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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Sharrett’

Christopher Sharrett on Beyond the Hills, or The Woman’s Prison

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Christopher Sharrett has a brilliant piece on the film Beyond The Hills in the latest issue of Film International.

As Sharrett notes, in part, “it amazes me that so few reviewers noted emphatically that Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012), like his earlier 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007), is a film about women, about the oppression of women, in an era that constantly rolls back the rights of women even in so-called enlightened nations. This is especially disturbing when we look at the reception of Beyond the Hills. Reviewers focused on the plight of two orphans more so than on sexual politics, and the culture of oppression and repression imposed on women [. . .]

Given how much disinformation has been disseminated in the US about the Soviet Union and its satellite states ever since the Bolshevik Revolution, it may be sensible to make a few observations about history before proceeding with comments about Mungiu’s cinema, especially if we are to see his art as relevant to us all, and not simply narratives to be read as documents of awful things that could not happen here. Neither the Soviet Union nor a satellite like Romania can be seen as ‘communist’ if one has a rudimentary knowledge (my level to be sure) of political economy [. . .]

The dreary backdrop of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days compares well indeed not just with the horror film, but with distinguished contemporary melodramas about American women of the working poor, like Frozen River (2009). The setting of Beyond the Hills would also look good in a cautionary fright film about a cult, except Mungiu reminds us how useless the notion of “cult” can be. The Orthodox monastery of this film has all the usual ingredients of a cult (the unquestioned authority of the male, women in a very vulnerable situation, adherence to arcane, bizarre dogma), but the film provokes the question: is this setting a strange aberration or simply the norm in miniature?”

You can read the entire piece by clicking here, or on the image above. Brilliant, timely, disturbing work.

Christopher Sharrett on Zero Dark Thirty

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Christopher Sharrett has an excellent essay on Zero Dark Thirty in the latest issue of Film International.

As he notes, “Bigelow’s films have always contained enough frisson, enough of a patina of film school sophistication that her overall enterprise has gone unquestioned, to a point that some reviewers of an ostensibly progressive bent seem absolutely blind to what is on the screen. Her first film, The Loveless (1982), about a listless group of outlaw bikers, is clearly the kind of exercise that flows from film education. It is the work of an impoverished sensibility, one grounded in film alone, with the rest of the humanities left on the shelf. We hardly need Bigelow’s DVD commentary track to know that the film adds nothing to the sources to which she must pay homage, such as The Wild One and Scorpio Rising. Her’s seems to be a temperament born of the video age, yet another movie brat, unable to discriminate, to figure the significance of her own enterprise, in order to give a piece of art a sense of value; indeed, one wonders if she has any real criteria for establishing value. She is a temperament of Tarantino’s ilk, but without his false humor, crudity, and nihilism.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, or on the image above.

Christopher Sharrett on Cinema, Bourgeois Society, and the Conservative Complaint

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game (1939)

Christopher Sharrett is one of the most perceptive critics currently writing today; his work is dense, brilliantly argued, and interrogates both modern and classical films from a variety of perspectives, using numerous examples of films both old and new to frame his argument. Fortunately for all of us, much of his writing is published directly online, where he often writes for the cutting-edge journal Film International.

Here’s a brilliant piece entitled “False Criticism: Cinema, Bourgeois Society, and the Conservative Complaint,” in which Sharrett argues that

“As the most extraordinary art form of modernity, the cinema’s great accomplishment has been its subversion of various received truths, from conventional notions of sexuality to the workings of time and space, and the undermining of the very concept of being in the age of relativity. As has been demonstrated elsewhere, the cinema offers clear illustrations, often through the very nature of the medium, of the powerful impact of Marx, Freud, and Einstein on dogmas associated with western patriarchal capitalist civilization. Perhaps the greatest, even obsessive, locus of subversion on the part of all cinemas—Hollywood, foreign, avant garde—is the debunking of bourgeois life embodied in the community, the family, the heterosexual monogamous couple, and the larger political-economic system they represent. Films with this concern present the couple and the family not as the social bedrock that dominant civilization has portrayed, but as the conditioning structures that regulate desire, delimit sexual roles (especially for the female), encourage competition and deceit among people, and in short form the basis of the capitalist state.

This subversion has produced a distinguished tradition: Renoir’s Rules of the Game; Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Madame de..; the melodramas of Douglas Sirk; various films by Bunuel, especially The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire, and Belle de Jour; and Pasolini’s remarkable Teorema and Porcile, among many other films. Renoir, Bunuel, and Pasolini, as representative examples, helped create a major oppositional European cinema within a sometimes hostile cultural context (the hostility toward Pasolini may at this writing be seen as rather passive given that many of his films are either unavailable or available in shoddy video editions to the small audience aware of this fine work). We might count most or all of the major films of Hitchcock as sly—sometimes glaringly obvious in the instances of Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie—social criticisms. Hitchcock may in fact be the representative figure of the classic Hollywood to critique bourgeois culture from a conservative position, the major concern of these remarks.”

You can read the entire piece here; I’ll be doing more posts on Sharrett’s work in the future. I think he’s one of the most original and perceptive critics at work today in the field. What I particularly like about his work is the sweep of his analysis; he knows it all, from the contemporary to the classical, and thus his analysis is rich, detailed, and thoroughly informed.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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