Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dan Jardine

When it comes to film criticism, I am a true amateur. Writing about movies is a labor of love, and as a result, I have not followed any rigorous course of instruction. In my nearly 50 years of life, I have taken exactly zero film classes. And when I started writing reviews for Apollo Guide back in the '90s, I had read pretty much no film criticism beyond the superficial plot summary plus tacked-on opinion that passed for cinematic analysis in the local paper. I am every professional's nightmare -- a self-taught dweeb with a keyboard and internet access.

That said, I have managed give myself some schooling in the past decade -- a necessarily haphazard, "follow your bliss," Joseph Campbell kind of approach that has led me to some interesting places. Over that time I'd say that these are the pieces that really gave me pause, and provided a glimpse of what criticism could be.

1. Pauline Kael's review of Last Tango in Paris. I have since moved on from my early infatuation with Kael's acerbic witticisms, which I now find are more bitchy and cruel than insightful, but her passion for Last Tango really sparked my imagination. In fact, I like her review more than the movie.

2. Paul Schrader's Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer helped to turn me on to the works of these masters, which is surely one of the great joys of criticism (opening up audiences to new worlds of cinema). It also showed me that there's a lot going on underneath Mr. Schrader's hood.

3. Robin Wood's essay on Before Sunrise. This is a film I liked a lot on first viewing, but Wood's essay helped me to understand exactly why. That's another of the great pleasures of reading (and writing) criticism; when good, it helps us to unravel and iron out our tangled mess of ideas.

4. Francois Truffaut on Hitchcock. I didn't catch up with the Cahiers du Cinema's embrace of Hitch until late in life. What can I say, I'm a late bloomer. But Truffaut's conversations with the master (collected in the book Hitchcock) are among the first I read when, after deciding to try my hand at movie reviewing, I began to climb that long, tall hill. They showed a thoughtful and playful side to Hitch that I found quite engaging.

5. Andre Bazin's Cinema of Cruelty: From Bunuel to Hitchcock. As a fan of "cruel" directors like Bunuel and Hitchcock, and as a really big fan of Bazin's pithy and precise writing, this one was a natural fit. Bazin's affection for these artists mirrored my own, but he expressed it in ways I can only wet-dream about.
Dan Jardine is a contributor to The House Next Door, the publisher of Cinemania, and a contributor to Cinemarati.


Blogger Annie Frisbie said...

I second the enthusiasm for Robin Wood--he's another academic who goes beyond theory. My favorite is Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, but I also applaud his work on Hitchcock and Sexual Politics and Narrative Film.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Dan Jardine said...

Annie, I heartily endorse your endorsement. Wood manages to combine Marx and Freud in a manner that is completely accessible.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

I hadn't read much Wood, even in college, but I remember a long article (was it in Film Comment?) in which he took very seriously the films of Wes Craven (who at that point was up to The Hills Have Eyes, I think) and one other horror director whose identity escapes me. It was bracing and strange to see such weight given to these nasty genre films that seemed such unlikely candidates for serious consideration. I don't know that Wood's argument convinced me, but it sure was fun to read.

Wood on Cronenberg was also a pretty thorny proposition, though I'll always appreciate the book on the Canadian director, The Shapes Of Things, for providing Wood's contentions and Cronenberg's defenses.

And of course his writing on Hitchcock is now deservedly classic.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Taidan said...

I believe the book on Cronenberg was called "The Shape of Rage." Cool collection of essays, if anyone's interested.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ack! Damned Neil LaBute! Thanks for the correction!

8:41 PM  

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