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The Roundup: July 29

Cinema

I Killed At the Movies by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club

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I confess that I’ve never watched At the Movies in any of its incarnations, even when Siskel (or Roeper) and Ebert were on it, yet I was fascinated by Vishnevetsky’s account not only of his brief tenure on the show, but of the entire history of the show and why it was set up the way it was, right down to set design and camera angles. It’s about more than just At the Movies, it’s about the business of television. And, of course, it’s a remarkably candid look at Vishnevetsky’s apparent failure in that business without bitterness or even regret, at least not in a negative way.

I never master these skills, because I am the wrong man for the job. When Ebert Presents: At The Movies goes on the air in January of 2011, I am 24, far and away the youngest host in the format’s history. I have improbably beaten out smarter, more qualified candidates (one of whom will win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism) after several rounds of auditions. I’d like to believe that I’m a strong critic and writer and a capable speaker, but I can’t seem to figure out a way to get ideas into broadcast without coming off as a shill or a dick. Frustrated, I fall back on cliches I’d never use in conversation or writing. Christy Lemire, who has extensive TV experience and a more easygoing writing style, is a natural, and I’m the kid who keeps interrupting her.

The Essential Fritz Lang by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks

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Sort of following on Greg’s article I shared last week, about what film should be your SECOND film from major directors – this one ponders the idea that maybe a director’s best-known film isn’t actually the one that’s most representative of his/her overall body of work. He takes Fritz Lang as an example, arguing that M, Fury, and others are more quintessentially “Lang” than Metropolis. I fully agree with this, and it applies to other directors as well. It doesn’t mean Metropolis is less essential in the abstract, just that it doesn’t display Lang’s particular preoccupations quite as clearly as several of his other films.

On an upcoming installment of The Essentials, hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore, TCM presents Metropolis, the 1926 Fritz Lang classic about a dystopian future that was very much about 1926 instead of the future in the same way M*A*S*H was about Vietnam much more than it was about Korea. The movie is easily Fritz Lang’s most well known. It is also quite the essential if “essential” in this case is defined as a movie one must see to further complete an education on cinema, to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a classic movies fan.” But is it essential to understanding Fritz Lang?

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How to Find Your Film Critic

The death of film criticism is proclaimed every year or so these days, as moviegoers continually declare film critics irrelevant, and box office receipts seem to be totally unrelated to critical consensus. Whenever the topic comes up, one point generally made in response is that the best way to get value out of film criticism is to do a little research and find a few critics you like rather than trying to use manufactured consensus like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, which have their issues in terms of actually representing critical thought.

The most common piece of advice along these lines is to find critics who share your taste. That way, when they like something, you know you’re likely to like it, too. Conversely, you could find critics who generally like the opposite of what you do and then you can just see what they don’t like and avoid what they do. Both of these options are taking critics in their consumer guide role, and the point of reading them is to figure out what you should watch. That’s fine, but it’s pretty limited in terms of the usefulness of criticism.

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Another thing I see with some frequency is to find critics you disagree with, not just to choose your entertainment contrary to their recommendations, but to provide yourself some argumentation. Reading a critic who disagrees with you can not only challenge you to see things you might not’ve otherwise, but can help you hone your reasons for liking or disliking something – that is, he/she may not convince you to change your mind, but you’ll come away with a better understanding of why you like or dislike something. This is a little more thoughtful, but tends a bit too much toward the negative/argumentative to me.

My advice: Don’t bother finding critics who agree or disagree with you. One merely reinforces your own biases, the other is only likely to set you more firmly in your ways as you defend your position (even if you only do it in your own head). Rather, find critics who make you think, and who specifically make you think about film in a different way entirely.

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Classics on Disc: July 22

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It’s an easy pick this week, as Criterion’s Jacques Demy set has had me salivating since I first heard of it. It has both The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, two films I love to bits, plus Lola, which I’ve been trying to see forever and has been difficult to find up until now, plus Donkey Skin and a lot more. I’m super-stoked to check this out as soon as I save up the money for it. Meanwhile, fans of the original Scandinavian version of Insomnia are treated to a Blu-ray upgrade of the title.

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See more new old releases after the jump.

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