Chris Fujiwara on Film Criticism and Programming

chris fujiwara

Chris Fujiwara and his presentation

Yesterday, March 21, 2019, I was able to catch up with Chris Fujiwara’s lecture (albeit, very late on his lecture) on Film Criticism and Programming at the University of the Philippines’ Film Center. The lecture was part of the on-going Working Title workshops organized by Japan Foundation in Manila for young film programmers from East and Southeast Asia.

Fujiwara was talking about the task of the critic as an analyst, which for him, was never really about “producing knowledge” but of imparting pleasure and presenting assessment of the work. I wasn’t able to catch how he built up leading to this, but his summary provided a good entry point to his whole thought on the matter.

If a critic does not produce knowledge, what does he produce? Fujiwara notes of these three things: pleasure, distance, and community.

From what I get from his discussion, a critic and programmer produce pleasure by providing different ways of looking at things. A film may mean one thing, but by writing what the critic thinks of the film, the critic, one way or another, provides different avenues to which the film can be differently appreciated. For the programmer, is this organization of a film or number of films to a kind of framing – a framing which can be thematic, operational, etc.

These for Fujiwara, again, do not amount to a kind of production of knowledge. Fujiwara added how “pleasure” can also be derived from encounters with the uncomfortable (which, may be the case of programmers curating experimental or unconventional works) and pain (in the case of the film critic, can be the displeasures one can encounter from watching certain films, which can be turned into an avenue to its appreciation.) Fujiwara evokes what Lacan, and those who come after him, noted of the jouissance as the enjoyment which comes from non-pleasurable encounters, such as pain. Validating, of course, the perverse nature of Cinema, as per Zizek.

The most important thing, I think, that Fujiwara has noted is that the critic and the programmer necessarily produce distance. Over at the quick Q&A, he further expounded his point on how global capitalism and neoliberalism necessitate blurring of lines between cinematic realities and reality-as-such. This blurring of lines, for Fujiwara, results in an incoherent understanding of cinematic plasticity and mediation. He refers to this process as the “disintermediation” of cinema. The critic, for him, should necessarily bring this mediated reality forward. This brings his discussion back to the task of the critic as an analyst, which, to my understanding, necessarily highlights the effectivity/non-effectivity of the mediation – film criticism as an analysis of cinematic quality, first and foremost. This is mostly a good response to the kind of contemporary audiences that need constant reminder that they are watching a movie.

The first two points build up to Fujiwara’s last point. But how does one produce a community, really? At first look, for criticism and programming to produce a community seem to be a grand (delusional) vision of its tasks. But then again, conscious efforts for film curating most especially, seem to go to that direction of a community being “produced.” But is this community single-handedly produced by the programmer and the critic? Fujiwara never pointed such a thing. However, his discussion leads to how desires and pleasures derived from multitudes looking at a single movie can possibly give this sense of community.

What Fujiwara left out from his discussion is a synthesis of these three items the critic and programmer produce. Fujiwara does not seem keen to suggest anything outside of these three. However, his discussion seems to suggest an organizational function for the critic and the programmer. It can easily be thought for the film programmer, but for the film critic? I guess, for the film critic, this synthesis – the film critic as an organizer – can be derived from his 2nd suggestion that the film critic produces distance.

I’m going for a stretch here to extract a different reading of “production of distance” as the organization of space. This space includes highlighting what’s between cinema and reality. But answering to Fujiwara’s concern over blurring of realities in the neoliberal, global capitalist realm, this also necessitates a qualification of cinema to its own current historical realities. The task of the critic and the programmer to lead social organization need to address the conditions which produce cinematic realities and how they become ubiquitous – referring to Fujiwara’s concern over the blurring between cinematic reality and and reality-as-such – in the same way that digitization of things is becoming ubiquitous.

Producing a community, as the aspiration Fujiwara leads his discussion of the tasks of the critic and the programmer, necessitates the organization of desire. If any, the spatial organization provided by the production of distance should also lead to the differentiation and synthesis of the desire with those of the organizer. This, I’m guessing, was already addressed by the first thing that the critic and the programmer produce: pleasure.

As it stands, this discussion probably made things even grander than it’s supposed to be, but I guess, this is one way where an act organization needs to go. Flatness, as already defined by Fredric Jameson, is already one of the qualities necessitated by global capitalism to sustain itself. And imagining a community to be organized against flatness, to the point of seeming delusions of grandeurs, might be just what we need. But being self-conscious about its ramifications, or even just about its own qualities, do not place organization in being delusional. If anything, this, I think, is the only task that one must do.

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