Phriendly philm philosophy
December 18, 2006 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Metaphilm is the place to come for insights on (mostly) contemporary films, be they the interesting Punch-Drunk Love as postfeminist male's narrative and Nietzsche and the Meaning of Noir or the not-quite-so-interesting-but-certainly-interesting Identity as primer on Jacques Lacan. Once you've gotten past all the ph-instead-of-f spelling and exhausted the archives, be sure to play around with the Movie Mapper to find what scenes in film have taken place where. (two Metaphilm essays previously discussed here and here.)
posted by shakespeherian (67 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent post, thanks! Very nice site with lots to chew on.
posted by sluglicker at 1:13 AM on December 18, 2006

Wow. The Superman v. X-Men essay on Metaphilm's front page is my kind of intellectual porn. Thanks for this.

It's nice to see reviews of the X-Men (and now the Superman) movies that actually touch upon queer theory.
posted by mek at 1:46 AM on December 18, 2006

Title should have read: This is the kind of thing grad students masturbate to.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:56 AM on December 18, 2006

Thanks. I didn't really want to do any work today anyway.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:01 AM on December 18, 2006

Huh. A lot of this isn't brilliant, but there is a lot here, and I have definitely found some gems.

This article on Pulp Fiction certainly doesn't have any surprising conclusions, I'm sure, but it was a great read.

Good thing the power is still off in half of the metropolitan Seattle area from the catalysmic windstorm on Thursday and I'm not going into my electricity-deprived workplace, so I can keep reading some of this stuff.

Thanks for the post!
posted by blacklite at 2:24 AM on December 18, 2006

There's an article here about Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and it's quite interesting, but I printed it out and read it three and a half pints ago and now can't find it. It's here and it's quite good and thank you for posting this.
posted by bunglin jones at 4:57 AM on December 18, 2006

The "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" = the Holocaust essay is genius, and given the deviancies from the novel and Spielberg's involvement.

I wrote an essay for film class on "Jaws" focusing on how Brody was turned from an islander in the book to a newcomer in the movie and how this related to Spielberg's jewish background. I can't remember how much of that I just kinda hashed together.
posted by Brainy at 5:35 AM on December 18, 2006

Stuff on Metaphilm is interesting, but be aware it's run by evangelical Christians, and some of the essays are marked by the sort of intellectual tunnel vision peculiar to evangelicals.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:18 AM on December 18, 2006

The punch drunk love essay had a couple of good ideas, but it's a bit too much 'freshman english lit essay' for me.
posted by empath at 6:29 AM on December 18, 2006

Stuff on Metaphilm is interesting, but be aware it's run by evangelical Christians, and some of the essays are marked by the sort of intellectual tunnel vision peculiar to evangelicals.

That would explain the 8 Mile essay: Eminem stars as Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, in a movie that’s all about being righteous. Pretty interesting though.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:41 AM on December 18, 2006

As I am reading these analyzations, I can’t help thinking about the filmmakers’ intent. Do all the masturbatory pontifications of the observer make any sense at all if the creator of the film was not aware of the meanings to be found in it?

Sure, both the movies and articles provide lots of interesting sociological things to think about, but was The Curse of the Were-Rabbit about “a fear of the loss of meat in our diet” and “a fear of the loss of aggression” or was it about cute claymation?

Or am I just ignorant for thinking the latest Wallace and Gromit adventure was basically fun with British stereotypes, cute animals, and clay? Maybe Nick Park simply likes to make Wallace say “cheeeeeese!”
posted by bobobox at 6:48 AM on December 18, 2006

bobobox, the art/beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I can say that some directors actually do go to absurd lengths to do this kind of stuff. Just listen to the Joe Carnahan commentay on Narc. He's added loads of stuff in the film that most viewers will never pick up on.

I'm sure Nick Park lkes to make Wallace say 'cheeeeeeese!', but I'm also damned sure that that emotion won't carry him through a production that can take 1 to 3 years to complete...

If I recall correctly, on the commentary track for Swimming with Sharks, George Huang talks about a interpretation of his film that he didn't even consider but likes more than his own. And it's quite out there when it comes to theories.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:08 AM on December 18, 2006

The Donnie Darko essays are interesting, I've had a couple bookmarked for a long time.
posted by Science! at 7:31 AM on December 18, 2006

You are right, of course, slimepuppy.

Filmmakers must have monumental forces driving them to create and usually have intents that a casual observer would never dream of.
I like art for its own sake but I always want to know what the artist was thinking about. For some reason, knowing the artist or the reality of the situation from which it was created grounds it for me.

It is fun to hold up art/film/whatever up against society and draw some conclusions but it sometimes seems so... futile. Maybe I just have a “reality” complex. (and I say that with oodles of other layers and hidden meanings) really
posted by bobobox at 7:31 AM on December 18, 2006

That's fair enough, really. My girlfriend has the very same 'reality complex' approach to life in general. She and I also have wildly differing opinions when it comes to contemporary art... I love drawing my own intepretations on art and go on extended flights of fancy and wanky pseudo-intellectual tirades, while she tends to sigh and say 'it's a fucking bale of hay with string around it'.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2006

The plurality of voices, presented cinematically to evoke the experience of pressurized chaos, leaves the audience with the distinct impression of the futility of male attempts at patriarchal performances.

Oy vey .....
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2006

As a film maker, I'd have to say that I both love to read these kinds of essays, but at the same time, I share bobobox's concern that much of what all of these are is basically masterbation.

It was the problem I had when taking graduate film critical studies classes to get my MFA - the people thinking like this are far more into Theory and all the implications of that, post modernism, deconstruction, etc. than they are at actually seeing what the film maker is doing, which I find far more interesting.

To me, I'm more interested in how the film maker tells a story, what tools he tells it with, the techniques, etc. that he's doing, than these kind of abstract half assed sociological essays that basically close read the films to help the writer pursue whatever their Theoretical axe to grind is.

Sometimes film makers put things in there that no one ever notices. Other times people see things that the film maker never intended.

Everyone's welcome to enjoy cinema the ways they choose to, but some of these are just too much wanking for my taste.
posted by MythMaker at 9:59 AM on December 18, 2006

... I love drawing my own interpretations on art and go on extended flights of fancy and wanky pseudo-intellectual tirades,

When I was younger and still thought I could have some significant impact on the world, I wanted to start The Pseudo-Intellectual Movement. Art for thoughts sake. The more a piece of art got the gears moving in your head creating little theories about it's meaning the better it was. Think of it, an objective way of measuring arts worth that immediately sank the disambiguous world of commercial art.

Great link.
posted by trinarian at 10:09 AM on December 18, 2006

Oh man, read their V for Vendetta essay. It's priceless that they choose to read the storyline defensively as a critique of Bush, when the graphic novel clearly owes more to Orwell and Thatcher.

I don't think it's ever a question of artists *not* infusing their works with deeper meaning. I think it's more a question of whether the insights of art are accessible to or even suited to the approach of sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and the like. Remember that not too long ago, psychology was considered the ultimate metric of art by academics. Today it is sociology, and tomorrow the trend will change to some other field.

Of course, one unchanging proof of understanding art is that you can create it yourself, and successfully. On this, I think there is far too little said.

A degree in women's studies or theology does not mean that you comprehend Chaucer as poetry, Pulp Fiction as film, or the Ford Model T as a work of mechanical engineering. To truly understand the world of made things, you should indulge in their making as much as possible.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:14 AM on December 18, 2006

I've been a Metaphilm reader for a while now. My only complaint is how infrequently people actually post submitted articles.
posted by smallerdemon at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2006

The "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" = the Holocaust essay is genius, and given the deviancies from the novel and Spielberg's involvement.

There's certainly an indictment of California selling its soul as it rises as an economic superpower during the 50s, but that essay was a very interesting read, given Spielberg's oevre.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2006

As I am reading these analyzations, I can’t help thinking about the filmmakers’ intent. Do all the masturbatory pontifications of the observer make any sense at all if the creator of the film was not aware of the meanings to be found in it?

Intentional fallacy
posted by shakespeherian at 11:23 AM on December 18, 2006

David Lynch to an explanation-obsessed audience member: "the words coming out of your mouth are very beautiful."
posted by muckster at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2006

a poem does not belong to its author, but rather “it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The poem belongs to the public.” -from the intentional fallacy link

Were you affected at all by your creator (by that I mean your parents)? You are indeed your own person and you may be free from the control of those who created you, but no one can deny the effects of being born of certain people and into a certain situation.

A piece of art on display for the public does belong to the public to make of it what they will. I just don’t really get how you can deny the influence of the artist. Okay, I do see how it doesn’t actually matter, but personally, I like to know.

If I know nothing about the intentions of the artist, I end up appreciating the aesthetics for their own sake but not getting a whole lotta meaning out of it. On the other hand, knowing the intention sometimes RUINS the experience. Case in point: I was unable or unwilling to watch The Passion of Christ on its own terms for many, many, reasons. I don’t feel I lost out on that one, though.
posted by bobobox at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2006

If you like intellectual porn involving film and serious philosophical thought, this is the most impressive [.pdf] I've read.
posted by dios at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, do not miss the endnotes/footnotes in that article. They are cruchy goodness.
posted by dios at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2006

Oh man, read their V for Vendetta essay. It's priceless that they choose to read the storyline defensively as a critique of Bush, when the graphic novel clearly owes more to Orwell and Thatcher.

That same critic painfully misreads the Matrix films for Metaphilm as well.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:59 PM on December 18, 2006

Do all the masturbatory pontifications of the observer make any sense at all if the creator of the film was not aware of the meanings to be found in it?

I'd say that any work of art with any depth is going to have meaning that the author didn't intend. I'm not talking about some wonky post-modern theory or about bizarre interpretations out of left field. It's just the fact that a story/image/etc. resonates in more ways than anyone (including the creator) can enumerate that makes it art.
posted by Leonard of Vince at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2006

Okay, that Punch-Drunk Love essay was kick-ass fantastic. Thank you so much for this.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2006

In aesthetics, it's widely agreed that the intentional fallacy is itself a fallacy.

To use a vivid though not exactly perfect analogy: Take two meals that taste exactly the same but you know one has been spat in by the chef. Which do you prefer? Or a original Van Gogh and its forgery, or a performance of Beethoven's 9th and the wind blowing through a house that happens to sound just the same... We care about how the work was produced, and its often worth finding out more about it.

btw trinarian, your art for thoughts sake sounds a bit like Kant's idea of the sublime, i.e. beauty as stimulating an endless rush of images and meanings. Also, most artists I've heard talking are in general very tolerant of people reading in extra meaning (so long as its at least intelligible and can be justified by the work). It's fascinating to see something you have created generate unexpected meanings and resonances.
posted by leibniz at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2006

I think the idea of the intentional fallacy to be a fallacy, however. It privilages the "critic" and their Theory above the actuality of the artist and what it is that they were doing.

In their analysis, it's more like they pick apart the work of art and try to put it back together as something else entirely. They might as well be discussing jelly donuts, for all the relevance it has to the work of art and the people who made that work.

I think Theory (with a capital T) and all this kind of reading just spins itself off into a self reflexive corner and never comes up for air.
posted by MythMaker at 1:17 PM on December 18, 2006

On (non) preview, I see leibniz hit the intentional fallacy as a fallacy meme first.
posted by MythMaker at 1:18 PM on December 18, 2006

Bookmarked for future long perusal. Thanks for the links!
posted by hifiparasol at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2006

“masturbatory pontifications” quote from Trainspotting (and the review) - what people forget is the sheer pleasure of it. Masturbation that is. Pontificating is just a means.
Nice links, needs more “Cube.” Though I think everything needs more Cube, so...
posted by Smedleyman at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2006

I thought his critiques of V were salient. Frankly, while I enjoyed the movie it was a bit one dimensional. The Wachowski brothers are really stretching beyond their capabilities since The first Matrix.
posted by delmoi at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2006

Smedleyman, there is an article on Cube in there. Quite insightful if not exactly profound. Unless, of course, you meant Cube 2: HYPERCUBE!!!!!111 (caps and exclamation marks added by yours truly for awesomeness³).

And thanks all for making this one of the more compelling posts to read through for a while.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:09 PM on December 18, 2006

Well, I tried the article you linked, dios, but couldn't get past the author's habit of placing quote marks around any term he found contestable. Which is not to say that the significations of these words are not eminently debatable, but in the absence of any useful kind of definition or territory in which these terms can be shown to operate in the sense of positive entities, (or their substitution for others), all that is going on is sparring at shadows without any actual engagement going on at all.

Nor is there any substantive analysis of codes of mise en scène, cinematography, direction, soundscape, etc. as they relate to the articulation of the thematic concerns of the film; which is to say that in this analysis the book and the film of Fight Club might just as well be the same entity. In my view, this is no type of film critique.
posted by Wolof at 4:04 PM on December 18, 2006

Leibniz, your example is kind of silly, as the two meals differ not based on any extant intentionality but rather because of the substantive addition of one chef's spit. The better analogy is that one chef intended the meal from the onset, where the other simply bounced around the kitchen, going with the flow, taking advice from others, before almost randomly generating the meal before you.

So if the analogy above is what the philosophical study of aesthetics gets you, I'd switch to something more interesting, like truth tables. (sarcasm)

Regardless, it's not even a question of intention, because even in the most dictatorial of auteur situations, the director must rely upon the work of others, and even if in some extreme situation, the film is about the director and filmed by the director (Tarnation is the closest example I can think of), even then the film does not emerge ex nihilo from the creative genius of the film-maker. That's not how the generation of ideas - what is known as invention - works. Rather, invention is a process by which one takes an understanding of form (an understanding that is socially contingent), combines it with their own idiosyncratic exposure to culture, family, and psyche, and then works through a process that has technological and social constraints in order to produce something. I doubt any intent rigorous and strict enough to earn the name can survive such a process.

Instead, the far more productive approach is to treat these artifacts as symptoms of the environment that produces them, since no filmmaker can jump their own shadow (to borrow a phrase). In such a situation, the film's meaning is neither absolute nor open for any sort of subjective accounting, but rather gets read against the cultural backdrop that makes such a film possible.

For example, one can easily look at two films with very similar plot structures - Tron and the original Matrix - and scope their differences, seeing in them an entirely different cultural appreciation not only of cyberspace/internet as a phenomenon, but also an entirely different understanding of corporeality. Intent can support symptomatic readings, but it does not determine them, since the assumption that intent can be known, that our thoughts are fully transparent to ourselves (rather than, say, retroactive justifications that reconcile cognition with outcome), has been so discredited that it borders on being a punchline.
posted by hank_14 at 4:12 PM on December 18, 2006

And to be clear, that means I think the "intentional fallacy is a fallacy" is a fallacy. We can keep being clever like this all day, with just a bit of extra typing.

And Mythmaker, what makes the artist so special? How many artists die with their art unknown and/or unappreciated? It seems to me that given that social reception is the precondition for the elevation of the artist as such (in that absence collective acceptance and appreciation, we would never know of the person as an artist), it hardly makes sense to then degrade social reception as the source of art's meaning or value.
posted by hank_14 at 4:16 PM on December 18, 2006

hank_14, before I respond, I just want to say that your response was really quite good, and thought provoking, and one of the better justifications for this kind of approach.

To rebut, I'd say what makes the artist so special is that he (or she) is the one who made the damn thing. Works of art are not discovered, like scientific principles, they are generated. Perhaps not ex nihilo, but generated none the less. To quote Frank Zappa : “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”

When you make art, you take nothing and make something. With current PoMo forms of expression, the mashup, etc., perhaps nothing isn't quite the right word for what you take, but certainly you are creating something that wasn't there before.

When discussing science, we are talking about things that already exist, they are discovered. But art is generated by a person. To say that the person who creates the art is irrelevant to our understanding of that art, to quote wikipedia: "...the author's intention is not particularly important," is much the same problem I have when a fan says "I discovered this music."

No. An artist made that music. It was created. You didn't discover it the same way Newton discovered gravity. You consumed it, and it was built and designed for your consumption.

The artist who made the work of art had an intention, used techniques, has a style. I think these are significant and important things.

I think what bothers me the most about contemporary "Theory" is that, it seems to me, they can't see the forest for the trees. When talking about a movie, they talk about everything EXCEPT the movie. It's non-sociologists arguing that the "text" shows x about sociology. Or non-historians pointing out that these films demonstrate y about sexism in a particular moment in history. etc. etc.

There are usually Theoretical axes to grind (post modernism, feminism, marxism, etc. etc.) which are the REAL point. The films are merely the thing to which the REAL point has been applied.

Also, the thing about social reception is that it tells us something about the societies in question (like, why is Philip K. Dick mainstreamed now, while in the 50s and 60s he was super marginal, and what does that tell us about these two societies?), but it illucidates more about the cultures than it does the works of art.

That fine if you are talking about culture, but, again, we've missed the forest (the work of art itself) for the trees (all the stuff around it, the culture, pre-existing art, etc.)

As for me, I'd rather talk about the movie itself.
posted by MythMaker at 4:51 PM on December 18, 2006

Oh man, read their V for Vendetta essay. It's priceless that they choose to read the storyline defensively as a critique of Bush, when the graphic novel clearly owes more to Orwell and Thatcher.

Uh huh. V for Vendetta had nothing to do with Bush. Nothing at all! Honest!

I know it's based on a comic book, and I suppose the movie could have just been well-timed, and not at all a political critique. Suuuuure. Why would a filmmaker want to produce a work of relevance, anyway?
posted by mek at 4:55 PM on December 18, 2006

That fine if you are talking about culture, but, again, we've missed the forest (the work of art itself) for the trees (all the stuff around it, the culture, pre-existing art, etc.)

What an odd analogy. Would not a work of art be a tree in the forest? I mean, otherwise the work of art is itself constituted by "all the stuff around it," i.e. the whole of human history. Actually, on second thought, I like that.

Dying to know what your conception of art theory would be. I mean, if we aren't to compare a work of art to other things, how is it to be understood? Would any comprehension be possible at all? What would make something ART, as opposed to a mere thing? Isn't culture the essence of art? Is it not created to be communicated?

If a movie is just a movie, we watch it, it ends, and then we go do something else. Why discuss it at all? If it begs discussion, does it not have artistic merit, and thereby qualify as "a work of art"?

These questions are all rhetorical, why am i posting this. Ugh.
posted by mek at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2006

In my view, this is no type of film critique.
posted by Wolof at 6:04 PM CST on December 18

And you would be correct. The article makes it clear that the focus is on the book, and not the movie. Consequently, the problem lies with me. I was the bozo who said it had to do with the film. My apologies for being misleading.

As for the quote marks, I would agree. But I wonder if that was the author's doing or the editors at the Harvard journal. I don't know. But once you ignore that, it really makes some amazing points with respect to the book, nihilism, religion, nominalism, etc. His comments on Plato's cave and the analog to Genesis were things which had not occurred to me in before, but now seem so glaring that I am embarrassed I had not thought about them before. That article is a tour de force once you can get past the quote marks and really shows the power of facing.

But one of the things that I liked most about it was the author's continued efforts to explain the intellectual enterprise behind this kind of thinking instead of it just being intellectual masturbation. And I have a fond place in my heart for anyone who can go through that level of thought and end with humility by saying: Is this all the judgment and yearnings of the beast? It requires more resources than I have at my disposal to determine whether these transcendent yearnings are more than mere solipsism.... Whether Socratic aporia is suited to the requirements of action is a question for another occasion, and more competent storytellers.

And it has a truly, truly great line in there that really strikes me in that same way that I usually feel after I read Hamlet again and stumble upon some new line I never really thought about before:
All caves have their governing prejudices, and ours is no different.
posted by dios at 5:17 PM on December 18, 2006

mek - your confusion about the forest vs. the trees is, IMHO, the central point of contention.

Which is more central to the discussion of an individual work of art:

1. the work itself - what was the artist trying to do, and how well did he do it? what techniques were used? how does it relate to the body of work of this particular artist?


2. the culture in which this work of art was created?

To me, as a working film maker, I am far more interested in talking about what the artist intended and how well he achieved that intention.

Additionally, I think ART as a concept is huge. I feel that anything that someone conceives of as art IS ART (i.e. Duchamp [whose imitators I think have destroyed contemporary fine art, but that's a broader discussion])

Not necessarily GOOD ART, but art none the less.

I would also reverse your formulation, mek, IMHO, it's not that culture is the essence of art, it is that art is the essence of culture.

Culture becomes the collective set of art created by the members of a community.

It's perfectly possible to create great art with little back and forth with the greater culture - Emily Dickenson, for example.

I am also interested in comparing different works of art, of course, it's not the comparison I object to.

It's the amateur sociologizing of the non-sociologists writing papers about movies. They're not writing about movies, they are writing about Theory, which is mostly divorced from a genuine critical analysis of a work of art on its own terms, and suffers from the superimposition of the critic's preexisting axe to grind.
posted by MythMaker at 5:46 PM on December 18, 2006

I mean, if we aren't to compare a work of art to other things, how is it to be understood? Would any comprehension be possible at all? What would make something ART, as opposed to a mere thing? Isn't culture the essence of art? Is it not created to be communicated?

A piece of Art can never truly Exist in a hermetic vacuum; it must inspire and be inspired by the Chorus in order to earn its name. The Dialog is the Art.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:51 PM on December 18, 2006

I think the dialog is the reaction to the art, but that the art is the work of art itself.
posted by MythMaker at 5:54 PM on December 18, 2006

For example, which is more important, watching Citizen Kane, or talking about Citizen Kane?

Watching Shakespeare or talking about it?

Listening to Mozart or debating it?

I think the discussion part is derivative of the actual work of art, which is, IMHO, the actual work of art.
posted by MythMaker at 6:01 PM on December 18, 2006

Art and audience are artifices of an atomic perspective. The Meaning-of-the-Artwork encapsulates Art-in-itself and audience-beholding-the-art, where they intersect and enrich the other. Art-in-itself without an audience has no Meaning and is just another thing, another dead rock.

The Jug is not merely a jug, but is a Jug for the functionality it provides, in holding water in its negative space, in pouring water into a glass and quenching our thirsts. Its meaning and power lies in what we don't see.

To get back to the topic of the thread, these essays may or may not reflect the intent of the creator, but they reflect a dialog taking place about creative works, within the framework of an ever-evolving culture, and as such makes the work a Living Thing for its creator and its audience. For if we were not to have this discussion, the Art might well have never been Created at all. No one would have cared.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on December 18, 2006

Uh huh. V for Vendetta had nothing to do with Bush. Nothing at all! Honest!

The story, being (and here I'll agree with the reviewer) extremely simplified, has pretty broad relevance. But do you agree with the reviewer that V for Vendetta is the result of "hysterical paranoia" directed at "George Bush's America?" Sorry, but his tone and arguments throughout seem bizarrely defensive. Alan Moore was going into apoplectic fits over possible movie adaptations long before this reviewer cast his 2000 ballot. Speaking of whom, I wonder if he's been ghost-writing reviews ( :)
posted by kid ichorous at 6:14 PM on December 18, 2006

This is such a fascinating discussion to me. I find this other perspective really quite refreshing, I must say.

I think much of this is really about perspective. Who, in the equation, do you identify with, and whose perspective are you most interested in?

For me, as an artist, I'm most interested in the artist. I look at art trying to figure out what the intention was, and whether or not it was achieved. I identify with the creator of the work, and see this whole equation from their POV.

What I hear from many people on here, though, is that they take the opposite POV. Uninterested in the creator of the work, they are only interested in their personal subjective experience of the work.

Fascinating. That's just not how I approach art at all. I'm mostly interested in how they did it, and what it means.
posted by MythMaker at 6:18 PM on December 18, 2006

Myth, I think if we were talking explicitly about writing (or screenwriting) you'd find more consensus here. Personal authorship truly exists in writing, whereas films are too often manufactured by committee.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:41 PM on December 18, 2006

Myth, what I was trying to suggest earlier is that the binary between authorial intent (which is subjective) and audience interpretation (which is also subjective) isn't really operable. Authors write with an audience in mind, they write in ways constrained by the technological apparatuses available to them, they conform (or rebel against, which still requires a prior conformity) the genres under which work gets done, and the author or artist still only creates their art from the resources available to him or her, and so the meaning of their art is never exclusively their own.

It's neither the audience's nor the artist's meaning that matters, at least in the sense of telling us anything valuable; rather it's the combination/confluence of artist and audience (the latter making the former, the former cultivating the latter) that tells us about a particular set of cultural conditions. Why, for example, does Picasso suddenly paint like he does - and equally importantly - what made it possible to appreciate his art (i.e. what cultural conditions needed to be in place in order for people to embrace it)? Why does Nietzsche write his first book of aphorisms after seclusion with an early prototype of the typewriter? Why did the last three years produce a plethora of feel-good sports hero movies based in the time of the Great Depression? Why does a cultural hero archtype like Stalone and Arnold start to fade by the late 80s? And then resurface (the Rock), albeit with more irony, in the 00s? Etc. etc. These questions show that art matters not because of artist or audience but because of prior conditions that produce both artist and audience as social determinations.
posted by hank_14 at 7:00 PM on December 18, 2006

I look at art trying to figure out what the intention was, and whether or not it was achieved. I identify with the creator of the work, and see this whole equation from their POV.

What I hear from many people on here, though, is that they take the opposite POV. Uninterested in the creator of the work, they are only interested in their personal subjective experience of the work.

Wait, aren't you doing exactly the same thing? You're projecting your own subjective interpretation of what you think the artist was trying to achieve, and then applying your own subjective interpretation of the term 'success' to determine the merit of the work. In the end the only things you have to work with are the text and yourself, and whatever miscellaneous bits of data you can gather from interviews and websites. At what point do you deal with any real concrete concept of THE author's one intent?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:12 PM on December 18, 2006

Kid Ichorous - Yes, films are collaborative art, but you'll find that it's a collaboration among artists. So's a rock band. Or an orchestra. Or theater. There are lots of collaborative arts.

Now, on the studio side of things, that's something else entirely. They are mostly business people. But on the production side, the people who are actually making the thing - writers, directors, D.P.s, editors, designers of various ilk, actors - these people are talented, hard working professional artists, whose artistic contribution is often under appreciated, because the viewer doesn't see the process. Which is the problem with the auteur theory.

There's still quite a bit of cinema produced, world wide, that has a strong POV and has something interesting to say, artistically. Hollywood studio movies are often more concerned about selling lots of tickets. But not always.

Hank_14 - I like the way you explain yourself. And I find that I'm in agreement - all of the questions you've asked are really pretty interesting, and valuable. That's not the kinds of PoMo Theory that I was decrying.

I do get your point, though. You argue that art is in the seeing. That the essential act of art is the aesthetic appreciation by the spectator. In many ways, that's probably true. If no one is watching what you're doing, you're doing it by yourself - which is to say, wanking. And I hope that art is more than just wanking.

Although, sometimes it *is* just wanking, too. Or a joke.

And while it is certainly true that all artists are creating in a particular time and place, and are constrained by that time and place, nevertheless, it seems to me, that the best art, the finest art, the stuff that seems to survive, is the stuff that's timeless. That there is something universal in it that still resonates with people.

It's why Bugs Bunny cartoons can still be watched, while most other cartoons of that era are unwatchable - it's timeless, universal, transends its own moment in history. It can survive in different times, different cultures. Shakespeare, Aristotle, Mozart - the really good ones are certainly of their time and place, but they were more than that.

But the kinds of intelligent questions you're asking are different from the PoMo arguments that run themselves in circles. You are arguing to see the bigger picture, which I'm in favor of -- it's mostly that I think some of these essays, and this line of thinking, are intellectual dead ends, endlessly pontificating about the subtext of the subtext, drawing conclusions that are questionably relevant to anything at all.

I get your point, though.
posted by MythMaker at 11:33 PM on December 18, 2006

shakespeherian - I tend to frame it that way, asking myself what was this person trying to do? Shock us? Make us laugh? Cry? Come our pants from aesthetic pleasure? Maybe they're trying to make a lot of money. There's all kinds of intentions, and usually pretty obvious - they were trying to shoot a movie but making it look like it's all one take (Rope) - Hitchcock pulled it off, but made a boring movie. The Shining - trying to scare the shit out of us. Successful.
posted by MythMaker at 11:37 PM on December 18, 2006

RE V for Vendetta = critique of Bush: The message of the original comic has nothing to do with the case. What's an adaptation but a re-imagining of an existing work, including its themes? All great adaptations change the original works' themes to some extent.
posted by Tuffy at 11:43 PM on December 18, 2006

MythMaker-- But how do you know Kubrick was trying to scare the shit out of you with The Shining? How do you know he wasn't trying to critique television, or Jackson's treatment of Native Americans? What you are doing to reach this conclusion is addressing the text and attempting to understand how it works, and then assuming that the way it works (or attempts to work) must be the author's intent. In my opinion, addressing the text by itself without invoking the name of a dead guy gets the same results without your putting words in someone's mouth.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:19 AM on December 19, 2006

Myth, I'm not so much defending the essays on the site, as I tend to agree that a lot of cultural criticism is an exercise in invention in its own right. I'm about as post-structural in my theoretical inclination as they come, but for me the more interesting axis is the combination of what, following Foucault, is called the conditions of emergence (what unique historical cultural contexts made such an artifact thinkable, producible, and received well enough that we're even discussing it) and what, following Derrida, is termed the conditions of possibility (what internal logics or presuppositions are at work to make a given artifact make sense, or to give it the semblance of a meaning, or of multiple meanings).

There is a way of critically engaging a text that celebrates the interpretive act over and above the context of the artifact (it has different names; in lit studies one hears of New Criticism, reader-response theory, and so on; in rhetoric and to some extent sociology, it goes by polysemy; and of course in cultural studies it goes by the name Ideologiekritik). This isn't my thing, precisely because I tend to think that the interpretive act is as overdetermined by the conditions of emergence and possibility as is the production, and so I tend to to think of artifacts (by which I mean both the production and reception, since without the reception enabling a sense of the artifact's importance, we would never discuss that given artifact) as symptoms of cultural moments. The approaches that celebrate interpretation tend to be less concerned with that.

That being said, there is a rather roundabout and somewhat convincing defense for these approaches, though the defense is essentially political. The argument is that a) in general, art, texts, and artifacts do carry with them certain ideological affirmations, and that these affirmations are passed on to those who consume them, b) people tend to swallow these ideological commitments without much critical reflection, and c) engaging in or reading acts of particularly aggressive interpretation serve as a form of counterbalance, one that makes possible an appreciation for art that allows one to maintain a critical distance between the artifact and its ideological apparatus. This seems like a fairly solid argument from my perspective, except for the structural limitation I mentioned above, but it obviously operates on a different set of value assumptions than the ones that animate your interest in art and the artist.
posted by hank_14 at 1:14 AM on December 19, 2006

The article makes it clear that the focus is on the book, and not the movie.

Yeah, but he frames his initial discussion in terms of Ebert's discussion of the film.

So, you know, if you took it that way it's scarcely astonishing.
posted by Wolof at 2:04 AM on December 19, 2006

PS, I don't think there's any actual editing going on in that essay as such. Dopey errors like "Gospell" say "electronic submission untouched by human hands" to me.
posted by Wolof at 2:08 AM on December 19, 2006

This discussion has gone about a thousand times better than I was expecting. Thanks very much for your articulate contributions, hank_14. (and for provoking them Myth ;) Flagged as fantastic.

On a side note, this site may be Christian in origin but a lot of their contributing writers do not appear to come from this background. For example, there is an essay about God in Donnie Darko (hard to avoid) but then there's another focusing on the importance of the 80s balladry. Mellow enough for even an atheist like myself to swallow.
posted by mek at 6:04 AM on December 19, 2006

One (I suspect final) note on this. Reading back over the exchanges, I think the difference between the art-centered, the audience-centered, and the culture-centered approaches is largely one of generative order, which is to say that the artist can only produce culture in as much as their art exerts an influence upon that culture and bends it to its artist's intent, whereas the causal flow moves the opposite direction for the culture-centered approach. The audience-centered approach is a bit trickier, since there the generative order implicates who controls the "appropriate meaning" of the art, and not necessarily its influence.

While I obviously side with the culture-centered approach, I do think that there's give, and certainly the culture focus is not mutually exclusive with the artist focus; rather it's just a question of emphasis. Both sides exert feedback loops upon each other, it's just that for me I cede more weight to culture than I do to the artist. We love to imagine that there is something like an artistic genius out there, who can compose great symphonies and make art that changes the world, but part of this supposition is the recuperation of that infamous autonomous subject, the one that thinks and therefore is, and that in the case of the genius thinks so differently, so much better, that they see truth, produce truth in art, and so on. But this is somewhat of a shell game, in that this genius artist as subject still owes their capacity for genius to the culture. Artists learn their techniques through emulation or training; great poets speak in a language that is learned from others; and in each case, the author/artist must use certain media that constrain them. Film and print are linear media, and that produces certain social and technical constraints that an artist can fight against but cannot overcome. Plato, to pick a strident example, is considered a sea-change in Greek philosophy, his thought holding sway (over the West and its metaphysics in particular) for the next 1500 years. But there's a more substantive explanation for this ascendancy than some mystic genius: Plato is one of the first Greek philosophers to grow up with a knowledge of writing, and almost all of his most important contributions (especially the notion of the per se, the thing itself, which is what makes something like the forms possible), can be attributed to a changing way of thinking brought on by literacy. Eric Havelock has a series of books that outline the importance of writing to Plato's philosophy, which I recommend highly, but the gist is that the concept of a separation between the knower and the known, which is integral to Platonic thought, never makes sense prior to the separation of words from speaker. Jack Goody has found similar changes in thought patterns when other oral cultures are introduced to literacy. Anyway, the point is that culture matters, a lot.

Which isn't to say that artists and authors do nothing original. They do, it's just that their originality is often still embedded in cultural dynamics, and often their originality is only recognized as such when certain cultural thematics are in place. So new thought occurs, in fact to some limited extent all art, all thought, is new, it's just constrained, and I prefer studying the constraints rather than celebrating the genius. Ernesto Laclau has this great definition of agency - which is the term used to talk about precisely this issue of someone's capacity to act or think as "themselves:" that agency is the distance between the decision and the structure that determines that decision. So the capacity to act is there, but it's never entirely divorced from the structures that constrain it. Which is really just another way of saying the structures that enable it.
posted by hank_14 at 6:35 AM on December 19, 2006

"We can keep being clever like this all day, with just a bit of extra typing."
posted by hank_14

*cackles with glee*

I am glad we could have this discussion, because, really, truly, the problem I was having with the linked articles was I didn't have anyone to talk with about them. It frustrates me to read bold statements about the TRUTH of a piece of art if I can't argue with it. Critiques are always presented as fact (as they should be, it makes for weak writing and tedious reading if the author is always stating that, well, maybe, it's only their opinion). It irks me to no end when I can't argue a different view.

The links got my synapses going ping!, so thanks shakespeherian and thank you to everyone who shared their ideas and opinions.
posted by bobobox at 6:58 AM on December 19, 2006

thanks slimepuppy , I didn't see the cube 2 one
posted by Smedleyman at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2006

Thanks for a great discussion.
posted by MythMaker at 3:32 PM on December 19, 2006

I win MetaFilter!
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 PM on December 19, 2006

Sigh. From the Superman vs. X-Men essay: "Though the dilemma of Superman, Lois, Lois’s fiancé, and their son is treated respectfully and sensitively in the film, one can’t help thinking that Bryan Singer’s homosexuality must have contributed to the creation of a plot twist that likely would have seemed instinctively wrong—and thus as a side-effect sacrilegious—to most heterosexual male genre writers."

That's weak. Using biography to interpret is lazy, and it's doubly lazy when you note that there are 4 other writers on the film besides the creators of the characters. Also, kind of creepy.

Metaphilm seems kind of amateurish to me*, and I would say that they seem to strive to make film theory accessible to a wider audience (i.e. they define lots of terms to a pretty basic level, and that film noir piece just seemed (based on not reading the whole thing) to retread the usual "what is film noir?" intro film primer); but stuff like the above quoted is kind of irresponsible.

*Snobby grad student
posted by SoftRain at 10:33 PM on December 20, 2006

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