Monday, February 23, 2009

The Critical Function

With all the debates on film criticism in 2008, I thought it was interesting to release this article by Serge Daney on problems film criticism thought it had back in 1974!

This text needs a word of warning though. It was written at a particular moment in the history of Cahiers du cinéma, at the end of an intense political period which led the magazine to an impasse and just before Serge Daney and Serge Toubiana took charge of the magazine and organised a 'return to the cinema'.

As Antoine de Baecque describes in his history of Cahiers:

"With the magazine facing the void, only Serge Daney is left. He accepts to take charge of Cahiers, publishing almost immediately, in the issue 248 which strangely is not dated (a sign of the malaise, the no man's land where the magazine is), a text rehabilitating the 'critical function.' All films are of course the ideological expression of the dominant culture, writes Daney, but to say only this is no longer enough. One must also describe how this bourgeois culture imposes its domination via films and how another (popular) culture could divert it, or extract itself from it. It is in the elucidation of this 'how' and its enunciation that lies the critic's work."

So, let's not forget to put into context the 27 occurrences of the word "bourgeois", the quotes from Mao and Engels and the dreary Marxist vocabulary. Daney was happy to see the back of that period when he moved from Cahiers to Libération and he didn’t include this text in his first book (La Rampe) gathering his articles from 1970 to 1982.

I find the third part, called 'Anti-retro (continued)', the most interesting. Daney's comments on the place of spectator in The Night Porter shaped his later thinking (up until The tracking shot in Kapo). And his analysis of who has the most knowledge (the spectator, the character, etc.) is at the centre of his views on advertising. Beside, who else could find Hitchcock's North by Northwest a fine metaphor in a Marxist text!

Translated by Annwyl Williams in Cahiers Du Cinéma: Volume Four, 1973-1978 : History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle : an Anthology from Cahiers Du Cinéma, Nos 248-292, September 1973-September 1978, By Jim Hillier, David Wilson, Nick Browne, Bérénice Reynaud, published by Routledge, 2000, 323 pages. Originally published as ‘Fonction critique’ in three parts in Cahiers du cinéma issue 248, September 1973-January 1974, issue 250, May 1974 and issue 253, October-November 1974

And let’s simply hope that none of the film criticism written today will age as badly as this one!

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