Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Response to Paul Shrader's Film Canon

So, I finally read this attempt at creating a film canon by Paul Schrader.

I thought I had read it years ago, but hadn't. Once I sit down to read it, it's like this verbose, yet erudite confirmation of everything I'm tired of in academia and film criticism.

Schrader parrots up all the old musty names from the Catholic Church, even goes back to definitions by Dante, Plato, and Kant as to what art is.

Not that there's a problem to that, but... Really, the old school again?

He then strangely enough, bashes Marxists and feminists, repeating another scholar's view of them as the "School of Resentment."

Following this he throws up all his heroes, the ones you were forced to watch in film class--Ford, Welles, Renoir, and Hitchcock.

These guys are certainly masters, no one rejects that. But isn't it curious enough, that Schrader spending so much time to construct a rubric by which to judge films, and then only repeating the most hallowed, widely known, "acknowledged" masterpieces of the 20th century, kind of reek of exclusion and privilege.

To me, this also ties into the exclusion of the film industry. He may categorize my comments as the "school of resentment," but what other response can there be to an industry that did and still, continues to reject authentic views of minorities?

Does Schrader, who fails to mention a single title made outside the rigid demands of the studio system (Masculin, Feminin is a close exception, but not really) even stop to think of the system of privilege that IS studio filmmaking, yet also how this system rigidly stifles personal expression as a capitalist enterprise?

He kind of follows that French theory of auteur--that the studios sucked, but there were a few guys--Wyler, Wilder, Hawks, etc... who were successful in pushing some sort of personal vision, hence the auteurs.

But the period following the collapse of the studios, or rather, the weakening of their influence, DID SEE artistry return with the art film.

The art film was present since festivals such as Cannes and Venice since the 50's, but some of my favorite works were by those who were given full creative expression such as Angelopoulos, Eustache, and Tarkovsky, just to name a few.

Anyway, I really feel this is a marker of Schrader's age and his conservative upbringing. But then again, it's not. Because in the article, he even slams Jonathan Rosenbaum, who has done so much to promote overlooked films, by saying that Rosenbaum doesn't explain why they're good.

So, in turn, he presents a very unoriginal list, preceded by lots of bloviated talk about the "masters" and "classic aesthetics," but why does this not show up in his own cinema?

Why is a film like Light Sleeper fairly sleep-inducing?

Granted, there's some value to that film, but it hardly reaches the halcyon levl that Schrader's talking about.

Instead, let's think of the words of an artist who did live up to his expectations. Not an obscure name, by any means, but one who fits: Andrei Tarkovsky.

Shortly before his death, while location scouting for Nostalghia, Andrei filmed a documentary with Italian scriptwriter Tonino Guerra called 'Voyage in Time'.

There are many great lessons from this interview film, but one of the best, and one which I try to remember (paraphrased) is this:

Tarkovsky: "My problem is, I keep meeting directors who are nothing like their films. Your film should be an extension of yourself."

I'm not projecting this as a rule for film. Star Wars: A New Hope is a great movie, but George Lucas was never a jedi in real life. But I'm sure Lucas, in his fantasy, was that film.

Tarkovsky preaches for simple honesty in expression. I try to always remind myself of this while I'm making shorts, and some of the ones that turned out better are the ones where my ego, or some "idea" didn't get in the way. The ones where I was just trying to represent a personal experience or emotion were much better than anything intellectual.

And intellectualism is all Schrader has to offer. Why are his films so different from what he has to say in this article? That's the only question I pose. I think the answer is obvious.

1 comment:

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