Posted by Greg Ferrara on September 19, 2012
Last week I updated one of my personal blogs with a series of shots from Nicolas Refn’s 2011 movie, Drive. There was a brief discussion on Facebook, where I linked to it, among some friends about the scene, about Albert Brooks’ performance and the movie in general. I liked the film very much as did most everyone who chose to comment. Then a certain buzzkill that I will not name – okay, it was fellow Morlock Richard Harland Smith – came on and basically said the movie and Brooks were just “okay.” Richard being Richard, I took this in the spirit intended: smug, self-satisfied contrarianism. Oh, I’m just joking (or am I?). But seriously, I thought Richard was going for a reaction and I thought about what he said and the movie and decided, “Yeah, I like the movie and everything but if someone else thinks it’s a boring piece of junk, eh, who cares?” Sometimes you go to the mat for a movie and sometimes you don’t. Drive was one of those times I didn’t. Like I said, I like it but not enough to spend valuable time arguing my side of the issue. Sometimes, though, it’s a different matter entirely.
As a parent, you learn to pick your battles. Children are a handful and require enormous amounts of attention and guidance which is fine except, as a parent, you also have so many other responsibilities which are necessary for keeping your children fed and clothed, that you learn to pick and choose when and where to take your stand, if only to keep your sanity intact. In short, you let your kids “win” sometimes when they are arguing that you are being, once again, unfair because in the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t make a person any happier to argue about every little thing and, at the same time, it teaches your kids how to express themselves in argumentation. Other times, however, the issue is too important and even if it means days of resentment and attitude, you stand your ground. That’s how I am – all of us, probably – with movies. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it while other times, I won’t back down.
One of the odd things about this is, it depends on the company. If I’m with a group of cinephiles who have loved and passionately devoted themselves to the cinema their whole lives and there’s disagreement on Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, I’ll engage them and hopefully have a great discussion on the merits, or lack thereof, of the movie in question. If, on the other hand, I’m with a group of people who see movies as a product to pass the time and don’t know any movies made before last year and one of them says, “I saw some Chaplin movie for a few seconds last night when I was flipping through the channels. God, it was awful! How could anyone like that?” I will completely ignore him. It’s not worth going to the mat for City Lights with him because he has so little background and/or interest in film, that any arguments I tried to make would more likely than not seem nonsensical or, at the very least, pointless.
When I first started discussing film online several years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out which sites to visit and which ones to avoid. There were plenty of film forums where disrespecting the classics was the order of the day. Writers who fancied themselves as edgy and iconoclastic delighted in telling anyone they thought they could anger that Casablanca was garbage and Citizen Kane was overrated and boring. (Strangely enough, any work of art can be overrated and still be great so that intended burn is essentially meaningless. For instance, I think Citizen Kane is superb but if I said, “Citizen Kane is the single, most important work of any kind every created by the human race,” I would still be overrating it. Also, my blog posts fit that description much more aptly than any stupid movie). As a result of this disrespect, I quickly arrived upon the curious position of almost never going to the mat for the established classics. I figured, they’re established. If someone wants to reevaluate them, I trust they will proceed from the idea that the film is revered and move out from there, arguing that perhaps its day is done. But what more often happens is someone decides to incense everyone by calling The Searchers a bad movie and thanks, but I’m not going to waste my time arguing with that viewpoint, especially expressed in an incendiary way.
So what do I go to the mat for? Actually, I probably shouldn’t even reveal what movies I go to the mat for because once I do, the post stops being about that very idea and becomes, “let’s tell Greg that movie stinks and see how hard he argues his side.” Some other time maybe but, in general, I tend to go to the mat for movies I don’t think are very good to begin with but which I felt are misunderstood. Movies that might be considered “stupid,” or “trashy,” or “just some dumb genre flick.” Especially if the person disrespecting also believes that “moving, socially conscious movies” are better based on subject matter alone.
And so, this peculiar behavior of mine, has led to some strong defenses of movies most people would probably reserve for Grand Illusion or The Godfather instead of, say, Smokey and the Bandit. But that’s misleading. I’m not really going to the mat for something like Smokey and the Bandit as much as much as pointing out the immeasurable talents of Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason and how spectacularly awesome they both are in their respective roles as well as the none-too-shabby exploits of Jerry Reed, Sally Field, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams and Mike Henry.
Or when I write up The Birds, as I did here last week, I’m not placing it on a higher pedestal than Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt or Psycho but more stressing that it shouldn’t be underrated.
Or with Somewhere in Time and The Final Countdown from my post two weeks ago, it was less “these are the greatest time travel movies ever” than “these are both really good as well as undervalued.”
You see, I endorse the school of thought that most movies, not all but most, have something worth recommending them in some capacity. When I watch a movie like Drive, I think about the performances and the nature of the violence and I think there’s a lot there that someone might be the better for seeing while, at the same time, I realize it’s not for everyone and if someone tells me they don’t like it, I can only recall the wisdom of Sy Benson and say, “Hey babe, we’re not married to it.” I shy away from strenuously going to the mat for the established classics only because they’ve had decades of defense written in their favor already and don’t need my voice to save their reputations. But for other movies, I will. To paraphrase Tom Joad, wherever there’s a fight over whether an actor is good or bad, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a critic beatin’ up an underrated movie, I’ll be there. I’ll be there in the way guys yell at the screen, the way children laugh at meta-jokes in Pixar movies and when someone says science fiction movies are silly and shouldn’t be held in the same esteem as epic dramas – I’ll be there, too.
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