In the fall of 1967, the late American film critic Pauline Kael began her review of that year’s “Bonnie and Clyde” with this sentence: “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on?” Ms. Kael was defending “Bonnie and Clyde” from other film critics’ detractions, in particular a condemnation that the film was needlessly violent.
When you place yourself within the line of sight of the public eye, it can feel like placing yourself within the line of fire – a prospect with its own brand of violence. When you suck in your breath and go ahead and do it anyway, you’ve joined other brave and ballsy artists who make a difference in our lives by expanding the horizons of our views of the world. I’m proud of Mr. Justin Nathanson for manning up and doing it anyway.
I’m a friend of Mr. Nathanson’s, but I’ll show my artistic impartiality by saying I agree that certain scenes could have been whittled down in time. I also agree there are scenes that were completely unnecessary in my mind’s own eye.
However, I do not agree that Mr. Nathanson was arrogant in highlighting locally grown and sustained coffee shops and restaurants. There’s an ancient law of parsimony called Occam’s Razor, and it calls for a simpler explanation rather than a complicated one. In this case, Mr. Nathanson simply filmed the places where he spends his time. The reviewer has over thought in this instance and I find her comments malicious and full of a need to control. I wonder if she feels it necessary to break into visual artists’ studios all over town and pull their paintbrushes from their easels if they choose to illustrate local establishments? This is his film of Charleston. When artists paint and writers write and filmmakers shoot, it is not their duty to think of their audience. It is their duty to think of their own wild hearts.
I also strongly disagree that the film was in any way arrogant and I very strongly object to the blatant inference that Mr. Nathanson himself is arrogant. On the contrary, I’d argue that his viewpoint was deeply personal and marked by humility. I noticed only two images in the film of his wife, Mrs. Erin Glaze Nathanson, and his camera shied away from these images or darted away from her quickly, as if anticipating his apology to the audience for including her at all. In others example of “darting,” there were several scenes in which he ran joyfully, with childlike wonder, down a pier, or through his apartment, to give the audience the gift of birds in flight, a gift I can say I accepted with gratitude.
In fact, “grateful” is another good word here. It is how I felt as an audience member, and it is how I believe Mr. Nathanson showed the truest part of himself. It is a simple fact that for the most of his life, he lived and worked both in the North and the West, and yet I felt a love of Charleston’s landscape and people in his chosen images and cinematography that those of us who are from here would be lucky to cultivate. It would make us happier people. Mr. Nathanson showed me parts of my hometown that I have never seen and will likely never see again. Most significantly, he showed me ways of seeing familiar places and people in new ways.
I also think the reviewer ignored the collaborative nature of this film in accusing Mr. Nathanson of arrogance. Never in this film’s marketing, nor in Mr. Nathanson’s interviews, did I feel that he expressed that this was solely his film. In fact, over and over again, he credited Entropy Ensemble’s Andrew Walker and the musicians performing as his teammates. This was never more clear than when he took a standing ovation with them, not apart from them. This is not arrogance, this is thankfulness.
I have dreamed, for the last three nights, of surfers and birds in flight – images directly from his film. These images have reminded me of why I live in a town that can be spoiled by a suffocating economy and small-minded people. Narrative was not needed here; these are dreamscapes – Mr. Nathanson is culling from art house films that I would suggest Ms. Pandolfi take time to view.
To reference another comment made here, I don’t agree that artists in this town are self-important and afraid of a critical review. I think they are frightened, as I am, of a review that is not well-thought out, which automatically carries its own kind of pretension. Mr. Nathanson was jumped on for making this film, but I will take my gloves off and ironically express my gratitude to Ms. Pandolfi. She may have expressed a viewpoint I believe is shortsighted, but she began a dialogue, and to me, that is the critic’s chief occupation. It is the only task of a critic where life can survive and bloom again. It is the only critic’s duty that matters.
To conclude - yes, Mr. Nathanson can face a firing squad and I believe he can take a bullet between his teeth. I, for one, was glad he handed me a love letter to read in order to remember the beauty of my town. This love letter will be a historical Charleston document that will be forever preserved by museum curators and librarians and it is a historical document that Charleston is not used to in its technological cleverness and collaborative spirit.
Thank you, Mr. Nathanson, for joining a league of fighting artists and giving us something that will last as long as human hands care for it.
And I can’t wait for Part Two.
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