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World Wide Angle | May 2011
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Film criticism has (at least) two speeds, two times. There is the 'long duration', the time of retrospect and hindsight, the distance that allows for measured judgement and contextualisation. This is the time used by cinema academics, by film history books, by critics at their leisure as they look back over and sum up trends, movements, cycles...
We tend to grant greater weight, greater authority to this criticism at slow speed. We trust what has been sifted, filtered, considered at length. We are comfortable with canon-formation, because those 'best' and 'most important' movie lists (of a year, a decade, a century, a nation, a world) save us the trouble of seeing so many mediocre or insignificant films for ourselves. Or so we suppose, from our safe, mediated distance.
Film critics often despair that they have no cultural power. But this is in fact the very real, even pernicious cultural power that they wield: it is the movies they collectively mention over and over, across time, which are the ones that are remembered and enshrined. Everything else falls away into the rather swift corrosion of oblivion.
But film criticism also has another time. It is the time of the eternal present, movies as they appear in theatres or at festivals, one by one, each of them fresh and new. This is the thick, never-ending forest of current films navigated by journalists, by entertainment reporters... and by monthly cinema magazines, whether they be low-brow populist or high-brow cinephilic in orientation, whether in hard print or on-line. De Filmkrant stands shoulder to shoulder, on this particular battlefield, with Cahiers du cinéma (France and España), Sight and Sound, Otros Cines, Film Comment, and so many others.
Some survive, some die: that is in the nature of publishing, and of economics. I have written for magazines that lasted for one issue (proudest credit on my curriculum vitae: Eye International, 1986, Volume Zero Issue Zero), and others that lasted for five, ten, twenty years. It is a rare achievement for a magazine — a give-away tabloid, no less — like De Filmkrant to scrape through to thirty years. How can any publication go on so long without congealing into an 'institution' in the worst sense — predictable, over-familiar, doctrinaire, cushioned from any external blow?
The fast speed of daily-weekly-monthly critique has a lot to do with a magazine staying in place but also dynamically changing, responding, adapting to the times. You have got to deal with each new thing as it comes; sometimes (in a good period, often) the old, standard moulds for placing films into just crack apart, and you fumble for some new genre, new style, new expression. But you never have time to turn that newness into a hard-and-fast system, because other films are already on the way and half-formed intuitions have to be left for the reflective occasion of that other, slower duration...
Of course, there are inherent problems in always 'being at the coal face' (as we say in English). Lacking perspective, there is a danger of over-investing, in the psychic and emotional sense: of finding the zeitgeist in anything before your eyes, of proclaiming masterpieces that are never going to stand up in the Court of Posterity. But who cares? There is no opportunity to take time out, to second-guess — no way to avoid the risky endeavour of spontaneous, responsive, immediate critique.
To the monthly editors and contributors of De Filmkrant I say, on this 30th birthday: continue to plunge in, dear friends, and come back to the surface swiftly, with your buried jewels and your handfuls of mud alike. Because it's all good.

Adrian Martin



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