Eric Rohmer: Realist and Moralist

May 2, 2009

I found this book worthwhile, especially as it is so short.

The author, C. G. Crisp, gives a much more objective interpretation to Rohmer’s films, based on his reading of Rohmer’s interviews and criticism, than I had come to from only the films. Crisp sees the films as a narrative of a journey away from and back to a place in the normal order, an order both natural and moral. I had viewed them as an individual’s struggle toward self discovery. It is only in the last scene, and after many false tries, that it is apparent what the person trully desires. Our usual condition, then, is to be caught up in self deception, making ourselves miserable while trying  both to live out and to rationalize a way of life that does not suit us.

The book dates from 1988, so it does not cover the more recent films, but that hardly makes a difference.


Art As Religion

May 27, 2007

This week I read Peter J. Bailey’s The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. His theme is the way Allen plays off art against life throughout his films, with a constant attack on the idea that art is more important than living, or that art redeems life. Allen, being an artist known for sacrificing personal relationships to his film work, is in a conflicted position himself on this.

Is this topic central to the themes of the films in Bailey’s book just because it is Bailey’s chosen topic to study (instead of, say, gender relationships in Allen’s films)? Or is the topic really the central recurring theme of Allen’s work? Perhaps we need to look at it another way. In the world of Allen’s films, largely the world of New York intellectuals, or the world as seen by them, art plays a role much like that which religion does for more normal people. Art is expected to provide meaning to existence, the values to guide choices, and a fullness of living that is only ever demanded of it by a few elite minorities throughout history.

It is inviting, therefore, to consider whether Allen’s films could be translated for a different broader audience by replacing art with religion and then using the same plots and personal crises. In how many films would this work, and how well? It would make for very strange movies in that movies typically don’t want to delve into the personal authority of religion. For one thing, there is no common religion to which all the film audience potentially can respond. For another, movie people are a self selected group that largely ignores religion. When it does get into a movie religion usually is treated in a weird way. The result is that Bailey’s book helps us to image a type of film does not exist, but that theoretically has a broad unexplored cinematic territory open to it.

But who could relate to such films? In the 19th century, maybe, there were intellectuals questioning the integrative value of religion–in Europe in the 18th century. Today one would have to consciously choose to take up religion as a integrative value system. It is not a background assumption that keeps intruding into life and has to be examined. How odd, then, that art could attain that status for intellectuals, to the point that someone would build a film career on questioning it.


May 22, 2007

I finished reading James Harvey’s Romantic Comedy In Hollywood From Lubitsch To Sturges. It’s about 700 pages. It seems a worthwhile exercise, as the book really is about film, and therefore teaches how to observe a film closely. Harvey also covers the same movies from different perspectives. He has chapters about a eras, others about directors, and others about actors. The same films come up several times, but with a different focus.

At the same time, I felt that there was something missing. There was no good discussion of the culture of the audience and how this conditioned the possibilities of movies. When a European director, such as Lubitsch, began to work in America, there must have been a big change in how audiences responded to his films.