Down Into the Roots of Cultural Vegetables

Down Into the Roots of Cultural Vegetables (photo)

Posted by on

I finally got a chance to read Dan Kois’ controversial New York Times Magazine article “Eating Your Cultural Vegetables,” which has garnered all sorts of interesting-slash-outraged responses and reactions from all around the web. And, hey, I’m on the web! I have responses and reactions to things too! So now it’s my turn.

You should read Kois’ entire piece, but here is an excerpt that gets right to the meat — or rather the vegetables — of his argument:

“As I get older, I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me… Yes, there are films, like the 2000 Taiwanese drama ‘Yi Yi,’ that enrapture me with deliberate pacing, spare screenplays and static shooting styles… but while I’m grateful to have watched ‘Solaris’ and ‘Blue’ and ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ and ‘The Son’ and ‘Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)’ and ‘Three Times’ and on and on, my taste stubbornly remains my taste.

Kois makes a lot of “Meek’s Cutoff,” his most current example of what he alternately describes as cultural vegetables and “aspirational viewing,” i.e. languidly paced art films, which he describes as a “quiet, arduous” viewing experience that he found difficult to sit through. Kois says he’s drawn to films like “Meek’s Cutoff” because they’re enjoyed by people whose opinions he respects and whose company he enjoys but, as he puts it, “I usually doze lightly through them; and I often feel moved, if sleepy, afterward. But am I actually moved? Or am I responding to the rhythms of emotionally affecting cinema? Am I laughing because I get the jokes or because I know what jokes sound like?”

As a general rule, my favorite critical essays are the most honest ones; if there are flaws in Kois’ piece, they don’t include a lack of honesty. Essentially Kois is outing himself in the most public forum possible so that he can’t pretend to love these sorts of movies anymore. From here on out he’s got no choice to lay his cards out on the table, and that is kind of brave.

I do agree with Kois that there are folks out there who hop on the bandwagon for quote-unquote art films because they have a great reputation and they want to appear cultured to their friends and loved ones. People often don’t want to admit what they really think about an “important” movie — that it’s boring or pretentious or dated — because they don’t want to look like philistines. And readers should be skeptical of any critic who believes they hold the one true and correct view about a film. Personal taste matters, and the best critics filter cinema through personal taste to give us their unique perspective on culture.

Still, I wish Kois wasn’t painting with so broad a brush when he talked about these movies. Not all quiet viewing experiences are created equal. I’ve seen movies that I had trouble finishing. But maybe the problem wasn’t that they were slow; maybe the problem was that they were just plain bad.

Look, there are days when I’d rather watch “America’s Next Top Model” than a film by Chantal Akerman (those days, by the way, are called Wednesdays). But plenty of movies that look like “cultural vegetables” are so much richer than they might initially appear to be. Two films on my top ten list from last year, “Sweetgrass” and “Alamar,” might look like cultural vegetables; they’re both micro-indies, one a doc the other a quasi-fictional narrative, with very little in the way of action. The most memorable moment in each film involves a real but genuine interaction between human and wild animal. But those moments are more transcendant and memorable than anything in “America’s Next Top Model” (except the one episode where Tyra told all the finalists they’d been kicked off the show just so she could watch them cry. Epic!).

To me, the success or failure of one of Kois’ cultural vegetables always comes down to a matter of form following function. Anyone can make a slow, contemplative art film, but if you’re not contemplating anything in particular, you’re wasting everyone’s time. “Alamar” needs to be a deliberate film because it is about savoring this deliberate way of life that the main character wants to pass down to his son, who he may never see again. I haven’t seen “Meek’s Cutoff” yet — unfortunately, since I’m a big fan of its director, Kelly Reichardt — but I would suggest that Kois discovered the function of its form when he wrote that by the end he “could sympathize with the settlers’ exhaustion” because he felt “as if I’d been through a similarly grueling experience.” Again, I haven’t seen the film, but couldn’t that have been the whole point?

What I want out of a critic is not someone who will blindly praise a film simply because Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name is on it, but rather a writer who understands their work and is interested in engaging with it. On the flip side, I’m not interested in someone who blindly dismisses Hollywood blockbusters, either. The best critics are worth reading whether they’re writing about something that cost $100 million or $100. Critics shouldn’t aspire to importance or respectability. They should just try to show us things about the movies we don’t see in them on our own.


David Cross Gets Busted

David Cross Fights For Your Rights in With Bob and David Sketch

Todd Margaret returns January 7th, 2016 at 10P.

Posted by on

If you’re a fan of Todd Margaret star David Cross, then you know he isn’t afraid to stand up for the every day American’s rights. And in the latest sneak peek of  W/Bob and David, the Netflix series that reunites him with Bob Odenkirk, Cross plays a Constitutional rights enthusiast who does his part to document police abuse for his YouTube followers.

Key and Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key plays a cop in the sketch based on the very real internut subculture of “Know Your Rights” videos.

For more David, be sure to catch the return of Todd Margaret on January 7th, 2016 at 10P. Todd is back and very, very different.

video player loading . . .

'Soft' Rock

Get Gentle and Soft With The Blue Jean Committee’s New EP

The Documentary Now! band has a new EP.

Posted by on

The Blue Jean Committee is about to head straight up the charts with their new song “Gentle & Soft.” Is it us, or did it just get really smooth in here?

The band, whose tumultuous history was chronicled in a compelling two-part episode of Documentary Now!, is back with an extremely soft bullet with the release of Catalina Breeze, an actual 12″ EP with actual songs that you can actually (and should actually) buy. As Fred Armisen, who sings in the Blue Jean Committee along with his Documentary Now! cohort Bill Hadertold EW, he wanted the band to capture the ’70s California soft rock sound. “So the best way to do it for us would be to just spell it out and call the song ‘Gentle and Soft,'” Armisen said.

The EP, which will be released on November 20th, also features the classic BJC tracks “Mama You’re a Dancer,” “Walking Shoes” and the titular jam all about relaxing Catalina breezes. True to its name, the Catalina Breeze EP will hit you like the wind, rushing your hair into a halo, which is as gentle and soft as it comes. Head over to Drag City to listen to song samples and grab the EP.

For more Documentary Now!, check out the complete archive, episode clips, and music from the show.

That 70s eric

Attention Eric Fans!

How Well Do You Know Eric From That ’70s Show? Take the Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT on IFC.

Posted by on

Eric Forman is the heart of the That ’70s Show gang and the frequent target of his dad Red’s insults. But do you know his roller disco name? Take the quiz below and test your knowledge on all things Eric.



Lorne Visits the Cat Ranch

Lorne Michaels Finally Talks to Marc Maron on WTF

Maron returns to IFC in 2016.

Posted by on

A historic summit of comedic minds has finally happened in the Cat Ranch — Lorne Michaels sat down for an interview on Marc Maron‘s WTF Podcast. And you can listen to it here.


20 years ago, Marc had a meeting with Lorne about possibly taking over Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. But then Marc never got a a callback—and his brief meeting with the SNL guru has haunted him ever since. This week on his WTF podcast, Marc finally got closure. As Marc wrote on his website, “In the history of WTF, Lorne Michaels is talked about more than any other person. Now he is finally a guest.”

In addition to discussing why Marc wasn’t ready to join the Not Ready for Primetime Players, the episode’s wide-ranging conversation also covers the reason Michaels started the show back in 1975 and what keeps him doing it each and every season.

Listen to WTF on iTunes or download from the WTF podcast website. And be sure to check IFC.com for more updates on Marc and season 4 of his comedy series Maron, which returns to IFC spring 2016.

Powered by ZergNet