Press Play presents Sight and Sound Film Poll: Critics’ Picks, a series of video essays featuring prominent film critics on films they selected for Sight and Sound magazine’s poll of the greatest films of all time. New videos will premiere each week until the poll results are announced later this summer.
When Adrian Martin visited Chicago last May, I made certain not to miss the opportunity to record him for this video series. Martin was one of the earliest enthusiasts of video essays when they started popping up online a few years ago, and I’ve wanted to collaborate with him since. At the tail end of a busy trip (a film criticism conference at Northwestern Univeristy and a master class on dance in cinema at the Univeristy of Chicago), we met to discuss his all-time favorite film, Philippe Garrel’s L’Enfant Secret / Secret Child. The ease with which Martin delivers his testimony is remarkable (and made for a pleasant editing session); perhaps it’s no surprise given that Martin has recorded 33 DVD commentaries and has regularly appeared on Australian TV and radio. I’ve long admired the range of his work: from mainstream broadcast media to teaching at Australia’s Monash University; his writing appears in everything from books to international film journals to his own online journals, such as Lola (co-edited with Girish Shambu).
What distinguishes Martin’s scholarship for me is his passion for all that is improbable or even impossible about the cinema; how cinema breathes life into things that can’t exist or last in reality. This spirit of vital, celebratory defiance in cinema came through in his presentation on dance in film that I attended: instead of doting on the familiar instances of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, he showed breathtaking clips from Leos Carax’s Mauvais sang, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me and John Waters’ A Dirty Shame that reconceive the meaning of cinematic dance as a gesture that somewhat defies meaning. That spirit of dancing at the fringe of our understanding can also be sensed in Martin’s love of Philippe Garrel and especially L’Enfant Secret, a chronicle of a tortured, fragile existence that embodies those qualities in its material properties: a film that at times “threatens to disintegrate.”
To some extent the delicate filmic qualities of L’Enfant Secret that are crucial to Martin’s testimony can’t be conveyed in an online video essay, due to the limitations of transposing the film between mediums. One can only hope that this video will induce further efforts to present the film in its intended format, so that audiences might have the same visceral reaction that Martin relates in this video. In addition to this video, one should also read Martin’s article on the film published in Transit magazine (in Spanish and English).
Adrian Martin is a film critic, scholar and co-editor of the online film journal Lola. He is winner of the Australian Film Institute’s Byron Kennedy Award and the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.