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A.O. Scott

Missing the Point: A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis and the Pleasures of “Difficult” Cinema

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The June 19 New York Times Entertainment Section ran a dialogue following up on a previous article in the May 1 Times Magazine by Dan Kois whose flavor, I suspect, is captured by the introduction the June 19 story suggesting that the article equated watching Solaris with eating “cultural vegetables;” something Krois has been told must be good for him but that he doesn’t find much fun. There is also a digression into the pros and cons of “slow cinema,” aka Ozu, Kelly Reichardt, Antonioni, Tarr, and Akerman. Leaving aside that Ozu is the greatest artist the medium has produced, and the others occupy less exalted status, the digression ignores the point that the “slow” approach has won the day. While “fast cinema” may rule the roost in Hollywood and its orbit, “slow cinema” has totally encompassed nearly all the most interesting work done outside the Hollywood axis for at least the last quarter of a century; its primacy if not quite running from A to Z at least extends from Angelopoulos through Hou Hsiao-hsien and Kiarostami all the way to, well, Wenders. Although the films, with their slow pacing and commitment to contemplation, may tax Krois’ attention span, the trend is unmistakable and the works speak for themselves.

But the larger colloquy in the article almost completely misses two key points. First, if someone who styles himself a reasonably dedicated cineaste has been working to educate his palate, not to achieve initiation into the realm of “high culture” but to optimize the ability to appreciate the varied rewards cinema has to offer, there shouldn’t be a wide gap, much less a chasm, between what he enjoys and appreciates. No one with a brain would suggest that the fact that a self-styled jazz enthusiast doesn’t “enjoy” Charlie Parker (or most of John Coltrane) says something about their art being too rarefied; the “enthusiast” is at best a boor, more likely a cretin, and not someone with whom I would want to have a serious—or any—discussion.

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