Popular Styles & Genres

Good morning, folks. A couple new things are up for you this morning.

Rob Clough reviews the second issue of Dunja Jankovic's Habitat.

Also, Mike Dawson's podcast, TCJ Talkies (did I already tell you that Dan came up with that name? I think I'm gonna be reminding you often), is now available on iTunes. You can find it here.

And because Dan decided to talk about Viking movies yesterday instead of providing links, I should announce that Shaenon Garrity turned in her inaugural webcomics column yesterday. Check it out.

Elsewhere on the internet:

The New Yorker's Richard Brody recently weighed in on a minor kefuffle in film-crit world (more here), and while I don't really have any interest in discussing the topic at hand, Brody did bring up something relevant to comics criticism:

At newspapers and magazines, as here at The New Yorker, classical-music critics and pop-music critics are usually different people. With movies, things are different: David Denby and Anthony Lane write about “The Dilemma,” “Source Code,” and “Toy Story 3”; about “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Meek’s Cutoff”; and about the life work of Robert Bresson and Abbas Kiarostami. Though analogies between the arts are inexact, the boundaries between classical and pop cinema are as fluid as are the interests and curiosities of critics who do the cinema justice. D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Sergei Eisenstein are artistic peers, regardless of the differences in their cultural heritage and context, and one of the great discoveries made by critics—the young French writers at Cahiers du Cinéma in the nineteen-fifties, the inventors and advocates of the politique des auteurs (or “auteur theory”) who are now better known as the filmmakers of the French New Wave—is the recognition that some of cinema’s most popular latter-day artists, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, are not merely skillful showmen but classical artists, akin to the writers and painters of the grand tradition, despite working in popular styles and genres in the employ of a mass-media industry.

Comics, too (or at least modern comics), has something of the same "problem"—it began as (and remains?) a popular art form, and as a result of that, many of the most historically and aesthetically important comics are not sufficiently "serious" for more respectability-minded contemporary critics and artists. This is partly where the vitality—and for some, the embarrassment—of comics come from. It's an issue that permeates nearly everything written about the form, and won't be going away during our lifetimes. I have mixed feelings about how film critics have handled their version of the same issue, but it's worth keeping in mind.


No-Prize to the first reader who can guess why this story makes me sad.

Pete Hamill briefly discusses the comics in this pretty great interview about Osama bin Laden, 9/11, and his life in newspapers.

Nice Daniel Clowes interview at the Wall Street Journal.

The Chilean critic Ariel (How to Read Donald Duck) Dorfman offers his own somewhat idiosyncratic take on the idiotic-on-all-sides Superman-renounces-his-citizenship story. (Thanks, RB.)

Pretty astonishing figure for this Dark Knight Returns splash page at auction yesterday: $448 thousand! Is that the most money ever paid for original comic art?

Not comics: John Coltrane doodles.

And don't forget: depending on where you live, tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day.

8 Responses to Popular Styles & Genres

  1. patford says:

    Disgust, not sadness, is my reaction.

  2. patford says:

    While it's obvious there are plenty of comics fans and critics who are insecure, and crave being taken seriously, those critics, and fans are as splintered as the comic books they want to be taken seriously.
    You have mainstream fans who think having super heroes engaging in "adults only" activities imparts some level of maturity. Then there are people who like things which are vague. The ideal book of this type would be a collection of blank pages. Another type of comic book to be taken seriously would be one which resembles "real life" or at least the version of it found in "serious" modern TV and film.
    From my point of view the seriousness of a piece of work is completely unrelated to either it's subject matter, or it's intended audience. The value of the work is entirely in the mind behind it.
    You can see examples in comics and film. Orson Welles took over a genre pot-boiler and made Touch of Evil.
    I'd recommend Mr. Arkadin to anyone who liked Touch of Evil.
    It isn't as polished looking since it was made on a small budget, but it's based on a roughly similar idea; not the plot, but the notion of taking a pulp story, and pushing it creatively. Welles unabashedly turned the tables and introduced pulp visual elements into Macbeth which he called, "A perfect cross between Wuthering Heights and Bride of Frankenstein."
    And of course Bergman made a damn good "Viking" movie stocked with cartoon characters.

  3. R_Fiore says:

    The difference between the comics and the movies is that in movies you had an art film tradition running parallel to the commercial film practically from the beginning; Eisenstein's career ran parallel to Harold Lloyd's, Renoir's to Hitchcock's. You didn't truly have an art comics tradition take root until about 30 years ago, so the overwhelming balance of talent in the history of comics still falls in the commercial sphere. In contemporary comics, however, you have about as clear a division between the art comics and commercial comics as you have in any art form. They're practically two different languages now, like Spanish and Portuguese.

  4. patford says:

    Here's a portion of a Michael Ciment essay on Kubrick.

    "Eisenstein's greatest achievement is the beautiful visual composition of his shots and his editing. But as far as content is concerned his films are silly, his actors are wooden and operatic. I sometimes suspect that Eisenstein's acting style derives from his desire to keep the actors framed within a composition for as long as possible; they move very slowly, as if under water…Actually anyone seriously interested in comparative film techniques should study the difference in approach of two directors, Eisenstein and Chaplin. Eisenstein is all form and no content, whereas Chaplin is content and no form."

    When the American magazine Cinema asked him in 1963 to name his favorite films, Kubrick listed the following titles: 1. I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini, 1953), 2. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1958), 3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), 4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948), 5. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931), 6. Henry V (Laurence Olivier, 1945), 7. La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961), 8. The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields, 1940), 9. Roxie Hart (William Wellman, 1942), 10. Hell's Angels (Howard Hughes, 1930). In this choice one can detect a broadminded attitude towards very dissimilar aesthetic experiences, with a preference nevertheless for European art films strongly colored by a pessimistic view of life (Fellini, Antonioni, Bergman); and a predilection for American directors known for their larger-than-life.

    If you accept what Kubrick seems to be saying, Eisenstein's "serious" content is shallow and one dimensional, where as Chaplin's slapstick veneer has all the depth lacking under Eisenstein's intellectual surface (both form and subject).
    As a measure of George Herriman's artistic stature consider he combined the elements under consideration. Herriman was a master and innovator of the early comic strip technical elements. He never really moved into the later comics form influenced by cinema, but his style of comics was rooted in the older form tied to comics being seen by an audience looking at a stage, rather than the audience seeing things through the eye of a directed camera.
    Herriman's content (graced with Herriman's poetic word play), did very much the same thing Chaplin was doing. He took slapstick, and used it to illustrate emotions, and aspects of human character in a way which displayed greater insight than what would be found in the bulk of "highbrow" or "serious" subject matter.

  5. R_Fiore says:

    Chaplin was considered one of the artists of cinema practically from the start; in the years before Citizen Kane became the consensus choice for greatest film in the polls City Lights tended to be in that position. That's why I made the comparison to Harold Lloyd.

  6. patford says:

    Right, and unlike Herriman, the public, and intellectuals "got" Chaplin, maybe even on the same level.
    Chaplin today tends to be underrated, so your point about Lloyd is well taken.
    I was very impressed a couple of years ago when I watched "The Kid" with my son who was six at the time.
    I've never before or since seen any film move him so strongly through a series of connected emotions.
    During the chase towards the end he was on his feet, and dancing in circles when Chaplin rescued the boy, absolutely not the way he behaves while watching something like Ben-10.
    My personal inclination would be to dismiss any person who viewed the final scene of "City Lights" as anything but one of the rarest moments in Cinema history.

  7. RobertSMartin says:

    Click here for thoughts on an issue raised by what Tim and Richard Brody wrote.

  8. RobertSMartin says:

    A new post is now up on the issues of canonicity over at HU. It's a follow-up to the post linked to in the previous comment, and responds to Tim's reply. Click here to read.

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