Thursday, December 31, 2009

Robin Wood

Learned today from David Bordwell's blog that film critic Robin Wood has died. My only tenuous link to Wood was to snipe at him impotently when I wrote about David Cronenberg for Film Comment. Bordwell honors him as a friend and a major influence on his own work, and includes a resonant quotation from an essay on Rio Bravo:

"Hawks, like Shakespeare, is an artist earning his living in a popular, commercialized medium, producing work for the most diverse audiences in a wide variety of genres. Those who complain that he 'compromises' by including 'comic relief' and songs in Rio Bravo call to mind the eighteenth century critics who saw Shakespeare’s clowns as mere vulgar irrelevancies stuck in to please the 'ignorant' masses. Had they been contemporaries of the first Elizabeth, they would doubtless have preferred Sir Philip Sydney (analogous evaluations are made quarterly in Sight and Sound). Hawks, like Shakespeare, uses his clowns and his songs for fundamentally serious purposes, integrating them in the thematic structure. His acceptance of the underlying conventions gives Rio Bravo, like Shakespeare’s plays, the timeless, universal quality of myth or fable."

13 comments:

Tulkinghorn said...

Just goes to show: if you think that a film of transcendent quality can contain musical interludes by both Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson -- as well as a crippled character called "Stumpy" -- you better come prepared to argue fundamental seriousness.

I'd be interested in a test of the universal quality of myth or fable that involved confronting an audience of UCLA freshmen with Walter Brennan.

One reason why Quentin Tarantino remains single could be the following quote:

"When I'm getting serious about a girl, I show her Rio Bravo and she better fucking like it."

Generic said...

You are embracing the role of being an old fart with genuine enthusiasm. Inspiring, in a way.

Tulkinghorn said...

If someone says that "Stumpy" gives a film a universal quality of myth or fable.....

I'm not sure you should look in my direction for pretentious snobbery.

Skepticism in the face of bald-faced pretension is necessary, and I completely share your distaste for the kind of snobbery that can only stand the elegant, plain, and obviously arty. But the logical solecism of "Shakespeare is vulgar. Hawks is vulgar. Hawks is Shakespearean." is unacceptable, without a lot more work.

Generic said...

I assume there was "more work" done in the original essay.

My beef with Wood was over his PC dismissal of Cronenberg. His candidate for low budget horror sainthood was Larry Cohen. Of which preference the less said the better.

Tulkinghorn said...

I'd call Cohen "Shakespearean" myself.

Christian Lindke said...

I think Tulkinghorn protests too much.

Surely you are not denigrating the mastery that is Rio Bravo. Such an endeavor would be futile as its legacy will long outlive your tirades.

Seriously, Rio Bravo's commentary on courage, sexual politics, and friendship are well worth examining. Disdain for "Stumpy" aside, the film is wonderful. While it doesn't reach the heights of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence or Ride the High Country, it has an appeal to it that is undeniable.

But then, I would expect nothing but disdain for a pleasant film that exonerates the manly virtues from someone who believes that the director of Jules et Jim has anything meaningful to say about the human condition. The mind truly boggles.

The syllogism offered by Wood may be, and I think it is, flawed. Any comparison of an artist to Shakespeare is likely to be found wanting. That doesn't take away from the fact that Rio Bravo, maybe more like Aristophanes' The Clouds, is a timeless and universal myth or fable.

Add to that any film that features Dean Martin singing is approaching Burke's definition of the Sublime. It's Dean "effin" Martin!

As to the Tarantino quote, my only response is the following.

Who in their right mind would ever date, let alone have a long term relationship, with anyone who didn't enjoy Rio Bravo?

What would you say to such a creature?

I guess you could discuss Chinua Achebe or Revolutionary Road.

Generic said...

But probably not Wodehouse.

Generic said...

BTW, Tulk *always* protests too much. That's his thing. He's the Everett True of HGB. I find that almost never taking him seriously is a great stress reducer.

How long has it been since any of us has actually watched Rio Bravo? More than 20 years for me. I remember enjoying it thoroughly, back in the day, and might also endorse the Tarantino test, a.k.a. the Stick Up the Ass Detector.

Tulkinghorn said...

Another single person with an unfailingly adolescent test for true love.....


I suppose that I need to go elsewhere to hang out with people who prefer Jeanne Moreau to Walter Brennen and Ricky Nelson. Maybe somewhere that cards you if you're under 21.

Generic said...

Shouldn't it be "who prefer Jeanne Moreau to Angie Dickinson"? And even so, are they mutually exclusive?

Christian Lindke said...

Tulkinghorn, the qualifier that would best describe your Jean Moreau preferring (especially to Angie Dickenson) isn't that "cards you if you are under 21." The necessary and significant variable would be whether or not it hosts weekly Poetry Slams.

Generic said...

WWSD - What Would Stumpy Do?

The Jive Aces said...

Hello there,
I was searching for an image of an old newsstand and found one on your blog that is pretty high res. Thing is, when google takes me to the blog I can't actually see it so maybe it's in an old post or something.

But anyway, I'm writing here (as there seems to be no other contact method through blogger) if either of the authors knows what the copyright info for this 1935 image is or where I could find it as I'd like to use the image in some artwork.

Any info would be most helpful. My email is promo@jiveaces.com
Cheers, Alex