Friday, September 17, 2010

Piranhas in the Poole - a Rambling Response to Jason

Jason, thanks for humoring me with the Flixster capsules.  Every once in a while, I'll try to be active on Facebook, but I really can't do it.  I don't like Facebook.

I appreciate your appreciation of Gentleman Broncos.  It was a film that was high on my radar last year, but it never played around here and it was far off my radar by the time it got a DVD release.  I'll definitely check it out.

Also, I share your opinion of Julie & Julia, a really pleasant surprise from last year.

I haven't seen Legion, but I do enjoy the work of Doug Jones (who is one of the creatures/angels(?) in Legion.  There's a great interview with Jones on an episode of the podcast More Than One Lesson from earlier this year.  Jones talks explicitly about being a Christian acting in a film (Legion) with really wonky theology.

Now, responding directly to your post directed at me:

1) I'm interested in your reaction to Greenberg.  I'm really hard on the film, but only because I feel like it's one of a small handful of films released so far this year that is absolutely worth talking about.  I mean, really, who's going to argue with me about the flying tank in A-Team?  Greenberg it is then.

2) Brandon never responded to my invitation of the 18th anyhow, so no plans were made.  Don't worry about us showing up while you're not available.

3) See my Flixster comment above.  I'm probably going to wait to see Scott Pilgrim on DVD.  I never liked the comics and am wary of the film, but I've heard mostly good opinions of it.

4) The Killer Inside Me is easily one of the "best" films of the year so far in terms of craft and creeps (though I think I've at least hinted at a few reasons for strongly disliking the film despite the clear artistry on display).   I'm interested to know why you're not interested.  Why would Winterbottom's disgusting horror comedy be unappealing to a Rob Zombie devotee?  I do unreservedly recommend both Edge of Darkness and The Last Exorcism.  Both will be at least honorable mentions in my personal list at the end of the year.  Don't see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Defy the world!

5) Date Night.  I don't know.  We obviously have different sensibilities and senses of humor (not to deny that there is also plenty of overlap in taste).  I honestly felt that 95% of the jokes in the film fell completely flat.  You honestly laughed yourself silly.  

Which brings me to the part of your post that I'm challenged to respond to.

"You and Brandon often have very clear-cut opinions on whether or not you've liked a film and it's a curious thing to me."

As Brandon has already pointed out, our opinions really aren't usually as clear-cut as they may seem and often in the past have been fleshed out by face-to-face communication, but I do stand by the (sometimes incomplete) judgments that I express here.  I'm open to discussion and correction, but my tastes and prejudices are indiscreetly flung out there in the open each time I put thumbs to iPod to post here.  My posts are mostly "from the gut" reactions, but that's not to say that they're not informed by all of the films that I've seen in the past or not in conversation with all of the film writing that I've read over the years.   Few and far between are any posts in which I've actually labored hard in examining a film, but that's a limitation of doing this for fun in spare moments.

Always, though, I try to honestly wrestle, sometimes more, sometimes less, with the film in front of me.

And like you guys, I'm just happy watching movies.  They don't all need to be the best ever.

"You both certainly have done your research- I tend not to read film criticism. I think it often over-analyzes particulars of a film to the detriment of a bigger picture- the bigger picture of why anyone goes out to watch a film in the first place. I don't always get film criticism, honestly."

This IS a major difference in our approach to watching movies.  Film criticism and film history are important to me.  Reading others writing about film helps me think more sharply about film and also places me in a tradition and community of other cinephiles, as far to the margins of that culture as I may be.  Simple as that.  

Someone like David Bordwell, who "over-analyzes particulars of a film" (to use your phrase), helps us to see the whole of a film more clearly, not less clearly.  Being knowledgable about structure and composition and the history of the art form can only deepen one's appreciation of a film, not detract from it.  If, upon careful examination, a film doesn't hold up so well, that's not a failing of the critic.  It's a failing of the film.  

I don't pretend to be in anywhere near the same league as some of my favorite film critics, past and present, but I do know that my own thoughts about film have been enriched by theirs.  I can only hope to bring even a tiny fraction of their knowledge and enthusiasm to my own writing.  My favorite type of film writing, though, is the really technical shot-by-shot or frame-by-frame analysis and I do little to none of that here.

I'm interested to know what you think "the bigger picture of why anyone goes out to watch a film in the first place" is.  I don't really identify with the mindless hordes who hop from Hollywood film to Hollywood film, their judgment swayed only by the budget of the advertising campaign.  The American opened at #1 its first weekend a couple of weeks ago.  Exit polls showed that most audiences strongly disliked the film.  Why did audiences go see this film?  Because they were expecting a slow-paced thoughtful, beautifully photographed film from the director of that Joy Division biopic no one saw?  Or because the studio decided to spend a lot of money on TV advertising, giving us commercial spots of shirtless George Clooney being an action star?

Maybe I'm missing the point here.  You seem to be arguing for the "check your brain at the door" position.  Yes?  No?

It may seem condescending for me to say that I'm probably interested in film for different reasons than the "anyone" you refer to, but I'm saying it.

I'm looking for expressions of beauty and truth in the frame, which is different than (but not mutually exclusive of) big explosions and potty humor.  The sort of film I enjoy and benefit from is most often the work of an "auteur" expressing a personal vision.  But I also love so many of the unsung grunt directors of the Hollywood "Golden Age."

A few days ago, I watched a modest little Western called Tall In the Saddle, directed by the relatively unknown Edwin Marin, starring John Wayne.

Gabby Hayes knocking back a slug of whiskey was more than enough for me.  That's what I'm talking about.  The heights of transcendence that a Tarkovsky or Bresson have revealed are rivaled by that toothless grin.  

Pleasant films like Tall In the Saddle weren't too unusual 65 years ago.  There's nothing comparable being made today.  But I won't stop looking and hoping.

"But I have watched a lot of movies on a lot of different topics and lot of different genres. So I do think that I have a leg to stand on. But what is the nature precisely of the leg I'm standing on?"

It's your own leg.  You don't have any larger community to evaluate your ideas through.  You can see just fine standing up on your own leg.  But if you embrace film culture, film writing and film history, well, then...  You wouldn't have to rely on your own leg anymore.  You could ride piggyback on Roger Ebert or stand on the shoulders of Manny Farber.  Supported by those who have gone before, you can see higher and farther.  You'd still be seeing out of your own eyes with all of your own tastes and prejudices, but you'd be able to see things that you may have been blind to without these guides.  Different angles and aspects.  

Not that you would even necessarily change your opinion on a film.  I've loved Julien Donkey-Boy for ten years despite poor critical reception and the ridicule of many friends.  I've benefitted from everyone I've read or talked to that has torn the movie apart.  I think that I can make a pretty good critical case for Julien Donkey-Boy, but sometimes the going is rough.  

So, attention to critical opinions does not mean you have to give up your love of The Phantom Menace.  You just better be prepared to defend your position with "over-analysis of particulars" in reacting to negative condemnations of the whole picture.

I know I've taken a bit of an offensive posture throughout in responding to you.  I'm just trying to make a case for a film lover like yourself paying attention to film criticism.  I invited you here to CR5 film club because I saw that you were engaging with film frequently over on Facebook/Flixster and because I value your perspective.  I'm not trying to argue here that your opinions are stupid or ill-informed.  I also hope that I don't sound like too much of a snob or critic's pet.  Sometimes it's hard to tell how the tone of a blog post will come across once it's thrown out there.  I hope this one sounds friendly.  This whole conversation would sound different over a few beers after just having seen Trash Humpers.  Alas.

I also don't pretend to speak for Brandon.  I know that there is a lot of overlap in how we think about and interact with films and film culture, but there are differences, too.  

I think, though, that I can safely say that CR5 movie club has existed from the beginning as a manifestation of our internal desire to avoid both brainless mass consumption AND bullshit cinephile posturing and pretending.  We like what we like and won't apologize for it.  

In general, we just love movies.  Except not always the same movies in the same ways.  This means that I have to put up with Brandon's so-so response to Terror in a Texas Town, an all-time favorite of mine that I expected him to go gaga over.  Brandon has to put up with me taking a dump on Jim Sheridan's music choices in In America.  

I know that I tend to fall more often into the art film snob persona while Brandon falls into the killer piranha waters.  On a certain level, we acknowledge and accept these differences in taste and personality.  But I think we still always expect the other person to put up a good fight in defense of our positions, even if we eventually have to fall back on subjective emotion.  "Yeah, but it's so damn cool when he comes to the gunfight with the whaling harpoon!" or "that piranha just ate that dude's penis and I love it!"

Hopefully Brandon will chime in soon.

No comments: