December 2, 2011
How can I communicate the importance of a film without one dimensionalizing it and destroying its magic? I don’t know.
I never want to discuss cinema in a leaden and academic way, but what other way is taken seriously? Emotional discussion of film is often dismissed as juvenile, and this is unfortunate, but also strange. I have no interest in seeking objectivity through art, and since our idea of the objective in regards to art criticism means “from a white, male perspective”, it has no interest in me either.
Now, let me make this very clear, because there seems to be a little confusion:
This is not a blog about race, and it is not a blog about gender. It is a blog about film.
But because I am a woman, and because I am a woman of color, it will of course be about those things in the same way that a white male writing about a film, whether he knows it or not, cannot divorce his experience as a white male from any essay. Since “white male” is the world’s (and Hollywood’s) default setting, he believes that he moves through life race-less and gender-less, and so quite naturally, many of his reviews will not include mentions of gender or race. So deeply rooted is the white-male default viewpoint, even I find it hard to escape this thinking. When I think about script ideas, very often times I realize that the character I’ve been imagining is unconsciously a white man. From the moment he is born the way a white male sees the world, the way he forms sentences, the angles that catch his eye, will be different from a woman’s or a person of color’s. Of course this is the case for every person, but race and gender, along with class, are the largest dictators of how the world interacts with us, yet speaking explicitly from these experiences (as opposed to the implicit white male speech) has long been diminished or dismissed as a niche. When you write about a film, you write about yourself, and if you are not, it is bullshit.
My ideas, the things that move me inside and out of film, are always to some degree, informed by gender and race. This is the case with everyone. We are shaped by the way the world interacts with us. Trying to escape the confines of those interactions is key. If you are a woman or person of color, this involves asserting the legitimacy of your ideas. Ideas and ways of thinking that may be (because of your experience in the world) radically different from those already in place. So deeply entrenched is racism and sexism that too frequently we don’t even allow ourselves to think, to give weight to our own questions and observations. We know who the people are that have worthwhile thoughts, and we know what they look like. Those that do not experience sexism and racism regularly might consider this discussion wholly unnecessary as the strange idea that the “isms” are no longer an issue is pervasive. But those that do experience this, overtly or off-hand, will understand. It is a daily struggle, to not only prove your legitimacy to the rest of the world, but to yourself, because you will forget, and you will want to fall.
Perhaps worst of all, you may decide the easier path is to shape your ideas and way of being in the world to conform to the templates built from the white male perspective. By striving to stay personal in my reactions to film, I believe, I hope, I stay truer and perhaps even reach a more “objective” articulation of how the film feels and lives inside me and others.
My two major bugbears are the poetic and the intellectual. Unfortunately they rule the world and drive out the winged world that the poet occasionally succeeds in ensnaring. When I was young I used to sign my drawings and writings Jean l’Oiseleur â€“ Jean the Bird-Catcher.
It was Jean l’Oiseleur who made Le Testament d’Orphee in the hope of touching a few fraternal souls in this sad world. Goethe said: â€˜It is when we hug ourselves that we may encounter our soul-brothers.’ This is a dangerous slogan in an age when people are governed by depersonalization, which tries to abolish the differences and contrasts which used to give the universe a human face and succeeded in crushing monotony and automatism.
Here is my wish and my oracle: â€˜In the long term, depersonalization will fill people’s souls with such gloom that there will be a new victory of the singular over the plural, that the majority will cease to consider itself the supreme authority, that the sheep will no longer take the place of the shepard and that minorities, abandoning their dream of becoming the majority, will once more become like the priests who guarded the secrets of the temple; in short, the creative spirit, the highest form of the spirit of contradiction, will obliterate the modern â€œdo-as-you-wishâ€ â€“ the false freedom of action that is taught to American children, which deprives children, young people, heroes and artists of their essential motivation: disobedience.’
*I wrote an intro post for Mirror when it began in May ’10. I’ve re-written it a bit here to address certain questions and criticisms*
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