Saturday, 25 January 2014

Is there such a thing as Truly Good Or Bad Cinema?

In this day and age, it is easy to get swayed by the opinions of the majority, and this applies very easily to cinema. There are many films that are seemingly universally loved by the majority, and others the majority seemingly despises. It is not easy to resist. I would be lying if I said I never occasionally made a crack toward a movie I hadn't seen because the majority say it is terrible, but when you get down to it it is all a matter of opinion.

Sometimes, I agree with the majority on the quality of films. 2001: A Space Odyssey ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies. I also enjoyed Casablanca and while I might not praise Citizen Kane as the greatest masterpiece of all time the way some critics do I can respect it as a well-crafted piece of art. However, there are also times when I find myself disagreeing. Once in a while a movie comes along that I find myself enjoying despite everyone else's opinions to the contrary. I found David Lynch's Dune a slight guilty pleasure and while I can't deny that it has its problems I do really enjoy the stuff that works.

I also found John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. and Ghosts of Mars to be enjoyable films, although I also hold in high regard The Thing. The funny thing (no pun intended) about Carpenter is that much as I love him, the one movie I can truly say I did not like out of his entire filmography, at least out of what I have seen, was Halloween. Nearly everybody else builds it up as one of the creepiest horror films of all time, but I found it to be predictable, not very compelling, and especially confusing when at the climax Michael Myers keeps going after being stabbed twice, shot multiple times, and falling out a second-story window. So to put this in perspective, I am willing to openly admit that I rank Ghosts of Mars, widely considered Carpenter's worst, over the film that most other die-hard fans of Carpenter say is his best (even if I do hold the equally well-recognized The Thing even higher).

More recently I've found myself in this position with some older films, some of which are said to be classics. I seem to be in the minority of people who actually though Steven Soderbergh's Solaris was pretty good. I'm also in the even smaller minority of people who actually thought it was better than the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky version. I tried watching the 1972 version and barely got over the first hour of a three hour movie (on the second attempt, the first time I only got about 30-40 minutes in and then switched over to the Soderbergh version). For the most part I found its pacing to be tediously slow. The first 30 minutes or so was just people talking about "Solaris" (the alien planet whose enigmatic nature drives the plot). I started watching the movie because I was interested in seeing this story about how people are affected by an alien planet. I wasn't interested in seeing a bunch of bearded men in a room talking about the planet I actually wanted to see it. I kept finding myself wondering whatever happened to "show don't tell". Meanwhile, the Soderbergh version keeps its set-up brief and while its still a fairly slow-paced movie it doesn't take too long to actually get to the plot.

This can be especially problematic when you're in a position like mine since I'm also studying film. So far I can't seem to get through a film course without having to watch a movie by Jean-Luc Goddard. I can't stand the guy's work (and I recently heard apparently neither could fellow art filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, which makes it ironic how often I've heard those two grouped together). I've had to watch three now: to study for an exam I had to watch Breathless (there was an essay question in which I had to compare it to Out of the Past), last semester for a science fiction class I had to watch an extremely baffling movie called Alphaville which seemed to make absolutely no sense (it's supposed to be a dystopian future, but the only effort at making anything seem futuristic is throwing in occasional mentions of "galaxies", while every other piece of technology was exactly the same as in 1960's Paris), and more recently Tout Va Bien which was just confusing and had a bunch of scenes (especially near the end) that just went on for so long I was desperate for it to cut to anything else. I really don't like the guy's work and I was scared out of my wits by the third time I was subjected, but since he's so influential I can't seem to avoid it.

On a similar level I had this sort of problem with Jaques Tati's Playtime. The plot consisted of a bunch of not-very coherent segments that really had nothing to do with each other outside of Mr. Hulot, none of the gags seemed funny, and every scene just kept going on much longer than it needed to, though special mention goes to the nightclub scene near the end.

Now I'm not going to say there's anything wrong with liking these movies. These are purely my opinion, nothing more, and if you're reading this and actually enjoyed one of the movies I say I hated that's fine. That's just it really. There is no such thing in aesthetics as "good' and "bad' art. You can like what you want to like, and hate what you want to hate. I love Kubrick and 2001 is one of my favorite movies, but  there are some who can't stand its structure. I also know there are many people who genuinely think Halloween is a masterpiece of horror, maybe even some who didn't like The Thing (a lot of people hated that movie when it first came out; even more recently the movie guides published by respected critic Leonard Maltin still have hateful comments about it). Just because the majority says a movie is good or bad does not make it so. You must be able to see it for yourself and if you disagree with the majority, there is nothing wrong with that.

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