Monthly Archives: August 2011


Now that I’ve finally read Robin Wood’s fascinating posthumous novel, an odd thriller involving amnesia, I’m pleased to report that it’s much better than I expected it to be, both as a page-turner and as what I would describe as a critic’s novel — even though the latter quality only became fully clear to me in the book’s closing pages.

The story as a whole can be described as a shotgun marriage or as a conversation — or perhaps as some of both — between a model of prose fiction that is literary, high- modernist, and intellectual and another model that is nonliterary, populist, and nonintellectual. These models and positions are represented by the novel’s two leading characters, a man and a woman respectively, the latter of whom is the story’s principal narrator and thus represents Wood’s own preferred position. It would be difficult to say much more about this without introducing spoilers — an especially heinous crime according to the nonintellectual model, and one that should clearly be avoided when it comes to the gradual revelations in this plot — but the degree to which the story as a whole represents a running debate between these positions reflects many of Wood’s own positions and tastes as a critic, which ran all the way from modernist art films to exploitation horror films — both of which are reflected, in different ways, in Trammel Up the Consequence.

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Some of the most successful and fruitful ongoing enterprises related to film history have been either ignored or taken for granted (which sometimes amounts to the same thing) due to their omnipresence. In book publishing, the two most outstanding examples that come to mind are, in France, the series of monographs devoted to film directors issued by Seghers(which finally expired many years ago, I believe in the 70s or 80s) and, in the U.K., the BFI Classics and BFI Modern Classics, launched in 1992 and, to be the best of my knowledge, still going strong.

Considerably more formidable is the series of 80-odd French television documentaries about filmmakers produced by Janine Bazin (the widow of André Bazin) and André S. Labarthe, initially called Cinéastes de notre temps when it was produced by the ORTF between 1964 and 1972, and revived as Cinéma, de notre temps when it was produced by Arte between 1990 and 2003, the year that Janine Bazin died, and then taken up again by Cinécinéma in 2006. Some of the more interesting of the earlier documentaries were remarkable in the various ways that they stylistically imitated their subjects, as in the programs on Cassavetes, Samuel Fuller, and Josef von Sternberg.… Read more »

Film, Television, Modernism, and the Internet (a discussion with Victoria H.F. Scott, August 2011)

This was put together at Victoria’s instigation when both of us were employed in the Art History department at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010-2011 (probably during the latter portion). It hasn’t appeared elsewhere. — J.R.


VHFS: What medium is more modernist, television or film?


JR: For me, it’s fairly obvious that film (from, say, the Lumière brothers to Pedro Costa) is quintessentially modernist and television, from the live transmission of the 1950s to “reality TV,” is quintessentially postmodernist. One could find notable exceptions, of course, such as Ernie Kovacs’ highly modernist comic experiments in the 50s and (say) Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s and Quentin Tarantino’s appropriations of TV in their films, which I consider far more important than their appropriations of (or, rather, derivations from) Jean-Luc Godard.

For me, the parts of film history that matter the most are invariably the parts that counteract or refute the so-called “realism” of the medium (pace André Bazin) in a modernist direction, whereas I would argue that the televisual alienation of Fassbinder and Tarantino (among others) doesn’t even know sufficiently what realism is or could be or should be in order to counteract or refute it.


VHFS: Despite those exceptions, what makes film essentially modernist and television postmodernist?… Read more »