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October 2012, Week 4


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Jason Jacobs <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 25 Oct 2012 22:03:20 +0000
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This debate, such as it is, has echoes of the exchange between Sam Rhodie and V.F. Perkins about the former's review of Film as Film, although the stakes are somewhat different.  Warren Buckland's account of Klevan & Clayton's The Language and Style of Film Criticism is quite unfair, not to mention lacking in generosity, a tendency that continues in his 'reply' to their 'reply' to it.  Of course WB has every right to write a vicious review: C&K ask in the opening paragraph of their 'reply': 'It is difficult to see why a reviewer (who is also the journal's editor) devotes ten pages to criticising, polemically, what he takes to be three ineffectual, and sometime incompetent, essays', to which WB retorts, 'In other words, C&K are wondering why a reviewer would be disappointed with their book.' As a friend of mine put it, that's such a great slide it should be available at the funfair. WB's characterisation of their contributions as solipsistic, superficial, impressionistic is so one-sided, so absorbed in the theatrical momentum of its rhetoric, that it misses the eloquent and detailed care with which they refresh and renew aspects of this area of film studies. The book is about the art of writing about film, of appreciating and analysing its writing, the ways in which writers evoke an aural-visual medium in words. It was hardly a manifesto. The fact that Klevan in particular is depicted as a dilettante only interested in repeating (with italics) bits of pretty writing is a grotesque caricature of a scholar who has written with more precision, care and eloquence in his published work over the past decade than any other I know.  And the way WB separates C&K from the other contributors is odd too, since many of them would surely be vulnerable to the same charge of 'romantic-impressionism' (Stern, Martin and Keathley most clearly). Clayton's chapter comes under particular attack, perhaps because it most clearly demonstrates the limitations of Bordwell's approach to film; but he is hardly the first to raise devastating criticisms of that scholar's output - think of, in no particular order, V.F. Perkins on Making Meaning, Andrew Britton on The Classical Hollywood Cinema, John Gibbs on Film Art's mistaken take on mise-en-scene, and (in a milder way) George Wilson's engagement with Bordwell's views of film narration. But WB accuses Clayton of a category error by comparing a textbook to a monograph (Film Art to Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness) and in doing so reveals the administrative impulse - its appetite for categorisation, fixing and sorting - that often blights otherwise interesting formalist output.  That is, certain versions of formalism tend toward an administrative comportment, hence the odd stress on system and rigour and the somewhat brutish hard-boiled insistence on scientific toughness evoked by words like 'interrogation'; WB reminds me of an administrator miffed at the way others have rashly written over the borders and boxes of his forms. Perkins has characterised this as 'physics envy' (we can see that at work in SB's use of the Wollen epigraph in his review) and one can see that in a higher education system dominated by instrumentalist thinking, this might seem an attractive route to some. In a sinister conclusion to the original review WB implies that it is a 'problem' that Klevan tries to 'place his solipsistic form of private criticism alongside textual analysis, Deleuze and performance studies in the university curriculum.' What do you mean by that Warren? In an era of teaching audits and REF peer review this is hardly a trivial matter. It would be better if the different views of other scholars were not policed in this imperious, immature and intemperate manner.

Associate Professor Jason Jacobs
Deputy Head
School of English, Media Studies & Art History, 
The University of Queensland, 
St. Lucia Campus, Brisbane, 
Queensland, 4072 Australia

ph: +61 7 3365 2960
fax: +61 7 3365 2799
email: [log in to unmask]
CRICOS No: 00025B

-----Original Message-----
From: Film and TV Studies Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Warren Buckland
Sent: Wednesday, 24 October 2012 3:21 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [SCREEN-L] Revisiting 'Solipsistic Film Criticism'

Dear colleagues

For anyone interested in the 'Solipsistic Film Criticism' debate, you may like to know that I have posted a reply to Alex Clayton and Andrew Klevan on my webpage:

Here are the opening paragraphs, to give some context (all references are to be found on the website):

Revisiting 'Solipsistic Film Criticism': Reply to Clayton and Klevan Warren Buckland

Alex Clayton and Andrew Klevan (C&K) have written a 'Reply' to my review essay 'Solipsistic Film Criticism', published in the 'New Review of Film and Television Studies'. My essay, a review of their edited book 'The Language and Style of Film Criticism', presented the opportunity to discuss in some detail the different assumptions underlying textual analysis and film criticism. However, to consider further these differing assumptions, we also need to address a few of C&K's errors.

C&K ask in the opening paragraph of their 'Reply': 'It is difficult to see why a reviewer (who is also the journal's editor) devotes ten pages to criticising, polemically, what he takes to be three ineffectual, and sometime incompetent, essays'. In other words, C&K are wondering why a reviewer would be disappointed with their book. At the end of their 'Reply,' C&K recommend the reader consult a different review of 'The Language and Style of Film Criticism', by Nicholas Forster. It is easy to see why. Forster writes: 'each essay elegantly dances with unique style'; 'rarely does a thought fade into the ether', etc. I must admit I failed to praise C&K's 'elegantly dancing style' in my review essay. Instead, I critically interrogated and engaged with their arguments and underlying assumptions. ...

Warren Buckland
Reader in Film Studies
Oxford Brookes University

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