My Affair with Art House Cinema

Essays and Reviews

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Pub Date 2 Jul 2024 | Archive Date 9 Oct 2024

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Phillip Lopate fell hard for the movies as an adolescent. As he matured into an acclaimed critic and essayist, his infatuation deepened into a lifelong passion. My Affair with Art House Cinema presents Lopate’s selected essays and reviews from the last quarter century, inviting readers to experience films he found exhilarating, tantalizing, and beguiling—and sometimes disappointing or frustrating—through his keen eyes.

In an essayist’s sinuous prose style, Lopate captures the formal mastery, artistic imagination, and emotional intensity of art house essentials like Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, as well as works by contemporary filmmakers such as Maren Ade, Hong Sang-soo, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Christian Petzold, Paolo Sorrentino, and Jafar Panahi. Essays explore Chantal Akerman’s rigorous honesty, Ingmar Bergman’s intimacy, Abbas Kiarostami’s playfulness, Kenji Mizoguchi’s visual style, and Frederick Wiseman’s vision of the human condition. Lopate also reflects on the work of fellow critics, including Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. His considered, at times contrarian critiques and celebrations will inspire readers to watch or rewatch these films. Above all, this book showcases Lopate’s passionate advocacy for not only particular films and directors but also the joys and value of a filmgoing culture.

Phillip Lopate fell hard for the movies as an adolescent. As he matured into an acclaimed critic and essayist, his infatuation deepened into a lifelong passion. My Affair with Art House Cinema...

Advance Praise

"Phillip Lopate is the model of the eloquent and incisive critic. His expertise in the personal essay gives his film criticism the depth and precision of finely crafted literature. He brings to the task a keen intelligence, broad knowledge, and a sympathetic warmth rare on the contemporary scene. He never promotes himself at the expense of the film at hand, but his willingness to admit his tastes (and to change his mind) shows a true humanistic sensibility at work. Every serious film admirer will value this book as an ideal guide to the treasures of arthouse cinema."
—David Bordwell, author of Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

"Phillip Lopate is a convivial movie date, and his film essays have the poetry—and punch—of legendary sports reporters. For him, though, cinephilia is less a sport than a faith. Lopate's My Affair with Art House Cinema spans the last quarter-century of work by the likes of Chantal Akerman and Ingmar Bergman to Francois Truffaut and Frederick Wiseman. Writing about the rhythms, themes, and framing of the movies he loves, the passion is contagious."
—Carrie Rickey, author of A Complicated Passion: The Life and Work of Agnes Varda

"In this superb collection, Phillip Lopate goes where passion has taken him, which luckily for us is unbounded by the requirements and format of any single publication. My Affair with Art House Cinema combines some of the idiosyncratic notes of the personal essay with an easy command of film history, enhanced by Lopate's typically astute analysis of the way visual and compositional choices inform directorial sensibility. A treasure trove of a book which invites us to rethink the masterpieces of art house cinema and make acquaintance with unknown gems."
—Molly Haskell, author of Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films

"Philip Lopate's wonderfully written first-person film criticism is warm and affectionate, as well as smart and knowledgeable. Philip is a scholar and a gentleman—even if, a true cinephile, he does like to kiss and tell."
 —J. Hoberman, author of Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?

"Phillip Lopate is the model of the eloquent and incisive critic. His expertise in the personal essay gives his film criticism the depth and precision of finely crafted literature. He brings to the...

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Featured Reviews

After reading the essayist Philip Lopate’s latest collection, My Affair With Art House Cinema, a lengthy book I devoured in just a couple of days, I could only wonder why I never mention Lopate when I’m asked to list my favorite writers. More than any on that list, Philip Roth, Dostoevsky, Proust, Celine, Lopate’s sensibility is exactly mine. I’ve read and re-read the many collections of his essays as well as the anthologies he has assembled. The title of one of his booiks, Against Joie de Vivre, is more or less my credo. It’s not just that he is, like me, a Brooklyn Jew, or that we share tastes in books and films. It’s that neither one of us has the desire or even ability to ignore the failings of even those we admire. His short book on Susan Sontag, who Lopate admired immensely, speaks unhesitatingly of her snobbery, of her scorn for anyone not part of her world. I experienced this directly on a couple of occasions when I encountered her at film screenings. Never have I felt so like Gregor Samsa as I did when I met her gaze.
It is this refusal of hagiography that makes My Affair with Art House Cinema so worthwhile. This is a collection of his varied reviews and presentations of films, all of them at the high end of the art house film, the works of not just obvious subjects like Bergman, whose Scenes from a marriage he prasies highly, as he deos the elss well-known Saraband. Lopate is especially fond of Japanese and Chinese cinema, an admirer particularly of Ozu and Mizoguchi. He also loves Kurosawa, the most accessible and avaislbe of Japaneses cineastes, but he’s not ready to swallow just anything presented by him. Rashomon, Kurosawa’s most famous film, has entered our language as signifying the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, but as Lopate points opuit, “The fact that it is ‘iconic’ does not necessarily make it a masterpiece,” criticsm it’s many weaknesses that too many viewers and critics choose to ignore, like the performance by one of the elads, Toshiro Mifune.
Lopate criticizes even the work of reinds, boith filmmakers and critics, and unlike one of them, Jonatahn Rosenbaum, about whom he says “He seems not to appreciate the difference between honesty and incivility.” Lopate never steps into that area
Lopate speaks brilliantly of films familiar and not, appreciating the strictly cinematic ans well as the character and writerly aspects of the films. This book is a feast for any cinephile, for thoise familiar with the films he discusses. But it Is also a wonderful guide to films the reader might have missed, or who will be tempted to give a second shot, to films Lopate praises. I had avoided the film The great beauty by Paolo Sorrrentino for reasons Lopate perfectly understands: a film that popular and critically acclaimed has to be crap. But Lopate’s casae for it were so convincing that the day I read Lopate’s review my awife and I watched it and were mesmerized for the entire two hours and twenty plus, even during the end criedits. He even includes ciritques of other critics that will lead you to pick up their books. I was once described by the editor-in-chief of Jewish Currents as an “inveterate recommender.” With My affair With Art House Cinema I am making not one recommendation, but sixty more through LOpate.

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