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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Screening Gotham: Sept. 22-24, 2006


A few of this week’s worthwhile cinematic goings-on around New York:
–I would like to think that there is such a thing as Reeler Karma, and that it blesses all of those who have ever contributedto or simply been kind to this blog. So when I heard about one-time guest writer Josh Horowitz’s Q&A with filmmaker Neil LaBute(right) tonight at the Astor Place Barnes and Noble, I thought, “There you go, score another one for Reeler Karma.” In actuality, though, Horowitz interviewed LaBute and something like 30 other filmmakers for his book The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker, so really, I got nothing. On the other hand, LaBute has never written here, and you can bet the Wicker Man second-guessing will be shattered-glass shrill. So who knows? The point is that you should go check out the discussion this evening at 7. We can figure out this karma business later.
–Call me contrarian, but I would like to go against conventional critical wisdom this weekend in recommending you check out All the King’s Men and avoid Old Joy. Neither film is especially bad nor especially good, but each lists farther than they desrve to either side of the hype spectrum. King’s Men, adapted by Steven Zaillian from Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel, takes its dueling meditations on idealism and power far too seriously (composer James Horner’s “soaring” score induces diabetic shock in people over 55) yet eventually comes into its own as kind of a fascinating, beautiful, A-list accident. Sean Penn is hammy but serviceable; Jude Law is better than anyone wants to admit, lest they lose ground in the tastemaking circle jerk of Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a tad difficult to follow, but hardly difficult to enjoy.
–Not so for Kelly Reichardt’s latest, Old Joy, which has left hard-to-remove come stains on seats at Sundance, New Directors/New Films and now in limited release at Film Forum. Daniel London and Will Oldham star as Mark and Kurt, longtime friends who pair up for a weekend in the woods only to discover they have nothing in common. In her readings of landscape and faces, Reichardt captures spatial and structural dynamics that her story just cannot support; even at 76 minutes, the film exhausts its premise and tension less than halfway through. Anyway, Yo La Tengo will join Reichardt to discuss the film after tonight’s 8:15 screening, which is sold out online but might have a ticket or two remining at the box office if you go down there, like, an hour ago. Trust me–you can wait.
Richard Sandler‘s documentary work arrives in Williamsburg this weekend, with five of his films–often shot over the stretches of years or even decades–screening until Sept. 27 at Monkey Town. The Guggenheim Fellowship-winning work includes the street-preacher portrait The Gods of Times Square, the subway chronicle Sway and Sandler’s 12-years-in-the-making glimpse at East Village gentrification, Brave New York. Programs run nightly at 7:30 and 10:30.

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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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