Friday, November 23, 2007

Late night notes: criticism of criticism, or something, via Run, Lola, Run.

by Ryland Walker Knight

Michael threw up some words about Tom Tykwer's infamous Run, Lola, Run the other day. If you click this link you can see his initial post, plus some comments from yours truly, Cuyler, and Michael, in regards to the film, and criticism in general. It's kind of a mini preview of one of the things I'm concerned with in my Thesis, too. As such, I decided to go ahead and cross post my most recent comment here. Please, feel free to comment on it here, or there.

Here's what I've come to think: if you choose to write something about a film, or about anything, you have chosen to deem it worthy of a comprehensive investment. It's part of why I've slowed my roll on the blog. Sometimes you have to write about things you know are not "worth your time," though, as is often the case in school, which can complicate the task of writing. But I figure you should approach any writing project with a mind to make it fun, to feel comfortable to write whatever you want. I've simply chosen to try to limit my writing to things I want to praise. This does not mean complete adoration; no, some films, or albums, or paintings, do not work (and this bears attention, too), but when approaching such an object I think the admirable writing is one which refuses categorical value judgments. The evaluation element in criticism is not simply whether an object is worthy of time and thought but evaluating what of the object itself is worthy (in relation to itself). This is why I'm averse to lists. Criticism is not about what's better than what. It's about how things work; and if they do not work, it's not about how it should have worked, nor how it could have worked, nor how the object of criticism's failure/s to work diminish its worth of the object; the writing itself makes the object worthy. (When a film fails its ambitions it can make for an intriguing essay, too, as if offers the critic the opportunity to take up certain possibilities in thought for him/herself. Such as: what's at stake in choosing the soccer ball to open _Lola_? if the film fails that trope, what might that say about the trope itself and not the film? what if the trope is simply games, and not soccer?) Also, criticism is an invitation to share the critic's experience of the film. The best works of criticism give the reader (1) a picture of the film (2) as it relates to the critic (3) and how the critic finds associations from what is given to him/her. As I find (the great) films to be works of philosophy, I find a passage of Wittgenstein so apt I get giddy thinking I get to share it with you (that is, reiterate it): 126. Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything.--Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us. One might also give the name "philosophy" to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. What else is a film but a phenomenon where everything lies open to view before us? We do not add to the film in criticism. We add up our experience of the film. Our experience of the film triggers associations, which we can explore in relation to the film, but the burden of criticism, as an elucidation and not as an explanation, is not to build a film up (trumpet its many virtues) nor to tear a film down (harp its many deficiencies) -- it is to simply offer the best (say the most interesting and comprehensive) picture of the object at criticism for the reader. I do not think I live up to this definition yet. Or, it's real hard to table certain urges.

So: if you choose to write about, think about, talk about, _Lola_, then the burden of your work is to explode the film. Altho I would suspect he does, Thoret may not even like _MiVi_: it's not about that: it's about how he sees the object and attends to its functionality as an object of intentionality. Which brings me to the other big complication inherent to criticism: how to deal with the object in its relation to other objects (by its author/s and by other author/s it invokes, or inherits from). As Felipe said best, or better (more concise?) than me: "For me, this is an essential element of criticism; the expression of the singular value of a text always locates that text's singularity in relation to other texts. Criticism as monadic reading." Phew! This is a lot to struggle with, clearly, and makes blogging that much more difficult, or appear incomplete in many instances, as many blogs simply offer opinions of their authors, not actual criticism. It's enough to give me hives. So I try not to stress it. I try to make each writing experience fun, without ignoring how serious the practice really is.


  1. Funny, this on a day I submitted a list to the Daily Cal. Wanna see? I knew you did:

    2. Ratatouille
    3. There Will Be Blood
    4. The Darjeeling Limited
    5. Syndromes and a Century
    6. Death Proof
    7. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
    8. The Host
    9. Paprika
    10. Left empty for whatever I forgot or did not get to see.

    Yeah, I neglected _No Country_ and put _Pirates_ on there. So what? Sue my white ass. (Also, this is for movies released in the Bay this year, which is why DL tops it, among the other "older" pictures.)

  2. 1. Ratatouille
    2. Death Proof
    3. The Simpsons Movie
    4. No Country For Old Men
    5. Hot Fuzz
    8. Control
    9. Zodiac

    So far obviously and that's pretty much off the top of my head. I still need to see I'm Not There (tomorrow) and There Will Be Blood (not til January alas).

    Lists are fun, if utterly meaningless. They play to my desire for order amongst the chaos. They inevitably change with the tide.

    Except "Ratatouille".

  3. Ah, _Hot Fuzz_. Man...

    Also: I'd like to include _Killer of Sheep_ but I didn't include it because I didn't rank _Army of Shadows_ last year. If it IS "rankable" it would nearly head the list. At least #3, if not #2, or #1.

  4. Oh my is it year-end list-time already? I suppose it is.

    Somehow I let myself miss Paprika. Pirates too (I skipped part 2 for better or worse.) I wasn't so big on the Host myself, but otherwise your selections look a lot like mine wound at this point. Brand Upon The Brain!, Opera Jawa and Eastern Promises would also have to be considered. Maybe complicate things with a short or a documentary or two.

    Your #10 slot is a nice idea I guess, but what if there are ten films you missed that are better than these? Jus' askin'...

    Will I see you at Silent Light December 13th?

    Oh, and great discussion on Run Lola Run and criticism. Makes me wish I had the discipline to write a critical piece on a film once in a while.

  5. I'm sure there's a ton of films I did not see that could displace plenty here. But hey, as I said, lists are stupid.

    BUT OF COURSE I will be seeing _Stellet Licht_. Thanks for the tip and the reminders..... I think I'll go ahead and reserve some tix.

  6. Where is Silent Light playing?!