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in Filmmaking
on Dec 6, 2006

While reading the New York Times this morning, I was struck by Manohla Dargis’s evocation of the “a”-word when reviewing David Lynch’s new Inland Empire:

“…the extraordinary, savagely uncompromised Inland Empire, his first feature in five years, his first shot in video and one of the few films I’ve seen this year that deserves to be called art. Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate, by turns beautiful and ugly, funny and horrifying, the film is also as cracked as Mad magazine, though generally more difficult to parse.”

Yep, she called it Art. On the front-page of the Weekend section no less. With that one deeply satisfying rhetorical gesture, she upended lazy assumptions regarding mainstream film reviewing, defining “jarringly discordant scenes,” dream logic, and all around aesthetic obscurantism as not arrows in a critic’s quill but as values to be celebrated. (For the flipside of Dargis’s critique, consider the New York Post‘s clueless Lou Lumenick, whose review of the Laura Dern starrer was titled, “He’s out to Lynch, Dern It!”)

For a more detailed appreciation of Manohla’s take on Inland Empire, here’s Larry Gross over at the Hot Blog, who writes:

“Pauline Kael became an ‘important’ critic 40 years ago when her review of the then-difficult new American film Bonnie and Clyde, helped that film find a place for itself in the minds and hearts of the mass audience, indeed world wide audiences. MD’s effort with Inland Empire, will I fear, have a much tougher time making Lynch’s grand but difficult experiment, part of ‘the national conversation’ the way that Kael succeeded in doing, but it deserves to, and in my opinion it deserves to make Manohla Dargis an ‘important’ film critic, beyond the fact of her being employed at the New York Times.”

And over at Movie City News, here’s Gross again with his own take on the movie:

“It’s hard to say that Inland Empire is a good or great film…but on the other hand, it seems easy to say that it has a kind of importance, a kind of interest, and poses a certain challenge to filmmakers that makes terms like good and not good seem somewhat irrelevant. In other words IE is strong enough a work that it starts to offer up – perhaps even demand – its own criteria for discussing it…it changes your conception of movies as you watch it. Or at least challenges it.”

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