In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

Thumb 55w6muvv4cxmmqhhhv2zxtlspxq


Juggling the somber and the hilarious, the sacred and the profane, and tragedy and triumph, Spike Lee is firing on all cylinders here.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Journal Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Primary rthome thumb 510x285 25537

On mediocrity past and present

Jonathan Rosenbaum begins his latest Cinema Scope Global Discoveries on DVD column with a "confession" that I find myself sympathetic to:

Since retiring from my job as a weekly reviewer in early 2008, I've been discovering that I usually prefer watching mediocre films of the past (chiefly from the '30s through the '70s) to watching mediocre films of the present--unlike some of my former readers, who assume that I've stopped writing about movies simply because I no longer aid the studio airheads in implementing their latest ad campaigns. I no longer train most of my attention on contemporary industry releases, as I was obliged to do for the preceding 20 years, because, in keeping with Raymond Durgnat's apt observation that dated films sometimes have more to teach us than "timeless" classics, I'm looking for stuff I can chew on. (Try to imagine what literary criticism would be like if most or all of its practitioners decided that 2010 publications currently on sale at K-Mart comprised the bulk of all the literature ever published that was worthy of our close attention.)


Mediocre goods from the past, when seen from today's perspectives, automatically take on a certain interest by telling us things we might not have already known about our own previous times and histories--whereas the assumed value of mediocrities of the present is predicated largely on the fact that they have far less to impart, either about ourselves or about our times, precisely because they're so contemporary. In short, what's apparently so attractive about being up-to-date is being able to fade into the woodwork and lose one's identity rather than maintain a certain distance and detachment from both. Whereas the lessons of the past nearly always tell us something about the present.

Having also done my time as a deadline-driven newspaper reviewer (for dailies and weeklies), I feel that I've seen enough mediocrity (and worse) to last me a lifetime, but I know what he means. (I'm ambivalent, because I'm also in sympathy with my friend who recently turned 50 and said she feels she doesn't have enough time left to see "anything but masterpieces" from here on out!) The mediocrity you don't know -- from another time, another place -- stands a good chance of being more intriguing and enlightening than the all-too-familiar mediocrity that surrounds us just now. (Old fish: "How's the water today?" Young fish: "What's water?" Interpret that as you will. Or not. Maybe it's irrelevant.)

The Internet reinforces this unhealthy disproportionate emphasis on the new and the now -- in criticism and in distribution and exhibition -- as if anything that happened 48 hours ago is irrelevant. (At the same time, the Internet is an infinitely expanding Borgesian library, a massive historical database at your fingertips.) What does it say about a movie if the only things that make it worth writing about are the date of its theatrical release and the climax of its advertising campaign?

Popular Blog Posts

Why M:I - Fallout is the Least Accomplished Mission Yet

With "Mission: Impossible - Fallout," Christopher McQuarrie has now made the best and worst "M:I" movies to date. Gender Balances Roster of Film Critics to Uplift Diverse Voices

An article about five male and five female writers who are gender balancing's regular rotation of film...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Video games can never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to ...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus