Monday, February 8, 2016

Recognition Kalopsia, Confirmation Kalopsia, Narrative Kalopsia

[I admit I am stretching the definition somewhat, but it this point I think that 'kalopsia' can, more or less, be considered flotsam or jetsam and the finder is free to do what he or she chooses with it.]

Another three for the lexicon:

Finding exaggerated value either artistic, intellectual, or historic in something because you feel the thrill of recognition or because it confirms a theory or because it makes for a nice narrative.

There is obviously a great deal of overlap here and I thought about rolling them up into one category, but there are some important distinctions.In most journalistic genres, the narrative variety has hit epidemic levels. In coverage of popular media, however, where fanboy critics exert extraordinary influence, recognition kalopsia is dominant (just drop by the Onion's AV Club sometime for the genre in its refined form).

Scott Lemieux got me thinking about this with a post on LGM which in turn directed me to this excellent essay by Pauline Kael (“Circles and Squares”) which probably made her even more enemies than “Raising Kane” a few years later. Some of the loudest voices in the Kane backlash were those she had demolished in the earlier piece.

"... the second premise of the auteur theory is the distinguishable personality of the director as a criterion of value."

[Andrew Sarris]

Up to this point there has really been no theory, and now, when Sarris begins to work on his foundation, the entire edifice of civilized standards of taste collapses while he's tacking down his floorboards. Traditionally, in any art, the personalities of all those involved in a production have been a factor in judgment, but that the distinguishability of personality should in itself be a criterion of value completely confuses normal judgment. The smell of a skunk is more distinguishable than the perfume of a rose; does that make it better? Hitchcock's personality is certainly more distinguishable in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Vertigo, than Carol Reed's in The Stars Look Down, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, The Third Man, An Outcast of the Islands, if for no other reason than because Hitchcock repeats while Reed tackles new subject matter. But how does this distinguishable personality function as a criterion for judging the works? We recognize the hands of Carne and Prevert in Le Jour se Leve, but that is not what makes it a beautiful film; we can just as easily recognize their hands in Quai des Brumes—which is not such a good film. We can recognize that Le Plaisir and The Earrings of Madame De are both the work of Ophuls, but Le Plaisir is not a great film, and Madame De is.

Often the works in which we are most aware of the personality of the director are his worst films—when he falls back on the devices he has already done to death. When a famous director makes a good movie, we look at the movie, we don't think about the director's personality; when he makes a stinker we notice his familiar touches because there's not much else to watch. When Preminger makes an expert, entertaining whodunit like Laura, we don't look for his personality (it has become part of the texture of the film); when he makes an atrocity like Whirlpool, there's plenty of time to look for his "personality" — if that's your idea of a good time.

It could even be argued, I think, that Hitchcock's uniformity, his mastery of tricks, and his cleverness at getting audiences to respond according to his calculations — the feedback he wants and gets from them — reveal not so much a personal style as a personal theory of audience psychology, that his methods and approach are not those of an artist but a prestidigitator. The auteur critics respond just as Hitchcock expects the gullible to respond. This is not so surprising — often the works auteur critics call masterpieces are ones that seem to reveal the contempt of the director for the audience.

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