I May not Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like!

Dan Kois has provoked a rather tame debate among critical circles with this essay, where he explains why he didn’t like Meek’s Cutoff: It’s slow and boring. Manhola Dargis and A.O. Scott responded by saying that maybe “slow and boring films” have some value after all. And today, I see that Jim Emerson has jumped in with his two cents– “boring” is a terrible way to describe a movie, because it’s so subjective.

They’re all very interesting pieces [1], and good points are made by all. I’m most interested in Kois’s dismay that there’s a strong social pressure for him to not only watch slow and boring movies like Meek’s Cutoff, but enjoy them. “Eat your cultural vegetables! They’re good for you!” Where does this pressure come from?

It comes from people like me. Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m a movie snob. I’m the kind of guy who can read an article about Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown– a movie, composed almost entirely of long, static shots, about people’s inability to communicate (needless to say, it’s in French)- and think, that sounds awesome! And guess what? It was.

Back in college, my friends Peter Srinivasan, AJ Pinkerton, Nate Morse, and I spent our Sunday nights watching movies and discussing the religious themes they touched upon. One week, I suggested we watch Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.[2] Peter loved it, but I think AJ and Nate fell asleep. The following week, we watched Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing.

I don’t try to be like this. I’d like to think I refrain from most of the games cinephiles play. I can be dismissive of things I don’t like, though, and I don’t give out gushing praise unless a movie really deserves it. That said, I don’t think less of someone if they don’t like Code Unknown or The Seventh Seal.[3] I certainly wouldn’t want to see them every night.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that some movies resonate with people more strongly than others. We all bring our biases, interests, senses of humor, etc., into the theater with us. And yet many of us are insecure in what we like.

This article by Ty Burr (via Jim Emerson) tells how when word got out among teenagers at a luncheon that a Film Critic was in the building, they all wanted to know if The Dark Knight was as good as they thought it was. As if there was a Pantheon of Great Films, as decided by people who should know, and the fans need to make sure their favorite got picked.

Except there isn’t some pantheon. Not that everyone agrees on, anyway. You can say The Dark Knight is the best film of all time, and I’ll rattle off reasons why I think it isn’t [4]. I’ll do the same for Citizen Kane, if you want. [5]

Can’t we just agree to like what we like? If we want to talk about movies[6], let’s use terms more descriptive than “slow and boring:” I admired WALL-E because of how the animation expressed what would normally be spoken dialog. I hated the Friday the 13th films because they failed in their most basic mission- scaring me.

I suppose this means I can’t say, “Oh, you need to see Das Lieben der Anden!” unless someone’s looking for a gut-wrenching drama about life in Communist East Berlin. But really, folks, eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.

  1. [1] Or are they? Don’t take my word for it…
  2. [2] 1957, black and white, in Swedish. Knight plays chess with Death. Plague is everywhere. God ignores human suffering. And just about everybody dies in the end.
  3. [3] If you liked Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, though, you have some explaining to do.
  4. [4] Muddled plotting, pretentious dialog, sloppy editing…
  5. [5] Okay, gimme a second, it’s been a while…
  6. [6] And who doesn’t?
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