-help books, no offense to Mark if you're reading this right now. Grammar is less important than composition, i think. It is restrictive, traditional and commonplace. I know you would say that is fundamental English and that i must be followed in all kinds of writing, but, forgive me if i came or have been influenced by modernist writers like Joyce and Woolf for their ungrammatical, highly truncated syntax. Both of them have influence my syntax: Joyce, influencing my inter-sentence construction parallel to his style in Ulysses (1921) being sometimes disjointed, and Woolf, influencing my intra-sentence construction, the long winding, comma-infested (i used to love semi-colons before) writing. I love both their styles. Ulysses, if you have read it, is a big example of an ungrammatically-explosive piece of writing.

And a note to all, i don't usually edit or review my blog posts. The coarser a post's syntax is, the more genuine its message. My writing may appear more formal if given that I am not writing in a blog and that I am writing a formal analysis of a film. There are different levels of writing, and one should know that we write at different formalities. I sort of treat my film blog as a breakaway from all conventions of writing.


Your movie sucks! - Ebert.

Film criticism is, in a way, integrated to my system right now but not primarily central to my discourse. I consider myself more of a cinephile/film researcher and less a film critic because, first of all, i do not offer pure criticisms on my blog. Evaluations are hard to construct because, personally, I am more of a scientific person than an impressionistic one. I treasure the technicalities of films, how they are constructed, how the director manipulates a certain angle to achieve a certain effect. I consider each film as a systematic arrangement of pictures and sound temporally arrange to execute a non-narrative/narrative expression. Second, I wanted to follow the footsteps of Bordwell in his Historical Poetics stance. Bordwell has influenced me from day one because of his scientific approach to films, which i am totally in line with. So i guess, my answer is no, I am not a film critic.

On Kurosawa's Seven Samurai

Chris Fujiwara calls it a 'male cinema'. (here)

I am very curious about this. After watching Seven Samurai (1954) for the second time with a close friend of mine, he noted that almost every plot element of the film is somehow reminiscent of 13th Warrior (1999, John McTiernan) starring Antonio Banderas. Well, maybe what my friend was reffering to was what Seven Samurai is original about. It is one of the first films who started the plot concept of gathering heroes to form a team to battle evil forces. We can connect tons of films and comic stories with this plot concept, i know you can think of one right now (I am thinking of X-Men or Heroes). Well, we have George Lucas with his Star Wars concept heavily referenced to Seven Samurai. No wonder why the 13th Warrior is highly connected with Seven Samurai because, as my friend observed, it involves a gathering of heroes to form a team for the sole purpose of battling evil Vikings per se.

Anyway, enough of this.

More discussions on pertinent films this coming October.