30 March 2008

"Film" And The Overly Earnest 20-Something

As a general rule I think it's advisable to avoid criticizing, let alone getting into arguments about movies I haven't seen.

However, there are cases when I'm willing to make exceptions, and this argument qualifies as one of them. My prejudice against No Country For Old Men didn't emerge full-blown out of thin air; in fact, when I first heard about the movie, a month or two before it came out, it sounded like something I'd probably be inclined to see.

I'd never read the book, nor did I know much about the subject matter, but people seemed to be making a big deal of it, and the Coen Brothers not only have a decent reputation, but also have made some other movies I've enjoyed. But within a week or two of its opening, friends who'd seen it started reporting back to me that it was simply awful, the worst sort of pseudo-intellectual, quasi-artistic dreck.

Well, that's not exactly how most of them put it. To be precise, the critiques generally revolved around two points: "Makes no sense" and "Long, convoluted and boring." But when a few of my young friends, largely those of the painfully earnest ilk, the sort who speak of "film" in hushed, reverential tones and collect DVDs so they can make repeated studies comparing and contrasting the director's cut with the commercial cinema cut and the alternative ending cut released only in Bulgaria and the eastern half of the Ukraine, began raving that No Country For Old Men was a "stunning masterpiece," "hauntingly evocative," and all the rest of that cine-crit blah-blah, I felt confident that my initial instincts had been correct.

I mean most of us do this, right? We have two sets of critics who help us decide which movies, records, books, etc. we are going to take a flyer on and which we are going to give a miss. Doesn't matter whether they are professionals, amateurs, or just our friends and acquaintances; it's just that we've got enough of an idea about what they like and don't like that we can draw reasonable inferences about whether we ourselves would like the product in question.

One set, of course, consists of those people who tend to view life, love and art in much the same way we do; the other is what I would informally call the null set, i.e., you know that pretty much anything they like is going to suck on a stupendous scale.

Before too much umbrage is taken, snits gone into, and goats gotten, let me hasten to add that there is nothing remotely objective or scientific about this method; it's purely a matter of personal taste (or lack thereof). However, I've come to notice that one of the surest predictors of records I don't want to listen to, movies I don't want to see, etc., is its popularity with the beard and/or chin-stroking 20-something "artistic" crowd. You know the type, no doubt: the ones who shortly after leaving their teens begin denouncing the catchy, fun pop-punk music they used to love as "puerile" and "simplistic," replacing it with "more complex" varieties, the more obscure, atonal and unlikely to become popular, the better.

And heaven knows we can all be guilty of patronizing and condescending attitudes from time to time, but you haven't truly been patronized or condescended to until a mid to late-20s art school dropout has casually sneered something to the effect of, "Oh, I suppose that (your favorite band, movie, artist, etc.) sort of thing is all right if you're into mainstream pop culture."

If you read far enough along in the thread I linked to, you'll see that one such commentator dismisses my views out of hand because, "You have zero interest in film, you just watch movies because you're bored." However, I think he's got things backward; the only time boredom and movies (note, by the way, how I have zero interest in "film" and only watch "movies") intersect for me is when I see turgid, overblown melodramas like There Will Be Blood and, I'm guessing, No County For Old Men.

I once made a practice of seeing movies, especially those with subtitles because I thought I "should" or because they were "important," but as the Dylan song goes, I was so much older then. My critic also suggests that I go to movies to "kill time," but it's been many years since I've had too much time on my hands; time is one commodity that is perennially in short supply with me.

So when I choose a movie, I have only one criterion: will it entertain me? I don't care if its lowbrow, highbrow, or nobrow, whether it's a crassly commercial enterprise or ars gratia artis, if I'm laying out 10 bucks and a couple of hours of my time, I want to be pretty damn sure I'll have something to laugh and/or cry about, not something that forces me to ponder, "What the hell was that supposed to be and why did it have to take two and a half hours out of my life?"

That being said, I saw an excellent movie today called The Bank Job. Nonstop action, clever plot (and based on a true story, they claim; I certainly remember the phony-baloney black activist Michael X who features in it). Story aside, it always delivers a mostly realistic trip back into the gritty and gray London of the early 70s; I say "mostly" only because I caught one anachronism: one scene in the Baker Street Underground station includes the correct 1970s-style trains, but shows a wall sign reading "Hammersmith and City Line," a line which of course didn't come into being until 1988 (I'm not really that much of a trainspotter, honest; it's just that I lived on the H&C and it's predecessor, the Metropolitan, for a number of years).

Anyway, The Bank Job is my idea of a movie that does exactly what movies are supposed to do, informs, entertains and inspires (or at least one or two of the aforementioned). All you lovers of "film," feel free to have at me for my philistinism (yes, that was another charge leveled at me during the discussion, by an actual art student, as it happens). I'll only add that ever since I started picking movies on their entertainment value rather than their cultural significance, the quality of my leisure time has noticeably improved. Not to mention the added enjoyment derived from ruffling the carefully preened feathers of the art school booboisie.


Psmith said...

Your "Larry is a Philistine" tag is sorely underused.

Larry Livermore said...

Good point. I should go back right now and attach it to my Doomsday article.

Hazmat70 said...

People who intellectualize "No Country" are doing it a disservice. It's simply a tightly plotted, funny thriller with an inconclusive ending. It's a fun time at the movies.

JBriggs said...

I'm not sure where I fit in as on one hand I thoroughly enjoyed There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men (even if the book was better) but on the other I have seen Bad Boys II and The Rock/Seann William Scott-classic Welcome to the Jungle multiple times sober. While this should make me fit in to any discussion of film in reality it means that I end up arguing with the action film fans about how Jarhead was a great film and quoting The Waterboy at bemused foreign-film buffs.

thissmallplanet said...

Hated the ending of "No Country" and was very disappointed by "There Will Be Blood" and "Jesse James". Currently living in Japan, where Western movies can take a year or two to show up (allegedly because of the cost of subtitling) and then vanish if you don't go right away. So downloading films has now become my thing. Films I have kind of liked recently - "Pan's Labyrinth", "Superbad", "Juno", "Control" (Joy Division), I'm Not There" (for Dylan superfans only), "The Aristocrats" (docu), and "This is England".

thissmallplanet said...

My pet peeve with 20-somethings is that the current fad among many of them is the assumption that "to discuss something with someone" means disagreeing vehemently with each and every point, major and minor, often, it seems, merely for the sake of disagreeing. If I had a quarter for something 20-something response that began,"Yeah, but..." If they can't think of something to disagree with in your overall statement, nit picking and disagreeing with a minor aside will suffice. It's kind of like a form of chess, or more accurately, a WWF Smackdown approach to conversation. Maybe Bob Mould wrote this script too.