I first met Molly Haskell and her husband Andrew Sarrris when they spoke at the 2008 Moving Image Institute, a weeklong program for emerging film critics organized by the Museum of the Moving Image. Ever since then I've wanted to collaborate with them on a video essay. Not so much because of their stature as two highly influential thinkers on cinema, but because of something they expressed at the Institute: their curiosity and slight puzzlement about film culture in the online era. For Haskell and Sarris, both of whom have resisted those hand-wringing "death of cinema" theories embraced by their contemporaries, the profusion of movie websites, blogs, videos, etc. over the past decade was something new, exciting and a little overwhelming. At the time, I felt qualified to help steer them through the flood of content; four years later, I feel just as inundated by all that is out there. But infusing their insights into the realm of online video is one thing I still feel capable of doing, and the Sight & Sound Film Poll video series provides the perfect opportunity to explore one of Haskell's favorite films, Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee.
I'm very pleased that I was able to incorporate Haskell's reading of Sarris' review, and also to visualize it with a shot of the review as first printed in the Voice. Juxtaposed with the distracting image of Claire's sensually sunlit knee, it was a fun way to visualize the relationship between a critical text and its subject, one surface expressing the essence of another surface, itself a beguiling decoy diverting the attention of both the film's protagonist and its audience from the film's true beauty.
For additional insights into the film, read Haskell's essay on Claire's Knee published in the Criterion Collection DVD release of the film.
Molly Haskell is a film critic, author of many books, including From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, and former co-host of Turner Classic Movies's The Essentials.
Andrew Sarris is a film critic and author of many books, including The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.
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.