01 December 2006
Your own worst critic
For the past couple of days, in the process of writing a screenplay, I've been researching the French auteur Jacques Rivette, specifically his debut feature Paris nous appartient (1960). The film is virtually impossible to find on this side of the Atlantic, which is making my research more difficult, but, more to the point, it has me thinking about the French New Wave and that group of critics that changed the cinema forever.
Rivette, along with Truffaut, Godard, and the rest of the New Wave filmmakers, cut his teeth as a film critic, writing for Cahiers du cinéma under the supervision of legendary theorist André Bazin. It was here that François Truffaut came up with the Auteur theory.
Of course, if you're the type of person who reads entries in a Film Criticism Blog-a-Thon, you probably knew that already.
What we sometimes forget, though, is that the New Wave did a lot to further blur the line between the critic and the filmmaker. Many of them stayed with the Cahiers du cinéma for a time, even as their films were taking the world by storm. This had been done to some extent by the late James Agee, a multi-talented writer who just happened to be a film critic, and later perhaps played a small part in Roger Ebert's forays into screenwriting in his earlier days. But few, if any, did both to the extent of the French New Wave.
The last couple of years have seen the internet reach a point where it's much more amenable to the "filmie" mindset. Before, there were sites dedicated to film, sure, but they were rather hit or miss and run by a few people with a love for programming code. But, with the creation of the blog universe, where anyone with even the smallest amount of computer savy can weigh in on pretty much whatever they please, film criticism or, rather, the minor leagues of film criticism has exploded. There are hundreds of highly intelligent people writing thoughtfully on pretty much any film you could ever hope to read about, even uber-obscure films like Paris nous appartient. This, in and of itself, is fantastic for a number of reasons, the chief being that it gets people thinking critically about film who might never have done so.
Over on one of the other internets, we have YouTube, fueled by the suddenly affordable cost of cameras and editing equipment. There's a ton of videos on there, and most of them are terrible, but if you dig around, you can find some really interesting stuff. The major media outlets are paying attention and snatching up what they can, finding talent in places they might never have looked.
So how are they related? Well, combine all these qualities and you've got the potential for a second coming of the French New Wave. People who spend half their time writing film criticism (in whatever form) on their blogs and the other half running around and making short films. The two feed off each other. When you have to explain in detail why a film does or does not work, it makes it somewhat easier to recognize those same qualities in something you've created. You can look at your short and imagine what you might say if you were panning it, something that might be nigh unto impossible without the experience of doing it to others. It makes for better filmmaking, and it makes for better film criticism, as it tends to add a degree of compassion toward the filmmaker where previously there might be none.
But, more importantly, it's a fertile training ground that may just give us the next Truffaut or Godard, something we'd all love to see.
 In case you didn't know, Rivette is best known for the films Va Savoir (2001), La Belle Noiseuse (1991), and La Bande des Quatre (1998), among others.
** Don't forget the Lovesick Blog-a-Thon right here on 14 February 2007. **