Ottawa IAF, critic-artist

Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning

The Ottawa International Animation Festival, a very large and impressive event, concluded on Sunday and included several retrospectives (Hayao Miyazaki, Robert Breer, and others) and scores of new works. Two of those works involved Canadian friends of mine, John Torvi’s animation in Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning (2004) and director Kevin Nikkel’s Dial ‘M’ for Monster (2004).

Kevin also attended a seminar entitled “Your Criticism Sucks!” Here is its description:

Is critical commentary of the animated film dead? Useless? There was a time when there was a vibrant, if small, voice for popular criticism of the animated film; of cartoons, both commercial and personal. Today, there is a large gulf between critical commentary that is increasingly impenetrable in its pedantry and, for lack of a better term, non-critical commentary: unqualified praise for every piece of empty commercial product that is force-fed into our cultural diet. How tender must walk the publications which on the one hand purport to write about the field, while on the other hand depend on the good graces of industry for content and advertising? Does the preponderance of internet discussion lists obviate the need for legitimate widespread (and often by necessity, harsh) criticism that doesn’t fall into the slots of commerce? Where are the voices of vigorous independent criticism?

I’ve always maintained that there are a lot of bad stereotypes about film critics out there, and often insist that people shouldn’t confuse mainstream reviewing with engaged criticism of contemporary film in all of its guises. There is a long, if not entirely well-known, tradition of critics interacting in healthy ways with filmmakers, from the French and Soviet critic-filmmakers of the ’20s to AndrÈ Bazin’s friendships with Renoir and Rossellini and the youths of the future Nouvelle Vague to contemporary critics like Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose friendship and collaboration with Jacques Tati is well-known and who recently printed his early correspondences with Abbas Kiarostami in his book, Movie Mutations.

I don’t think critics and artists need to necessarily have an adversarial relationship, and both can benefit from positive encounters: critics can learn more about the craft of filmmaking or the intentions of specific artists and filmmakers can learn more about formal analysis or have their work promoted by independent voices. In the opening lines of Dudley Andrew’s biography of Bazin, FranÁois Truffaut writes, “At the moment of AndrÈ Bazin’s death, we were all present at something truly rare: artists paying tribute to a critic! Indeed, Luchino Visconti, Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson, Marcel CarnÈ, Luis BuÒuel, Orson Welles, and Federico Fellini felt strongly enough to write in public declarations and in letters to Janine Bazin that for fifteen years they had found in Bazin a man of open mind and unfettered intelligence, whose analyses had been genuinely helpful to them in their work.”

I myself have a particular fondness for animation, and this seminar description presents the sort of challenge I hope to meet in the future here at Filmjourney.