“…open, generous cinephilia”

The fact that I’m first and foremost a student of literature who spends about 98% of his internet time interacting with “film types,” has always created a dynamic for me that is constantly rewarding, but at times can also be a bit awkward…it’s not so much that movie bloggers and message board participants aren’t literary—I’d say a sizable percentage were literature undergraduates or at least started off as voracious readers before moving on to film—but many times I feel kind of separated because it is my reading that informs my movie watching, where for many others it often seems that the opposite is the case. But it seems lately literary and cinematic worlds have been intersecting and fusing together more tightly than usual. And it’s all rather exhilarating, I must say.

And one of the major sources of this is something very specific: just like every other movie-minded blogger out there, I’ve been enamored with the Adrian Martin interview “Responsibility and Criticism” which appears in the most recent edition of Italian film journal Cinemascope. The temptation, of course, is to post quotation and quotation, but that has already been done, perhaps girish’s blog, who captures a lot of the highlights, and started off a lively discussion. As a result, I feel no need to head down that path, but turn in a different direction.

Because a few weeks before being pointed in Martin’s direction, I read an essay that has proved to be just as provocative and inspiring—the title essay to Italo Calvino’s “Why Read the Classics?.” Adopting a format very similar to an interview, Calvino uses fourteen points in this 1981 essay to simultaneously define what a “classic” is and why a so-called classic deserves to be read (and enjoyed, he vigorously stresses).

Some of the similarities between the two men’s writing are striking. Consider:

“06) ‘A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.’”


“07) The classics are books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures through which they have passed.’” (Calvino)

“…the cinema is always a laboratory, a field of experimentation: […] no experiment is ever exhausted, and no aesthetic or cultural problem is solved for all time. So, when we return to old films, we therefore see that they are completely contemporary to us and our concerns, if we are open to the traces of experimentation in them—there are always new ideas in old films.” (Martin)

Considering Martin’s diverse references in the interview, I would not be surprised if he was well acquainted with Calvino’s essay, as the similarity between these two excerpts is striking, down to the utilization of the same key words (“exhaustion,” “traces”)—if only Martin had opted to the term “classic film” instead of “old film!” Neither comments are necessarily groundbreaking, but rather serve as a welcome “duh, of course” moment.

Additionally, Martin’s passionate defense of Deleuze has not only convinced me that I need to finally take the step and take on a volume of film theory, it links back to a major theme Calvino also weighs on in length: milestones of early intellectual development, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with the recent change of location for my blog and trying to clarify what direction I wish to take it. I don’t seem to be the only one who had this reaction, as I was quite struck by a paragraph Andy Horbal wrote in his reaction to Martin’s article:

As an appetizer let me offer this one thought on being a young film blogger/film critic: it is essential to recognize that there’s no hurry. Right now it behooves us to watch, read, and talk about as much as possible. Writing is important too, but it’s a lesser priority. It’s unhealthy for a young film blogger/film critic to think of his or her blog as a platform for his or her film criticism, because all of us have a long way to go before we’re writing film criticism. These blogs of ours do represent an opportunity for us and our writing to get noticed, but more importantly they represent an opportunity for us to get better. One way to do that is to post ideas (as opposed to articles) and see how people respond.

A nice articulation of many things I’ve been thinking about, because like many others, I’ve found it’s easy to fall into the trap of obsessing over the lofty ideal that everything I write (or at least what I end up posting) has to mean something. But even though I’m now within a month of my 23rd birthday and I’ve passed the age of precociousness, the fact is I still am young. And certainly much too young to have forgotten the pure thrill and enjoyment both experiencing and subsequently interpreting art can give. My focus should and needs to be elsewhere, for a reason Calvino beautifully articulates:

“…youthful reading can be literally formative in that it gives a form or shape to our future experiences, providing them with models, ways of dealing with them, terms of comparison, schemes for categorizing them, scales of value, paradigms of beauty: all things which continue to operate in us even when we remember little or nothing about the book we read when young.”

Needless to say, there are many other points and ideas in both Calvino and Martin’s writing that I would love to point out and gush over, but traces of both will inevitably start surfacing strongly in my interaction with art from here on out, as Calvino (and my recent reading of Harold Bloom) has reenergized my appetite to read books and watch films (and listen to music and study the visual arts…) and Martin has inspired me to try out a different mode of reviewing and interpretation so far I haven’t had the guts to try. We’ll see what happens.


6 thoughts on ““…open, generous cinephilia”

  1. Wow, that last paragraph is quite the tease — to yourself more than anyone. Best of luck and look forward to seeing what you try out.

    Andy Horbal’s got a good head on his shoulders and that passage you quoted is evidence of such. In fact I was thinking about that post when I was trying to figure out my approach to Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth for my review for House Next Door. I don’t think I got down to the nitty gritty of what idea I wanted to convey boldly and clearly through my review, and ended up doing more covering of the bases. When you think about the great reviews or film criticisms that you remember, you don’t really remember how judicious the review was, how well it summarized the plot in paragraph 1 and the acting in paragraph 2, etc etc — you remember a point that it made, an idea, with a voice that felt like it absolutely had to make this one point, not just about that one movie but about The Movies, something that got you really excited about what movies were and could be.

    Anyway I feel like I have as far to go as you do in really hitting that sweet spot on a regular basis. But andy is right, this is a daily practice and over time you get closer to what you’re aiming for as long as you keep that goal in sight. (my bad tendency is getting distracted by too many things and losing focus). Reading through girish’s post about Cahiers in his blog, I got the sensation that the early critics all had their own stake in a given movie and pushed themselves to grow that personal stake as much as possible. In some ways none of their views were comprehensive (and neither was the magazine) but at the end of the day you can’t say everything well, you can’t touch on everything — just what means the most to you.

  2. this is good for me to read, since i’ve been battling a nagging feeling that i have nothing in particular to say, and a shame at adding to the cacaphony. i feel like i should just shut up and watch.

    i’m not at all sure how to resolve that, but your words and andy horbal’s have a lot of good sense in them. anyway, jesse, it’s good to see you writing here and at DVD Verdict.

  3. Kevin – Tell me about it–I’m still wondering if I have the abilities to pull my idea off! It’ll take a while, however, and certainly won’t be a regular occurence.

    So I just realized yesterday you had sent me a PM a few days ago. I’ll expand on a few things you mention in there.

    Joe – Thanks for stopping by and for reading. I saw that you recently took some time off of DVDV as well–hopefully that helped recharge the batteries a little? As for not having anything to say, I know Kevin (alsolikelife) who commented above recently quoted your review of A nous amours in one of his reviews, and I can vouch for the fact he has very disciminating taste, so you must be doing something right. Looking forward to reading your take on Anger’s work whenever you get that review in.

  4. jesse– i’m still struggling a bit getting the DVD Verdict reviews done, but I have resolved to write more. I just started a blog here:


    nothing there yet but an introductory note, but, you know, watch that space. if you want.

    keep up the good work.


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