Saturday, January 17, 2009

Year in Movies Brief Interlude aka What Am I Doing Here?

I'm going to try to explain my aesthetic because I really feel like movies are the most misunderstood art form, and I never feel like I do justice to what I'm actually trying to do here because writing about any kind of art is incredibly difficult, and the people who do it for a living have fucked it up so bad that I don't feel bad about the fact that they're mostly losing their jobs. I also feel vindicated that the critics I really like (J. Hoberman, Dave Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jim Emerson and, notwithstanding the occasional shitty elitist reservations on my part that he may have unwittingly helped to create the problem and that he actually thought Paul Haggis' Crash was a great movie , Roger Ebert) still have their jobs or have happily retired and are still writing on the Innernut/Internet.
I think some of the major problems with movie culture is that films are so ridiculously expensive to make, even tiny little mega-independent productions, so many jerk-offs think they're something special because they work on movies even if their job is answering phones or buying sandwiches, and the average moron thinks he/she is an expert on movies even if the last movie he/she saw in a theater was Joe Dirt. Add to this the severe anti-intellectual, anti-art bent that pervades American society and causes otherwise intelligent people to make massive generalizations about things they don't understand and to throw out many babies with bathwater. On the other hand, even bigger idiots who think they're smarty-pantses simply repeat what every other smarty-pants says about movies without stopping to question why everyone in the goddamned world is talking about the same 20 goddamn movies each year when many, many other interesting films are also out and being ignored.
Reading a movie blog I like today, I was dismayed to (partially) agree with this paragraph:
"...I should probably point out here that no one I know outside the confines of the internet has even a fleeting interest in cinema beyond its diversionary function. It means nothing, less than nothing, to anyone I'm even casually acquainted with; and speaking about it with even a particle of enthusiasm . . . as I sometimes do when I'm unable to govern the impulse properly . . . gets you either amused chuckles or uncomprehending stares (take your pick). For all the social good it does, you might as well tell people you've been moonlighting as a part-time carnival geek."
Now, I don't really care about the social good in being an enthusiastic admirer of film as an art form, and I know several people who have more than a fleeting interest in movies, but I don't know many people at all who are interested in film in its non-zeitgeisty totality (besides weirdos, creeps, and assholes). This bums me out because I know tons of people who are into music and literature and painting and photography and sports and cooking and automobiles and philosophy and science and pro wrestling and plants and on and on in their non-zeitgeisty totalities. Movies, on the other hand, seem to exist to most people I know as less than nothing except for diversion and/or immediate zeitgeisty so-and-so. (I'm using "zeitgeist" in its English sense of immediacy and not in the German sense of something that happened in the past, by the way.) I can pretty much guarantee comments if I write about English-language films with massive distribution from the very recent past, but nobody seems to give a shit about movies older than 1985, or in black and white, or from foreign countries, or in either very short or very long form, or independent (as opposed to "indie"), or only on VHS, or lacking massive advertising campaigns, or animated, or of "disreputable" genres. This makes it much harder to convince people that movies are as important as literature or music, etc., since no one ever sees the really, really great, great, great stuff.
But a bigger problem than all that is the slavish devotion to content over form and structure and performance and personal style by the vast majority of people who watch movies. No one in their right mind likes a song solely because of what its about. Its the sound and how that sound is organized and how those organized sounds are played that makes people like music. It's the same goddamn fucking thing with movies, you motherfucking jerks. What a movie's about is of a certain importance, but that importance is the least of a very long list. Same with any art form. Why it works or doesn't is because of structure, form, style, performance, and a wee, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny bit of what it's about. It's why I was enthralled with the prologue of Don DeLillo's novel Underworld, a detailed account of a baseball game, even though I'm bored shitless by baseball. I loved how he put his sentences together. I'm not denying the pleasures of getting caught up in a storyline, but that's the least interesting part. Art forms aren't really that different from each other. It's just artists picking different tools. Somehow we all already know this about music, but we can't seem to figure it out about movies (except for music critics, who seem to waste all their time analyzing lyrical content except for the token two sentences with generic descriptions of sound-labeling).
This content-only thing with movies has to stop. How should always destroy what. It's why I get laughed at when I say that Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the respective oeuvres of Russ Meyer and Joe Dante are great movies, why people tell me I'm talking about boring esoterica when I talk about John Cassavetes, Jacques Rivette, Luis Bunuel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, etc., and why I have to hear about the greatness of Atonement and how people really learned a lot about Ray Charles and Johnny Cash from Ray and Walk the Line. Sour whiny grapes, sure. But you never hear people say, "I really liked that painting because it was about sisters or World War II or Internet dating or basketball."
This turned into a rant instead of a considered explanation of what I'm all about, so I'll quit while I'm way behind and never speak of this subject again.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no considered way to express the frustration of a culture that prides itself on being uninterested in the construction of art, and therefore must default to the "what" of art (it's about the mafia, or a woman with manic-depression, or bowling, or a love triangle, or the pederast, or a guy who has to go back to the first grade), and therefore must reduce all art to the lowest common denominator of generic descriptions.

by the by:

But a bigger problem than all that is the slavish devotion to content over form and structure and performance and personal style by the vast majority of people who watch movies. No one in their right mind likes a song solely because of what its about. Its the sound and how that sound is organized and how those organized sounds are played that makes people like music. It's the same goddamn fucking thing with movies, you motherfucking jerks.

might be the best three sentences ever strung together.

-am

Dr. Mystery said...

Thanks for the high praise. I'm still getting my head around your music list, but what I like about it is that it reflects the opinions of an idiosyncratic human being instead of a committee, which is ridiculously hard to find in any employed A&E writer, which is why I take a tremendous amount of pleasure in their firings and lay-offs. They deserve it.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

junebug

Blog Archive