One of the joys of the past fifteen years has been to experience the rise of a worldwide network of new film magazines and new film critics on the Internet. What was once the pained or melancholic solitude of a cinephile in Thailand or Australia or Brazil or the Netherlands swiftly turned into a loose kind of international community or family, with many formal and informal collaborations across languages and cultures: Filmkrant's 'Slow Criticism' adventures are just one example of this ongoing trend.
But there is a dark shadow to the joy. The late, lamented Nika Bohinc of Ekran magazine once expressed it well, if rather gloomily, circa 2007: 'With so many reviews of Death Proof circulating the globe now, who's really interested to read what a Slovenian cinephile thinks of Tarantino, beyond his or her immediate, local friends? The hip critics in Cahiers du cinéma, Cinema Scope, Film Comment and Sight and Sound are all saying much the same thing as us now, anyhow'.
There is an odd and disturbing convergence between this kind of 'cinephilic consensus' — hey, we all love Holy Motors, Straub & Huillet, José Luis Guerin, Béla Tarr and Tony Scott, don't we? — and the crazy neo-capitalist world we now find ourselves living in. One aspect of this new world, known as 'accelerationist aesthetics', has become the hot topic of this month ('vulgar auteurism' was so last month!), thanks to Steven Shaviro and others.
These analysts are trying to take realistic account of the ways in which all the things that critic-cinephiles most prize in themselves and their peers — things like strong emotions and tough opinions — are now being farmed and exploited as 'data' right up and down the marketing chain. And this happens precisely at the seemingly innocent 'interface point' where you press 'like' or publish your personal 'cultural favourites' lists on the merry, compulsive pages of the social media networks. Nobody is safe when culture starts accelerating!
All of this is creating more than a few niggling problems for the present and future of film criticism. All the best and memorable magazines in cinephile history have always had a recognisable line, they took a stand — for something, and against something else. In today's world, where international consensus quickly reaches 'critical mass' — and is almost as quickly turned into a string of touring film festival programs, DVD releases, and a couple more new magazines or websites of the Fandor or MUBI type — it is getting much harder to convincingly invent such a line.
Many polemical gestures in contemporary arts criticism carry a tired, desperate air. There are jaded endgames (bring on the burnout, the apocalypse), perverse nostalgias (hail the United Red Army of 50 years ago), simplistic re-runs (action movies will save us), conceptualist spirals (ever-finer meta-philosophical distinctions), creative outbursts (a 'new criticism' without words, only images and pop songs), and ceaseless calls to either bury or resurrect the soul of art. When all else fails, plain old enthusiasm for cinema (any cinema) just manages to pull us through: for there are always new films and new talents, from somewhere or other, worth championing.
Yet it is precisely in the manic drive to pinpoint (and promote) 'the new' that the strains in the edifice of current film criticism are showing. There is a frantic outbidding going on at the 'futures market' of cinema (it's like a scene from Antonioni's L'eclisse), where it is easy to fall upon, and wildly overpraise, any minor YouTube mash-up, son-of-Mumblecore improv, mildly nutty genre movie, or contemplative-cinema provocation.
Thanks to our accelerationist era, most of these 'discoveries' will be forgotten and mulched over in the blink of an eye. And that leaves only the Great Cinephile Canon, frightening and intimidating in its monumental consistency. No one dares to disagree with it. But that's where a truly new film magazine should begin...