Explain yourself: film critics and their shorthand

incritc

Among contemporary film critics, there is a shorthand that communicates alot of information about a film quickly. One example of this shorthand is calling something a ‘spaghetti western.’ The terms is generally used to evoke memories of Sergio Leone’s Dollars films, which by now most of the film literate world are intimately familiar with. But I often find the use of the term just lazy.

For instance, in a review of The American (2010)a recent Hollywood film starring George Clooney, there is a well-written and thoughtful review at incritic. However, the author titles it The American: Reinventing the Spaghetti Western. Sounds like an interesting title, right? But nowhere does he explain why the film is like a spaghetti western nor how the genre is being ‘reinvented.’ So the author is trying to build up the significance of an over-looked movie he or she liked by creating a linkage to the classic movies of Sergio Leone. The final lines just add to the confusion:

 

The American is actually fully Italian, then: beautiful, deliberate, spare, symbolic, Catholic, overly sentimental. And a throwback to the great Italian Neorealismo of the Sixties.

The respected, self-consciously artistic directors of the Neorealism and the opportunistic, pulp directors of the popular cinema were two distinct traditions of filmmaking. Largely made up of Northerns from cities like Milan, filmmakers like de Sica, Rosselini, Fellini, and Visconti were respected internationally. At least early in their development, they created a cinema focused on Italian lives and experiences. The popular filmmakers Leone, Corbucci, Bava, and others tended to be Southerners. They made movies in whatever genre money could raised for at the time. I think most people would agree that there movies had a subtext of significance drawn from the lives and experiences of people in Italy, but this submerged under the surface formulas of giallos, westerns, police films, spy films, peplum, etc.

In other words, it at first seems strange to say that The American combines the very different approaches to filmmaking of the spaghetti western and neorealism. This is not to say that these two traditions did not influence each other because they certainly did. It is also not to say that the director and screenwriter did not make a decision to make a film combining features from each. But only that this is not explained by the author. Instead, we are left with a cryptic shorthand, a few ambiguous gestures that tell the reader too little about the film.

 

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