CFP Panel SCMS: The Critic in Cinema Studies and Popular Discourse

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Jacquelyn E Cain York University, Toronto ON
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CFP: The Critic in Cinema Studies and Popular Discourse

In American Movie Critics (2008), Philip Lopate cites a touching passage in The World Viewed wherein Stanley Cavell reflects that "[i]t is generally true of the writing about film which has meant something to me that it has the power of the missing companion. Agee and Robert Warshow and André Bazin manage that mode of conversation all the time; and I have found it in, among others, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Parker Tyler, Andrew Sarris." Lopate lovingly adds Cavell to this list.

Despite Cavell's kind words concerning the importance of criticism, as a journalistic practice or field of study, film criticism continues to be seen as no more than a handmaiden to film studies or filmmaking itself. Yet arguably, as Cavell indicates, the role of the critic transcends composing simple plot summaries or charting the filmmaking trends and practices of an era. Indeed, both Greg Taylor (1999) and Philip Lopate have argued separately for film criticism as an art form, as "a magnet for strong, elegant, eloquent, enjoyable writing rather than...a conduit for film theory" (Lopate 2008).

Following Cavell's, Lopate's and Taylor's thinking, this panel seeks to explore the film critic as artist: as an essayist in the "belletristic traditions" [i] of Northrop Frye or Terry Eagleton. Certain critics have played a strong role not only in establishing recognition for different film magazines—Bazin and Cahiers, Sarris and Movie, Mekas and the Village Voice—but also in earning recognition for themselves, with many critics, such as those Cavell lists above, becoming auteurs in their own right.

Topics might include but are not limited to:

1. Overlaps between film criticism and literary criticism
2. Criticism as a process of canonization (Andrew Sarris and Movie)
3. The European art film and French film criticism
4. Criticism and the Avant-Garde (Jonas Mekas, Film Culture)
5. Practice or Trade? The Film Reviewer vs. the Critic
6. Criticism as Cinephilic Practice: The materiality of writing and the pleasure of reading
7. André Bazin, Stanley Cavell, and V.F. Perkins: Criticism or Theory?
8. The film critic as essayist
9. The role of the critic in the age of media convergence (the amateur critic, the 'blogger,' new forms of criticism)
10. The oppositional film critic (cult criticism, ideological criticism, etc.)

My hope is that this panel raises a number of questions, namely: Is criticism a doctrine or a theoretical position? How do we differentiate criticism from other cultural activities, systems of thought, and methodologies? And what are the various schools of thought in Film Criticism or writing on film?

Please send a 300-word abstract and short bio to Jacquelyn Cain ( by August 1st.

Thanks in advance,

York University
Toronto, ON

[i] In Lopate introduces the anthology, American Movie Critics, by stating: "This book celebrates film criticism as a branch of American letters" (2008).