Saturday, November 17, 2007

A QUESTION AND A REQUEST


A QUESTION:
My posting has been admittedly sparse as of late. I could explain why, but I doubt anybody cares all that much, as this is a blog about film, and not about me! Regardless, I've encountered something recently that warrants thought.

Part of the reason that I haven't posted much lately (here I go again...) is that I've been throwing myself into contemporary critical theory. I find it fascinating, and aside from inspiring a number of ideas for my many creative endeavors, it's becoming a lot easier for me to discuss concepts that before I had to spend paragraphs trying to explain. In fact, it's raised a sort of problem.

In terms of the reviews that I post here/will be posting when the website is launched (more about this below), one of my main goals is to translate the idea of no-brow culture into criticism. What I mean by this is that I want to talk about and discuss the films that I'm writing about in a manner that isn't obtuse and utterly academic, but I also don't want to ignore the "academic" elements in the films reviewed, as for me that is part of their major fun.

Of course, I should clarify the way I'm differentiating between academic and "academic." By academic (without quotes) I'm obviously implying writing on film written for the academic world, academic journals, etc. While a lot of this specific strand of writing is enlightening, most of it (in my mind, I may eventually re-evaluate my ideas about this) serves only to perpetuate ideas within the academic realm itself; almost intentionally refusing something that a non-academic would have any comprehension or interest in reading-- and this isn't meant to be condescending, oftentimes I myself find these essays and articles obtuse; there is a point where ideas can get lost or obscured by too much jargon and academic wankery (if you'll pardon the somewhat vulgar term).

By "academic" I mean to imply the elements of these films that are ostensibly more "intellectual" than a reductive cinema incorporates. Take, for example, the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Traditionally there have been two opposing ways to read his films (and very rarely do these readings overlap). The first way is to ignore the "intellectual" elements of the film and focus on the genre elements; vampirism, eroticism, le fantastique. The second method seems to ignore or pay little attention to the genre elements and their contextual implications, choosing rather to focus solely on ideas of critical theory; narratology, structuralist construction, montage. Alain Robbe-Grillet is probably the most blatant example of this cross-pollination of readings, but obviously there are many other films and directors that fall into this divide.

My goal, which has hopefully become clear, is to read the films from BOTH perspectives, allowing the "low-brow" and "high-brow" readings to play off each other in order to create a much stronger way to think about the film. The reason for this introduction is that by engrossing myself within critical theory recently, I've encountered a lot of terms that specifically refer to a specific concept/idea, and this word/signifier serves to short-cut the paragraph long explanation that would normally otherwise follow.

So the question that I've come up with is this: would a more regular use of a critical theory lexicon alienate readers? Or is it condescending to directly avoid certain terms especially for this reason? If I start using this specific language, and I ignoring my original ideas of establishing a no-brow criticism?

The conclusion I've come to is that if the articles don't go overboard with a reliance on academic language, there's not a problem. Ideally the context of the term/word would reveal at least something it implies, and if it's something that's really unfamiliar, the internet allows virtually instant access to a plethora of knowledge. I'm not totally sure though. I mean, obviously the point of establishing this no-brow criteria is a desire to appeal to as large an audience as possible, to get people from ALL areas of film-love to start thinking about these often neglected films.

So what do you think? I'd really like to hear. If this is a stupid question that I've spent far too much time thinking about, also tell me that.

A REQUEST
As I mentioned above, I am planning to launch the ESOTIKA website on January 1st, 2008. While it would be interesting, to say the least, if I ended up writing absolutely everything for the site itself, I feel I'd be limiting that information that could be there. The site would become more about MY opinions on film, and less about the FILMS themselves. This is not what I want.

I believe that there is a large community of individuals who love this specific, indescribable sort of film that I am personally obsessed with. I've never been able to come up with a term for it, but hopefully the idea is clear through the selection of films that I've written about throughout the 11 months I've been keeping this film blog. The point is, of course, I want ESOTIKA EROTICA PSYCHOTICA, as a website, as opposed to as a blog, to become a COMMUNITY and an extensive source of information. Most of the films I obsess over I've found very little about in the ways of information (most of the time, not always) either in books, or on the internet, or at least in English.

What I'm driving at here is that I'd love to have some help. The point is, if you feel passionate about the sort of films that I've obsessed over in this blog, to the point where you want to share this passion with readers all over the world, I would love your assistance.

I'd like to get a bit more content generated to debut with the website in the beginning of January, which is why I'm putting out this "call for entries" now-- it gives potential authors about a month to pull something together. So if you'd be interested in helping out either in writing, providing promotional images (poster scans/ press books / etc), please email me at

mikekitchell(at)gmail(dot)com

Also, if there is anybody who is bilingual and wants to help out by means of translation that would also be much appreciated! There are many great articles on the internet and in books that are in French, German, Italian, Japanese, etc. that could gain a much larger audience, and I've found that in many cases original authors are more than willing to have their writing exposed to a larger audience. So if
you'd like to help out in any way, please let me know!

Addendum:
Just to clarify--since Tim brought it up in the comments--I got permission from the author to translate the only article that is currently in the process of translation, and I wasn't intending on publishing any translations where I didn't have permission. Just wanted to clear that up!

8 Comments:

Blogger dave said...

Mike -
I'm potentially interested in contributing writings in the long term; our main areas of interest only barely overlap, but there are some points of contact. I'd like to encourage you to use the language of critical theory here, as I think the concepts themselves allow for a different structure to thinking about these issues; it might be helpful to incorporate introductory context when using certain terms for the first time. I'm looking forward to the launch of the site!

I can translate from Portuguese and Spanish, so do contact me if you need help with those languages.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

It's not a stupid question at all. It's a very important question, and something I sometimes struggle with myself.

My suggestion would be that whenever possible, you attempt to explain things in "layman's terms." Only when it is impractical to do so should you resort to academic terminology. And as Dave says, a short introduction to these concepts when introducing them for the first time might be nice as well.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:29 PM  
Blogger ecom said...

Perhaps a section where you can define some terms and allow contributors to submit their own understandings of the terms. I've been getting into film theory too but not as deeply. I'm working on my masters thesis in anthropology but I'm using concepts from films semiotics and other film theory. I'd like to see film theory concepts applied to less conventional films (in your case, genre films, avant-garde films, shorts).

4:45 PM  
Blogger Chris Stangl said...

The dilemma is at least double-bladed: what kind of writing you want to be doing, and what kind of writing is feasible in blog format. As someone who struggles with this constantly, I feel your pain, and there's not an easy answer. You're going to inevitably run into kneejerk Philistinism in blog-land when writing with a set of primary assumptions drawn from academic writing (i.e.- it's useful and/or fun to talk about movies This Way). You write in a probing enough manner that you may have experienced it already. I reckon it's a symptom of the everybody's-invited carnival spirit of the Internet. The only way to deal is, well, to ignore it, I guess.

Another problem is that as you try to fracture the academic paradigm, the game rules prove difficult to bend. When trying to magpie certain concepts, terms and modes of reading from academia, only to find them impossible to integrate into an informal writing style. The (theoretically) strict constraints of academic writing proper, from film theory to analysis, simply demand a certain amount of follow-through and structure. When a writer's out to prove, demonstrate, or explain something, he's expected to show his work, and that makes sense, and that is responsible. It also requires the writer to collect their thoughts, organize coherently, and betters the odds that something original and halfway useful will be said.

It's also the reason that academic film writing is pitched in such miserable prose. There's no funny business allowed, so even in the best institutional film journals, the ideas may crackle, but the language couldn't be less compelling. It's about precision and - again, theoretically - clarity. In the parlance of our times, that sucks. And it's a lotta work for a blogger, who is not getting paid and surely has daily life to deal with as well. And readers seem disinclined to absorb 30-page pieces on blogs.

But here's the rub. I've tried to write half-baked puff piece essays gesturing toward Jungian readings of Don Knotts comedies, only to find that the only way to make it work is to fully commit; I tried to link one performance in TEEN WOLF to a historical comedy tradition, and it devolved into a miasma of narrative theory and sloppy psychoanalytic reading of the whole film. It's very difficult in one piece to simultaneously review, analyze, play historian, and interpret data, or apply a theoretical lens, or document personal emotional and aesthetic reactions, etc. etc. You're forced to either vacillate wildly, not doing justice to all your points, or to pick and choose your tactics, else you'll too-frequently end up with mushy, unfocused work.

The only way to conduct yourself, since you're not looking to get published in a journal or write formal essays, is to write as well as you can. If swiping concepts from critical disciplines only to use them without the discipline makes your writing more exciting, idea-crammed or pretty: DO IT. I hope the future of film criticism takes cues from both the clinician/soft-scientist technique of academic writing and the rowdy free-styling that blogging allows. We just plain need to get some better writers up in this joint.

3:22 AM  
Blogger Curt Purcell said...

I think you should go ahead and use technical terms as you see appropriate, but not as a way to avoid "spend[ing] paragraphs trying to explain." Your readers may be very smart and even intellectual, and yet still not be familiar with the specialized jargon of certain schools of thought in a niche discipline like film theory. So go ahead and spend those paragraphs explaining, so they can follow you, and then use the technical terms to summarize and reinforce the point. If that makes sense.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Tim Lucas said...

I would be very wary of translating and publishing on your site any material from books in another language, at least not without the author's permission. Such material is likely copyrighted and you would be devaluing the translation rights of articles, book chapters, etc. to which you have no legal right. I know I wouldn't want it happening to my work on a site in some other language.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Cen said...

Hey,

I would volunteer. I am German so I can, well, translate German texts if you need me to.

By the way: I am a lawyer specializing in IP-law (and to some extend I do know the American law in these respects), so if you have questions, try me.

Greetings from London,
Chris

5:34 PM  

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