Jonathan Rosenbaum is one of the most famous and harshest film critics of his generation.Currently retired, he manages his archive website, www.jonathanrosenbaum.com, one of themost important film-related websites in the world. Just back from Brazil and before leaving to Los Angeles, Mr. Rosenbaum took some time to answer the A Pala de Walsh’s questions via email.Your reviews and essays often have a pronounced political overtone. Why is that? Betweenpolitical significance and aesthetic relevance, which do you believe to be more important?
Ultimately I don’t believe that one can or should distinguish between political significanceand aesthetic relevance; to do so, or to try to do so, is to be in some form of denial aboutboth art
politics. This is a lesson I largely learned from the seven and a half years Ilived in Paris and London (1969-1876). Both art and politics, to my mind, are concernedwith the way we live and the world we live in. We should bear in mind, for instance,thatAdolf Hitler was a failed artist and Charlie Chaplin, when he tried to defeat Hitler in
The Great Dictator
, was a failed politician. I usually prefer artists to politicians, but theway we live consists of both political and artistic choices, and we shouldn’t be too glibabout thinking that they can be easily separated.
From a distance, America seems like a divided country, with a large and aggressive conservativecommunity. Is this an accurate vision and if so, how does it influence the films being made?
This is probably accurate, I’m sorry to say. But at the same time, I think it’s a mistake to betoo confident about what Americans think, even though politicians and so-called mediaexperts and pollsters and film producers all pretend to practice some form of voodooscience that can supposedly tell us what the public thinks. But most of the time, I don’tthink even the public knows what the public thinks. In my book
Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See
, my most popular book, I try toexpose some of the mythology of test-marketing based on self-fulfilling prophecies andcontempt for the public, and I think this mythology can be equally operative in both filmculture and in politics.
Three months away from a presidential election, how do you evaluateBarack Obama'spresidency and did it cause any change in the films being made compared to the Bush years?
I have no way of evaluating what changes have been made in current American films,because I don’t even pretend to keep up with them ever since I retired from reviewing filmsin early 2008. Like many others on the left, I like and admire Barack Obama at the sametime that I’m somewhat disappointed in him—mainly, I think, because he tries too hard toplease everybody, which is even harder to do today than it was in the past. But even whenI’m disappointed, I’m horrified by the prospect or even the possibility of him not being re-elected, especially because so many of his opponents clearly don’t even believe indemocracy. (At the moment, the Republican party is actively trying to take the vote awayfrom people who can’t afford photo IDs.)
Is America still a place where auteur, non-American cinema can be seen?
Of course. But not very often in the commercial theaters run by huge corporations. On theother hand, most of the films being seen today are being seen outside of these theaters.
Do you believe the importance of film, as an art form, in the global cultural landscape isdecreasing? How do you see the cultural significance of film evolving?
For some people it’s decreasing and for others it’s growing. As a rule, I think the quality of specific audiences (and readers, for that matter) is more important in many ways than thequantity of spectators and readers. And I think the sophistication of some younger viewers, thanks to digital viewing and the Internet, is clearly growing.