So having watched Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon", I inevitably flipped over to rottentomatoes.com to see what others thinks. Or, as I like to think of it: let's see if my opinion and thoughts on a film can take a pounding by those less and more in the know that myself (mixture of ego and an insatiable desire to learn seems to be my motivation). Sometimes, my mind gets changed a little; a lot of the time I wonder if I was actually watching the same film as the reviewer. Occasionally. what I consider to be wrong evaluations - extremes of negative or slobbering hype - can burst my appreciation of a film like a frog in "The Reflecting Skin". Recently, I was shocked to discover that a truly reaching, probably highly insightful and definitely important horror film like "Martyrs" had received very little respect and praise; and then that Jane Campion's "In The Cut" - which I found to be flawed but very credible and worth discussing - also received disgust and somewhat sneering dismissal. A gorgeous effort such as "House of Voices" also took a pounding - for why, I ask? Didn't the reviewer just see the same film I saw (you know that feeling)? Maybe I was wrong to thoroughly enjoy and respect it. Hell, it's enough to damage one's highly regarded self-opinion, or at least cast shaky ground beneath. Luckily, I don't expect my films or movies to be flawless, so that helps, but... No, those are good horrors/thrillers, and I know all I need to know to defend them.
But anyway, firstly, I am fully aware of being just another blogger with opinions, and I don't have academic credentials in film (I do in Literature and History, so I hope that counts for something), and no one pays me, so bearing that in mind, I'll continue...
... So a key complaint, when glancing over opinion for "The White Baloon", is that it is slow. Or, as I like to imagine it, adopting petulent wine: sllloooowwww. As in, Why is it so slllooowww?? I don't know, it's like the critics have barely seen a non-English language film. God knows what they would do with "Satantango" (and look here for an excellent discussion of Bela Tarr's film and the meaning of long, long takes and long, slow films). As far as grievances against films go, I don't give much credit that 'slow' is automatically a failing, that 'slow' is always negative by default, although the implication always seems to be that slow is problematic, if not derogatory. I usually see it as pacing. Often I find what others complain as slllooowww, I call stately. I find it absorbing; that the film is breathing; that there are spaces, often for contemplation, or simply to sit back and wallow in the visuals, in the story, in the suspense, etc etc. I often find that many 'deleted scenes' on dvd extras that are cut due to 'pacing' could quite happily have stayed in... Terence Davies' "House of Mirth" was a victim of this. These extra scenes, the quiet digressions, I often find give breadth, fuller context, meaning, characterisation, and so on. Not always, evidently, but quite often. I probably feel that Jarmusch's "Dead Man" is too long, but that is part of what is it, part of how it absorbs you; and I don't think it is too slow. Pacing is everything, and so many big films fail to trust more measured pacing. "Casino Royale": great pacing; "Quantum of Solace": not so much (although it's a lot shorter, it's too quick).
My friends used to have a running gag that the films I liked were probably Russian and involved three hours of watching a glass on a table.
On the other hand, I have also been reading up on the film blogosphere on Oh noes teh death of cinema because of shaky-cam and fast-fast editing. Wintergrass' "The Bourne Ultimatum" seemed to kick this discussion off in earnest. I felt the third Bourne film a solid example of how fast editing and hand-held camera didn't have to necessarily be incomprehensible. Others disagree, but the rooftop chase and final fight that comes at the centre of the film seem to me to an excellent, precise use of contemporary fast-fast aesthetic without actually losing a sense of geography or action - I understood where each of the three runners were in relation to one another all along the chase. It was, I thought, a rare example of this, of attention to geography and physical proximity between characters, and the fact that it was done with contemporary rush-rush editing was more impressive. For the most part, I care little for fast-cut action editing because, well, that geography, context and coherent action all seem to get lost.
The very stateliness of cinema seemed to be under threat, detractor's of fast-fast, shall we say post-MTV, editing seemed to say. Some commenters stating they didn't even watch modern films anymore, that they were pretty much worthless cinema, etc. Of course this is patently not so because there have been a considerable collection of great films worthy of discussion of late, both arty and genre, some mainstream too. Some films use hand-held and mobile (won't say shaky, necessarily) camerawork wonderfully: "The Wrestler" uses mobile camera to follow and keep up with Mickey Rourke, to catch him at both his most unguarded and glorious, angry and benevolent. "28 Weeks Later" had some great prowling mobile comera. Rob Zombie's "Halloween", it seemed to me, had a mobile camera moving around to poke in the white trash grue to then suddenly settle of precisely composed, if lopsided, framing. Yes, I thought, that's what so much mobile camera doesn't think to do. It was both probing and random, then fluid and deliberate.
Too slow. I think that many conflate slow with dull. Dull is the generic, the stereotypical, the weakly conceived, the contrived, the underwritten, the barely trying. Dull is another misogynistic rom-com. Dull is another ludicrous action flick full of daft macho posturing. Dull is another indulgent arthouse film. Dull is... oh, one of the many rudimentary horror films I can't help but try out. Dull has more to do with context than speed.
I think that some may conflate too fast - or too shaky - as undisciplined, dumb, as trash, and not cinema. I thought "The Bourne Ultimatum" was a great sprint and not so stupid. I thought "The Quantum of Solace" was fun, but less cinema and more entertainment, whereas I felt "Casino Royale" to be both in equal measure. Sure, the fast editing of "Aliens versus Predator" was incomprehensible, and that was trash, and I didn't even bother with "Transformers". One of the granddaddies of fast-fast was "Natural Born Killers": no, I didn't think it had much to say, whereas the far slower "Henry: portrait of a serial killer" was a whole other world of insight. Something like "Van Helsing", which is fast, was dull as roadkill because it was just bad. And speaking of roadkill, "Death Proof" was dull because it was indulgent, badly paced and annoying because it was so busy pleasuring itself. "Cloverfield" - which is always going to be mentioned in such a debate - had a great premise but failed to mostly utilise it's found-camera footage convincingly; brilliant at catching glimpses of parts of the monster, but lousy at being consistantly credible (put down the camera and run, you idiot). It carried a lot of hand-held action around tediously executed character drama.
DON'T PANIC! ENJOY!
Myself, I prefer a slow-to-medium pace, which is surely evident from what is written above. Or rather: I like films to breath. I love to sit in a cinema and soak in something like "The White Ribbon". Oh, I may have issues with it, but pacing isn't one. I expect a film like that to take it's time, to keep on going, indeed, not to finish in what seem to be a timely manner. I thought "Idiocracy" was too fast, and wanted it to slow down for more funny digressions of the idiot culture it portrayed; it felt too slight, too short. Sure, sometimes you think, Get on with it! but that is less about pacing than narrative and reveals and simply good writing. I will happily watch mid-temp, middling films with quirks - not every film watched has to be monumental. Or Awesome. Awesome is the correct word, I believe.
To say that cinema is dead is surely to reject the pleasure principal of film, as both cinema (i.e., worthy, serious, exemplary, transcendant) and entertainment (i.e., fun, delightful, trivial, exemplary, transcendant). This, of course, it probably why I will not receive a job in "Film Comment", but I do not believe elevating any art form to the pedastal where elements of enjoyment and fun are lost is a worthy or humane pursuit. Because, you see, I write this blog in case my viewpoint entertains or *deep breath* helps to enlighten someone on a film; this is why I go to other's blogs, after all. To say that you reject modern cinema is, I believe, absurd and only your loss. It does not make you any further right about the canon either. To say a film is too slow usually means you aren't paying attention to what is actually wrong with the content. I don't care: I adore "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford", because it is recent worthy cinema and it is stately, and I enjoy it for these qualities, amongst others. Its length, pacing and contemporary context are all part of that.
So: the best you can do is to accuse "The White Ribbon" of being slow? And: cinema isn't over - step down and look around a bit. Sure, a lot of mainstram movies - as distinguished from cinema - are generic, intellectually and morally myopic, but hasn't that always been the case? And mobile cameras are just part of the language of film-making now, and there shall be good and bad examples of how this is used.
And of course, you can always punish a film by not watching it. I, myself, have been successfully punishing 99% of American mainstream comedy for decades now. Oh, and "Titanic" too.