You’d have to be ‘incurably blind’ to miss the superiority of Mizoguchi to Kurosawa, he [ Bazin] famously wrote, but anyone who rejects Kurosawa completely is ‘one-eyed’. (2) Which is another way of saying that the distinction between Mizoguchi and Kurosawa is not one of varying positions on an imaginary scale of morality. Rather, it is a distinction measured according to more ordinary and less lofty criteria like temperament, sensitivity and talent.
This confusion between simple description and moral accounting, between making art and finding ultimate truth with a camera, a microphone and an editing machine, is an old story in filmmaking and criticism, but it continues to be told, again and again. At this point, I have to wonder why. The appeal of systematic rather than case-by-case exploration is obviously great, as great as the lure of enlightenment in the realm of art and outside of organised religion. However, I find it troubling to read rejections of religious and political dogma from critics who simultaneously espouse aesthetic dogma. I have a feeling that serious film criticism is afraid to hoist up the anchor of moral essentialism for fear of drifting off into the shallow waters of connoisseurship. I suppose that moral essentialism offers a guarantee of seriousness.
We need to trust in our own intellects rather than in systems of thought, to stop thinking in terms of moral-aesthetic hierarchies, and to start letting Mizoguchi talk to Kurosawa, and letting Zodiac talk to His Girl Friday (1940). This kind of pluralistic approach to film criticism is one of the side benefits of the blogosphere, in which, under ideal circumstances, informality often leads to a looser approach to aesthetics.