Saturday, July 17, 2010

Slow Cinema (debate opened by Nick James in Sight & Sound)

Nick James has provoked a debate on slow cinema in two of his editorials in Sight & Sound ("Passive Aggressive", April and "Being Boring", July, 2010), Jonathan Romney having defined slow cinema as a "varied strain of austere minimalist cinema" in S&S, February 2010. Nick James reports that one of the provoked commentators is one "Harry Tuttle" who keeps a website called Contemporary Contemplative Cinema.

Nick James repeats a passage that he considers his most offensive: "There are times, as you watch someone trudge up yet another woodland path, when you feel an implicit threat: admit you're bored and you're a philistine. Such films are passive-aggressive in that they demand great swathes of our precious time to achieve quite fleeting and slender aesthetic and political effects: sometimes it's worth it, sometimes not".

This certainly sounds familiar and to the point, and it is the critic's task to say what he thinks. The aspect where I disagree is the concern about being a philistine. I would like a critic to stay above such concerns.

Myself, I love slow cinema. I love experimental film, including Brakhage and Snow. I love Tarkovsky, Sokurov, Erice, and Kiarostami. But certainly Nick James is correctly attacking the danger of mannerism in slow cinema.

I also love rapid editing in cinema, from Griffith, Gance, and Eisenstein till today's action films. I also loved the best music videos of the 1970s and the 1980s and am sure there are more good music videos today than then although it is harder to wash the gold from the sand now because of the extraordinary explosion of the music video. The music video had mostly a deplorable impact on theatrical films. Rapid editing is impressive in a short format or in a special sequence but can become boring for the duration of a feature film.

Today I'm usually bored by fast editing in a mainstream entertainment film. It seems that fast editing can be an attempt to hide the fact that the actors lack talent, they cannot perform their own stunts, the special effects are not very good, the digital intermediate is mediocre, and the film-maker has nothing to say.

The current slow cinema trend of many leading film artists can be seen as a reaction to all that.

The fast editing trend since the 1980's is also a sign of the times - the age of the short attention span and instant gratification. "I want it all, and I want it now", as Queen satirized it. Children and young people may perceive all previous cinema as slow cinema.

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