Monday, February 5, 2007

More on Preferences

So, following up on this post:

If you're driven to be a film critic, then you probably:

  • like movies
  • like talking about movies
  • like picking movies apart
  • like comparing movies
  • like coming up with arguments about movies
  • like classifying movies
  • like coming up with arguments about certain classifications of movies

Even if you also, say, like watching movies for relaxation (as I do), you're probably not going to be doing film criticism if that's the only (or even primary) reason you watch movies.

Looking at those likes, it makes sense that if you're a film critic, you will probably value movies that:

  • give you something to talk about (the movie is "about something") - Rashomon is about "the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy", The Rules of the Game is about the death of aristocratic European culture
  • offer a reward for being picked apart - it can be satisfying to puzzle through and work out a "solution" to Mulholland Drive or to uncover a single motivation for all the unconventional narrative choices in Before the Revolution
  • reference other movies - because you get to make use of prior knowledge, which usually feels good
  • play with conventions - recognizing patterns and recognizing when they are purposefully being broken is also satisfying

Which means you might be in danger of undervaluing (relatively, of course) movies that:

  • don't lend themselves to being the subject of an argumentative essay
  • have a straightforward meaning and purpose
  • deal with conventional material in a conventional style
  • aren't, at all, self-conscious

Of course, we've all seen cases where a critic-type finds that he likes one of these second type of movies and ends up creating a convoluted and (usually) unconvincing type one argument about it to rationalize why he liked it in the first place. (I've been guilty of this myself, on more than one occasion, although I can thankfully say, I don't do it all that much anymore).

To come at this from a slightly different direction. Let's say you asked a random guy to give you a list of the "5 Greatest Movies Ever" and he hands you a list that looks like this:

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Serenity
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  5. The Matrix

It probably would make sense to say to yourself: "Hey, this guy is a sci-fi buff - and maybe even a Trekkie. I'll have to keep that in mind when he talks about the kinds of movies, books, etc. that he thinks are worthwhile."

So, if you take another random guy and get this list...

  1. Breathless
  2. Persona
  3. Rashomon
  4. Mulholland Drive
  5. The Searchers

...well, you wouldn't be out of line to think something along the same lines: "Hey, this guys seems to like movies that require lots of interpretation and 'figuring out'. I'll have to keep that in mind when he tells me about the kind of movies, books, etc. that he thinks are worthwhile."

Critics probably do themselves a disservice when they try to stand in for a general audience as a kind of movie-watching everyman. I'm sure it's the democratic/egalitarian aura surrounding movies - and pop culture in general - that leads them to do this, but it would be better just to come clean with their preferences.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post!