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June 12, 2008

Flailing Towards Criticism

A recounting of our IFP adventure thus far is forthcoming! In the meantime, my latest piece for Hammer To Nail is up:

"The walls, the ceilings, the door frames in Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light all seem to bend slightly, as if bowing under some great weight. It’s an effect of the wide lens with which the film’s photographed, and it’s exacerbated when the camera pushes in for a close up on the characters: as their faces and the secret torments lined therein grow clearer, the world around them buckles. But then, when the camera moves outside, that world unfolds, unfurls. The wide lens has two converse effects: it captures the weight of heaven indoors; outdoors, it reveals heaven’s entire expanse."

Read the rest of it here, and consider it a starter: I don't think it's going to be the last thing I have to write on the subject.

* * *

And I have to say that, although I worked hard to do justice to the work at hand, I feel that it's more of a rough draft of a piece of criticism than an actual study, however brief, of the film. I feel this way about most of what I write these days. I've been looking through old posts (always a dangerous past time!) and it seems that my writing's in a state of decomposition. I suppose it's because I've been occupied with other things - but still, it's been over a year since I wrote a piece of criticism that I feel is legitimately worthwhile (that would be this one); even longer since the beginning of 2006, when I was bursting with ideas on film and art, when the film blogosphere was on fire the first time and I was fully caught up in its ignition (that I was in school at the time is probably not coincidental - there's nothing like an academic schedule to inspire furious intellectual procrastination); and light years since that day in 2004 when, at Matt Clayfield's insistence, I picked up Susan Sontag for the first time and felt my brain undergo a seismic shift.

In fact, I feel like I'm at a place similar to where I was before I started reading Sontag (and Burch, and others). I've got a deeper understanding of what I'm writing about, but nonetheless, I've reached an apex, hit a wall. I look at my reviews that they seem like nothing more than new arrangements of the words narrative and form, with a few 25-cent bom mots from the thesaurus thrown in for good measure. I need new input! I need another intellectual earthquake! I also need more time, but that's beside the point.

What's not beside the point is that maybe I'm just holding on to something that doesn't need to be mine. Also: I'm really tired, and I'm going to go to sleep now.

Posted by David Lowery at June 12, 2008 12:43 AM


It seems that you're in a similar place to myself: like yours to you, my reviews seem to me to be little more than the same old arrangements (not even new ones!) of the words 'form' and 'content', and save little else.

My focus has shifted from Sontag to Clive James; from (semi-)radical theorist to (mildly) conservative literary essayist (or polyglot cultural critic, if you prefer the more elaborate title). I increasingly think I should combine the two: Sontag and James, Deleuze and Hughes. Adrian Martin's early work comes close to what I'd like to acheive (his latter work, which is more academic in tone and turn of phrase, not so much).

I need an intellectual earthquake, too, but I have a feeling it's goming to come from literary fiction, not from academic theory. My next intellecutal earthquake is likely to follow a purely sensual, emotional earthquake. Or so one would hope.

Posted by: Matthew at June 12, 2008 8:29 AM

funny how your writing makes me feel like i'm using the same generic eleven adjectives, David (or should i say eight or nine?). i guess that's just how it goes for all of us (though the fact remains that i probably am treading dangerously similar ground in my writing). it's a tricky, difficult task, and the more one does, the more it all blurs together.

that said, i find your Silent Light post to be awe-inspiring and beautiful. Hammer to Nail isn't meant to be for hardcore cinephiles who hide out in libraries reading old, faded film theory books. we want to express our admiration for movies that make us feel something and get readers excited about those same movies in the process. of course, we still want to do it thoughtfully and intelligently.

don't shut down. your writing is incredible and the world needs you to keep expressing your fascination with and appreciation of cinema!

Posted by: tully at June 12, 2008 9:34 AM

Wait, Tully, what's wrong with old, faded film theory books?!

Posted by: wells at June 12, 2008 1:51 PM

don't get me wrong, i love old, faded film theory books, Mr. Wells, and i hope H2N readers appreciate them as well!

Posted by: tully at June 13, 2008 4:53 PM

Thanks as always for the support, Tully. And never fear, I'll always keep writing. I just don't think I need aspire towards writing any faded old theory books of my own.

Posted by: David Lowery at June 14, 2008 1:13 AM

Matthew wrote: "Adrian Martin's early work comes close to what I'd like to acheive (his latter work, which is more academic in tone and turn of phrase, not so much)."

Thanks a lot, buddy ?!?

By 'early work', I hope you're dating that to 1979!

Good piece on SILENT LIGHT, David. Keep it up!

Posted by: Adrian Martin at June 28, 2008 7:42 AM