Salient: At Victoria University College, Wellington, N. Z. Vol. 24, No. 10. 1961.
Critic White Damned
Critic White Damned
In our last issue of Salient there appeared a review of the late French movie Hiroshima Mon Amour. The following letters have been received concerning the article written by Murray White.
Sir,—M.J.W. may be trying to tell us something, beneath those clouds of "esoteric, nonsensical rubbish"—long, meaningless words, over-involved grammar, and unsupported subjective judgments—but it would be interesting to know just what.
Sir.—Your film critic's review of Hiroshima mon Amour was a disgustingly unfair piece of writing. It opened with a sarcastic summary of the chorus of praise which has so far greeted the film, at the same time making it clear that at last here is a critic of courage who is going to flatten it come what may. He then follows up with a paragraph about other films which have been treated in the same way. By this time he has covered two-thirds of a column without mentioning the film under review directly at all, but nevertheless, it has been damned in advance. He then tells us that the film is difficult to follow and diffuse. Can it therefore be sincere? he asks. Now We hear that the script was incongruous to a visual pattern. This does not appear to mean anything, but insofar as it is one of the (three points made against the film it has to be answered. The film had two themes (a) love, which unites, (b) war. which separates. The love affair which the French heroine has in Hiroshima with a Japanese, during the course of which she remembers a disastrous affair she had with a German soldier during the war is effectively interwoven I with the past of Hiroshima and the world generally which hangs ironically over the film and the love affair. How this is of "remarkable incongruity to the visual pattern" escapes me.
Your critic then returns to the point that he has made before—that the film is difficult to follow. If one is trying to establish chronological sequence, then this is sometimes true, but if one follows it as an interior monologue as events impressions and memories crowd upon the heroine, then it is, while sometimes difficult, always intelligible to any moderately alert person.
Your critic has damned the film, without saving anything important about it, in a most irresponsible manner. He refers at one point, with great contempt, to the "myopic intellectual set." What does he think he is? A normal sighted, normal headed, normally sensitive film fan, perhaps. If so, couldn't the myopic ones please have a critic that will pander to their lower requirements?
T. G. Aitken.
Sir,—The Fine Arts section of our Varsity paper is indeed a fine part of the publication, and I have in the past enjoyed, and sometimes agreed with, the views Murray White and his staff put forward. But his report on Hiroshima mon Amour has prompted me to write in defence of this film (which impressed and moved me greatly) and all those who genuinely praise it.
I am sure that Mr White's condemnation of the artistic and moral qualities in this film stem from his admitted lack of understanding and his aversion to the high praise it has received from critics all over the world.
It is to Mr White's credit that he is not swayed by the opinions and in this he has considerably more courage than some of the professional critics whose blind acceptance of other's views he so rightly despises. But unfortunately he has let his hatred of the criticism turn into a criticism of the film itself, an attitude which is, of course, deplorable.
For the other area of judgment—his lack of understanding—I can be far more sympathetic. It is too easy for us as students to suppose that, because we are developing amongst the thought of great scholars, we must therefore reach personal maturity far ahead of our natural time. Because of this we are often led into false, hastily-formed judgments of things we do not understand.
Obligations of a Critic
Sir,—Critics generally fall between two irrational extremes: the one who depends solely on his feelings, and the critic who attempts to reject all appeals to emotion. Murray White is an irrational critic of the latter type, and he makes the mistake of assuming that other critics (and no doubt, his correspondent opponents) fall into the former extreme category. But critics may either form an emotional opinion first and then subject that opinion to rational analysis, or they may accept a work's merit as a fact, and then find aesthetic justification for that deduced merit Modern art, for example, is usually approached through the emotions; classical art through reason. But the exclusion of either aspect mocks the function of communication of both art and the critic.
Unfortunately for White, the critical approach to be adopted in the case of Hiroshima mon Amour is the approach towards modern art in general, that based on its emotional impact. So in his rejection of other critics, he may be condemning some who are quite reasonable and logical. (And, by the way, the word "movie" is generally avoided as a term of reference to a serious film). And it by no means follows that a rejection of alleged critical emotionalism over a work of art justifies a rejection of the work itself, as White denies the value of Hiroshima because he denies the validity of its genre, doubts the sincerity of its producer, and rejects its critics.
Furthermore, Mr White, pursuing his anti-emotionalism theme (and getting very worked up in the process), objects to esotericism in art. But a critic need not be initiated in avant-garde philosophy in order to understand Hiroshima mon Amour—the work of art. if it is based on an unusual philosophy, is by its function as art, a communication of that philosophy to the uninitiated, and although the demands on the intellect made by the film or work of art may be great, one cannot refuse to apply one's intellectual powers if through them only one may appreciate the work's significance.
Salient's Fine Arts Editor, in the final paragraph of his criticism, makes that refusal to consider the aspects of the film upon which the film's value rests. His fear of the corrupting influence of emotion on a rational judgment, extending - even to his own emotions. cuts him off from any moral involvement in the film or any moral obligation towards his readers. So his criticism is invalid.
Robin J. Maconie.(Abridged).
Answers to Correspondents
G. L. Howell: Thank you, similar points made elsewhere.
Merle Boyle: I am sorry your review of Hiroshima mon Amour could not be used. Your remarks about the published review are similar to those made elsewhere above.