Apr 7, 2015

re: Brody's "The Limits of American Cinephilia"

Richard Brody begins his January 21, 2014 New Yorker article “The Limits of American Cinephilia” by positing that “the history of cinephilia—of movie madness as an artistic principle—is a tale of two cities, New York and Paris. The enduring prominence of the Parisian branch is now back in the forefront, because the National Society of Film Critics . . . gave “Goodbye to Language,” by Jean-Luc Godard, the award for Best Picture.” This seems an oddly indirect way to begin an article that is, in some respects, a review of the recently published book Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel, and an overview of the passions and pursuits of that book’s titular subject. However, Brody goes on to succinctly outline and compare the principles that Vogel and Cinema 16 in the United States and Cahiers du Cinéma critics-later-turned-filmmakers in Paris espoused as defining qualities of significant film.

There are a couple of points in the article that I do not quite understand. One is in the first sentence, quoted above—I do not see how the choice of the Godard film as best picture in one, albeit high-profile, voting forum places Paris back in an immediately evident position of overall prominence, as Brody directly avers. Looking at past years' choices it does not seem at all unusual that the National Society of Film Critics would choose in 2015 a foreign film as best picture. I also do not quite understand the closing paragraph, wherein Brody states that, apropos of his earlier assertion that “Vogel’s story is more that just a tale of his times; it’s a crucial map of the way we think about movies now,” “the American cinephilia launched by Vogel, with its emphasis on ideological scrutiny, holds sway over many critics and viewers, perhaps more firmly than ever. That’s why the gap that Vogel lamented—the one dividing the best of independent filmmaking from the critical community and the audience—is also larger than ever.” Probably my limited background in film studies is preventing comprehension, for I have read the article several times in part and in full and am still at somewhat of a loss. Perhaps someone could clarify these two points for me? Thank you.

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