Wednesday, 10 September 2014
The Pressure of Criticism
My recent experience with Sunset Boulevard may have had a slightly more positive effect than I thought. After discussing what happened with my counselor, I started to realize this feeling, something that I think has been affecting me for a long time. You see, much as I love a lot of classic movies, there are a lot that I have put off watching, and many of them are ones that make me extremely nervous when I face the prospect of watching them. Truth be told I was really nervous before I finally saw Casablanca (which turned out to be a great film), but there are many others.
When I first started assembling my blinspot list and considered Touch of Evil, I took it off the list shortly after it was posted mainly because it seemed as though it might have been harder to obtain than I initially anticipated, but there was another reason. It was because I was actually a bit scared to see it. I was hoping it would be good but I was worried about what would happen if it wasn't. I was worried I might get lost in the plot as I sometimes do with extremely complicated movies (the main reason I couldn't enjoy The Godfather, even if I could respect it on a technical level).
What happened with Sunset Boulevard wasn't the first time I experienced those feelings. The first time I had to shut off Tarkovsky's Solaris and opted to put on the Clooney version instead, I felt like I had committed a horrible, unspeakable crime. I had fantasies in my head where I would be essentially held by an inquisition of science fiction fans charging me with the crime of favoring Clooney's version over the one everyone else seemed to universally agree was better. Before that, there was also the shocking experience I had when I found that the one film of John Carpenter's I hated was the one that everyone else said was his absolute best.
A conversation with my therapist has allowed me to finally realize what the problem is, and it's a depressing fact, but it is true nonetheless. Criticism can be a great thing. Without movie critics we might have a harder time deciding what new movies are worth seeing and which aren't. In this blogging community there are films I only learned about because of someone else's review (I had never heard of Walker before J.D. Lafrance did a piece on it). There is, however, a downside to the whole thing, and it largely comes with the big movies, the classics that everyone remembers.
There are a few films that seem to be almost universally agreed to be the greatest of all time, and also some that are agreed to be the worst. You don't see very many people going out and making a case that Gone With the Wind is a piece of crap or that Battlefield Earth is an under-appreciated work of genius. It almost seems like its something people just don't do. There is this pressure of sorts that comes from the reputations these movies have.
When I find myself watching certain classic movies, I sometimes get this feeling that I'm in some way obligated to like it. When I fail to see what so many have before me I feel like there is something wrong. It all has to do with this strange pressure, as though the critics are saying "if you don't like Touch of Evil, there is something wrong with you." I think I may have even had incidents where I find myself calling a film a masterpiece even though I'm not entirely sure about it just because of the reputation it holds.
I might not even be the only one who has been in this position. When I posted my article Why Jean-Luc Godard is the Worst Director in the Galaxy I was surprised by how well-received it was. Judging by the responses, I got the impression that I was not the only one around her who disliked Godard so much as I was the only one who had the guts to voice how I really felt about him. Even he took a bit of time before I fully worked up the nerve to voice my disdain for him (though it seems I can't go through a year of cinema studies without facing his wrath at least once).
I think this is what has been affecting me with some of these movies, and it is rather depressing really. It seems that watching a movie with a reputation creates this sort of pressure where it feels like you have to like it. I think part of what has caused me to keep putting off a lot of older movies is this constant fear that I won't like it, that I won't be able to follow it, or something else will happen. I wanted to like Sunset Boulevard because I knew David Lynch was a big fan of it and it was considered a classic, not because I had any interest in its story.
There is something going on here, and it is rather depressing really. It sometimes seems as though once a movie becomes a classic you have to like it or else the other critics will shun you and you will be branded insane. It's a bit ironic really, given that we wouldn't have a lot of classics today if nobody dared to challenge the dominant opinion.
The Thing was widely regarded as a disaster when it came out and everybody hated it, and yet now it is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. Citizen Kane might have been forgotten had it not been for some unknown individual who managed to hide a print when William Randolph Hearst tried to have them all destroyed. 2001: A Space Odyssey was structured in such a radical way that nobody knew what to make of it at first, and it was not until younger audiences began to warm up to it that it became a hit.
I guess the lesson to be learned here is that it is okay to challenge popular opinion. When watching a classic movie, no matter how many people hail it as a masterpiece, you are not obliged to like it. That there is the truth, but it is so easy to forget that under what essentially amounts to mass peer pressure. I am not really sure what the best way is to deal with this pressure, beyond just doing my best to voice my opinion as clearly as I can. Has anybody else had this problem? I think it is worth addressing.