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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—22 January 2010

Artistic Or Arty? And Is Sundance Splitting The Difference?: In a report, or think piece, or whatever/however the venerable institution's section editors are inclined to refer to such a mess of verbal pottage these days, Brooks Barnes, who will someday soon be cited with the same contempt that latter-day critics of The New York Times reserve for the likes of Bosley Crowther and even, yes, Walter Duranty, contemplates what "might very well be the most important Sundance in years." And it's important why? Well depending on how you look at it, it's important because it will be showcasing an even larger shitload of films that nobody, including Mark Peranson, will ever, ever, ever, ever want to see.

Okay, that's unfair. But let's face facts: The New York Times, besides having smart and excellently-writing critics and such, doesn't give a toss about film culture, or else they wouldn't allow a fresh-faced philistine such as Barnes blather about how newly minted Sundance programming chief John Cooper is shifting Sundance back to its "arty" roots. The Webster definition of "arty" is, pace Anne Thompson, "showily or pretentiously artistic," and I do believe Brooks Barnes, who has shown a pronounced hostility to both actual art and pretentious art whenever his reporting has gotten within several yards of either, means exactly what he's saying. Which begs the question, why does he, or The Times for that matter, bother? If it's all just show and pretention?

I may look to be making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I insist. Unlike another film blogger who insists that spelling is less important than ideas (and who can't spell, and has no ideas), I insist that words matter. And that to define a particular category of film in such a dismissive way when, for better or worse, the Sundance Film Festival still retains a particular patina of diversity is...intellectually, aesthetically, and journalistically dishonest.

A Sundance Memory: The first time I went to Sundance was in 1999, for Premiere. I hoped to champion Jonathan Weiss' great adaptation of J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, at Slamdance. I was curious about Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, because a relative of mine had dated Ms. Chong, albeit briefly, and in ignorance of her porn activity. And so on. And everything got pretty much bulldozed over by The Blair Witch Project, which played a midnight show at the Egyptian opening night and freaked out pretty much the whole audience, and yes, I was in the house. And Premiere had the cast and crew—all five of them!—at our photo space the next day. And yes, Joshua Leonard was pretty funny in Humpday. Which, I have to be honest, I thought would have worked better as a 45-minute short or something. And, not to mention it, looked like ass. But anyway.

Couple days after the Blair Witch premiere, I'm lucky enough to get on a Park City bus that's almost empty. The only other people on it are this distinguished-looking younger guy in a black overcoat and slicked-back hair, and his pretty, also over-coated girlfriend. The mode of dress was immediately recognizable as more British-crappy-winter-wear than Northwest-brutal-winter-wear. Being the only folks on the bus, we got to talking, and as it happened the couple were feeling a little down, as they had a film, not at Sundance but at Slamdance, a knotty thriller in black-and-white, in its way as formally daring as Blair Witch was, but it didn't matter, as Blair Witch was garnering not just all the money but all the critical hype. And as far as everybody involved in Blair Witch is concerned since 1999...well, Joshua Leonard was pretty funny in Humpday, wasn't he?

In the meantime, the disappointed fellow in the overcoat was Christopher Nolan, and the Slamdance film was Following, his feature debut. Produced by Emma Thomas, his wife.

“…an even larger shitload of films that nobody, including Mark Peranson, will ever, ever, ever, ever want to see.” Cheap shot, for many reasons, the most important of which being that Mark P wouldn’t be caught DEAD at Sundance, or even pausing to watch a Sundance-related film. I’m typically the last guy to complain about you raking somebody over the coals, but, uhm, the decade’s most important publisher (and often, writer) of up-to-the-moment film criticism in the English language? Your bad.
Cinema Scope is one of, if not the best, film magazine written in the English language. And Sundance is irrelevant, or, it’s only relevant to the Hollywood and New York noobs who give a shit about the Oscars. In other words, Mark Peranson has every right not to give a shit.
I did not intend a slam at Peranson or Cinema Scope, as I hold both in high esteem. I was expecting my jibe would be recognized as a rhetorical flourish mocking Barnes’ philistinism, and not as a criticism of Peranson. That’s why I began the sentence with “Well, depending on how you look at it…” I’m sorry to not have been clearer, or to have been misinterpreted, depending on how you look at it.

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