Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Cinema Scope and Film Criticism
It is rewarding, personally and for film culture, to compare Mark Peranson’s editor’s note in Cinema Scope issue 42 with Positif’s March 2010 editor’s note. In Positif’s, Franck Kausch pits Positif’s decade review list against the one by Cahiers du Cinéma and Film Comment while Cinema Scope opposes specifically me, David Davi(d)son from Ottawa, Ontario. This acknowledgment re-emphasizes Cinema Scope’s interest in film culture esoterica and it expresses the generous personality behind the magazine that is willing to extend itself to mention one of its keen readers. This interest in the esoteric is demonstrated anew with each issue with its up-to-date content that brings to attention upcoming trends on obscurantist art films that do not get enough coverage in mainstream press.

Cinema Scope’s strategy is simple: to have an in depth analysis on relevant filmmakers and global cinéphilia while effusing a frontal attack on world cinema’s fraudulent and pundit attachés who easily fall prey to journalistic shorthand’s. Their eclectic film reviews are a formation in the avant-garde, artistic, intellectual, humanistic, and political cinema of the present day. Cinema Scope’s championing of these films has to do with their quality not their cultural presence, which is something that is usually based on “apparent” mainstream importance (i.e. advertising budgets), which is accentuated by a megaplex cultural conformism. In a Hollywood driven North American film-industry market, economic privilege, for Cinema Scope, is usually a factor to negate a film. Mr. Peranson describes his position in Cinema Scope (N.06) “Being contrarian – never a be all and end all – means giving more slack and more coverage to alternatives to multiplex fare.” Unlike other contrarians like, lets say, Armond White or Pauline Kael, you can actually agree with the films and filmmakers Cinema Scope champions as they provide an overview and insight on exciting world-cinema that otherwise might be overlooked.

Some of Cinema Scope’s preferred directors include: James Benning, Jia Zhangke, Pedro Costa, Guy Maddin, Corneliu Porumboiu, Apichatpong Weerasethakul et al. These filmmakers are not too common in mainstream Canadian-American press, which leads to Cinema Scope’s side-taking of the position of you-don’t-like-us-and-we-don’t-like-you. Their feuds can get pretty nasty and their tone certainly aggressive. Cinema Scope’s use of polemics and attacking the exterior is worth saluting as their contrarian stance and rivalry choices have a cathartic quality.

The magazine’s interviews with directors showcase a convergence of the technical, personal and social aspect of films; and the film reviews come from the film festival circuit, which includes Cannes, Toronto, Vancouver, Venice, Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin. This immediacy, fresh from the festival screens, is maintained by a critical analysis - something that is usually missing in the writing of rushed bloggers. The magazines book reviews can lead to interesting spinoff readings, while the documentation of installation art provides a better perspective of the visual context surrounding innovation with sights and sounds.

There are similarities between the wide-screen anamorphic process CinemaScope and the magazine Cinema Scope. The CinemaScope process arose from Hollywood’s search in the early 50s for a product to counter the threat of television, which it did with its two and a half times wider image (an aspect ratio of 2.35:1). This is similar to the magazine’s subtitle “expanding the frame on international cinema.” The first film made with CinemaScope, Henry Koster’s biblical epic The Robe (1953) expressionistically utilizes the new medium, with similarities to the approach of the magazine Cinema Scope, that includes attentiveness to fine detail, an attuned sense of art history, innovation, context, politics, role in cult-cinéphilia, (techni)color, and the ability to spread people apart.

Cinema Scope tries to answer the Bazinien question of “Qu'est-ce que le cinema?” which André Bazin’s talks about categorically: ontology and language, an art form distinguished amongst others, sociological, and a realist aesthetic. In a global film culture, Cinema Scope projects itself as a cinema and the reviewers are actors in its flickering. It creates an unseen cinema in the mind, that is imagined through its readers image-reservoir; a cinema of amour fou. The reviewed films become real through their description and analysis. These films present alternative narratives while simultaneously providing a means to explore and understand another culture.

In the “Decade in Review” issue (N.42) the centerpiece is a panoptic address on cinema in the first decade of the third millennium. The word “cinema” is derived from the Greek word for movement and it is the ancient Greek mathematician Ptolemy who invented the precursor apparatus that would latter me referred to as the Zoetrope; the cylinder with related pictures that during rotation gives the impression of succession. The moving-pictures have gone a long way since Edward Muybridge’s series on racehorses and it now shows itself to be ever changing within an international context in a period of new possibilities with new technologies like 3D films, performance capture, digital, and celluloid; and mutating methods of production, filming and distribution.

Alongside Other Film Editorials
The Toronto-based international film quarterly Cinema Scope is ahead of most trends relative to other well-worth reading film criticism editorials that include Positif, Cahiers du Cinéma, 24 Images, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, and Film Quarterly. Cinema Scope is also readily accessible as the magazine can be easily found at local (upscale) newsstands unlike other film-criticism rarities like Trafic, Video Watchdog or Framework. A lot of these magazines share the same writers and there is a charm to follow their idiosyncratic taste. Cinema Scope has an underdog quality as it is a relatively new publication and its contrarian stance reacts, though sometimes builds upon, the tastes of these other magazines.

The French magazines Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif usually review the more interesting foreign films before the English language magazines. This is partly due to distribution, as their headquarters in Paris - the “unofficial” film capital of the world – receives these films earlier then their North American counter parts. Cinema Scope’s content competes with their proficiency while being more accessible to a western hemisphere audience, due to the fact that it is an English publication.

Canadian Cinéphilia
Cinema Scope has a tendency towards a nationalist Canadian cinema with reviews of the Can-Con and the Can-Cult, and content varying like the Toronto Images Festival and Montreal’s social-documentarist Donigan Cumming. This is done without falling prey to isolationism unlike many of the other Canadian film criticism magazines. Some of the strongest vocationers for Canadian cinema can be found within Cinema Scope’s archives and it should be considered among other Canadian film publications like CineAction (which was co-founded by Robin Wood) as well alongside Canadian film book-publishers like TIFF, University of Toronto Press, Canadian Film Institute, and Caboose Books.

The moving images - particularly the newsreel and the documentary - are part of a long tradition in Canadian identity that goes back to the National Film Board’s (NFB) inception by John Grierson in 1938. A running theme of Canadian national cinema is its citizen’s sense of identification with its country, made even more eclectic by the diversity of its ingrained multiculturalism. Cinema Scope extends the notion of film as part of Canadian identity by positing that cinéphilia is part of the Canadian experience. This idiosyncratic cinéphilia is part of a tradition, I think, of an unleashed cinéphilic repression caused by an isolating landscape - that consists of ten provinces and three territories - which for approximately four months leads to hibernation due to the snow and coldness. This sense of hibernation – which itself is similar to the film-going experience – is accompanied by extraneous free time which accentuates these outlier cinéphiles.

Though an easy word to throw around, what exactly is a cinéphile, the implications of classifying oneself as such, and its relevance? The suffix –phile specifies an attraction to something, and cine being an abbreviation for cinema. It implies a holistic passion for film and its relevance arriving from a threefold illumination: (1) a source of pleasure, (2) psychological development (akin to Jacques Lacan’s mirror phase), and (3) in its political quality in portraying subtleties and viable social options.

The omnivorous-cinephile’s scopophilia - Freud’s psychoanalytic term for those that take a general pleasure in looking – accentuates the viewing of the esoteric, which includes, lets say, 1920s Italian diva films, the somber world of Robert Bresson or the soft-core erotic Emmanuelle series. I would classify Mr. Peranson into this category alongside other idionsyncratic Canadian cinephiles including the Winnipeg-based prairie fabulist Guy Maddin, who appropriates a silent-film syntax and whose experiences and thoughts are so anxiously and passionately confessed in his book “From the Atelier Tovar: Selected Writings”; James Quandt, the senior programmer at the TIFF Cinematheque, who is from a village in northern Saskatchewan where he grew up with no television; and Lee Demarbre who grew up outside of Ottawa and as a youth went to New York City to see exploitation films; his professional history in Ottawa includes filmmaking, running a film radio-talk show Drunken Master Revue on CKCU-FM on Wednesday evenings, and he has worked at the repertories Bytowne Cinema, the CFI and is currently the programmer at the Mayfair Theater.

Cinema Scope’s History
Cinema Scope’s history starts with its venturesome chief-editor and publisher Mark Peranson creating the film-review periodical as a zine in 1999 – the first issue consisted of over 100 reviews of films from the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival. As Mike White writes “It boasted reviews of nearly all of the entries to the Toronto International Film Festival and proved to be among the most valuable possessions of folks attending the fest that were lucky enough to score a copy.” The magazine headquarters initially begun in Vancouver and then later moved to Toronto. The format of the magazine has not changed too much (at least since the 6th issue, the earliest one I have encountered) and the small noticeable change is in the title, as earlier magazines were entitled cinéma scope (with an é and the o is flanned between two lines). Other then that Cinema Scope’s proportions have remained consistent. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s indispensable Global Discoveries on DVD must have been added somewhere between the 6th and the 21st issue. And the invaluable website - that had major renovations in the last year - provides a wonderful database of archival features, spotlights, columns, and currency and is interweaved with facilitating keys to share pages on Facebook and Twitter.

Cinema Scope’s film critics present tastes and choices with an absolute enthusiasm, brilliance, provocation, and erudition. It is a breath of fresh air to read they’re blending of research, intelligent journalism and criticisms - and there are many of them - especially in an oversaturated journo-advertising industry. Some note worthy Cinema Scope forum colleagues and contributors include film critics Tom Charity, Jason Anderson, Robert Koehler, Scott Foundas, Andréa Picard, Christoph Huber, Andrew Tracy, Michael Sicinski (though his review of Philip Hoffman’s All Fall Down is unfair; Phil’s independent imaging retreat “Film Farm” in Mount Forest, ON is a considerable force in grassroots Canadian experimental cinema), Olaf Möller, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Quintín, Geof Pevere, Kent Jones, Liam Lacey, Jerry White, James Quandt, Noel Vera, Don McKellar, James Benning, Richard Porton, Adam Nayman, David Walsh, Tom McSorley, Serge Daney, and David Borwell.

On Cinema Scope’s Editor Mark Peranson
Cinema Scope’s publisher Mr. Peranson’s - born in Canada in 1968 - career history includes being an industrious film critic (e.g., The Believer, Moving Image Source, Film Reference Library), director of the film Waiting for Sansho (2008), actor in Albert Serra’s Birdsong (2008), writer on the Canadian TV series “On Screen” (2005), and worked as the programming and promotions associate for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Mr. Peranson’s Waiting for Sancho is about Albert Serra’s filmmaking process during the shooting of Birdsong. Mr. Peranson himself stars in Birdsong as the Hebrew-speaking Joseph, Jesus’s Father, from the tale of the Journey of the Magai. Mr. Peranson is insightful about Birdsong when he highlights in Cahiers du Cinéma’s (N.634) the films use of varying ethnicity, religion and dialects; and when he cites Albert Serra from a Catalan television interview that Birdsong consist of “filming people that I like, the ways that they move, their gestures, and the way they talk” a comment Mr. Peranson appropriates as also a definition of the essence of cinema.

Mr. Peranson’s editors notes includes social-politics as he provides his support to director and program manager Quintín and Flavia de la Fuente of the Buenos Aires International Film Festival against getting fired by government bureaucrats, he stood behind Barack Obama in the 2009 American presidential elections, and he wrote a heart-felt eulogy for Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohic after their brutal murders.

Mr. Peranson’s writing is characterized by a joyful cynicism (similar to his defense of David Wain’s Role Models (2008) in his analysis of a film of 00’s) and is a pleasure to read. Hi shake-ups are equivocal to François Truffaut’s early Cahier du Cinéma’s polemic “Une certaine tendence du cinéma francais” (1954). Mr. Peranson’s dismissive comments like “Cannes 2005 appeared as if Thierry Frémaux and string-puller Gilles Jacob were assembling a loosely organized community college Intro to Cinema 101 class,” or “”you know, Loach-Almodovar-Campion-Giannoli-Ang Lee middlebrow, to which I now feel secure in adding the name of Michael Haneke” are refreshing to hear as they are an expression of an uncompromising dedication to a particular type of cult-art cinema as well it extends the magazines reputation of enraging and educating eager cinéphiles on opposing views.

To Conclude
Mr. Peranson’s iconoclastic Cannes reviews are one of the quarterly publications highlights. In them, Mr. Peranson rebels against the mistrials in the international film community, sometimes with a dogged humorous undercurrent other times with a disappointed moodiness. Mr. Peranson writes in the 25th issue “The one thing that connects all the issues of Cinema Scope together is a focus on films that are overlooked, undeservedly—those films that fall through the cracks.” It is always a pleasure to catch up with the films written about in Cinema Scope when they arrive in theaters or on DVD as they reveal surprises and unsuspected discoveries waiting ahead.

Cinema Scope is a fruitful magazine, ten years ago Mr. Peranson wrote, “The longer one is involved in this industry – and by comparison, I’m pretty much a child actor – the harder it is to avoid becoming jaded and/or cynical.” Mr. Peranson might be sometimes cynical but it is with resiliency and enthusiasm. Cinema Scope is now a carrying symbol of cinéphilia and with its unchangeable unruly taste it contributes to an increased scope and discourse on a transnational film culture to the benefit of film enthusiasts everywhere.


My Introduction to Cinema Scope
In the latest issue of Cinema ScopeDecade in Review” Mr. Peranson mentions me, David Davidson, in regards to “editorial compromises of the greatest films of the last decade.” In the previous issue (N. 41) Mr. Peranson writes “Perhaps an outpouring of support from the readership will sway things one way or the other, but I’m not holding my breath on that one either.” After reading that I emailed Mr. Peranson with my support and I attached my own list. The title of that post is now, and has been for a while, “great films of the last decade”, and the inclusion of the word “greatest” – an overgeneralization and an unproductive concept - was a typo that I shortly changed at the time. Either way, let me be clear, I am honored to be mentioned in Cinema Scope. Thank you Mark. I did not think my personal list would get much attention. My great film of the 00’s list, which could be found here, is basically a reiteration of what a lot of other critics have been saying – that the decade is a reflection of the zeitgeist – except for a few highlights of mainstream Canadian filmmakers (e.g., Maddin, Egoyan, Kunuk) that were not mentioned other places.

I picked up my first copy of Cinema Scope in Berlin’s central station Hauptbahnhof at a magazine store by the railway. I was on my way to Vienna, Austria on a 6 hour train ride. It was entirely by coincidence that I found Cinema Scope, I also picked up The New Yorker and the French Premiere. At the time I just finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s behemoth Gravity’s Rainbow and it was an appropriate book to anticipate finding Cinema Scope, as personally, I was sharing the book’s German setting, and Cinema Scope’s “Cannes 2009 Bloody Hell” issue was very unconventional, similarly to Gravity’s Rainbow protagonist Tyrone Slothrop, as the magazine seemed like a mixture between traditional film criticism, paranoia, pot, and encyclopedic trivia with articles like “A Weave of his Stories Rediscovering Vittorio Cottafavi” or “Contact High A Stoner’s Movie Journey from A to Z.

On the train-ride, in an experience that made me think of the trip in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control [2008, (which the magazine reviews, and that I drove to Montreal to go see at the Cinéma du Parc)], reading the magazine made me well aware of the transcontinental context of “cinema” and where I stand within it as a bilingual Canadian somewhere between Germany and Austria. In my compartment there was a little girl making noise by banging on her toy piano as her elderly sun-burnt Teutonic parents were bickering in a language I could not understand.

In the Cannes spotlight Mr. Peranson highlighted Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) focus on language and semantics. Inglorious Basterds, though, should really be discussed with it’s Nazi-occupied France French counterpart Robert Guédiguian’s The Army Of Crime (2009). Anyways, I saw Inglorious Basterds at the Hackesche Höfe filmtheater in Berlin and even though I thought the killing was morally ignoble there was something about the films use of multiple languages and dialects, especially in a foreign context, which resonated. In Inglorious Basterds when the actor spoke either German or Italian (except for Lt. Aldo Raine and his minions) I had very little or no idea of what was being said, emphasizing an un-American context and the films international market. This also happened in Berlin when I saw Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (1991) at the Babylon Filmtheater, but at least there, luckily, I had a friend to translate some Italian, at least, when she was not laughing so hard with Roberto Benigni.


Personal Background
I am twenty-two-year-old and I have been running Ottawa Film Review since 2008. My writing has definitely improved as I have started to mature and find my own voice. My tastes have been refined from reading film criticism collections and anthologies (e.g., Rosenbaum, Sarris, Godard, MacDonald, Agee, Farber, Britton) from the University of Ottawa Morisset Library and through mulling about films over beers with friend Scott Birdwise - the assistant programmer at the CFI and who also got me a part-time job there; dropping by Invisible Cinema to chat with Wyatt, and the participation on the threads at davekerh.com. This has lead to perspective taking and evolving views. I have had an omnivorous diet of videos, some purchased from the used DVD store Tuning Point (411 Cooper St), Tony Daye’s regrettably now-closed Sounds Unlikely (5 Arlington Avenue, the store that introduced me to films of the French-, and Iranian-New-Wave; Samuel Fuller and Michelangelo Antonioni), and bargain bins at chain music-video stores. I saw current releases and classic films projections at the Bytowne Cinema programmed by Bruce White, the new Mayfair Theater programmed by Lee Demarbre, and films at the Library and Achieves Canada programmed by the Tom McSorley from the CFI. And I have written for the student paper University of Ottawa’s Fulcrum Volume 69 Issue 24, 20, 9, and Volume 70 Issue 14, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27.-David Davidson

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