What We Talk About When We Talk About Movies

In my film criticism, such as it is, I spend very little time talking about the technical aspects of the movies I'm reviewing. In part, this is because I don't have any formal training in the study of film, and the language of cinematic technique remains somewhat foreign to me. But in part its because it's just damnably hard to describe a particular shot or cut or composition without being able to have the reader actually see it.

This has always been a difficulty for critics of the visual arts, but I'm increasingly struck by how the internet - with its endless space for stills and even embedded video alongside the text of a review - offers at least a partial solution to the dilemma. A case in point is Jim Emerson's analysis of No Country For Old Men, which starts with the critical commonplace that the film is beautiful or technically "perfect," and then tries to tease out what those words actually mean in the context of specific scenes, images, and snatches of dialogue. At each point in his analysis, Emerson doesn't just tell you what he means; he shows you, with eighteen well-chosen shots from the movie. If you liked the film as much as I did (you can find my rave in the forthcoming NR), or if its technical proficiency left you cold, you should check out what he has to say - and show.