My friend Brendon Bouzard wraps up his "Year in Film" with some very eloquent analysis of The Beaches of Agnès, Up, Summer Hours, The White Ribbon, but what makes this post much, much more than an excellently curated "best of" list are his comments contrasting the surprisingly "revelatory" experience of watching the quasi-Apatovian "I Love You, Man" and the profoundly disheartening experience of watching ethically-engaged filmmakers and actors line up to support Roman Polanski:
It might say more about me than about film in 2009 that a film with such low ambitions was my most revelatory moment, but I suppose if I’ve experienced a change in how I perceive movies over the past few years, it’s that I’ve grown a general mistrust for the way that both American and international filmmakers approach valuable questions about gender, race, and sexual orientation. Given how much I love film as a medium and how much I regard the potential of film to be a transcendent means of expression – the closest experiential analog to Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk – it pains me to say that the majority of what constitutes this art form I cherish fails on even the most basic level to demonstrate a respect for the personhood of its subjects, and that even many filmmakers who do have a strong enough understanding of the medium to communicate the inner lives of their characters often restrict this privilege to the characters who most resemble the average filmmaker: white, straight, male, able-bodied and of economic means. The irony is not lost on me that this very well describes I Love You, Man, but the palpable regard that film demonstrates for humanity in general was such a breath of fresh air that it’s helped to buoy me through a difficult year in film.Definitely read the whole thing.
And by a difficult year, I suppose I should clarify that for me, the film event of the year was not the release of any picture or catching up on any old classic, but the fallout of the Roman Polanski arrest, an event that solidified for me a lot of the problems of privilege that falter even ethically-minded filmmakers (the Dardennes, Almodovar, Mike Nichols, David Lynch). To be sure, I’m cognizant that many of those in the film community who signed the Polanski petition were not fully aware of Polanski’s actions – there’s been such a calculated effort to reclassify and misrepresent Polanski’s crime to justify his freedom that I’m certain some of the petitioners weren’t exactly sure of what they signed onto. Whoopi Goldberg’s “rape-rape” gaffe speaks to this, though it does not excuse her or anyone else. When Emma Thompson, who had been pressured to sign the petition, asked to have her name removed after a conversation with a fan troubled by her involvement in a document tantamount to rape-apologism, it solidified for me one of the central ideological problems of this entire case: the Polanski petition was as much as anything about a blind inattentiveness to privilege as it relates to the financially secure and the art community, as well as more generally to the masculine, the white and the heterosexual. Which is not to excuse Thompson or anyone for having put their names on the list – and Thompson to this day is the only high-profile petitioner to ask for her name to be removed – but which is to say that in the face of real issues like this, we as a film community need to demand more of our most prominent figures. It’s not enough for filmmakers to commit themselves to messages of feminism or anti-racism or anti-homophobia or anti-war on screen. Though I don’t labor under the illusion an artist is entirely inseparable from their art, I don’t think it’s too much to ask the pillars of our community to aspire to reflecting more wholly the ideas and ideals that the best art represents.
The other blog I want to point you to is one that I discovered through The Quarterly Conversation: Paul Doyle's review of Jorge Volpi's Season of Ash led me to his blog at By the Firelight. I've really enjoyed going back through his archives, as he finds a ton of great stuff to talk about. His blog has "a focus on international literature and Spanish language literature in particular. My goal is not only to comment on books I read and relevant literary links I find on the net, but to use my ability to speak Spanish to find articles and books that are not available in English and try to give a flavor of what has not made it into English yet (if it ever does)."