WATCH THIS: “To Dream of Degas”

Jonathan Poritsky on Wednesday, May. 2nd

WATCH THIS is a weekly column which highlights films and filmmakers from around the Web.

Not too long ago, a young woman who I’d met less not a minute prior, told me that I’m “the bad guy” when I mentioned I am a film critic. She went on to tell me that critics are overly academic and never account for how difficult it is to actually make a film. This view of criticism seems to have become more widespread ever since Kevin Smith lashed out at critics on Twitter two years ago, decrying that those who don’t pay to see his films don’t deserve to cut them up. Naturally, I disagree with this viewpoint.

Art, of any discipline, can only be as strong as its criticism. Critics are usually remembered for their harshest writings, but it is often the most critical writings that contribute to the unending conversation about cinema. Is it even possible to think about the rise of New Hollywood without the writings of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris? Critics can boost the profile of unknown work, enhance the global discussion of cinema and in some cases challenge filmmakers to make more complex films.

With that in mind, I have found that Web video, on the whole, is lacking in serious widespread criticism. Yes, online filmmakers have their champions, but there is such a glut of content uploaded every day that the critical community can barely keep up. Dated as it may be, the weekly theatrical release paradigm has allowed criticism to flourish alongside it. My goal is to sift through Web videos and, once a week, share with you a film that catches my eye and deserves some close inspection. Hopefully, this space will be a weekly snapshot of what is happening in the online film community.

To kick things off, here is “To Dream of Degas” by Vimeo user elixirix. I was drawn to it because the filmmaker took on the daunting task of making a complete film with the Lomokino, Lomography’s plastic, hand cranked 35mm film camera. The result is extremely effected as the camera can only shoot three to five frames per second, and rather sloppily to boot.

Restraint, however, can be a good thing. The plot of “To Dream of Degas” is very simple and fits nicely with the Lomokino’s style. A woman walks to a playground and then has a balletic reverie. It’s simple, but simple can be a good way to explore the cinematic form.

The soundtrack is sterile compared to the cacophonous frames we are viewing. Almost no two shots are the same color and their framing consistently changes. Sometimes even the size of the frame shifts depending on how the footage was scanned. I wish what we hear jibed with that energy.

The Lomokino is basically a toy, but I’m glad at least a few filmmakers on Vimeo and YouTube have begun experimenting with it. It’s a form that doesn’t work for every story, but I think it has a place and a use. Here’s hoping we see more of it.

Jonathan Poritsky is a film critic and journalist based out of New York City. He is the founder of the candler blog, a film theory and criticism (and other stuff) site, as well as the Arts Editor of Heeb Magazine. Don’t ask him what his favorite film is; it’ll take too long to answer and he’ll say “um” a lot.

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