December 11, 2006

Film Opinion 1: Pop Culture or Pap Culture?


Iin these so-called post-modern times there is almost a collective guilt created in critical discourses about liking or approving of a film that is artistically, socially or culturally challenging in some way or another. There is a real fear amongst the critical community of calling pop culture ‘pap culture’.

The Mr. Busy column in January’s Sight and Sound hit the nail on the head when describing the average film review:

The nearest newspapers come to this kind of privileged opinion forming these days is in their restaurant reviews. (p 12).

Instead of trying any kind of opinion forming evertything defaults into a kind of star rating. I for one am very suspicious about this. I’m sure that whoever puts the Independent reviews of films on TV together for the Saturday edition just whizzes through a Halliwell’s and / or Time Out film guide and averages out the star rating.

Being a bit of an afficionado of the ‘World Cinema’ (i.e. everything that isn’t ‘Hollywood’) it soon becomes noticeable that the film on BBC4 which are TV premieres very rarely seem to make a star rating by getting a mention in the column. Now some films probably don’t deserve it but lots deserve some kind of mention especially when populist pap gets a miserable 2 star or even 1 star rating.

Good for BBC 4 showing Denys Arcand’s Barbarian Invasions I’d read a favourable review ages ago but as my DVD budget goes on European cinema – except for Pirates of the Caribbean – to teach action-adventure cinema and a good romp it was too! – I’d have missed it. the fact is that in these post-humanist times it was an unashamedly humanistic film which dealt with genuine life and death issues which touch on every human in a way that was funny and non-judgemental makes that film a valuable one. It is a film which won’t date in terms of its content or the way it is handled. In short one might call it ‘Art’. If you click here you can access a short trailer. Thankfully I didn’t see the trailer. I’ve just realised they put me off, they’re so… yes “cheesey” is probably a good word. But my benchmark of ‘is it worth 90 odd minutes of my / your valuable time holds. Yes! you probably have to be of a certain age to fully appreciate it – Trainspotting it ain’t but both have heroin and a sharp sense of humour.

Art is a term much avoided in populist film criticism. Lets talk about Terminator 2 in post-Lacanian terms based on Klaus Thewleit’s analysis of male fantasies in the Weimar and Nazi periods. Well that at least squares the contradictory needs of having to discuss populist products a “modern classic” according to the BFI publishing department at least. Its not the product which counts but the academic discourse you gnerate around it. Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy Terminator & Terminator 2. They can get the adrenalin going on a Friday evening when slumped after a hard week at the whiteboard face or stuffy ozone ridden computer room. But, can one seriously write about a film or other cultural artefact onlt a dozen years old and call it “a classic”. A case of the marketing tail wagging the critical dog as usual.

One nice thing about developing film courses and the paraphernalia around them is re-viewing films which were valued when they came out and are still valued. It also gives the opportunity to re-value something which wasn’t well received at the time. In the last few years I’ve become a real Visconti fan. I love his aesthetics and his political astuteness is often unrecognised.

A teaching colleague thought that The Leopard was rather slow. I told him I was worried he was teaching too much horror and getting into the aesthetics of the restless film endlessly cutting to help create a forceful dynamic pushing the often feeble narratives – I mean why horror for pleasure? – there’s enough out there in the real world isn’t there?

Lilya 4Ever Lilya looks out from her prison

Check BBC4 Review here

I like showing my horror and action adventure fan A level groups films like Lilya 4Ever. It usually hits them hard. Oh that’s horrible… well life isn’t all fantasy that’s what its like for lots of teenagers in countries that are now part of the European Union. What I find odd is why a film like that gets an 18 rating. Its exactly what teenagers need to see. Heavens thay even got shocked when Richard Harris got that smack in the mouth in This Sporting Life. Now that is classic!

Richard Harris in This Sporting life

Another BBC4 hit with me this year was Turtles can fly. As usual people can get get very defensive as this blog shows. Well there seems little point in being in total denial about issues of illiteracy. Blackboards directed by the gifted : Samira Makhmalbaf. Written by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Samira Makhmalbaf. Well along with other Iranians they are filmmakers who don’t beat about the bush. Uncomfortable truths is what the best artists confront us with. Yes poverty and illiteracy are coexistent and one feeds off the other.

Blackboards Poster

(A level media research students for women & film check the official site here.)

Lets face it, Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, has an extraordinarily high functional illiteracy rate yet people are in full time education from about 4-16. The fact that people in the Middle East are illiterate and are forced into selling mines is a savage indictment of the so called civilised world.

For me Dr Nazhad Khasraw Hawramany is a parochial case of protesting too much. Because if you check out his blog he actually agrees that people, presumably children turn to sellng mines and bits of military equipment:

...the only refugee camps are for Iranian Kurds who fled the despotic Islamic regime in Iran!) and earn living through trading with mines, weapons and military scraps.

Turtles Can Fly Mines

The good Doctor’s nationalistic concerns are getting the better of him (patriotism = patriarchy ?), becuase he entirely dismisses a key factor in the film centered around the rape of a young Muslim girl and the blind baby she has given birth to. The good doctor (presumably not medical) displays his ignorance of biology at this point:

the girl was raped in Halabja in 1988 when she was not younger than 14( otherwise she couldn`t have been pregnant) and now in 2003 , the child is only about 3 years old and she is still 14 years old! What a dumb discrepancy!

Doesn’t he know that girls frequently get periods at 11 and occasionally even younger. Sex education clearly isn’t high on the agenda anyway! As a BBC report on Darfur was highlighting only yeterday rape is a tool of terrorism and the book by Susan Brownmiller from the 1970s showed that this was an historical trait. come on good doctor lets have a bit of contemporary consciousness of sexual politics whilst you reside in aSwitzerland made famous by Orson Welles comment in The Third Man!

Well Dr. Hawramany does rather seem to be missing all of the artistic points in the film and academic discourse it ain’t. Personally I thought it well worth seeing. Was it a Rembrandt among films – probably not – but amongst the piles of pap being continuously pumped out (god was the Blairwitch Project boring or what?), in my opinion it is worth the 90 odd minutes of your time watching it. I like a film that raises a bit of real controversy and makes me a bit uncomfortable in my complacency. Lets face it you don’t get it with ‘reality TV’ :-).

Turtles Can Fly Teenager leader

If like me you value your time budget then knowing what to avoid seems to be a primary task of a reviewer. Happy viewing in 2007 :-).

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