Slow Cinema Vs Fast Films

I really think I need to jump in on this one. In the April 2010 Sight and Sound, the journal’s editor, Nick James, wrote as follows:

Part of the critical orthodoxy I have complained about has been the dominance of Slow Cinema, that “varied strain of austere minimalist cinema that has thrived internationally over the past ten years”, as Jonathan Romney put it. “What’s at stake,” he wrote, “is a certain rarefied intensity in the artistic gaze . . . a cinema that downplays event in favour of mood, evocativeness and an intensified sense of temporality.”

I admire and enjoy a good many of the best films of this kind, but I have begun to wonder if maybe some of them now offer an easy life for critics and programmers. After all, the festivals themselves commission many of these productions, and such films are easy to remember and discuss in detail because details are few. The bargain the newer variety of slow films seem to impose on the viewer is simple: it’s up to you to draw on your stoic patience and the fascination in your gaze, in case you miss a masterpiece.

Watching a film like the Berlin Golden Bear-winner Honey (”Bal” Semih Kaplanoglu, 2010) – a beautifully crafted work that, for me suffers from dwelling too much on the visual and aural qualities of its landscape and milieu – there are times, as you watch someone trudge up yet another woodland path, when you feel an implicit threat: admit you’re bored and you’re a philistine. Such films are passive-aggressive in that they demand great swathes of our precious time to achieve quite fleeting and slender aesthetic and political effects: sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not. Slow Cinema has been the clear alternative to Hollywood for some time, but from now on, with Hollywood in trouble, I’ll be looking out for more active forms of rebellion.

This passage is cited, and then heavily criticized, by Harry Tuttle in Unspoken Cinema, the blog devoted to what it prefers to call CCC (Contemporary Contemplative Cinema), as exemplified in the work of such directors as “Bela Tarr, Tsai Ming-liang, Bruno Dumont, Weerasethakul, Sharunas Bartas, Kore-eda, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Sokurov, Lisandro Alonso, Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa” (list appears here). For Tuttle, James’ criticism is “anti-intellectual banter”, “typical of the anti-intellectual, pro-entertainment inclination that plagues today’s film culture,” and offering a “reductive and superficial” account that perpetrates a “mischaracterisation” of recent art films “that induces contempt and caricature.” Tuttle says that “critics need to learn how to name (and list) things that are not obvious, to learn to find the content behind the appearance of emptiness, to learn to understand the depth and complexity in the intervals between the apparent (and nominal) details” — he accuses James of failing to do this, and instead merely remaining on the surface of things.

Will it get me expelled forever from the ranks of Film Bloggers Who Can Be Taken Seriously if I state that I am more in agreement with James than with Tuttle here? [I should declare in advance that I am unwilling to be drawn into lengthy polemics on this issue. I’m making my sentiments clear in the present blog post; this posting may well just be totally ignored by the film blogosphere and the larger world; but if  anyone does pay attention to it, I feel sure that it will garner substantial criticism. I am stating here and now, in advance, that I will not respond to criticisms with counter-arguments. I’ve had my say, and that’s that].

Anyway. Like Nick James, I am not insensitive to the greatness and power of many of these recent “slow” or “contemplative” films. Tsai Ming-Liang is a great director by any accounting; Tarr, Kore-eda, and Sokurov have in my opinion made some important and powerful films (though in both cases, I find their work uneven). And friends of mine, whose aesthetic sensibilities I respect, have had sublime experiences with films by Reygadas, Weerasethakul, and Alonso — and I can see what it is in the films by these directors that appeal to them, even though I do not quite share their admiration.

And yet, and yet… There seems to be something lacking to me in nearly all the recent exercises in contemplative (or slow) cinema, when you compare them with such older “contemplative” works as Antonioni’s films of the 1960s, Chantal Akerman’s early films from the 1970s, Miklos Jancsó’s films of the 1960s and early 1970s, and Tarkovsky’s films before he left Russia. There was something daring and provocative about Antonioni’s portrayals of fatigue and ennui, and his precise contemplations of the positive emptiness of both natural and human-made landscapes; about Akerman’s digging into the horrors of women’s everydayness; of Jancsó’s icy priouettes around the clashes of armies on vast plains; about Tarkovsky’s patience and sense of duration. All these directors were extremists in their own singular ways: by which I mean they were pushing cinema to its extreme limits, as well as exploring the extreme aspects of human possibility and impossibility (and not just human ones — some of these directors may well be credited with pioneering a potential posthuman and object-oriented cinema).

In today’s contemplative cinema, in contrast, the daringness and provocation are missing. I never get the sense that Dumont, or Reygadas, for instance, are ever taking risks or pushing boundaries. There’s an oppressive sense in which the long-take, long-shot, slow-camera-movement, sparse-dialogue style has become entirely routinized; it’s become a sort of default international style that signifies “serious art cinema” without having to display any sort of originality or insight. “Contemplative cinema” has become a cliche; it has outlived the time in which it was refreshing or inventive.

I’d even say that the most inspired works of “difficult” international cinema are characterized by the ways that they depart from slow-cinema norms. Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, for instance, cannot be classified as slow or contemplative cinema: its narrative is oblique, as is its presentation of that narrative, but it is too intimate, or too interested in the feelings and everyday shifts of attention and mood of its protagonists, to fit the “slow” paradigm. The late (and still woefully underappreciated) Edward Yang abandoned the Antonioniesque stylings and slownesses of his earlier films for something more like a Renoiresque social realism with ensemble casts (I still think that Confucian Confusion and Mahjong are two of the greatest films of the 1990s, together constituting the postmodern equivalent of Rules of the Game). Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life is utterly inspired, with its peculiar, more-than-Gondryesque take on mortality and memory, while Still Walking seems to me to be just standard-issue CCC, with a deep-emotions-displayed-through-restraint portrayal that is strictly by the numbers, more “moving” than actually moving. Similarly, the handheld-camera  rawness of Jia Zhang-ke’s earlier films (like the intensely disillusioning Xiao Wu) seem to me to be far superior to his “slower” recent works. The crazy excesses of the best Korean directors (Bong Joon-ho, park Chan-wook, and Kim Ki-Duk) all evidence, in their utterly different ways, a hunger for all the dimensions of life (from corporeal to spiritual to social) that contemplative cinema systematically omits. In his best films, Takeshi Kitano pushes slow cinema to the point of buffoonery and absurdity. And Takashi Miike has shown more formal invention, and rethinking of what cinema is, what it can be,  and what it means, in each year of his career than all the CCC directors combined have shown over their entire careers. (And I could go on; Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch, Guy Maddin, and Mladen Djordjevic are all important contemporary directors who have nothing whatsoever to do with Contemplative Cinema).

So my overall sense is that the Contemplative Cinema Canon doesn’t even give us a very good sense of what’s most interesting and most powerful in contemporary international art cinema today. But I think there’s more. Great works of art can be created in profoundly retrograde styles, and almost completely detached from contemporary concerns. And I think the best works of the Contemplative Cinema Canon may in fact be described in such a way. But I still think that, even at its best, Slow-Cinema-As-Default-International-Style is profoundly nostalgic and regressive — and I think that this is a bad thing. It’s a way of simulating older cinematic styles, and giving them a new appearance of  life (or more precisely, a new zombified life-in-death), as a way of flattering classicist cinephiles, and of simply ignoring everything that has happened, socially, politically, and technologically, in the last 30 years. It’s a way of saying No to mainstream Hollywood’s current fast-edit, post-continuity, highly digital style, simply by pretending that it doesn’t even exist. And I agree with Nick James that this simply isn’t enough.

When I say that CCC is regressive, I don’t mean that all change automatically constitutes “progress,” or that such “progress” is somehow automatically good. But in a world that has been so profoundly changed over the past 30 or 40 years by globalization, financialization, and technological innovation, it’s simply an evasive cop-out to make movies as if none of this had happened. And in a film industry whose production processes have been entirely upended by digitalization, and where film itself has increasingly been displaced by newer media, and refashioned to find its place within the landscape of those newer media, it is a profound failure of imagination to continue to make films in the old way, or that continue to signify in the old way, when this “old way” has itself become nothing more than a nostalgic cliché.

In other words: it’s very consoling and self-congratulatory for old-line cinephiles (a group in which I fully include myself) to tell ourselves the story that the current cultural landscape’s insistence on rapidity and speed and instantaneous gratification is a monstrous aberration, and that we are maintaining truer values when we strive to slow everything down. But this is a lie. You cannot change a situation if you are unwilling to have anything to do with it, if you are so concerned with keeping your hands clean and avoiding complicity that you simply retreat into fantasies of the good old days. To my mind, this is what Slow Cinema is doing; and Nick James is entirely right to find it unsatisfactory, and to look instead for new, “more active forms of rebellion.” And we are likely to find these as often in exploitation cinema as in art cinema; but in any case, in movies that engage with the new media landscape, and the new socio-economic landscape, rather than fleeing them in dreams of “learn[ing] in to find the content behind the appearance of emptiness.”

39 thoughts on “Slow Cinema Vs Fast Films”

  1. The slowness of much international cinema today is most definitely a response to the current world and to Hollywood cinema in a way that is not necessarily regressive or nostalgic. Yes, yes, of course, sometimes it is. The sense that the static long take has become a default international art house style is hard to avoid and to that extent one should be wary of these trends but claiming that all these films are a unit and just flatter cinephiles is the easy way out. Where I really disagree with this post is where you seem to agree with the blogger Harry Tuttle who you are arguing against and take his broad rubric of “contemplative cinema” at face value. “Active forms of rebellion” is just a regressive as the nostalgic art cinema discourse of Tuttle and there are plenty of great political films from recent decades that could be called slow or arty by have nothing to do with the cliches of art cinema as they are often depicted by their fans and detractors alike.

  2. What a great post and one for which I might have to write my own response. I like to call this kind of cinema “movies in which nothing happens.” But truthfully, we know that in the nothing there is so much contained. And I am a fan of them.

    Thinking about what you’re saying about the new wave of “slow” movies, I’m thinking first of all, most of them get such minimal distribution that no one sees them, so perhaps they do have a kind of fetish status amongst cinephiles. We can claim seeing the movies that no one gets to see. Even when they do get distribution, hardly anyone goes to them.

    Thinking about my various “top ten” lists each year, based on what I see in the movie theater, almost always “slow” films reside at the top of my list, but they are also movies that never last in the movie theater. They play for a week to almost empty houses then move on.

    Anyway, I was thinking about the “slow” movies that I really liked from recent times. The ones that come to mind immediately are Hunger, Lorna’s Silence, Fish Tank, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days; Day Night Day Night — I’m sure there are many others. I’ll have to look deeper when I have time. What’s interesting about these movies is the underlying violence or “fast content” that’s not necessarily shown on screen. Hunger is an exception. It is meditative and slow to the Nth but then explodes in violence in one scene. I think what I’m saying is that they quietly incorporate the fast and violent content of mass cinema into the unspoken narrative, and that sets them aside into a new category. Certainly Bruno Dumont’s work isn’t lacking in violent content. I guess the interesting trajectory that you’re leading me to is the place where “nothingness meets violence (and what defines violence)” in these kinds of films (which I am really attracted to). Even Tsai Ming-liang (whose films I also love) often hinge on a moment of transgression/violence that somehow is also connected to or responsible for the “nothingnes/slowness” of the film.

    Now I’m going to need to go back to my past three years of top ten lists, see which films fall into this category, and then decide what they have in common. For instance, Wendy & Lucy did not make it on my list because that movie I thought was too easy and did play too much into the indie-art house cookie cutter cinema, but it is a “slow” movie that achieved mass appeal. It certainly took in more box office than a movie like Lorna’s Silence.

    I’m rambling. This is a good subject. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I saw a talk at a jazz studies conference that had a similar opinion about “avant garde” jazz. The presenter felt that the the characteristics that had been seen as literally “avant garde” 40-50 years ago had since been solidified into tropes of a genre.

    Some of the musicians present objected, but the academics mostly agreed. I think that the musicians interpreted it as an attack on what they do, as if the implication was that since current “avant garde” jazz isn’t literally “avant garde,” it didn’t have any value. I didn’t think that was the point though, because I think tropes can be used well or abused, but the very presence of the trope is neither good nor bad.

    I guess maybe the musicians were upset at being told that they followed genre conventions, as following conventions isn’t part of the ideology of the “avant garde.”

    there’s obviously a problem with the film critics and their conceptualization of ‘fast’, ’slow’ and ‘contemplative’. what do all of these concepts mean to film and cultural production? they can’t see further than the ‘hollywood’ vs ‘film festival style’ nor understand the differences among all these films. suddenly, claire denis, as many other directors mentioned in these articles and as an example, is mixed up with kore-eda and edward yang, ignoring socio-cultural, political and economic differences between these filmmakers and their films. to divide films in ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ is really not seeing the bigger picture, not really reading or decoding what films have to say to us.
    tuttle has obviously romanticized certain kinds of films, as his manifesto for ‘ccc’ clearly declares. to name films ‘ccc’ is general, dull and meaningless as a tool for serious criticism. it is as romantic as asking for a ‘revolutionary model’ of filmmaking and suggesting that this can come for ‘faster paced’ films. please people, we are in 2010!

  5. What about Sokurov’s experimental video films–slow, perhaps, but surely forward-looking and up-to-the-minute? Or his relatively fast one-take video RUSSIAN ARK? What about David Lynch’s low-fi INLAND EMPIRE? Or Lars Von Triers slow-burn video artploitation ANTICHRIST or his anarchist DV bomb THE IDIOTS. I can’t see the trend you’re talking about, just the few weaker films you list as examples. There are plenty of bad international films from the 1960s we don’t see or remember now, because they weren’t as good as Antonioni. For me, it’s all about a film-by-film basis. Each film makes it’s own rules, teaches you how to watch it. Bresson is a name that comes up often in a lot of this self-reflective hand-wringing by critics and programmers like Nick James and even James Quandt. The master’s films where concerned with interior things, but most of them would hardly be considered “slow” just in sheer terms of narrative pacing. Many a recent frenetic Hollywood blockbuster has bored me to tears while never quite seeming as “fast” as A MAN ESCAPED or L’ARGENT. Finally, I’d propose some earlier work by Wong Kar Wai as exemplifying the tension you get at near the end of your post. Films like ASHES OF TIME, CHUNGKING EXPRESS and FALLEN ANGELS could almost be said to be chasing the hidden slowness inside of action film formulas.

  6. liiiii,

    I don’t fully agree with HarryTuttle’s stance, but there’s nothing wrong with his approach. There are a few things I disagree with regarding your assertion. Serious criticism is that which considers the seriousness of cinema, and the alternative you’re offering strikes me as the sort of academicism that is the opposite of serious criticism: one which considers issues of origin and production over the issue of the images, the sounds, the edits, the words. “Film only has meaning as a cultural product,” is, I think, a backwards and self-defeating stance, one which assumes that cinema is merely a means of transmission and not a form (and therefore a content) in and of itself.

    And it’s ultimately counter to the actual history and reality of cinema, because filmmakers have always been as heavily, if not more, influenced by forces outside their cultures (example: the inspiration Denis takes from Ozu, who was in turn heavily influenced by Josef von Sternberg; a French filmmaker raised in colonial Africa is influenced by a Japanese filmmaker who made movies about families without every having one, who was in turn influenced by an American filmmaker doing his darndest to remind everyone that he was born in Austria) than from within their own. It is, in fact, more useful to look beyond culture and across the scope of cinema to understand it than to look merely within a culture (how far will you get talking about Godard’s “Swissness?” How far is it possible to go with understanding Fassbinder if you only look at how his work relates to Germany? What about Hitchcock, who is formally more German than he is British — especially when making movies in America? How can you say anything clearly about Eisenstein by only looking at the “Russian influence” in his work? These filmmakers all relate to certain cultural realities, but is it precisely by going beyond those that they become who they are — cinema, is, after all, the dream of an international language of images).

  7. (The use of the word “academicism” as a negative should not be taken as an insult to the profession of academics. “Pedanticism” would’ve been a better choice of words. You know what I mean. I hope)

  8. Finally someone called it. Not against slow-cinema per se but sick of the ‘default’ option and the way it is used to disguise the absence of anything radical in the film. To paraphrase Zizek’s favourite Marx Bros quote: ‘this film may look like nothing’s happening and be paced like nothing’s happening, but this should not deceive you – nothing is happening!”

  9. In broad agreement with Nick via Steven here.

    Particularly on the point where modern cinema should be understood as an art beyond what this fetishistic model of so-called “ccc” will allow. It certainly is a ‘passive-aggressive’ attack, when one not only runs the risk of cinephillic phillistinism, but is accused of being “anti-intellectual” if one yawns at the latest Albert Serra, Kore-eda etc. There is a truly unsavoury dogmatism, and unspoken-elitism about Harry Tuttle’s framing of modern cinema. And I’m glad to see it being elegantly taken to task here.

  10. “chasing the hidden slowness inside of action film formulas.”

    You’re on to something there, Warren.

    Whereas I like most of the filmmakers HarryTuttle likes, I think there is an aspect of fetishism and dogmatism (as cinema-not-cinema points out) to the “festival long-take film” and to the critical culture (and an even large blog culture) that supports it — but, mind you, those are not the films HarryTuttle is defending. As Vadim Rizov pointed out over at, the films we’re discussing here are not, say, Bela Tarr films, but the dozens (if not hundreds — there seem to be so many!) of wannabe Hous and Tsais that seem to teem at the edges of every film festival.

  11. But a film is not contemplative just because it is slow. A slow pace is only one tool used to carve that contemplative space, but certainly not the most effective or interesting. I feel that most of the Miike I’ve seen is contemplative in much the same way Jarmush is contemplative: they don’t force the viewer into a role. Apocalypse Now (seventies cut) maybe slow as hell but it does expect your allegiance to certain ideas and sentiments in order to work. Which characters do you root for in Gozu? Which institutions do you condemn? A contemplative cinema is not an alternative to speed but to the cinema of confirmation.

  12. really good points IV but you’re effectively pointing out at things i didn’t say and didn’t really mean to say.
    what i criticize of tuttle’s definitions is the fact that it does nothing but generalize and banalize a series of films that do share certain things like venues of distribution/dissemination and financial aspects of production, but which should be discussed further than ‘slow’ or ‘7 minutes shots’ or ‘good contemplative artistic cinema’. i see in this assumption something more negative than positive, something that’s exactly being discussed in this forum: the assumption and imposition of a ‘trend’ or ‘style’ over films that are really diverse and that, in some cases, have nothing to do with each other more than the fact that they’re being played at the same film festival or have the same distribution/investors. i feel particularly suspicious of this form of ‘ghetto’ films and directors. doesn’t say much about the films and i see it as a generator of criticism that’s, as i said before, meaningless to the films and finally to the audience, as the ‘sight and sound’ article very well proves. this type of criticism generates exactly what some other people have mentioned in this blog: a major division between audiences and a very unfounded way of declaring what’s ‘art film’ or not and, even, what’s ‘good’ or bad’.
    my quest for ‘serious criticism’ demands a more complex analysis of the films, which considers things that you pointed out and that very well expands my first comment: the consideration of, among others, cultural and political issues around the films and its creators, that definitely speak more about the film and less about a bored film critic/’film lover’.

  13. I.V.

    I feel like your argument validates Shaviro’s criticism more than your own. Isn’t the influence of global cinematic forms on the filmmakers you mention not a product of the very processes of globalization/political economy Shaviro discusses, and these CCC filmmakers ignore?

  14. Also, I meant to say – certainly the relation between cinematic form and political economy isn’t mutually exclusive, right? How can all of the dramatic technological/cultural changes over the last 40 years not affect the ‘language of cinema’?

  15. For a minute, back to the irreducible singularity of the individual film: Olivier Assayas’ SUMMER HOURS. Has anyone else seen this not-overrated film? It’s fantastic and moving, deeply humanistic and relatable (Tom Hanks bought the remake rights already, ick!), without ever once being sentimental or phony.

    But the most impressive thing about SUMMER HOURS is the speed of the whole endeavor. The scenes start in the middle and end early. The shots are short, the cuts are quick. The camera is constantly moving. And yet, the net result is an interior and deeply felt meditation on life, family, change, the passage of time and the sadness at the fleeting nature of things a la Ozu.

    In most ways SUMMER HOURS plays faster than IRMA VEP, faster even than Assayas’ two thrillers BOARDING GATE and DEMONLOVER. Almost like an attempt to mimic the subjective experience of the pace of modern life on par with Resnais’ MURIEL. When the few pauses and moments of rest and silence come, the payoff seems even greater by contrast.

    This got me thinking about how all rhythm–from the macro level of narrative to the micro level of the edit or the Tarkovskian “time pressure” within a shot–is only defined in relation to what comes before and after.

    Which is why there’s sometimes more heavy slowness and deep silence at the “rest” moments in certain Westerns and samurai films than in many an aspiring art flic. Very few modern action films aspire to this kind of beauty–maybe just John Woo’s?–and fewer get there.

    As for Ozu, I almost never find his films slow or boring. Which should be the lesson and the mandate to all filmmakers and programmers. Be fast, be slow, but don’t be boring.

    And for Ozu’s influence, I prefer Assayas’ film to Denis’ 35 RHUMS. Apart from the exceptional “Night Shift” dance scene and the one moment when the protagonist is alone with himself and farts–seen it in dumb Hollywood comedies, but never as straight-up documentary–Denis film, like a lot of her work, seemed sketchy and dashed off. Another speed lesson–sketch a film only if it dries like a stunning watercolor or a Japanese brush painting. Wong Kar Wai, there’s a filmmaker who can sketch.

  16. Totally agree.

    People will sit through the most formulaic, pretentious film, because it’s Continental – and then refuse to even consider a Hollywood film, let alone a blockbuster, critically. Obscurantism as disingenuous populism.

    Reminds me of a Family Guy cutaway – Peter goes to see Uncle Vanya, and, halfway through some ponderous silence, calls out ‘Won’t someone throw a pie already?’ Obviously, Chekhov is great – but that’s often my sentiment in ‘contemplative movies’!

  17. Retinariddims,

    Well, yes, it validates Shaviro’s criticism, because I’m in agreement with him on a lot of things — sure, I like the some of the films labeled “slow films,” but I like the “fast films” just as much if not more. I was merely stating out that HarryTuttle’s favorites are all worth defending, though not at the expense of films unlike them. I think Steven has made Nick James’ case better than Nick James did, partly through an appreciation of the same sort of movies that HarryTuttle likes and partly by placing it within a context other than the reactionary. I think, for example, Pedro Costa films could not have been made 40 years, 30, or even 20 years ago (and the film Costa did make 20 years ago is very unlike the films he makes now); on the other hand, there is nothing new (or even good) about, say, TIME AND WINDS or something else like that.


    You’re right, and I apologize that I misunderstood your comment.

    And there is a big difference between a seven minute shot by Hou, a seven minute shot by Tarr, a seven minute shot by Costa and a seven minute shot by Dumont. There’s even a difference of motivation: Hou does it for the ontological reality (and that’s why his seven minute shots use sync sound), Tarr for the creation of a controlled and artificial space (and that’s why his seven minute shots are all dubbed), Costa to help us enter a sort of “dream of life,” and Dumont to prove that he is “a serious man.”

  18. I’ll add that, if being against the fetishization of the long take or the being against the post-Bazinian cult that posits it as the permanent pinnacle of cinema makes me “anti-slow cinema,” then yes, I’ll take that label. Tracking shots, we all remember, are a question of morality, and too many directors present as “contemplation” what’s really just (immoral) sloth. And then one can add another Godard aphorism: that sloth is the worst sin because it keeps you from committing all the other sins.

  19. Pugilist Press,
    I’m really interested in your concept of “cinema of confirmation”. This the perfect kind of angle to look at these films. So please let me know if you have or when you will write about this further. Thanks.

  20. a few more questions, for shaviro or whoever feels like jumping in:

    are really the filmmakers and media artists the ones that are behind of what is happening in contemporary culture? or is it really film bloggers and specially film critics the ones who are having problems catching up re-defining, re-conceptualizing and finally re inventing the way they criticize the vast and diverse landscape of film/media production in 2010?

    after the assimilation of ideas such as ‘remix’, ‘remake’, ‘appropiation’, ‘video installation’ and ‘film installation’, are bloggers and film critics going to keep taking sides on ‘slow contemplative cinema’, ‘hollywood cinema’ or ‘fast cinema’? is it really useful for serious criticism to prefer one instead of the other?

    what does it mean a ‘long take’ after warhol’s sleep? after james benning’s ruhr? or after sharon lockhart’s latest works? are ‘boring’ or ‘entertaining’ useful concepts to talk and criticize films in 2010? is the usually vague opinion of magazines such as ‘sight and sound’ still relevant? are we going to keep considering their rather unfounded/useless opinions?

  21. While I certainly do agree that you find the occasionally over-praised film in the festival circuit just because it’s slowly paced (I felt this way about Revanche for instance), I am not sure I see validity in the category of contemplative cinema as something to argue for or against. Contemplation surely isn’t a function of average shot length nor does shot length strictly determine how a film engages with the contemporary world, both of which seem implied by the nature of the debate. It’s too limiting to group together filmmakers, for example like Theo Angelopoulos, Bela Tarr, or Tsai Ming Ling simply because they exceed the average shot-length of Hollywood and dub them contemplative. The differences in world-views, engagements with history and the contemporary world, or handling of actors between the aforementioned three long-take directors are considerable.

  22. steve,
    i really agreed with james as well, just having read april’s s&s recently. you have a great point in bringing up akerman’s Jeanne Dielmann for example in constrast to current “slow” cinema. seems to me (and i haven’t seen all of the titles you or james mentioned) it could also be a kind of political edge that’s less evident in some of today’s slow movies.
    warren: i agree about Summer Hours–excellent and perfect pacing.

  23. Maybe I’m missing a point here, but I’m not sure why there needs to be a conflict here. Who prioritises a film for viewing because of its pace? If the speed (and we’re usually talking about average shot lengths here, as well as the speed that stuff moves around within the frame) is appropriate to the material, it will provide a more satisfying and stimulating experience. A variety of pacing is essential to a varied diet of films. The only point of contention is around distribution, where that variety of films is threatened by the proliferation of timid, tame and vacuous product. That is a problem for all lovers of intelligent, challenging and thoughtful cinema, at whatever speed it might play. Followers of cinema find themselves sharing their art form with a majority for whom it is an activity of no consequence, and the reactionary retreat towards films that are slow for the sake of it would be worthy of excoriation if it were truly the case. We need to take each film as it comes and expect to be treated to a range of moods, experiences and formal means of communication. But to expect that experience to be easy and fun is so often to expect it to be immediate and dazzling, hence, I suspect, the connection between slowness and difficulty, seriousness of purpose and cultural value. The problem with James’ argument is that it presumes the insincerity of some cinephiles, that their love of a particular type of film is a stoic refusal of pleasure. So he hates the thought of pseuds hanging around festivals soaking up films he has no patience for?

    “Such films are passive-aggressive in that they demand great swathes of our precious time to achieve quite fleeting and slender aesthetic and political effects”

    The only bit I take issue with there is the phrase “such films”, as if there’s only one type of “slowness”. The rest is a personal response to a single film, a response to which any critic is entitled. On the other hand, it should probably feel odd to us that, given a near limitless time frame in which to present their aesthetic hand, most films stretch or squash themselves into 105 minutes. At least there is a new flexibility about duration that reflects an attempt to flex or discard commercial templates. Otherwise, everything James describes might be a list of why many people love “such films”, e.g. they expect work from the viewer, and don’t pander to the prevailing view that time is “precious” or priced.

    A simpler point – “slow” is relative. Antonioni would be breezy and swift to one raised on Tarr and Tsai. Transformers was edited at lightning speed, but god, it seemed to drag on forever. Such a paucity of ideas could never have been mitigated by slower editing (though it surely would’ve eased the strain on my head), just as Blissfully Yours didn’t need to be perked up with a car chase.

  24. ‘Slow’ and ‘fast’ are terms used by cinephiles who still think of the movies as an experience. It’s decadent in many ways because it’s not unlike a drug addict chasing a new high – religion is driven out of churches and into the movie theaters: we are more concerned with seeking spiritual communion with ourselves than actually seeing what’s in front of us (we mostly want to see ourselves), the director becomes the high priest and the screen becomes the altar. What you don’t realize is many of these filmmakers – Costa for example – don’t consider their films as aesthetic (religious) products – opium; their films resist the urge to be turned into commodities wherein pleasure is the only expected outcome. If one avoids turning cinema into a fetish, then maybe the terms ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ and this useless debate would stop making sense.

    PS: That’s not saying at all that no one uses this particular style to gain attention – there are many films like this that are empty, but we mustn’t use the worst of them to judge the best.

  25. I think that there is a problem in viewing certain traditions of cinema as merely an alternative to Hollywood or a rebellion against it. Being Turkish myself, I don’t see films like Kaplanoglu’s Bal, the growing number of Turkish films that do well in festival circles, or other so-called slow films that come out of Europe, The Middle East, or Russia (I am only mentioning these as they are closest to home), as examples of a cinema regressively trying to hold on to a nostalgic form of anti-Hollywood resistance (that kind of view is a little too hollywood-centric; the rest of the world moved on). The meaning of cinema and cinematic expectations differ for different audiences, and as much I like to see films that push the envelope in terms of technological and aesthetic innovations as a film scholar, I hardly think that formal experimentation is the only way to respond to the changes happening in the new media or socio-political landscape. The cinematic languages of Semih Kaplanoglu, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akin, and Reha Erdem are all distinct and different, for example (to give examples from the Turkish context), and lumping all of these languages into the category of a so-called slow cinema, which is viewed as secondary (since it is presumably merely a reaction to Hollywood cinema) and nostalgic (a residue of Antonioni or Tarkovsky style filmmaking) is missing what’s going on in that part of the world. For one thing, the films of the directors (except for Ceylan) mentioned do not appear specifically slow to the audience in a country like Turkey that never had a “fast” cinema (other than the outdated commercial Yesilcam romcom industry; it is just not relevant) and that “yet another woodland path” in Bal that NJ speaks of is in fact a part of the country (the Blacksea coast) rarely captured or dealt with in Turkish cinema (hence the silence of its inhabitants; they are invisible, voiceless, in contrast with the all too vibrant and sonorous quality of their environment). The sound editing in the film is quite striking for those who want to talk about the impact of the digital revolution on recent films but that type of inquiry requires a different focus than the more predictable forms of visual formal experimentation that critics expect from post-continuity films. I know I am not offering much with these comments but I find a lot of American critics’ understanding of European or Middle Eastern/Asian cinema myopic.

  26. I actually love the idea of slow cinema today being a way of simulating older styles. I’d say this “new zombified life-in-death” is not just this formal simulation in Bela Tarr, but also what many of his films are about.

  27. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. In some ways the slowness of style is the flip side of the sped-up current Hollywood style – not just a reaction to it. That is, both styles, the Bay/Tony Scott/Neveldine & Taylor hyperactivity and the slow, contemplative gazes of Tsai et. al. both seem to indicate a lack of faith in classical conventions of spatial construction. The action style (which is also international, taking stylistic queues from Hong Kong, MTV, the American avant-garde, the Nouvelle vague, and it has spread among the sort of expanded global Hollywood that is usually, but not always, Hollywood-based but the product of artists and financiers from all around the world) is less concerned with creating the sort of coherent, predictable space that characterizes classical Hollywood than it is with provoking maximum affective impact with each individual shot or sequence. The editing, as I think you’ve said before, is often performative or “executive”. The slow style often replaces spatial construction with a single plan sequence for each scene. There is a similar reluctance to lean on the traditional structural language of the cinema, and I’m not sure that either extreme (can you imagine two groups of filmmakers more stylistically incompatible?) has really established a substantial, or sustainable, alternative. Although I tend to think that Jia Zhang-ke and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are two of the great modern filmmakers, and that films like The World or Tropical Malady aren’t exactly slow in the same manner as Tsai’s films are (in Tsai’s films the phenomenal aspect of each shot’s duration seems to be a structural principle). Jia and Apichatpong are from a slightly later generation than most of the CCC filmmakers you mention (which I kind of associate with a sort of “international art-house” of the 1990s), and they seem to have processed the idea of slowness more fully than did that first batch of (Tarkovsky-inspired?) filmmakers.

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