Friday, August 08, 2008

Cinerati Lexicon #1: Filmic Cultural Selectivity

In yesterday's discussion of the origin of the Cinerati blog, it was mentioned that the first post contained "an attack on filmic cultural selectivity" without describing what was meant by filmic cultural selectivity. One imagines that most readers can decipher the meaning of the phrase, it isn't to arcane, but one should never assume understanding. Additionally, one of my goals in rebooting the website was to share not merely my thoughts about modern films and the state of modern criticism, but to share my ideas and my personal terminology with the world in the hopes of creating meaningful dialog.

What do I mean by filmic cultural selectivity?

Filmic Cultural Selectivity

Filmic cultural selectivity, is a logical error which frequently occurs in the discussion of film where the reviewer selectively chooses high quality films from a particular culture and compares them to another culture to express the superiority of the chosen culture. Such selectivity only actually falls into the category of logical error when the critic, in mentioning the quality of one culture, intentionally and knowingly excludes the existence of any lower quality (or fun exploitation) films within the given culture.

Below are some examples, one specific and one imagined, of this error in criticism:

Example #1 (the specific example):

Thomas Hibbs piece discussed yesterday (Kurosawa Kills Bill. In the piece, Hibbs damns American films as "vulgar distortions of Japanese film culture." He then follows this assertion with a list of Akira Kurosawa films which he presents as possibly representative of Japanese film culture. Nowhere in the piece does he mention lesser works of Japanese cinema. Nor does he mention the influence of Western genre films on the work of Kurosawa. Certainly he mentions a Western influence, Shakespeare, but he leaves out Dashiell Hammett and the influence of Film Noir on Kurosawa. He elevates Kurosawa (deservedly), and Japanese cinema in general (less deservedly), to a "high art" status while attacking American cinema as vulgar. As my response points out, Japanese cinema runs the gamut of quality by the standard set forth by Hibbs.

Example #2 (a proposed example):

You and a friend, who happens to be a respected film critic, are discussing your favorite films. You make the "mistake" of mentioning a mainstream blockbuster film among your list of great films. Your friend responds and a dialog begins:


That's such a typical American answer which demonstrates your lack of familiarity with Italian cinema, which are in every way superior to American films. Have you never seen LA STRADA or 8 1/2? The Italian directors have a much greater understanding of the human experience than American directors who have been corrupted by commercialism and who seek only to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Being ready for your friend's tendency to engage in filmic cultural selectivity, you are able to respond in a mocking tone.


That's so true. Sergio Corbucci's SUPER FUZZ truly captured the underlying conflict between the personal and professional of the modern law enforcement officer. And Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCUAST is a "well respected" representation of indigenous cultures.

You didn't even mention DIABOLIK or get into how anyone who defends the social commentary merits of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, while simultaneously excoriating HOSTEL, is not only practicing filmic cultural selectivity, they are also being highly inconsistent...unless they also defend Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES then their opinions are a little more complicated.

My point in saying that filmic cultural selectivity is a problem isn't to assert that American film is the best film making in the world. I am willing to listen to well-informed experts on other cultures films who advance the merits of that culture's films. The understanding of film only benefits from such a dialogue. I am merely asserting that one must acknowledge the bad with the good, it can only make your argument stronger if you are correct in your comparison. Had Hibbs mentioned BATTLE ROYALE, or any Chambara films, in his essay -- or had he mentioned RED HARVEST and THE GLASS KEY as inspirational to Kurosawa's YOJIMBO -- it might have actually made his argument stronger.

As for our imaginary film critic friend (and the one above is completely imaginary), I actually do like SUPER FUZZ...mostly for childhood nostalgia reasons. And while CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is not at all culturally sensitive to indigenous peoples, it has strong proponents both inside and outside the horror field. As for DIABOLIK, don't just watch the MSTK 3000 version. John Philip Law, my second favorite Sindbad, is quite entertaining in this film. Don't even get me started on how much I love cheesy Hercules movies.
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