Archive for the ‘Rainer Werner Fassbinder’ Category

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What criticism can do…

August 30, 2009

Last year, at the New York Film Festival’s panel on film criticism, Jonathan Rosenbaum reminded the audience that “it’s very important to connect film to things outside of film…to the rest of your life, to other arts, things that are happening to you. If it’s an important art form, it’s important because it addresses the way we live.”

That virtue’s often lost in film criticism, and these days, it seems like a lot of it’s out there to cash in on hyperbole. But when criticism isn’t busy arbitrating taste, it can help the audience take more away from a picture and to view cinema in a way that makes it that much more meaningful.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The best example I’ve ever seen came from the German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, when he wrote about Douglas Sirk, a Hollywood filmmaker who specialized in melodramas.

Fassbinder didn’t talk about Sirk the way most critics talk about movies, he talked about them the way you might talk about a relative or a friend who’s experienced a difficult stretch in their lives. Sirk’s films may have been glamourous and over-the-top, but filtered through Fassbinder, the characters seemed down-to-earth and much more relatable. No matter how campy they seemed, how outrageous they became, Fassbinder turned your eyes just a little bit, enough that you could see how real they were underneath the garish Technicolor, with the same fears, wants, pains and happiness that any of us can have.

Fassbinder was a great critic, and it was even better to see him take what he saw in Sirk’s films and push it back out in his own work. But more importantly, Sirk’s films helped him “understand something about the world and what it was doing” to him. Fassbinder wrote that, and he meant it.

Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life"

Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life"

Fassbinder’s essay on Imitation of Life, courtesy of Google books.

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