Film Notes: Hanover Conference Considers Role of Critics in Shaping Culture

  • The film "The Long Vacation of Lotte H. Eisner" is to be screened at the Black Family Visual Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., at 5:30 p.m. on April 15, 2017. Eisner was a film critic, historian and poet. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writers
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Why does criticism matter? Why should we care what critics think about music, art, theater, literature or the movies, apart from having a way to gauge whether we should buy a ticket or a book?

Of course it is nowhere written in stone that you should care about or appreciate the value of criticism. Think of it this way, though: criticism is an all-encompassing way of getting at what a culture produces, whether the brow is high, low or somewhere in between.

Critics are well positioned, perhaps even uniquely positioned, because of their ability to negotiate different disciplines, to pull apart the social, economic and historic forces that find their way, consciously or not, into the culture we consume. Criticism can reveal to us who we are.

This weekend, the symposium “A Century of FilmKritik and Beyond,” which is being held Friday and Saturday at both the Hanover Inn Conference Center and Haldeman Center at Dartmouth College, goes deep on the current status of film criticism. There will also be screenings at the Black Family Visual Arts Center. All events are free and open to the public.

The panelists comprise film critics, scholars, archivists, programmers and curators from, among others, Time, Slate, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Criterion Collection, and, of course, Dartmouth. Topics address such perennial concerns as: Is there a crisis in film criticism, feminist criticism, the question of taste and the roles of museums and archives in preservation.

The conference has been organized by Noah Isenberg, from the New School in New York City, and Gerd Gemunden, a professor of German Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College.

So, why organize a conference centered on the cottage industry that is film criticism?

First, as Gemunden pointed out, everybody’s a critic. “Criticism is something we all do, implicitly or explicitly,” he said in a phone interview.

And although there are theater, music, art, dance and literature critics, film and television criticism occupies its own sphere, Gemunden said. More people go to the movies and watch TV than go to the opera or ballet. They are less expensive and more widely available forms of entertainments than their sister arts.

“Film is intelligible to everybody. You don’t have to be an expert. ... It’s an art form that is more open to a general public commenting on it. You watch a film and you feel you can pass judgment on it immediately,” Gemunden said.

One of the reasons for the conference is to bring together professionals who don’t always get the chance to talk to each other and to a public audience about an art form that has aroused strong passion. It’s not an academic symposium, Gemunden stressed. No footnoted papers, no reading from papers. The point is to spark lively conversation.

From the beginnings of film, Gemunden said, there has been an accompanying body of criticism and analysis that grappled with film’s meaning and influence, because both filmmakers and critics understood just how revolutionary and wide-ranging the medium could be.

But as seismic changes have disrupted the print media, more film criticism has moved online.

Gemunden pointed to the dizzying array of critical sources available on the internet, from Rotten Tomatoes, the self-proclaimed home of the Tomatometer, to Fandango, an aggregator of reviews, to RogerEbert.com, which features reviews by both Ebert, the former Chicago Sun-Times critic who died in 2013, and a new crop of critics. Some online criticism is very good, Gemunden said; but many blogs are mediocre. Intelligent commentary does matter.

Equally seismic transformation has affected the film industry, Gemunden said. His students are so used to watching films or TV shows on their phones or laptops, and often in truncated form, as clips or in shorter spans, that when he asks them to sit through a film non-stop some are initially resistant. But they come to value the communal aspect of watching a movie without distraction or interruption.

The recent film Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, is a stellar example of how criticism can interpret a film that is itself already a pointed commentary, Gemunden said.

Peele, who with his writing and acting partner Keegan-Michael Key, brought their brilliant sketch comedy to TV with the show Key and Peele, takes the horror film genre and uses it to look at the issue of race.

On its first weekend release in the U.S. it was in the No. 1 spot at the box office. It’s one of those rare films that is a huge commercial and audience hit, a critical favorite and, more significantly, a movie that speaks to a moment in American life filled with uncertainty, anxiety and paranoia.

“It crosses that border between entertainment and having claims on explaining culture in ways that are really hard to straddle,” Gemunden said.

Spending time analyzing and writing about it is something worth doing, he said. And criticism is the vehicle that helps us understand the film’s significance and take the nation’s temperature.

For a full schedule for “A Century of FilmKritik and Beyond” go to acenturyoffilmkritik.com.

All Outdoors

Dartmouth College’s Ledyard Canoe Club and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail are co-hosting a screening of winning movies from the 2017 Reel Paddling Film Festival next Thursday night at 7:30. The films will be shown at Collis Common Ground. Admission costs $12 in advance and $15 at the door. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit northernforestcanoetrail.org.

The Ottauquechee chapter of the Green Mountain Club screens the documentary Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story, on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. The movie re-examines 67-year-old Emma Gatewood’s through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1955, making her the first woman to complete the 2,000-mile path. Before the screening, there will be a panel discussion about the national scenic trail’s history and maintenance in the Upper Valley, and about the activities of the Upper Valley Trail Angels group, which helps through-hikers.

Admission is free.

Grand Slam

Community Access Television (CATV) is inviting Upper Valley filmmakers to submit movies to its fifth annual 48-Hour Film Slam.

April 24 is the deadline to pay $25 to register for the slam, and all submissions — in the age categories of junior high, high school and college/adult — are due at CATV by May 22 at 3 p.m. The premiere of the winning films will take place on June 4, at the close of the White River Indie Festival.

For entry rules and registration information, visit catv8.org/film-slam. To learn more, call 802-495-6688 or email info@catv.org.

From Stage to Screen

The Hopkins Center screens National Theatre Live’s high-definition simulcast of the Olivier Theatre production of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity and unrequited love, on Saturday night at 7 in Loew Auditorium in Hanover. For tickets ($23) and more info, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Coming Attractions

Next up in the collaboration between “Cine Salon at 20” and the Dartmouth College film program’s Eyewash series, filmmaker Saul Levine visits Hanover’s Howe Library on Monday night to screen and talk about his avant-garde experiments in the use of small-gauge 8mm film and video making. He recently received the Stan Brakhage Vision Award at the Denver International Film Festival. The presentation starts in the Howe’s Mayer Room at 7. To learn more, visit thehowe.org.

Looking Back

The Chandler Film Society completes its 2016-2017 series of vintage movies by screening High Noon in the Upper Gallery of Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts on April 23. Fred Zinneman directed Gary Cooper in the actor’s defining role as a sheriff who comes out of retirement to face a man he sent to prison, only to have the citizens of his town refuse to help him. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. for refreshments, and the movie begins at 6:30. For tickets ($9) and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-431-0204.

Pentangle Arts resumes its series of free Thursday-night films on June 8 at 7:30 p.m., with a screening of Across the Universe, Julie Taymor’s 2007 feature that interweaves the Vietnam War, the music of The Beatles and a romance between a poor artist from Liverpool and a well-to-do American girl.

Next up are M*A*S*H, Robert Altman’s breakthrough feature about a U.S. Army unit of maverick surgeons near the front lines of the Korean War, on June 15, American Graffiti on July 6, All That Jazz on July 13, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Aug. 3 and Mamma Mia on Aug. 10. For more information, visit pentanglearts.org.

Overseas Attractions

The Hopkins Center shows the Japanese drama After the Storm on Sunday afternoon at 4 and the Middle Eastern documentary Speed Sisters next Friday night at 7, both at Loew Auditorium in Hanover.

After the Storm follows a private detective and struggling novelist through a night of domestic and occupational strife, while Speed Sisters explores the efforts of five Palestinian women to break barriers in the male-dominated street car-racing scene on the West Bank and maintain private lives.

To reserve tickets ($5 to $8) and learn more, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com. David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.


The Ottauquechee chapter of the Green Mountain Club is offering a free screening of the documentary Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said there was a fee for admission.