One of the most debilitating facets of contemporary media discourse, at least in the U.S., is the unspoken assumption that serious discussion about such topics as torture, mass murder, and slavery can only enter the mainstream public sphere once it becomes tied to the sale of a current movie, regardless of how inane or or superficial or inadequate its treatment of that subject might be. If our discussion of American slavery can essentially be licensed by Django Unchained, which appeared to be the case last year, then I suppose 12 Years a Slave could be regarded as a partial corrective, even after one factors in the restrictive aspect of focusing on the relatively exceptional case of a non-slave forced to become a slave for many years. For me, the treatment of slavery as something relevant to both the present and more than just the U.S., in Pedro Costa’s sublime Sweet Exorcist (his half-hour episode in Centro Historico), is a more valid corrective and carries much greater force, not least because it has some access to poetry –- which, I would insist, is a crucial source of knowledge -– and beauty, and not merely to exploitation-movie assaults. Even though, paradoxically, Costa’s gives us the poetic insight without the concrete information that produces it.… Read more »
My latest En movimiento column for the Spanish monthly Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, written for their January 2014 issue.
An afterthought: Since one of my recent favorites is Blue is the Warmest Color, I’ve been struck by the curious double standard that’s been operating lately within the critical community whereby “harder” pornography of various kinds involving sex and/or violence (including Spring Breakers, The Act of Killing, 12 Years a Slave, and Claire Denis’ Bastards) are getting applauded by many of the same critics who skewer the “softer” pornography of Blue is the Warmest Color. – J.R.
Am I turning into a 70-year-old grouch? Writing during the last weeks of 2013 — specifically a period of receiving screeners in the mail and rushing off to various catch-up screenings, a time when most of the ten-best lists are being compiled — I repeatedly have the sensation that many of my most sophisticated colleagues are inflating the value of several recent releases. And my problem isn’t coming up with ten films that I support but trying to figure out why so many of the high-profile favorites of others seem so overrated to me. All of these films have their virtues, but I still doubt that they can survive many of the exaggerated claims being made on their behalf.… Read more »