Ed Howard – Film Interviews

Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm

It’s once again time for another action-packed episode of Critical Juncture, our weekly look into the minds of the finest film critics and bloggers. Our guest this week is Ed Howard, a man well-versed in both music and cinema. But before we jump into the questions, let’s pause for a moment and get to know our subject a little better.

After writing mostly about music for several years, Ed Howard now writes almost exclusively about film for several different online venues. In addition to his blog, Only the Cinema, he contributes to the multi-author Western blog Decisions At Sundown and The House Next Door. Together with fellow critic Jason Bellamy, he writes a monthly series of back-and-forth discussions and debates about films and filmmakers, simply called The Conversations. He is also a newly inducted member of the Online Film Critics Society.

Take it away, Ed…

Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie that you remember seeing?
Ed Howard: Probably one of the Disney features, which have been the first films for many, many children. I also have very fond childhood memories of The Thing From Another World and the Universal horror cycle.

OGM: What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen?
EH: If you just mean the last film I saw, I rewatched Robert Altman’s Nashville last night, since it will be the subject of my next conversation with Jason Bellamy. If you mean recent as in recently released, I don’t really get out to the theater too often, preferring to catch up with all the older movies available on DVD. So the most recent movie I saw in that sense was The Fantastic Mr. Fox, from a studio screener.

OGM: Is there a particular film which you feel is criminally underrated?
EH: There are a lot. The cinema has so much more to offer than the usual “accepted” masterpieces and the latest hits. Jean-Luc Godard’s post-1968 films have increased in profile in recent years, but he’s still too often thought of as a director purely of the ’60s rather than one who’s been continuously and restlessly working for nearly 60 years now. Everyone admires Godard’s jazzy, referential ’60s films, but the films he made in the ’80s – especially King Lear, First Name: Carmen, Passion, and Hail Mary–are so amazing and so often sadly dismissed as “pretentious” or inscrutable. Peter Watkins is another overlooked filmmaker, whose films (including highlights like Edvard Munch and Punishment Park) tend to stun anyone who actually watches them, but who has mostly labored in obscurity.

Avant-garde film in general is also habitually ignored, so anyone who sets out to make non-narrative or unusual films is more or less guaranteed obscurity: witness the undeserved cultural invisibility of filmmakers like Su Friedrich, Martin Arnold, Bruce Conner, Warren Sonbert, Mauricio Kagel, and so many more. Can such things be called underrated if so few even bother to rate them in the first place?

OGM: Which director do you feel has turned out the best overall body of work?
EH: Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette never cease to amaze me. I should also mention Howard Hawks, a very different director who is nonetheless equally important to me.

OGM: From an artistic standpoint, which film do you think is most important?
EH: It’s virtually impossible to pick out one film as the “most important,” since every era has its own towering achievement that forever changes the landscape of cinema: it’s a process that stretches back to Birth of a Nation, Citizen Kane, and so on. If you took away any of these films and the influence they exerted over other filmmakers, the state of film today would be entirely altered.

So in that spirit I’ll submit that Histoire(s) du cinema, Godard’s epic attempt at combining history, film criticism, documentary and experimental collage, may someday be seen as one of the most important works of recent years. I didn’t mean to turn this into a Godard lovefest, but my blog’s name originated with the title of one episode from Histoire(s) du cinema, so that should tell you something about its importance to me. It is an utterly original film, the culmination of Godard’s career and a daring exploration of video and digital technology to create resonances and juxtapositions between various images and ideas. Godard’s analysis of 20th Century film and world history is sharp and multi-layered, and his video-editing techniques use the unique properties of video with a full awareness of the differences between different media. I think that outlook will be very important to the future of film, as new digital technologies take on an increasingly important role in filmmaking and exhibition.

OGM: All artsy considerations aside, which movie is your personal favorite?
EH: I don’t generally separate out “artsy considerations” in that way. If a film is one of my favorites, it’s because I think it’s well-made, intelligent, entertaining and substantial. Even then, it’s hard to pick just one movie as my absolute favorite, but if pressed I usually say either Mulholland Dr. or Sans Soleil.

OGM: In your opinion, which film is entirely overrated?
EH: Honestly, I hate that question. I don’t like thinking of films in relation to their reputation, at least not in order to tear them down. It’s one thing to say that a film is “underrated” – that it’s worthy of more attention than it’s getting, in other words – and another to say that it’s “overrated,” that it’s not worth so much attention. “Overrated,” as a criticism of a film, is virtually meaningless because it’s a response not to the film itself but to the praise surrounding the film. When we say that something is “underrated,” we’re encouraging people to see a film and to talk about it, but when we say that something is “overrated” it’s an attempt to halt discourse. I’m never in favor of discouraging discourse about anything.

OGM: Have you ever walked out of the theatre during a film? If so, what movie was playing?
EH: Never. I can’t imagine doing that, no matter how much I dislike a film.

OGM: In your mind, what’s the ultimate goal of a movie critic?
EH: In line with my response above, I think one important goal of a movie critic should be to encourage discourse, to add to our understanding about movies and, by extension, about life itself. Film, like any other art, should ideally be a way of thinking about and experiencing the world and our existence in it, our relationships with others and ourselves, our politics, our history, our emotions. Good film criticism is therefore a process of thinking about these things in relation to a particular film or filmmaker, and encouraging the reader to think about these things as well. If that sounds pretentious or arrogant, so be it. Good criticism isn’t just about like/dislike polarities. Good criticism isn’t a buyer’s guide. Some of the best critics are ones I habitually disagree with. What matters is the sharpness and clarity of the critic’s thoughts, of his or her insight into the aesthetics and ideas that drive a film. The best critics enrich the experience of watching (and thinking about) a film.

OGM: Time to look into the future. Do you predict any major changes for the movie industry over the next 25 years?
EH: I think the major changes coming down the line in the next 25 years are already pretty obvious. The shift towards digital filmmaking will continue. As film and video technology consequently become more accessible, we’ll see more “amateur” films popping up, both good and bad, and more experimentation with how the digital medium is different from film (along the lines of things like Inland Empire and Michael Mann’s digital features). We’ll also –and this is unfortunate–see film distribution continuing to move away from the emphasis on theatrical screenings and towards DVD/BluRay and online viewing or downloads. It’s sad, and I don’t think it’ll be good for film, but that seems to be the way things are heading. On a more positive note, I predict that a greater emphasis on digital distribution will also lead to greater availability of niche titles, non-American movies, arthouse features and forgotten old films, a process that’s already been happening for some time now. Things like the Warner Archive give me hope for a future where it’s much easier to see more obscure films.

OGM: Here’s another chance to predict the future. Name a relatively unknown actor or actress who’ll be a huge star within five years.
EH: In a perfect world, Carice van Houten, the actress who gives an absolutely devastating, charming performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, would be a huge star. She does seem to be transitioning into American movies now, so maybe it’ll even happen someday.

OGM: Who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
EH: There are “professional” critics, new and old, who I love to read – Manny Farber, Jonathan Rosenbaum, etc. – but mostly I love reading all the bloggers whose writing is at least as incisive and intelligent as anything being published in print these days. I have too many great peers to name, so I’ll simply give a nod to all the bloggers and critics whose work I read and who I interact with in comment threads on a near-daily basis.

 

Thanks again to our guest, Ed Howard, for taking part in this edition of Critical Juncture. We’ll be back again next week, so be sure and join us then. In the meantime, take a look at the following posts from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 20th, 2010 at 1:29 pm and is filed under Movie Critic Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Ed Howard – Film Interviews”

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February 22, 2010

Moviegoer

I really liked your blog! good

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