Friday, September 28, 2007

HE BLOGS! DAVID EDELSTEIN'S THE PROJECTIONIST

Could this mean the return of the Movie Club?

Jim Emerson
let on about it a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s my turn to trumpet the return of David Edelstein to Internet-based film criticism with his New York magazine-anchored blog The Projectionist. Edelstein’s regular gig is available on-line, but this is his first real shot at the blogging format, and it sounds like he’s game:

“In my nine and a half years at the online magazine Slate, I got thousands of e-mails from readers. That last one I got here was two months ago. It’s not, I’m convinced, that I’m that much less read. It’s that the distance, literal and existential, between a glossy weekly print mag and cyberspace is vast. I send e-mails to bloggers and online writers often but can’t remember the last time I mailed someone at a glossy, even when I’ve read an article online. My fingers aren’t poised over the keyboard in the same way.

And who knows where this might lead? Movies connect with us on an unconscious level, and blogging is a pipeline to the id. I might even write open letters to filmmakers begging for nude pictures of actresses. As Larry Craig might say, I plan to take a wide stance.”


The film critic appears to be ready and willing, and if he is, his page could be great fun and a great read (two things that don’t always go hand in hand). I’ve been a big fan of Edelstein’s writing since his young punk days at the Village Voice and was thrilled to reconnect with him at Slate a few years ago. He tried “blogging” at Slate before he left for New York, but it wasn’t really blogging as you and I know it— instead, his posts were curiously static, made up only of occasional updates within existing articles, except, of course, when the end of the year came and the critical summit known as the Slate Movie Club got underway. (My favorite year was the one when Mr. E. invited Armond White, whom he diplomatically described as “pugnacious,” to participate, and White agreed.) It also offered no improvement over the only option for interactivity at Slate, the dreaded Fray, which often so quickly devolved into the typical monosyllabic name-calling of any other Neanderthal message board (at least when the topic was movies).

Edelstein’s site looks like a much more open attempt to engage in the spirit of film blogging as it has evolved over the last couple of years—so far the pieces have been informal, engaging and good enough to leave you wanting more. The Projectionist does not, as yet, allow for reader comments—and given some of the comments and e-mail Edelstein has received over the years, I wouldn’t blame him for being a little reticent to jump into that arena just yet. (He once told of a particularly incensed Fray poster who wished on him and his family a cruel death because Edelstein correctly observed that The Mummy Returns was a piece of shit.) I sincerely hope that one day he does open up The Projectionist for comments—he can always, as many do, hold them for posting until he can get a look and approve them for publication—and that if he does, he can engender the kind of tone and quality of response that has been a hallmark of Scanners and Matt Zoller Seitz’s The House Next Door (and, dare I say, this humble site).


And if you haven’t checked out The Projectionist yet, now is an excellent time to do so. Up yesterday are a tantalizing few paragraphs in which Edelstein expands the debate on Brian De Palma’s new Iraq-centered film Redacted, a debate which was begun in earnest in posts like Jim’s Toronto dispatch, which articulated reservations about the film while recognizing its power and importance. Edelstein may have reservations, but they are bracketed by the value he places on De Palma’s rage and urgency and his appreciation for the fine line he sees De Palma walking in order to articulate that rage in a time of what Edelstein terms “our moral lethargy” about the war in Iraq:

“If there’s any justice, the first public screening of Brian De Palma’s Redacted (October 10) at the New York Film Festival will be incendiary. I hope that it makes people livid, that it’s furiously debated. I’m still recovering from it, and I averted my eyes for the last minute, when De Palma shows actual footage of “collateral damage” — bloody corpses of Iraqi civilians, including children and babies. What preceded that epilogue was devastating enough: a dramatization of the events before, during, and after the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl — along with the killing of her family — by American soldiers.”

And here’s Edelstein on the oft repeated charges of De Palma’s misogyny:

“De Palma has always been attracted to material in which women are the victims of male sexual rage. But… his films grapple with the issue in ways that turn the criticism on its head. Simply put: Who better to explore sexual violence onscreen than someone who understands the Male Gaze — and its cinematic legacy — so intimately? Anyone who sees the suffering faces of the victims in Casualties of War and Redacted — or the haunted eyes of Mia Kirschner, already a ghost, in the film-within-a-film in The Black Dahlia — knows that De Palma not only despairs over what he’s showing us but implicates his own medium, his own Male Gaze.”

There’s much more in this new post on Redacted, and this isn’t even an official review yet. It’s a post that makes me hopeful about how David Edelstein will participate in what many of us have come to feel is an online community of bloggers, amateur and professional critics as well as everyday smart fans. The Projectionist is a good reminder of just how sharp Edelstein can be off the cuff, even on those occasions (and there have been plenty) when I’ve thought he was off the mark. And I hope he eventually takes the time to engage with his readers, and that his readers keep him honest with the kind of challenging, informed and interesting commentary that can make the difference between and good film blog and a great one. David Edelstein, welcome to the community!

13 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

Glad to see print critics coming over to the blogging world. I've thought recently that without his television show to do anymore that perhaps even Roger Ebert might eventually take to it but that might be hoping for a bit much. It would be akin to the Holy Grail for movie bloggers, at least for me.

I welcome David as well. I checked him out after reading Jim's piece and was dismayed that there was no room for comments. There are so many people who suffer my comment diarrhea he may as well be one of 'em too (insert some form of winking or smiling emoticon here).

But seriously, I have found that when I write a post now it's just the first step of the process. Then the comments start and by the time it's done there's usually more written about the topic than what I posted. And often times I find arguments and opinions I hadn't even considered until the comments started rolling in. Sometimes the comments can take it into crazy diversions as well. I can't remember which post but one of my comment sections ended up being about Spielberg and CGI despite the fact that neither of those had anything to do with what was originally written.

So I urge David to get a comment section going. To me, that's what makes it a blog and not a "published article." It's the interaction, that's what it's all about.

I have a confession: I used to read Roger Ebert a lot more than I now do. I never would have thought years ago that when I went to the Sun Times movie page that I would go to the blog section run by some guy named Jim Emerson instead but I do. Jim's Scanners let's me interact, speak my voice, get in on the action. And no need to be modest Dennis - your's does too. You provide a wonderful forum here for one helluva lot of us.

I just want David to know that no matter how bizarre it can get at times, the rewards of community are great and I wouldn't do without it for the world. And it's the movie community so it's not like you're attracting crazies. I used to write political stuff since I grew up with a vast interest and knowledge in it and quite frankly some of the comment stuff I got creeped me out while others at the extreme other end of the political spectrum just wouldn't let me alone. I had to throw in the towel. I couldn't delete comments and ban i.p. addresses fast enough and I couldn't take it anymore. By the time I got a bizarre cryptic comment from someone who's I.P. address resolved to a Uranium processing "company" online I knew it was time to concentrate on my first love, the movies, and I haven't looked back since.

So welcome aboard David. I look forward to sharing thoughts with you online, in your comments, or here at SLIFR where I'm sure you will always be welcome.

Mizoguchi said...

"Who better to explore sexual violence onscreen than someone who understands the Male Gaze — and its cinematic legacy — so intimately?" In other words, Mr. Edelstein, it takes a rapist to understand a rapist?

No wonder Edelstein doesn't allow comments.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Mizoguchi, your comment sounds like the definition of a stretch to me. Seems to me there a difference between recognizing and exploring "the Male Gaze" and its possible implications, and the acting out of its worst and most brutal manifestation. (Unless, of course, you're aware of some court documents no one else has been made privy to.) One of the things that makes me profoundly uncomfortable about rape scenes, beyond the actual physical violence, is the degree to which I'm made aware that, as a male, the same kind of physical power resides within me to force such violations upon another human being, even though I've never had the desire or even come close to acting on that power. This kind of fearless self-examination, which has implications for the director as well as the audience, is what De Palma taps into when dealing with this kind of material. Unfortunately, it also makes him, and those like Edelstein who attempt to engage and analyze what's on the screen, an easy target for glib criticism.

Mizoguchi said...

If "Scarface" doesn't consist of "acting out the worst and most brutal manifestations of the male gaze," then what does? De Palma's entire cinema is based on voyeuristic turn ons, which he clearly relishes. I guess I missed the "fearless self-examination" in "Femme Fatale," which begins with a "lesbian" sex scene straight out of Bob Guccione, or the fetishistic examination of the mangled corpse in "Black Dahlia."

Jonathan Lapper said...

I think what Dennis is saying is that the portrayal of the acts on screen itself is self-examination and he classifies it as "fearless" because so many other filmmakers might shy away from showing us what clearly makes us uncomfortable. Thus by forcing us to look we are confronted with the horrors and demons involved in the process. There can be no examination unless there is an initial awareness and without that all that is left is avoidance, at which point no examination can occur.

Now I fully acknowledge that some filmmakers may choose to show horrific acts of violence as a grotesque titillation and whether DePalma is doing that as well is open to debate. But I would fall on the side of examination over titillation because of the surrounding story structure and character exploration that also occurs in DePalma's work.

When Nancy Allen is slain at the conclusion of Blow Out it is detailed and shot in slow motion but I have never felt that it was shot that way because DePalma condoned said actions but because it magnified the tragedy and loss of the event itself as well as the profound psychological impact on the John Travolta character. And that's a far cry from condoning or glorifying violence against women or anyone else for that matter.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I almost forgot:

If "Scarface" doesn't consist of "acting out the worst and most brutal manifestations of the male gaze," then what does?

Again, it's shown to make clear that Tony Montana is a wretched human being. I don't think DePalma likes him very much. But I think Dennis makes clear with this statement - Unless, of course, you're aware of some court documents no one else has been made privy to - that he means there's a difference between acting out the worst manifestations in real life and examining it (or portraying it) on the screen.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ha! Much like 2006, if it's autumn, it must be Brian De Palma! (Won't my wife be thrilled!)

Mizoguchi, first of all, I'd say Scarface (one of the least of De Palma's movies, in my estimation), represents less the acting out of the brutal manifestations of the "male gaze" than a quasi-satiric bringing of excess (directorial) to bear on excess (subject, screenplay), and none to handily. There are patches of brilliant technique that De Palma brings off in Scarface, but they are in service to a story that feels rote in comparison to the fully felt work he'd done in the past, and would do in the future. And as Jonathan says, there is quite a difference between acting out in real life and examining behavior on screen. I agree, but rather than say that De Palma doesn't like Montana much, I see it as more that De Palma is significantly less interested in him than he is in most of his lead characters, and certainly less interested in him than Pacino is.

As for an "entire cinema" of
"voyeuristic turn-ons, which he clearly relishes"...

One of the themes in De Palma's films is voyeurism and the voyeuristic tendency of American society. This is no secret. And of course along with taking on this subject, there is an element of relishing or enjoying (in a prurient as well as purely visual sense) that which is being observed. You'd have to be pretty delusional to think that De Palma would deny this (he wouldn't) or that he doesn't make deliberate connections between the medium he works in and the act of voyeuristic seeing. And it would be quite an act of denial to dismiss De Palma as the only director "guilty" of such an attitude. I'd say it's one that is pretty firmly engrained in the medium of movies and that most directors would cop to it to one degree or another. (I certainly do as an engaged viewer.)

Does De Palma disqualify himself from serious consideration as an artist based on the things he shows us? Take a guess what my answer is. Of course De Palma is interested in sexuality (particularly the female variety), but if you're saying there's no difference between the way Laure uses her sexuality in Femme Fatale, or the way the ways sexuality gets tied up in fear and rage in Dressed to Kill, or the way sexual violence is examined in Blow Out or Casualities of War, and your average Skinemax soft-core porn romp, then you're seing a much different end product than I am, one that I don't think even a shallow reading of the surface images will support.

The "Guccione-esque" sex scene in Femme Fatale is used to draw in viewers who are attracted to images of sexuality and use them as a set-up for cinematic sleight-of-hand. But De Palma also draws attention to the scene's similiarity to others in his films (the use of body doubles in DTK and Body Double, the fake sex-filled slasher movie that opens Blow Out, the steamy slo-mo porn parody that opens Carrie), all of which have direct connections to cinema, either in their settings, their illusions or their style. (It's not an accident that De Palma sets the opening of Femme Fatale in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival.) The self-examination becomes fearless when you realize that De Palma is offering his own way of looking at life, his own attraction to the kind of imagery which saturates exploitation cinema and straight-to-video hackwork and the cinema, as part of that world which
should be critically viewed, considered and, yes, sometimes even celebrated in his own films.

And again, I'm not an appreciator of The Black Dahlia (though I do look forward to seeing it again), but I think the last thing that the movie is is an excuse for its director to cackle and moan over Elizabeth Short's corpse. To read it that way seems to me to be willfully ignorant of everything else De Palma does in the movie (including using his own voice as the director who interviews Short in audition clips) to suffuse the woman's fate with sorrow and pain and implicate himself and his profession in the way Hollywood has (literally) chewed up and spit this woman out. He asks us to look at her violated corpse in The Black Dahlia not to smack our lips, but to force home the woman's humanity, and to consider the inhumanity that could bring her to this state. Is this not, despite our level of discomfort in watching it, and despite our ultimate conclusions about the movie itself, an honorable thing to do?

Neil Sarver said...

I've been reading Jim Emerson since his days at The Rocket here in Seattle, so the fact that I'm hooked on his blog is no surprise. The fact that I've come to find blogs to be so much more useful as a medium of expression is a surprise.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Neil, I couldn't agree more. I think I had an idea going in, and I'm sure this is pretty common, of blogging as a form of private journal writing, only not so private. But I also had Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts as a model of what blogs could be-- I really wasn't reading much film blogging at the time. So to find out that blogging could be such a satisfying avenue of personal expression AND of two-way communication in which ideas can be bandied about, argued, dismissed, expanded upon, really is a nice surprise. And when you find one as good as Scanners, it gets into your blood, I think.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Neil,

I agree. As I said in my original comment (before everything went De Palma) I was amazed to find myself navigating towards the blogs for movie history and opinion originally but now it seems perfectly natural. When I read Ebert now I find the part that interests me is the Great Movies and the Answer Man. The Great Movies analyzes past films where analysis is hard to come by (Exactly like blogs do) and the Answer Man has a mild form of interaction and discussion of ideas with film (Again, like blogs).

bill said...

I'm late to this, but I have to say Edelstein has never really appealed to me. Read his recent piece on the Coen brothers, and see how he manages to misunderstand both the Coens and Cormac McCarthy in one fell swoop. That in itself wouldn't be so bad, but he has the stones to condescend to McCarthy, as well.

Man, I disagree with everything everyone says around here, don't I?

Jonathan Lapper said...

I disagree that you disagree with everyone. However I do agree that you disagree with general agreements to agree to disagree.

bill said...

Agreed.