VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Nicole Brenez on THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES PART I: NOTES AND TESTIMONY ON NEOCOLONIALISM, VIOLENCE AND LIBERATION

VIDEO – Sight & Sound Film Poll: Nicole Brenez on THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES PART I: NOTES AND TESTIMONY ON NEOCOLONIALISM, VIOLENCE AND LIBERATION

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Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

The seventh video in this series is adapted (with the author's permission) from an essay by Nicole Brenez that appeared earlier this year in Sight & Sound, which was part of a series of articles proposing films for top ten consideration. Her selection of The Hour of the Furnaces by Argentina's Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino is one that, in my view, challenges a number of conventions that typify movie top ten lists. For starters, it may very well be the most important film to have ever been made in Latin America, a region that's long been neglected by the Sight & Sound Poll (unless you count Luis Buñuel as a Latin director).*

Brenez' endorsement also has a bit of intrigue in that it focuses exclusively on the 208 minute documentary's first part, Notes and Testimony on Neocolonialism, Violence and Liberation, ignoring the second part, which in Brenez' words "mainly consists of advocacy for the Argentinian politician Juan Péron and therefore does not concern us here." This year Sight & Sound instructed poll participants not to count multiple titles as a single work (i.e. The Godfather I and II, Dekalog); Brenez' essay provokes the question of whether half of a film can rank among the greatest (though unlike most films, in this instance there is a clear demarcation of parts forming a whole).  

But perhaps most importantly, Brenez's argument makes a compelling case for the poll's consideration of the political film – as well as the politics of filmmaking. It's fair to say that, particularly with regard to greatest films lists, overtly political filmmaking has long endured a stigma as being inferior to films that focus more exclusively on cinema as art. But it's a false dichotomy, as this video hopes to illustrate; The Hour of the Furnaces is a dense work that weaves several modes of cinema into a multifaceted polemical discourse. It plays like the apotheosis of a rich film lineage traced through the likes of Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens, Humphrey Jennings, Alain Resnais and many others.

Moreover, the film is driven by a revolutionary philosophy of filmmaking that, from today's perspective, seems ever more pertinent, if only because what it opposes seems ever more dominant. To my discredit, the video does not incorporate the passage in Brenez' essay specifically pertaining to the film's relationship to its filmmakers' seminal manifesto, "Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World." This landmark text lays a blueprint for cinema in the developing world, proposing an entirely new system for filmmaking and distribution that can truly serve the needs of a society seeking independence from external colonizing forces. It argues for a politically conscious, self-determining "Third Cinema" that can oppose the two prevailing cinemas that, Solanas and Getino argue, serve the forces of cultural and societal oppression: first, the Hollywood model of industrial filmmaking; and second, the auteur / arthouse cinema, which purports to provide an alternative to the first cinema, but amounts to a "safety valve," in Brenez' words.**

These days, it seems nearly impossible to conceive of movies beyond "mainstream" and "arthouse / alternative / independent", or to think of great cinema without summoning a rollcall of auteurs. Watching a film like Hour of the Furnaces – produced as a collective effort outside of a commercial or auteurist model, screened illegally within its home country, and made with a comprehensive, groundbreaking understanding of filmmaking's role in affecting the status quo – one starts to realize how so much of today's film culture has settled into a comfortable, marginalized space in relation to the rest of society. And yet, so much of the world described by Hour of the Furnaces still resembles ours. The film is a bracing reminder of how cinema can confront such a world head-on.

This is the second video I've produced with Nicole Brenez. Our first was on Boris Barnet's By the Bluest of Seas; as with that video, Nicole's words are voiced by another person. Here it is Nova Smith, doctoral candidate in cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago.

– Kevin B. Lee

*In the 2002 Sight & Sound Poll, only five Latin American films received more than one vote: Los Olvidados, The Exterminating Angel, and El by Buñuel (all from his Mexican period); and two films from Brazil, Black God White Devil by Glauber Rocha and Barren Lives by Nelson Pereira Dos Santos.

**Reading Solanas and Getino's essay, it occurred to me that auteurism and Facebook have something in common. Auteurism allows us to cozy up to a virtual, personalized experience of movies [movies as "personal visions"], as Facebook allows us to do so with the internet ["personal" interactions online]; in both instances, fantasies of personalization come at the risk of ignoring a more comprehensive, systemic view of the apparatus: its methods, aims, and outcomes in shaping our perceptions of reality and social order.

Nicole Brenez is professor of cinema studies at University of Paris 3/Sorbonne Nouvelle and a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is a film historian, curator, and leading specialist of avant-garde cinema. Her books include “Cinéma d’avant-garde” (2007), “Abel Ferrara” (2007), and “Chantal Akerman” (2011). Brenez has also been curating the Cinémathèque Française’s avant-garde film sessions since 1996.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Adrian Martin on Philippe Garrel’s L’ENFANT SECRET

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Adrian Martin on Philippe Garrel’s L’ENFANT SECRET

Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

When Adrian Martin visited Chicago last May, I made certain not to miss the opportunity to record him for this video series. Martin was one of the earliest enthusiasts of video essays when they started popping up online a few years ago, and I've wanted to collaborate with him since. At the tail end of a busy trip (a film criticism conference at Northwestern Univeristy and a master class on dance in cinema at the Univeristy of Chicago), we met to discuss his all-time favorite film, Philippe Garrel's L'Enfant Secret / Secret Child. The ease with which Martin delivers his testimony is remarkable (and made for a pleasant editing session); perhaps it's no surprise given that Martin has recorded 33 DVD commentaries and has regularly appeared on Australian TV and radio. I've long admired the range of his work: from mainstream broadcast media to teaching at Australia's Monash University; his writing appears in everything from books to international film journals to his own online journals, such as Lola (co-edited with Girish Shambu).

What distinguishes Martin's scholarship for me is his passion for all that is improbable or even impossible about the cinema; how cinema breathes life into things that can't exist or last in reality. This spirit of vital, celebratory defiance in cinema came through in his presentation on dance in film that I attended: instead of doting on the familiar instances of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, he showed breathtaking clips from Leos Carax's Mauvais sang, David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me and John Waters' A Dirty Shame that reconceive the meaning of cinematic dance as a gesture that somewhat defies meaning. That spirit of dancing at the fringe of our understanding can also be sensed in Martin's love of Philippe Garrel and especially L'Enfant Secret, a chronicle of a tortured, fragile existence that embodies those qualities in its material properties: a film that at times "threatens to disintegrate."

To some extent the delicate filmic qualities of L'Enfant Secret that are crucial to Martin's testimony can't be conveyed in an online video essay, due to the limitations of transposing the film between mediums.  One can only hope that this video will induce further efforts to present the film in its intended format, so that audiences might have the same visceral reaction that Martin relates in this video. In addition to this video, one should also read Martin's article on the film published in Transit magazine (in Spanish and English).

Adrian Martin is a film critic, scholar and co-editor of the online film journal Lola. He is winner of the Australian Film Institute's Byron Kennedy Award and the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing. 

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO: Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ekkehard Knörer and Michael Baute on UNDER THE BRIDGES

VIDEO: Sight & Sound Film Poll: Ekkehard Knörer and Michael Baute on UNDER THE BRIDGES

The fifth video in our ongoing series is the first to involve a film on my own top ten list for the Sight & Sound Film Poll. But I'm not one of the commentators on the video. Nor is the film on the top ten list of either of the commentators. But somehow the three of us form "an inclusive whole" (to use a phrase in the video) to make the case for why Helmut Käutner's Under the Bridges is one of the greatest films ever made.

I first watched the film three years ago as part of Shooting Down Pictures, where I started producing video essays. My viewing of the film came weeks before a trip to Berlin, where I discussed my video essays in public for the first time, as part of the series Kunst der Vermittlung (translated as "Cultural Education" according to Google) organized by Stefan Pethke, Michael Baute, Volker Pantenburg, Stefanie Schluter and Erik Stein. This was an extensive series of screenings and talks dedicated to showcasing film criticism and scholarship performed within the medium of film and video.

I was really taken by the project organizers' enthusiasm for this sub-genre of filmmaking and film criticism, and proposed to collaborate on a video essay on Under the Bridges. Michael Baute accepted the invitation and also enlisted the help of Ekkehard Knörer, editor of the film journal Cargo and one of Germany's leading film critics. We met at Michael's apartment in Kreuzberg, I with my recording equipment and Michael and Ekkehard with a voiceover script they prepared. We recorded the narration; later that day Michael accompanied me on a boat tour of Berlin's Spree River, where we filmed several bridges, thinking it might be a good visual element for the video. I concluded my visit happily and went back to the States with freshly recorded footage ready to edit.

Three years later, the video is finished. I'll refrain from listing extenuating circumstances for why it took three years to make this video essay. I've already apologized to my collaborators, and I am happy to report that they are satisfied with the results. This comes as a relief to me, because the quality of their commentary is such that it may have caused some trepidation on my part, contributing to the delay. Until that time, I had never been handed such an eloquent and extensively prepared narration with which to produce a video. In fact, this narration played no small part in opening my eyes to the splendor of this film.

Knörer and Baute talk about the film's attempt to create beauty in the most unlikely and unyielding circumstances: the end of the Nazi regime, with bombs falling all over Berlin and hardly any resources for filmmaking. They talk about a film whose style embodies a richness borne of poverty: finding the sublime in the most quotidian images and slightest of gestures. They talk about the alchemy of filmmaking, creating miraculous effects out of an improbable scenario bordering on a whimsical absurdity out of touch with the reality of its times – and yet strangely appropriate, even necessary. Necessary because of the small, delicate, and redemptive human touches that float across the screen from start to finish, and that culminate in a feeling of unassuming yet profound grace.

As modest in its brilliance as it is brilliant in its modesty, Under the Bridges is precisely the kind of film that deserves to benefit from an exercise like the Sight & Sound Critics Poll. While many come to the list curious about the new consensus over what the greatest films are, many others are craving to discover lesser-known titles that others passionately cherish. This is such a film. Please watch this video, and learn about one of the greatest films ever made. – Kevin B. Lee

Ekkehard Knörer is a film critic and editor and co-founder of Cargo Film/Medien/Kultur as well as the editor of Merkur Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken.

Michael Baute works as an author, critic and curator and in various media-related projects. Since 2001 he is a contributor to the weblog newfilmkritik. In 2006 he (together with Volker Pantenburg) published a book on Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Recently he’s been the artistic director of Kunst der vermittlung, a website and screening series exploring the art of video-form criticism.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

TRANSCRIPT

EK: "Under the bridges" is a film about Willy and Hendrik, two skippers on a cargo barge who, as a song sung by one of them makes explicitly clear, have led a skipper's promiscuous life. This, however, they have now decided, has to come to an end. They are, very literally, on the lookout for a woman to love. They both are, which brings up the issue of their friendship, their life together on this barge named Lotte. "Under the bridges" on the surface is not much more than a romantic comedy about these two men and their attempt to find a way of integrating a woman in their unsteady lives. But "Under the bridges" is far stranger than it seems. It was shot in wartime, from May to October 1944. You wouldn't know from the film. The Berlin you see is a city in peace. Its buildings are unscathed. Indeed, everything here, these industrial buildings, the landscapes and even these people and their relationships, seem made up from the scraps of better times. But they had no means at all, no money, when they did it, bombs were falling at the time, it really is an arte povera film.

MB: The question then becomes: Is this escapism? The devastations of real life in Germany at the time seem purposefully suppressed in every single image and montage. But at the same time something else makes itself felt underneath the peaceful floating of the barge and the joking and the erotic innuendo. "Under the bridges" is in every respect a film about having to make do, about never expecting too much, about confining yourself to what is near. This is true of Hendrik and Willy who are never es free and independent as they seem. There is even an explicit symbol for that in the film: their barge lacks an engine so they have to rely on other boats taking their barge upriver.

EK: Anna, the woman, with whose fate theirs will be connected, is in quite similar a position. She has very recently arrived in Berlin from an Eastern province and her first attempt to find a partner has disastrously failed. When Hendrik and Willy "meet" her she is standing on a bridge, at night, throwing money in the water. Hendrik and Willy suspect that she may jump and follow the money, with suicidal intent. They take her on board and they begin, in their unassuming ways, wooing her. It seems an impossible task this story has set for itself: Making one out out of these three on an allegorically floating thing like this barge.

MB: There is a kind of suspense in the film that has little to do with the question of how to succeed with that. (And it is obvious that success can only lie in all of them finally taking something like a back seat.) No, the real suspense of the film has much to do with a back and forth of little charges and discharges. This is one of the film's most intimate scenes. It is Anna's first night on the boat, she can't sleep, alone on a boat with two strangers, but also because of all the little noises. Hendrik, however, explains it to her. These natural sounds, made by the rope and the reed, are not noises, but in fact they are music. Natural life, the everyday, is in this way charged with the notion that in fact it is something more poetic. In this case: music. Listen to that.

EK: "Under the bridges" is a film about efforts, but in an almost paradoxical way: efforts are being made to make things seem effortless. It is a film where every feast is frugal, but frugality is made into a feast. And love, the feast of feasts, is effortlessly made into something on which not too many efforts, nor too many words or too many gestures or feelings should be spent. Modesty is what this film strives for, in the middle of a war it makes every effort to ignore. Efforts are visibly made, however, also on the aesthetic plane. "Under the bridges" is not simply a film in the vein of what very soon will be called neo-realism. The expressionist heritage makes itself felt in quite a few scenes playing with darkness and light. The camera moves in rather sophisticated ways, and also the actors are moving naturally and at the same time seem quite choreografed. The effortless flow Käutner achieves comes from his blending of these two seemingly contradictory movements.

MB: Let's concentrate on two emblematic scenes. In the first one Hendrik comes to surprisingly visit Anna at her place. She lives in one of those Berlin courtyards. All she can see of the city is a cigarette ad on the wall of a building and a rather small aperture between the walls of this yard. And now they are intimately together. It is, in its very own way, the film's major love scene. Nothing much happens but in this "nothing much" lies the core of this film's ideology. You have to make do. Käutner manages to charge the most frugal rapprochment with a lot. This is the film's most moving scene because it sums up what "Under the bridges" is all about: You have to be able to find the jubilatory in even the most everyday gesture. One later scene even plays out like a montage reminding of Walter Ruttmann's "Berlin, Symphony of a Big City". We see Anna and Willy on a small lake in a much smaller boat. They stop, under a bridge, in the dark. What we experience here is more than one denouement. This is the moment when Willy learns that all his hopes are dashed, that Anna will never love him, but has always only loved Hendrik. All Käutner needs and wants at the moment is another very small gesture: Willy is lowering his head. He takes this blow in the most modest and gentle way possible.

EK: This most definitely is not a typical scene for the film. But it is decisive and absolutely necessary because it delivers all the plot details whose postponement has kept this potentially melodramatic story so low key before. All the melodramatic potential that Käutner so purposefully never unfolds is compressed into this fast and technically rather elaborate montage. It's a film in the film, so to speak, that by absorbing most of the narrative as well as the emotional pressures makes possible the seeming effortlessness of the low key semi-comedic rest of the film. And, one could argue, the solution that will be found is only possible after this intricate denouement. This scene, I would say, is the film's hidden engine. It makes the rest of it flow so effortlessly. The happy ending is no longer a miracle after that.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight & Sound Film Poll – Vadim Rizov on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s THE ANTHEM

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight & Sound Film Poll – Vadim Rizov on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s THE ANTHEM

As discussed in part three of Press Play's preview of the Sight & Sound film poll, if you look at the results of the last poll, you would think that the last 40 years of cinema amounted to a dark age following the golden era of the 50s and 60s, with hardly any films from that period showing up in the top results. In contrast, each of the videos produced so far for Press Play's Sight and Sound Critics Picks series has featured one post-1970 film: Roger Ebert praised Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Jonathan Rosenbaum picked Satantango (1994), and Molly Haskell selected Claire's Knee (1970). But what films from the last decade are worth consideration? Is it "too soon to be sure" if these films truly rank among the greatest, as David Jenkins wondered in part two our discussion

Critic and Sight & Sound contributor Vadim Rizov submits his answer with his selection of a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, one of the pre-eminent directors to have emerged in the past decade; with his first feature Mysterious Object at Noon released in 2000, he can be considered one of the first true post-millennial filmmakers. Rizov takes his selection further by not choosing one of Apichatpong (aka Joe)'s most critically vaunted features, Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2007) or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In fact, Rizov doesn't select a feature film, but Joe's short film The Anthem, co-commissioned by Frieze Projects and LUX in 2005. The short, intended as a "cinematic purification ceremony" to be played in movie theaters at the start of a screening, takes its inspiration from two ceremonial fixtures in Thai culture: Buddhist purification rituals and the playing of the Thai royal anthem at the start of film screenings and other public events. Rizov explains his selection in the video: "If I had to choose one film to show someone who was completely unfamiliar with arthouse cinema of the last 10-15 years what they had been missing in five minutes, I would choose Joe's short film The Anthem."

The selection of a short as one of the all-time greatest films may be more significant than selecting a film that is only seven years old. Shorts are all too often overlooked; I've spoken with more than one poll participant who was surprised to learn that short films were even eligible for consideration. But the first Sight and Sound Poll in 1952 placed a short film in the top ten: Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct. Since then, no short film has come close to that ranking, though 1992 featured an especially strong showing of short films in the top 50: Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Humphrey Jennings' Listen to Britain, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog and Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. All of those shorts fell in the 2002 balloting, excet for Un Chien Andalou, the only short in the top 100, and along with Chris Marker's La Jetee, the only short to receive three votes or more. 

My own 2012 ballot features two shorts: Farough Farrokzad's The House is Black (1962) and Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space (1999). I don't expect either of these to place well in the aggregate results, but that doesn't stop them from being two of the most stunning films I've seen: Farrokhzad's is a supreme fusion of non-fiction, essay and poetry; Tscherkassky's is a horrifying, spellbinding eulogy to the end of 20th century celluloid cinema. They do more in ten minutes than most films can do in 100. 

Special thanks to Bill Georgaris of They Shoot PIctures, Don't They? for the Sight and Sound poll statistics cited in this entry.

Vadim Rizov is a freelance film writer based in Brooklyn. His work regularly appears in Sight & Sound, the L Magazine, the LA Weekly and the AV Club, among others. Follow him on Twitter.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Molly Haskell on CLAIRE’S KNEE

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Molly Haskell on CLAIRE’S KNEE

Press Play presents Sight & Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight & Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

I first met Molly Haskell and her husband Andrew Sarrris when they spoke at the 2008 Moving Image Institute, a weeklong program for emerging film critics organized by the Museum of the Moving Image. Ever since then I've wanted to collaborate with them on a video essay. Not so much because of their stature as two highly influential thinkers on cinema, but because of something they expressed at the Institute: their curiosity and slight puzzlement about film culture in the online era. For Haskell and Sarris, both of whom have resisted those hand-wringing "death of cinema" theories embraced by their contemporaries, the profusion of movie websites, blogs, videos, etc. over the past decade was something new, exciting and a little overwhelming. At the time, I felt qualified to help steer them through the flood of content; four years later, I feel just as inundated by all that is out there. But infusing their insights into the realm of online video is one thing I still feel capable of doing, and the Sight & Sound Film Poll video series provides the perfect opportunity to explore one of Haskell's favorite films, Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee.

nullListening to Haskell speak about the film conjures visions not only of the film, but also of an era that it reflects: a late '60s-early '70s generation in the throes of a massive cultural shift, discovering new ways to engage with cinema and with the opposite sex. Those impulses are still as present as ever, but perhaps one important distinction between then and now, which the film reflects, is an exquisite sophistication and delight in oral communication that may be endangered in the era of text messaging and tweeting. At the same time, there's something in the written traces of that era's film culture that distinguishes it from those of the present. This became apparent to me when, in the middle of our recording, Haskell brought out Sarris' original 1971 review of Claire's Knee published in the Village Voice and read passages from it. There is something both rigorous and relaxed in Sarris' prose that reflects a time when alternative print media was at its mightiest, when writers weren't pressed to mind wordcounts or angle for pullquote-worthy soundbites, and were freer to ruminate memorably on how a film, or even a knee that appears in a film, could reflect the essence of cinema. I write all this knowing that it may all amount to a nostalgic, Midnight in Paris-like projection of present disappointments upon an idealized past that may never have been as good as I make it out to be. But that doesn't stop those ideals from being worthy of aspiration.

I'm very pleased that I was able to incorporate Haskell's reading of Sarris' review, and also to visualize it with a shot of the review as first printed in the Voice. Juxtaposed with the distracting image of Claire's sensually sunlit knee, it was a fun way to visualize the relationship between a critical text and its subject, one surface expressing the essence of another surface, itself a beguiling decoy diverting the attention of both the film's protagonist and its audience from the film's true beauty.

For additional insights into the film, read Haskell's essay on Claire's Knee published in the Criterion Collection DVD release of the film. 

Molly Haskell is a film critic, author of many books, including From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, and former co-host of Turner Classic Movies's The Essentials.

Andrew Sarris is a film critic and author of many books, including The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Jonathan Rosenbaum on SATANTANGO

VIDEO ESSAY: Sight and Sound Film Poll – Jonathan Rosenbaum on SATANTANGO

Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.

From a personal standpoint, it is fitting that the second video of this series, following the opening tribute to Roger Ebert, features Jonathan Rosenbaum. It was through Ebert that I discovered Rosenbaum's writing 14 years ago, when his weekly reviews for The Chicago Reader made Ebert's list of "20 Essential Movie Websites." Since then, no writer has done more to expand my knowledge and develop my sensibilities on cinema. To explain why, let met me point to one of several possible examples: Rosenbaum's 1990 article "A Bluffer's Guide to Bela Tarr," one of the very first articles written in English on the Hungarian director. On a basic level, the article serves the essential function of film criticism: to introduce its readers to new and exciting work. But it goes a critical step further by identifying the inherent problems of encountering and understanding new films, especially from other parts of the world, and the uncomfortable reality of being confronted with one's ignorance of certain contextual realities (cultural, historical) that may have led to their creation and may be important to their appreciation. The title of the article implies that one can "bluff" their way to posing as an expert on such films, but what Rosenbaum does is the opposite: he systematically and transparently outlines his limited knowledge of Bela Tarr and Hungarian cinema; identifies the elements in Tarr's films that fascinate and confound him, employs sharp formal analysis to vividly describe what's happening on screen; and offers some interpretative possibilities while resisting reductive conclusions. It's an object lesson in how to actively engage with everything in cinema that is new and strange.

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In the two decades since, Rosenbaum has become a leading authority on Bela Tarr's films, a progression that is all the more fascinating for the extent to which it is documented. One can get a sense of Rosenbaum's growing familiarity and evolving position with Tarr's films: from the 1990 "Bluffer's" piece to his 1994 review of Satantango, to his 1996 assessment of Tarr's opus coinciding with and the filmmaker's first career retrospective in Chicago, and a 2001 conversation with Tarr published in Cinemascope. Most of these articles are available on Rosenbaum's website. Later this year his commentary track will accompany the Cinema Guild DVD of The Turin Horse, reputed to be Tarr's final film. His interest now extends into investigating the literary work of Laszlo Krasznahorkai, author of the novel Satantango and co-writer of Tarr's last five films.

When we discussed the making of a video essay on Satantango, one idea was to juxtapose a scene from the film with Jonathan's reading of a passage from the Krasnahorkai novel describing the same scene. We recorded this footage, and while I wasn't able to bring it to a result that fully satisfied me, I am fascinated by the idea of comparing a cinematic work with its source text and hope to pursue this further. We settled on another idea by Jonathan that plays in its own way with the distinctive qualities of the film. – Kevin B. Lee

Jonathan Rosenbaum is an American film critic. Rosenbaum was the head film critic for the Chicago Reader from 1987 until 2008, He has published and edited numerous books, most recently Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition (2010). 

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY – The Sight and Sound Film Poll: An International Tribute to Roger Ebert and His Favorite Films

VIDEO ESSAY – The Sight and Sound Film Poll: An International Tribute to Roger Ebert and His Favorite Films

This week Press Play introduces Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics' Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer. 

To start off the Critics' Picks series, why not have the most famous film critic in the world? Roger Ebert needs no introduction, but his impact on film culture is something we have long taken for granted, and extends beyond his 45 years of film reviewing and television celebrity. His reach is felt even within the Sight and Sound Poll – as I wrote in Press Play's roundtable discussion of the poll, it was Ebert who first brought the poll to my attention as a teenager reading his Movie Home Companion, where he analyzed the 1982 poll results and shared his own top ten, distilled in a series of exquisitely crafted paragraphs. That book and those paragraphs initiated my own love of film criticism, and form the basis for this video essay. 

The passages that serve as the video's narration cover the four films from Ebert's 1982 list that remain on his freshly minted top ten for the 2012 Sight and Sound poll. In its own way, the video reflects more significant developments in his life than his updated top ten list. When a fight with cancer left Ebert unable to speak, he took to the web to express himself, convening a international community of movie lovers around his website and blog. That in turn led to the creation of a special section on his website, Roger Ebert's Far-Flung Correspondents, featuring film reviews and articles from people around the world. The site celebrates movies as a global phenomenon bringing people together across languages and cultures.

To honor that vision, this video features many of the Far-Flung Correspondents speaking Ebert's words in their own language. The video also reunites the two hosts of Ebert Presents at the Movies, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Vishnevetsky bringing a multilingual twist to his voiceover. Also taking part are contributors to Roger Ebert's Demanders, the section of his site reviewing video on-demand titles.

It was extremely fortuitous that the production of this video coincided with Ebertfest, Ebert's personally curated annual film festival held at his alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Most of the participants of this video travelled to Ebertfest, making it the perfect opportunity to record them. Others recorded themselves remotely and sent their audio via email. All told, there are 20 contributors speaking ten languages, discussing four favorite films of one man whose writing proves that not only great films, but great film writing, can transcend humankind's boundaries. – Kevin B. Lee

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Roger Ebert's Far-Flung Correspondents

Ali Arikan (Turkish)
Olivia Collette (Canadian French)
Wael Khairy (Arabic)
Scott Jordan Harris
Michael Mirasol (Tagalog)
Omer Mozaffar
Michal Oleszczyk (Polish)
Krishna Shenoi
Gerardo Valero (Spanish)
Pablo Villaça (Brazilian Portugese)
Grace Wang (Mandarin)

Roger Ebert's Demanders

Steven Boone
Jim Emerson
Odie Henderson
Kevin B. Lee
Donald Liebenson
Jana Monji
Jeff Shannon

Ebert Presents At the Movies

Christy Lemire
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Russian)