Film Greats: Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year At Marienbad’ (1961)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Edwin Pereyra, Sep 28, 2001.

  1. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    The 2001 Encarta World English Dictionary defines artsy fartsy as:
    quote: art·sy-fart·sy [aàrtsi fàartsee] adjective
    artsy in elitist way: pretentiously artistic in a elitist or self-indulgent way (slang)[/quote]
    I was surprised not to find Last Year At Marienbad as part of its definition because if there is one film that best illustrates “artsy fartsy”, this French film is the perfect example. The film is another product of the French New Wave of filmmaking. Director Alain Resnais even tops Jean Luc-Godard (Breathless, My Life To Live) in the areas of pretentiousness, needless experimentation and self-indulgence that the viewer is left frustrated and exasperated after viewing the film.
    Here is a quick rundown.
    STORY: Dull to Nonexistent. Don’t even try and waste your time sorting this one out. Resnais does not provide clear answers. He even claims that the story has no meaning. One would think that if two individuals had an affair with one another, that they would remember it. But not these characters. In addition, the repeated dialogue, which is so prevalent in this film, is just not my cup of tea.
    ACTING: Purposely inexpressive. Everyone in this film looks like they are either posing for a woman’s beauty commercial or an ad for a famous fashion designer. There is nothing challenging in the performances at all here.
    CINEMATOGRAPHY: Anyone who has not seen the interiors of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island will go gaga over this one. I suggest experiencing the real thing instead, which is far more interesting and satisfying than any of the images presented in this film.
    Roger Ebert named Last Year At Marienbad as one of the top 100 greatest films ever made. Well, he is certainly entitled to his own opinion and he can definitely have this one.
    Unlike the main characters in this film who are unable to remember from memory, Last Year At Marienbad is now forever etched in my memory as one of the most pretentious films ever made, if not the most! I can only hope that the other films of Alain Resnais are not this frustrating.
    - - -
    Film Greats – A continuing quick look at motion pictures that, in one way or another, have been called “great films” by some. Other Films In This Series: Robert Wiene’s http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/007465.html http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/006466.html
    [Edited last by Edwin Pereyra on September 28, 2001 at 12:22 AM]
     
  2. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Hmmmm. Edwin, I haven't seen LYAM yet and you didn't exactly whet my appetite! If it's anything like the few Goddard films I've seen, it's probably not my cup of tea either...
    ------------------
    He thought on homeland, the big timber, the air thin and chill all the year long. Tulip poplars so big through the trunk they put you in mind of locomotives set on end. He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the nighthawks passing across the clouds in autumn could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears. And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.
    -- Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
     
  3. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I'd like to do something that I've unfortunately rarely done: stick up for Roger Ebert!
    Edwin, in particular, is probably aware of some of my gripes about specific Ebert reviews, but I consider him one of the finest contemporary writers about movies, and the single most important teacher and guide in the development of my own love for movies. What I think I love most about him is how he expresses his appreciation in such sensual, evocative, and personal terms. In his best reviews, he can establish the tone of a film in only a very few sentences, allowing even those who've never seen it to get a real, true sense of it. And he's one of the finest at contextualizing a film, but rarely in an academic sense and nearly always in the most personal and intimate terms. Film is his life and his life is lived through the films he loves. They are signposts in his ongoing discovery of self.
    Speaking of Godard's Vivre sa vie, he writes:
    quote: Godard. We all went to Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s. We stood in the rain outside the Three Penny Cinema, waiting for the next showing of "Weekend." One year the New York Film Festival showed two of his movies, or was it three? One year at the Toronto festival Godard said, "The cinema is not the station. The cinema is the train." Or perhaps it was the other way around. We nodded. We loved his films. As much as we talked about Tarantino after "Pulp Fiction," we talked about Godard in those days.
    And now the name Godard inspires a blank face from most filmgoers. Subtitled films are out. Art films are out. Self-conscious films are out. Films that test the edges of the cinema are out. Now it is all about the mass audience: It must be congratulated for its narrow tastes, and catered to. And yet, idly watching television as Aerosmith is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I reflect that if they can be resurrected from the ashes of more radical decades, then why not Godard?
    [T]here is a new DVD of "My Life to Live" ("Vivre Sa Vie"), from 1963. I slip it into the machine, and within five minutes I am so fascinated that I do not move, I do not stir, until it is over.
    It tells the story of Nana, played by Anna Karina, who was Godard's wife at the time. With her porcelain skin, her wary eyes, her helmet of shiny black hair, her chic outfits, always smoking, hiding her feelings, she is a young woman of Paris. The title shots show her in profile and full face, like mug shots, and we will be looking at her for the whole movie, trying to read her, for she reveals nothing willingly. Each shot begins with Michel Legrand music, which stops abruptly, to begin again with the next shot--as if to say, the music will try to explain, but fail.
    The camera is right there. In the record store, it pans back and forth with Nana and a customer, then turns and looks out a window. In a bar, the camera starts to pan to the left and then glances back again. On the street with the hookers, the camera looks first down one side and then the other, slowing at a woman it finds intriguing. She meets Raoul, a pimp. "Give me a smile," he says, as the camera holds them both in two-shot. She refuses, then smiles and exhales at the same time, and the camera turns away from Raoul and approaches her, suddenly interested, as she does. We are implicated. We are the camera, watching, wondering. The camera is not expressing a ''style'' but the way people look at other people.
    And we see as it sees and as Nana lives, without rehearsal, the first time through. The effect of the film is astonishing. It is clear, astringent, unsentimental, abrupt. Then it is over.[/quote]
    What evocation! What context! If there's a better explication of the effect of Godard's film upon the sensitive viewer, then I've never read it. This is why Ebert is so important, I think. He is alone as the only "popular" critic, one whose weekly column in a major newspaper is read by the masses, from the cineaste to the dilletante, who possesses even an inkling of film history or true film appreciation.
    He writes about Antonioni's masterpiece, L'avventura:
    quote: I did not much connect with the film when I saw it first--how could I, at 18? These people were bored by a lifestyle beyond my wildest dreams. When I taught the film in a class 15 years later, it seemed affected and contrived, a feature-length idea but not a movie. Only recently, seeing it again, did I realize how much clarity and passion Antonioni brought to the film's silent cry of despair.
    His characters were parasites whose money allowed them to clear away the distractions of work, responsibility, goals and purposes, and exposed the utter emptiness within. It is possible to be rich and happy, of course, but for that you need a mind, and interests. It is impossible to be happy simply because one is ceaselessly entertained. "L'Avventura" becomes a place in our imagination--a melancholy moral desert.
    Why don't we have movies like "L'Avventura" anymore? Because we don't ask the same kinds of questions anymore. We have replaced the "purpose of life" with the "choice of lifestyle." I used to think Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" was the saddest song. Antonioni can think of a sadder one: "More."[/quote]
    This is why I prefer Ebert over Kael. Her famous personal dictum that she would only ever see a film once meant she could never grow along with it, never be able to revisit it with a greater depth of knowledge, insight or experience. It was the ultimate anti-intellectualism, but it also seemed to reveal something about her character: she could never accept the notion that she just may be flat-out wrong. Andrew Sarris, her longtime nemesis, writes:
    quote: "For years, I disbelieved her statement that she never saw any movie more than once. How could that be possible, I thought, except in the service of some Gestalt theory of her own? Then, one day, I realized why this statement made sense in her case. By eliminating the possibility of a revised opinion, she could endow all her reviews with papal infallibility. She never had to say that she had been wrong or that she was sorry. That was for us ordinary mortals. Her word was final and eternal. There are many people who believe this, and they are entitled to their opinion. For me, it is unthinkable that I should deprive myself of the pleasure of seeing my favorite movies again and again, or hearing my favorite operas and pieces of music again and again. Jean-Luc Godard once noted that he and his colleagues on Cahiers du Cinema had missed the boat on Max Ophuls and John Ford. We all change as we get older, and our perceptions of films change with us — all of us, that is, except Pauline. Her first impressions are engraved in stone forever and ever, because that is all movies deserve.[/quote]
    Like Sarris, Ebert rejects Kael's head-in-the-sand, don't look back, anti-revisionism. Because movies to Ebert have a life of their own, a life that grows alongside its viewers, the greatest of which stand as signposts in their viewers' lives, each successive encounter bringing a deeper awareness and understanding - an awareness that only comes from a life lived. I think that's why he speaks of movies in such personal terms, and why he consciously revisits them, reminding himself of what he formerly thought and discovering what he may have never seen before. I grew up with the movies and Ebert was my principal guide - looking back, I see how important he is to my own love for movies. Not simply appreciation is some purely scholarly sense, but a love every bit as personal and overwhelming as any love.
    And so, the opening of his review of Last Year at Marienbad:
    quote: How clearly I recall standing in the rain outside the Co-Ed Theater near the campus of the University of Illinois, waiting to see "Last Year at Marienbad." On those lonely sidewalks, in that endless night, how long did we wait there? And was it the first time we waited in that line, to enter the old theater with its columns, its aisles, its rows of seats -- or did we see the same film here last year?
    Yes, it's easy to smile at Alain Resnais' 1961 film, which inspired so much satire and yet made such a lasting impression. Incredible to think that students actually did stand in the rain to be baffled by it, and then to argue for hours about its meaning -- even though the director claimed it had none. I hadn't seen "Marienbad" in years, and when I saw the new digitized video disc edition in a video store, I reached out automatically: I wanted to see it again, to see if it was silly or profound, and perhaps even to recapture an earlier self -- a 19-year-old who hoped Truth could be found in Art.
    Viewing the film again, I expected to have a cerebral experience, to see a film more fun to talk about than to watch. What I was not prepared for was the voluptuous quality of "Marienbad," its command of tone and mood, its hypnotic way of drawing us into its puzzle, its austere visual beauty. Yes, it involves a story that remains a mystery, even to the characters themselves. But one would not want to know the answer to this mystery. Storybooks with happy endings are for children. Adults know that stories keep on unfolding, repeating, turning back on themselves, on and on until that end that no story can evade...[/quote]
    Cheers, Roger!
    ------------------
    "Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere."
    [​IMG]
    Al's DVD Collection
    [Edited last by Al Brown on September 28, 2001 at 09:36 AM]
     
  4. Darren H

    Darren H Second Unit

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    Thanks for putting that together, Al. To be honest, I always enjoy reading your posts for the same reason that you appreciate Ebert: they're always well-informed but highly personal.
     
  5. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

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    Edwin,
    I won’t launch into a whole Ebert like dissertation on why I liked Last Year At Marienbad – suffice to say that it is one of those either you like it or you don’t movies that works on a very personal level.
    Let me just make a few brief comments:
    quote: Anyone who has not seen the interiors of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island will go gaga over this one. I suggest experiencing the real thing instead, which is far more interesting and satisfying than any of the images presented in this film.[/quote]
    Maybe we saw different movies, or different Newport mansions, but there is NO comparison between the two. The movie’s most striking imagery is the absurdly geometrically shaped gardens. Certainly they don’t exist in Newport. I don’t think there is any real comparison in the interiors either, but I’ll defer to someone with knowledge of interior design and the history of architecture.
    A lot of the enjoyment of Last Year At Marienbad depends on being in love with Delphine Seyrig and regarding her as the sine qua non of glamour and desirability – guilty as charged. Just the sound of her voice is enough to melt me completely. Of course knowing Last Year At Marienbad greatly enhances the enjoyment of Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses and especially Bed & Board where the “strangler” does a dead on impression of Delphine Seyrig.
    Lastly Last Year At Marienbad’s sensibility belongs more to its screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet than it does to Resnais. I happen to like Robbe-Grillet a lot and thoroughly enjoyed some of his own movies. See: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Robbe-Grillet,+Alain Resnais on the other hand is not my cup of tea. Some of his movies are downright annoying (Smoking/No Smoking) but he has shown occasional flashes of brilliance: his On connaît la chanson was pure joy, and was thoroughly ripped off by Moulin Rouge which no film critic seems to have noticed.
    And Edwin, Godard may certainly be very pretentious (and in my mind thoroughly irrelevant) now a days, but how you can put Breathless and pretentious in the same sentence is beyond me.
    Ted
    [Edited last by Ted Todorov on September 28, 2001 at 01:12 PM]
     
  6. Tom Meyer

    Tom Meyer Second Unit

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    Gotta disagree, Edwin. The point w/ LYAM is that there is no point, much like 'the game' that M would play with people. It's a purely psychological/sociological story. It's not meant to be interpreted in the way a traditional movie plotline is to be interpreted. It's like an abstract expressionist painting -- you read into it what you want.
    I studied the film in a class a couple years ago and brought up the relation between The Game & the fact that the movie can't be interpreted by traditional analysis. Several classmates scoffed. The next Sunday, Ebert agreed with ME [​IMG]
     
  7. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Though it's at odds with my reverie for Ebert's sensual and personal reading of films, if anyone wants to read a purely academic (though very sensitive) analysis of the structure of Last Year at Marienbad, I can think of no better source than Bordwell's textbook, FILM ART.
    And, fortunately, the analysis is reprinted online:
    http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/art-film/bordwell_6_filmart/instructor/olc/analysis_last.mhtml
    Al's DVD Collection
    [Edited last by Al Brown on September 28, 2001 at 03:20 PM]
     
  8. andrew markworthy

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    [Grouchy comments erased by me - I was starting with a migraine when I wrote them and (a) I hadn't read the other threads properly and (b) boy, was I in a foul mood].
    In its defence, LYAM explores the boundaries of just how far you can push the narrative structure before it completely disintegrates. It is best seen as a person thinking about all the different ways a key set of events in their life could have been played out [and face it - who hasn't been in a position of wondering how a key event in their lives might have turned out if they'd played it differently; in one sense, Groundhog Day is based on just this premise]. Of course it's disjointed and hard to follow, but anyone's personal thoughts are.
    [Edited last by andrew markworthy on September 29, 2001 at 01:26 AM]
     
  9. Hendrik

    Hendrik Supporting Actor

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    ...I am one who fell utterly in love with Delphine Seyrig - and her voice! - when I saw this movie way back in 1961... a couple of years later, when I lived in Paris, I was fortunate in seeing the lady on stage in "A Month in the Country" - there it was again: that voice (a Russian play, where people talk and talk and talk... sheer heaven)! She could have been reciting the Paris phone book and I would have been in bliss... ahh, memories!...
    ...anyway, here's an interesting take on LYAM:
    http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/10/marienbad.html . . .
     
  10. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    Did I miss something? Where in Edwin's review did he accuse anyone that liked this film as having a
    serious character defect? I think he made it perfectly clear that his opinions were his own.
    Having never seen this film, but heard many things about it, I think I will give it a spin soon.
    ------------------
    Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.
     
  11. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Ted Todorov wrote:
    I can certainly understand how you may have interpreted my comments as such but I was merely listing films made by Godard at the start of the French New Wave of filmmaking. Certainly, Breathless is not at all pretentious.
    ~Edwin
     
  12. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    I am very much aware of the influence of Last Year at Marienbad in the art of filmmaking. I have read most of the professional reviews posted above as I myself, owns David Bordwell’s book, Film Art, which I find to be a very informative resource.
    But for the moment, it still does not change how I feel about the film. But keep trying though, Al, as you might just be able to change my opinion. [​IMG]
    ~Edwin
     
  13. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    Andrew
    Kudos to you for editing your original post and explaining why. I think all of us at one time or another have done the same, but not many of us admit it. [​IMG]
    And c'mon Edwin, can any of us really change your opinion. Dancer In The Dark ring a bell [​IMG]
    ------------------
    Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.
     
  14. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    I have said in a previous post regarding Edwin's criticism for My Life to Live that I suspected that the fragmented narrative was the underlying reason that he found the film to be wanting, and suggested that the films of Alain Resnais, Chantal Akerman, and Nagisa Oshima may not suit him. Of course, the statement now proves to be true, as Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad is now in the crosshairs. However, I state again that the criticism seems to be grounded in the filmmaker's use of fragmented narrative. This is not a weakness in the film, but a personal bias against films that employ such structure (as characterized by such judgmental, non-descriptive terms like "artsy fartsy" or "pretentious").
    My question is, why continue criticizing the same types of films when there are other, far greater films to discover and feel passionate about? Is a film only worth discussing when one can create an artificial controversy?
    FWIW, I admire many of Resnais' films, especially Muriel and Hiroshima mon amour, and find Last Year at Marienbad to be one of his lesser films, but I don't find it necessary to knock down the perceived greatness of all the films that do not prove to have personal relevance for me.
    ------------------
    Strictly Film School
    [Edited last by Pascal A on October 01, 2001 at 05:41 AM]
     
  15. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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    Excellent point Pascal,
    I do agree with Edwin that the fragmented narrative is not "my cup of tea" either... yet. Often you grow into film genres, almost as a maturing process, and rather than knock these films in which I don't understand or appreciate at this point in time, I will choose to focus on films that have really "hit home", artistically, esthetically and personally. The film world is too big to be bothered trying to tear down what are regarded as "classics".
    The unfortunate thing about films such as these is they can be very, very personal... so in effect there can be little criticisms... either you get it, or you do not. Not dissimilar to Art. Specifying reasons why you did not "get it" can really be just a mirror of pointing our certain observation flaws in your own makeup. What is lacking in you, that you did not "get it" ? Not trying to start an argument here, but the reason the films don't hit home has as much to do with the individual as the film itself... as I say, in my own case I find it to be because of a lack of maturity, which I hope to overcome one day. I would love to enjoy Last Year at Marienbad and films like "Pierrot le fou" etc. as much as my beloved Rohmers... but right now Marienbad is on my "most overrated" list. Time tends to change opinions though.... and sure, this argument doesn't hold true for all films, actually a small minority that I would use this judgement system on. Films don't often get highly-rated reviews and a "classic" moniker for no reason.
    I do remember a comment Edwin made in his "My Life to Love" thread:
     
  16. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    quote: This is not a weakness in the film, but a personal bias against films that employ such structure (as characterized by such judgmental, non-descriptive terms like "artsy fartsy" or "pretentious").[/quote]
    I sure hope we not a society that is now reduced to the inclusion of “smilies” or “winkies” in between sentences to denote the tone of a writer’s words. In case some of you did not “get” the tone of my original post, it was meant to be a criticism of a film in a lighthearted manner. I also don’t like the word “overrated” but I do not get offended nor do I tell people not to use it. If the word “pretentious” is bothersome to some then I believe they have a bigger fish to fry. Most mixed or negative reviews by professional critics either use this word directly of indirectly in their criticisms. One just have to read between the lines. In this particular instance, I chose to use it in the manner that I did.
    quote: My question is, why continue criticizing the same types of films when there are other, far greater films to discover and feel passionate about? Is a film only worth discussing when one can create an artificial controversy?[/quote]
    I sure hope that you are not suggesting that if someone here (and professional critics elsewhere) don’t have anything positive to say about a film that they should keep their criticisms to themselves. No one is trying to make any type of controversy – artificial or otherwise. Negative comments about a film are just that and nothing more.
    quote: The unfortunate thing about films such as these is they can be very, very personal[/quote]
    I agree.
    quote: ... so in effect there can be little criticisms... either you get it, or you do not. Not dissimilar to Art. Specifying reasons why you did not "get it" can really be just a mirror of pointing our certain observation flaws in your own makeup. What is lacking in you, that you did not "get it" ? Not trying to start an argument here, but the reason the films don't hit home has as much to do with the individual as the film itself... as I say, in my own case I find it to be because of a lack of maturity, which I hope to overcome one day.
    [/quote]
    These days, it is fashionable to associate one’s dislike for a film simply because they did not “get it”. I also did not care for Luc Besson’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan Of Arc, The Phantom Menace or Friday The 13th – Part MCIV (Hint: I am being sarcastic in this last one). Yes, it works both ways, Gary. And hopefully, my reasons for not liking these films were not just due to my “lack of maturity” but simply that I did not care for them and have valid reasons to think that they were simply not good.
    I do agree though, that a more productive discussion is to concentrate on the merits of the film itself (or lack thereof) rather than discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of one’s opinion as others have done in this thread. That is why I now like the presence of both an official review and an official discussion thread for current films. All comments in the official review thread, whether they are positive or negative towards a film, are valid and are not open to debate. Whether I agree or disagree with them however, is another matter. But at least, no one tries to knock down other people’s opinions as others have done here.
    Now back to the film.
    quote: I have said in a previous post regarding Edwin's criticism for My Life to Live that I suspected that the fragmented narrative was the underlying reason that he found the film to be wanting, and suggested that the films of Alain Resnais, Chantal Akerman, and Nagisa Oshima may not suit him. Of course, the statement now proves to be true, as Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad is now in the crosshairs. However, I state again that the criticism seems to be grounded in the filmmaker's use of fragmented narrative.[/quote]
    I’m glad you used the word “seems” because the reasons why I did not care for this film is not due to its fragmented narrative or its style or deliver but rather what I have said all along. It has to do more in the areas of STORY and ACTING. To this point, no one has said anything compelling to refute my comments in these specific areas. And the more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to like My Life To Live for its technical merits but with that lingering question, “In the end, does he succeed with it or not?”
    I ended my original comments with this:
    quote: I can only hope that the other films of Alain Resnais are not this frustrating.
    [/quote]
    That goes without saying to the films of Chantal Akerman, Nagisa Oshima, et al, as well, which I will continue to seek. And you can bet that I will comment on them positively or otherwise. The beauty of a forum like this is hearing other people’s opinion about a film, both positive and negative. Let’s try and respect them.
    ~Edwin
    [Edited last by Edwin Pereyra on October 01, 2001 at 11:58 AM]
     
  17. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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  18. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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  19. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    Sorry Edwin, if you misread the intent of my post. My "fish to fry" is in the sole use of opinion based review rather than objective based review. Everybody is certainly entitled to his opinion, and that is not the issue at hand. However, in finding an objective rationale for the potential sources of "failures" in a given film, it is easier to find common ground (which is what I was trying to do based on your similar reaction to My Life to Live). In using dismissive, judgment call words like "pretentious" or "artsy fartsy", not only does it not invite discussion on the film, but it doesn't really help to narrow down the problematic aspects of the film either - Too artistic? No story? Too staged? Too confounding?
    ------------------
    Strictly Film School
    [Edited last by Pascal A on October 01, 2001 at 02:39 PM]
     
  20. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Producer

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    I debated about posting this but I’m sure Roger wouldn’t mind, and it’s nice to know that critics of the stature of Roger Ebert actually read HTF. This is an email he sent me last night regarding Al Brown’s post in this thread:
     

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