The Naughts: The Critics of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Critics of the ’00s (photo)

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Luckily, though, Bordwell and Thompson aren’t “Get Off My Lawn” types. And when Bordwell looks askance at, say, intensified continuity, he doesn’t just decry fast cutting or shaky-cams and call it a day (though he tends to have more respect for classical filmmaking). He gets into the economic, cultural and technological factors that might have turned intensified continuity into the new industry standard — for example, a studio wanting to amass a wide array of coverage in case they decide they don’t like the director’s approach and decide to re-cut the film, or the director’s inability to decide what’s truly important in a scene, or in the story as a whole.

He and Thompson treat cinema as a fluid, living thing, forever changing shape and direction. They’re fascinated even by developments they find counterproductive or troubling — and they’re plugged into what’s happening now. Thompson has written what is perhaps the definitive book on the cultural phenomenon that is “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. (It’s also detached and often skeptical, which makes it even more distinctive.) Bordwell adores animation and horror, keeps up with music videos and ads and is one of the most enthusiastic American boosters of Asian pop cinema (he’s Johnnie To’s biggest fan). He gets into the effect of TV, video games and online media, all of which reflect (and perhaps shape) filmmakers’ sense of how to tell a story, and the viewers’ ability to process information. And he has a knack for labeling phenomena in catchy, non-jargony ways; for three examples, check out Bordwell’s thumbnail descriptions of “network narratives” “broken timelines” and “companion films” here.

Bordwell and Thompson also grasp what ought to be a self-evident fact, but which often goes unremarked in contemporary film writing: cinema is an art form, art is made by artists, and artists generally don’t give one-sixteenth of a damn about making statements on such-and-such or reflecting the zeitgeist or carrying the torch for Godard or any of the other motives attributed to them by reviewers looking to lock art in a cage. Like athletes, musicians, tightrope walkers or any other sorts of performer (and yes, filmmaking is a performance), directors tend not to be slaves to theory. They’re motivated by a visceral appreciation of how movies move — and by respectful competitiveness. They see someone else’s film, admire a certain shot or cut or music cue or narrative device, then work it into their own film, which in turn is seen, absorbed and transformed by other filmmakers. When a lot of directors fall in love with a technique, what once was new becomes the norm.


An example is the lengthy, elaborate Steadicam shot, which has become a familiar sight in auteur-driven films made during the last three decades and in TV dramas such as “E.R.” While all sorts of aesthetic, dramatic and even political rationales have been floated to explain the pervasiveness of super-long Steadicam shots, Bordwell implies that one-upsmanship might be the original culprit. As he writes in “The Way Hollywood Tells It,” “The crowd following Jake LaMotta from his dressing room, through the crowds and into the ring in ‘Raging Bull’ made [Brian De Palma] sit up. ‘I thought I was pretty good at doing those kind of shots, but when I saw that I said, ‘Whoa!’ And that’s when I started using these very complicated shots with the Steadicam.’ ”

That this type of writing is more apt to be described as “scholarship” than criticism says quite a bit about the impoverished state of criticism and the banishment of formal analysis to universities and elite film journals. What we tend to think about when we think about criticism — writing that’s mainly concerned with plot, characterization, themes, political allegory, race and gender politics, so-and-so’s Oscar hopes and the stupidity of every other critic — is not just as reductive as Thompson implied, it ignores the true source of cinema’s enchantment.

That’s a loss for critics as a writing class and a gain for Bordwell, Thompson and anyone else intrigued by the stuff that dreams are made of. The blurb-mongers and bomb-throwers huddle around this week’s releases, decrying this or that trend and arguing about whether so-and-so is a genius or a fraud, blathering like blind men trying to describe an elephant by manhandling its tail or trunk. Meanwhile, the cinematic taxonomists from Wisconsin are writing their own cinematic version of “The Origin of Species” in real time. Talk about a job worth doing.

This feature is part of the Naughts Project.

[Additional photos: “Die Hard” screen shots, from post “Seed-beds of Style,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1988; “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” DreamWorks/Paramount, 2009; “Raging Bull,” United Artists, 1980]

That 70s Show Kelso 1920

Kelso's #1 Fan?

How Well Do You Know Kelso? Take Our Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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Kelso’s loveable cluelessness is one of the bedrocks of That ’70s Show. But how much do you really know when it comes to him? Take our quiz below, and be sure to catch That ’70s Show on IFC.



Get Carrie's New Book

Pre-Order Carrie Brownstein’s Memoir and Win a Chance to See Sleater-Kinney in NYC

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released on October 27th

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Attention fans of Portlandia and reading! Carrie Brownstein’s highly anticipated memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is going to be released by Penguin on October 27th, but pre-ordering has its benefits. If you pre-order the “deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music” from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, you can win a chance to see Sleater-Kinney perform in NYC.

Simply click here to enter your pre-order information, fill in the requested information (name, email and pre order #) and you’ll be entered for a chance to win two round-trip tickets, hotel, and transportation to NYC to see Carrie in concert on Sunday, December 13th. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to be eligible to win.)

You can also catch Carrie on her nationwide book tour at one of the dates below where she will be joined by specials guests like Questlove, Amy Poehler and more. And check out the full awesome book cover as well below.


WORD Bookstore at Saint Vitus Bar

In conversation with Questlove


Barnes & Noble Union Square

In conversation with Gaby Hoffman


Philadelphia Free Library at The Merriam Theater

In conversation with Aidy Bryant


Pitchfork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


BookPeople at Central Presbyterian Church

In conversation with Liz Lambert


Vroman’s Bookstore at Pasadena Presbyterian

In conversation with Amy Poehler


Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

In conversation with Dave Eggers


Powell’s Books at The Newmark Theatre

In conversation with a Special Guest TBA


Elliott Bay Book Company at The Neptune Theater

In conversation with Maria Semple


Drawn & Quarterly at The Rialto Theatre

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon

In conversation with Johanna Schneller




Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

THE EXORCIST [US 1973]  LINDA BLAIR     Date: 1973

Take This Quiz for a Spin

The Power Compels You to Take the Exorcist Movie Quiz

Catch an all-day Exorcist marathon on Sunday, November 1st.

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The Exorcist is a modern horror classic thanks to many of its haunting images: the ominous stairwell, the spider walk, the face of the demon. Before you catch IFC’s all-day Exorcist movie marathon on November 1st, take this quiz to see how well you remember the film, its sequels and its influence in pop culture.


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