Analysis of a body of critical work: Adrian Martin
The first word that comes to mind in describing Adrian Martin, is diverse, he isn’t the kind of writer that sticks to one particular rigid form or topic, which is, of course, not to say that his works lack any kind of structure. After surveying a however small portion of his work one will come across an incredible variance of material, ranging from a fairly compact film review
style like his piece on Cronenberg’s Crash, to a highly theoretical piece such as Mise En Scene Is Dead, to an entire book detailing the inner workings of a film, as exemplified by Once Upon a Time in America, or The Mad Max Movies. In addition to this Martin’s work finds it way to publication in a multifariousness of formats, printed and online alike, encompassing the academic as well as more popular realms.
Martin is a critic interested in the moment, the peculiar, often to the majority of viewers insignificant detail, that in his mind becomes not only a crucial, irreplaceable aspect without which the film’s sensibility would be entirely different, but also a perspective, a one of an infinite number of lenses through which one can view a given film (take here for instance his choice to view Cronenberg’s Crash through the point of view of sound).
These entry points through which he chooses to look into films undergo a process of unconscious association in his mind which spill out unto the paper of his texts, forming often most detailed and intricate patterns. Note here his dissection of Marricone’s score for Once Upon A Time In America, identifying three main themes, their keys, the significance of ending notes and their intertwined use through out the film. In fact this is one of the standing out qualities of Martin’s writing, his meticulousness, the extreme attention with which he inspects these moments of interest, “It will ring, in all, twenty-four times, for over three and a half minutes” .
Martin’s abstract way of thinking, of drawing connections make for a much more interesting read, not only revealing to us something about the inner workings of the film or the director but also the critic himself.
Though often arranging the larger works into sections, utilising titles as divisions of different thoughts, there is no discernable formal structure within his works. Even in the highly theoretical piece like Mise En Scene Is Dead, there is no conventional introductory paragraph leading us into the main idea or question running through out the article. Instead he begins with two pages of quotations from other critics making us work at drawing connections between these excerpts without his guidance. It is only by the end of the fifth page that he lets us in on his real aim. Instead of a paragraph by paragraph structured argument, individual ideas are interwoven throughout his works, having an almost Deleuze’ian rhizome-like structure .
Accompanying the unconventional starting points, there are also no definite conclusions neatly summarising the author’s opinions allowing for a quick disinterested reading. This reinforces what his ‘unconscious associations’ begun, that drawing in of the reader to follow the writer on his journey without knowing where it will lead. This lack of summarising paragraphs forces us to really engage with the text, with Martin himself.
Apart from inviting his readers to become consciously involved with his texts, Martin himself does so from within his writing with other critics, constantly acknowledging others’ opinions, incorporating their ideas into his own process of thought by engaging in a kind of Platonic dialectic with these absent authors.
In his analyses of both films and their directors he tends stay within the framework of the artistic objects, without venturing into what he himself deems a dangerous territory of engaging in a social commentary based on one specific film, of upholding it as a mirror of reality, ultimately confusing the two . His methodology of analysis can be seen as symptomatic of this attitude, a careful balance of form and content achieved through a wide-angled lens of mise en scene. This particular concern discloses another interest of Martin’s that goes beyond films, and that is of film criticism itself. His discussion of the offended critics’ “sociologist tendency to mistake film for reality” as well his in depth investigation of “the variegated history of mise en scène both in film and criticism” , surveying the different methods of criticism with their different proportions of form versus content, are a testament to his deep investment in the art of criticism itself.