Is it possible to establish any kind of objective knowledge about these crossroads where cinema always is at? Can we get further than just a discussion of personal tastes and preferences?
Adrian Martin: Well, we must get further than just ‘personal tastes and preferences’! I deeply believe that taste is a kind of prison for oneself – when a critic finds himself or herself always rigidly repeating the same opinions, the same positions, the same likes and dislikes (that is the kind of bad posture which Pauline Kael bequeathed to criticism). Critics should feel free to bring in their own emotional reactions to films – it is hard to keep them out of writing – but the phenomenon known as the ‘gut feeling’ or gut reaction can become a terrible end in itself: ‘this film makes me angry or it makes me happy, so it's a rotten film or a great film, and I’m not going to discuss it any further.’ The important thing is always argument, analysis, logic. I have an irrational side (critics need it), but my rational side believes in logical demonstration: if you can prove to me that what are saying about a film makes internal sense, if you can marshal the evidence from the film itself to back up what you say, then I too can be persuaded to disregard my own first gut reaction and explore that film again in a new, more open way.
Your question mentions objective knowledge. I guess I am enough of a modern person to doubt the absolute value or reality of such so-called objectivity. I believe in the multiplicity of discourses, but I don’t believe in total, free-for-all, postmodern relativity where any one opinion or analysis is as good as anyone else’s. I believe that, through the constant dialectic of argument, through the richness of many personal views and systems, we can come, not to a consensus, but a sort of critical mass where each of us might be able to understand some of the key problems of our time, and the forces at work that shape our world. I believe that, somewhere amidst the veritable Babel of cinephilia, there is indeed some kind of new social community.
If young moviegoers don't seem to be very interested in reading about films, maybe they'll be less interested in reading about cinema from the past, about the black & white films ... Do you think there's some kind of miseducation/alienation which is negative for young cinephiles?
Adrian Martin: Well, I think there’s a big difference between film fans (or film nerds) and cinephiles. This difference has always existed, it’s nothing new, but it often causes friction and troubles. In my view, a cinephile is someone who likes to read, who likes to bring in ideas to think about and discuss movies. The fan/nerd doesn’t much like to read or analyse – and, if they do, it is a very particular kind of material: lists of films (best, worst, genre lists, ‘what I have seen this month’) – and a very particular kind of analysis: ‘in’ jokes for aficionados (‘John Landis appears in the background in a werewolf costume!’), very broad symbolic-political meanings (‘Romero’s supermarket zombies stand for mindless consumers!’). Nerds don’t like to read, but they sure love to write – the Internet is now full of this kind of stuff. The stance of the nerd is fiercely anti-intellectual, anti-authoritarian, and it comes with a particularly vicious variant of populism: ‘My opinion is as good as anybody’s, and therefore I deserve as much of the critical space as I can grab, so fuck you!’ It’s the ‘democratic’ attitude gone mad, and I really think it is the enemy of cinephilia – not least because the film culture of the nerd fixates on a very narrow, almost completely narrative, commercial or semi- commercial band of filmic production: horror movies, action films, sex films, trash comedies, the cult of Tarantino, etc. I love these kinds of films, too – but the cinephile is the person who can link the greatness of George A. Romero with the greatness of Hou Hsiao-hsien or Peter Tscherkassky, not just Kim Ki-Duk or Dario Argento! Yes, the nerd is miseducated and alienated – and, what’s worse, they choose to cultivate heir alienation, to imprison themselves in their anti-intellectualism, to wear it as a badge of pride. It is an ugly posture, the opposite of an open, generous cinephilia.
(Cinemascope interview 2007)