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 the most 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? Between political 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 significance and aesthetic relevance; to do so, or to try to do so, is to be in some form of denial about both art and politics. This is a lesson I largely learned from the seven and a half years I lived in Paris and London (1969-1876). Both art and politics, to my mind, are concerned with the way we live and the world we live in. We should bear in mind, for instance, that Adolf 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 the way we live consists of both political and artistic choices, and we shouldn’t be too glib about thinking that they can be easily separated. From a distance, America seems like a divided country, with a large and aggressive conservative community. 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 be too confident about what Americans think, even though politicians and so-called media experts and pollsters and film producers all pretend to practice some form of voodoo science that can supposedly tell us what the public thinks. But most of the time, I don’t think 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 to expose some of the mythology of test-marketing based on self-fulfilling prophecies and contempt for the public, and I think this mythology can be equally operative in both film culture and in politics. Three months away from a presidential election, how do you evaluate Barack Obama's presidency 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 films in early 2008. Like many others on the left, I like and admire Barack Obama at the same time that I’m somewhat disappointed in him—mainly, I think, because he tries too hard to please everybody, which is even harder to do today than it was in the past. But even when I’m disappointed, I’m horrified by the prospect or even the possibility of him not being reelected, especially because so many of his opponents clearly don’t even believe in democracy. (At the moment, the Republican party is actively trying to take the vote away from 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 the other 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 is decreasing? 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 the quantity of spectators and readers. And I think the sophistication of some younger viewers, thanks to digital viewing and the Internet, is clearly growing.

Your website does not allow user comments. Do you distrust in any way the Internet cinephile community? Or do you believe the democratization of the publication of opinion about film has been positive? During my last couple of years at the Chicago Reader, I received a lot of stupid hate mail, and I don’t think I learned very much from this experience that was useful or otherwise productive. I didn’t want to open up my space for this kind of response, especially because anyone who wants to express hatred (or liking) for my work, or who wants to engage in a serious dialogue with me, is already quite capable of doing so without my web site. This interview is only one example of what I mean. As Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel, you write out of Chicago. Why? Wouldn´t New York City or Los Angeles be more central? I came to Chicago in 1987 because I was offered a job here—the best job I’ve ever had— and I decided to stay here after I retired from theChicago Reader twenty years later because I could afford to do this (and I couldn’t afford to live in New York or Paris) and because I think relatively boring cities are more conducive to work. If I lived in Paris (my favorite city) or New York (perhaps my second favorite), I’d find my cultural life far more exciting, but I would also get far less work done. The main cultural activity in Chicago is sports, and because I have zero interest in sports, it’s easy for me to get a lot of work done here without being too distracted. I’m usually less reclusive and more social when I travel, which is fairly often. Finally, what is your idea of Portuguese cinema? Which filmmakers do you know and what is your opinion of their work? Most of what I know about Portuguese cinema consists of Manoel de Oliveira and Pedro Costa, both of whom I’ve written about, and both of whom I rank very highly; I’ve seen everything by the latter and almost everything by the former. I also value and respect the work of Teresa Villaverde, based on the small part of it that I’ve seen. These are the first names that come to mind, and I don’t know too many others.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful