December 3, 2008
"The Canon" Goes 2.0

I've always had a love/hate relationship with the Criterion Collection, the same goes for the lesser known blog, The Auteurs, which has now grown into a full fledged site and recently developed a partnership with Criterion and with Celluloid Dreams. This post is probably a bit excessive on both extremes. On one hand, I can't help but drool every time I visit the Criterion site, on the other, I usually can't afford their DVDs, and mostly I'm disturbed by the notion that someone out there is defining "the canon". It's unfair, I know someone has to do it in order to restore and make available all those wonderful films, but this process of inclusion/exclusion is still problematic. So, while it extends the life (and in some cases resuscitates) many films, it also ghettoizes them into this fabricated Olympus of the cinema.

Having said all this, I am very happy to announce that Criterion has discovered Web 2.0, and is cautiously entering this domain. You can now rent Criterion movies on their site for $5 that count towards the DVD should you decide to purchase it, but more importantly, through their partnership with The Auteurs they provide a monthly selection of free movies streams under the Festival section. This month we can enjoy the "cruel stories of youth", including Sweetie and Lord of the Flies.

The Auteurs now streams over 70 movies. This is looking very promising. The films aren't embeddable yet, but the service is in beta and one must have hope. The quality of the videos is spectacular, exactly what you would expect from Criterion, defending the cinematic quality at all costs, while shifting the exhibition platforms to make films available to a wider audience. You "pay" for the stream by watching one commercial. Thus far, I've only "paid" by seeing trailers for movies that I might want to watch later on.

The Auteurs, defines itself as "An online movie theater and gathering place for film lovers". In order to give those fans a platform for participation, they've built a social network into the site, as well as a section for users to upload their videos as long as they respond to a predefined theme. This means that Criterion is rubbing shoulders, voluntarily, with user-generated content. I'm impressed.

My one problem with The Auteurs is the name of the site, or more specifically, the way they've been using it. In their studio blog they state: "We're about films as they should be, and filmmakers as artists who should be celebrated." I love the idea of celebrating a filmmaker's artistry, but, again, the thought of there being a way that films should be terrifies me, it also seems to negate the original spirit behind the auteur theory.

As Allen and Gomery sustain in their seminal book, Film Theory and Practice (1985), "the auteur theory grew out of the frustrations experienced by a group of film critics and would-be filmmakers (Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, and Jean-Luc Godard, among others) in Paris in the mid-50s". Truffaut, expressed his "desire to open up the stultified French film industry to allow young filmmakers like himself and his friends the opportunity to make low-budget feature films of personal artistic expression."

Auteur cinema was conceived of as a disruptive force, but in its 50 years of existence it has been mixed up with the "masterpiece tradition" whose main objective is to set a canon, to determine a film's "aesthetic excellence or significance", stripping it almost entirely of its original context.

The greatest danger behind the creation of these norms, is the alienation of potential audiences who, by default, tend to feel excluded from the idea of a canon.

Luckily, this is not always the case; The Auteurs has become a space for unlikely and necessary conversations. I have now become a fan of a particular forum discussion: 12-year old asking..., where Ryan Michael asks the community "Hi, I'm Ryan and I'm 12 years old. I'm only starting to get into Kurosawa, Fellini, Antonioni, and Truffaut. Could I get suggestions for some essential films from these directors?" the responses are supportive and respectful of Ryan's other interests. Three days ago Ryan posted another comment "Lol, just went from watching The Third Man to Tropic Thunder. Aaah, my cinematic tastes..." That sounds like a seriously good time, the way watching movies should be.