The title of this post is often heard, at least heard by me, as critique of films that may have difficult subject matter or difficult characters. That most folks need to be able to identify with, and even sympathize with, at least one character in a film one plans on spending 90-160 minutes with is completely understandable. In most cases I do too.
Sometimes, though, I think this line is used to avoid seeing things we don’t like in film characters that we recognize (but don’t like) in ourselves. It kind of goes along with the recently outed presidential administration’s constant assertions that to acknowledge mistakes or weakness is, in fact in themselves weakness. I philosophy I find extremely flawed. But politics and self reflection are not the point of this (hopefully) brief post. The criteria people have for viewing, or rather enjoying, films has interested me since I found a real interest in film.
Films that I saw in high school and dismissed as arthouse crap and senseless bullshit I often dig now. Not that it’s arthouse, but the scant, ridiculous story and odd dialogue timbres in the recently savaged (but positively reviewed here) Speed Racer were, in my opinion anyway, responsible for many folks serious issues with that film. Similar to issues people had with Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (which, despite Keanu Reeves, I think was both well cast and a pretty decent telling of the tale).
What has made me think of this now is a line I read today in a review of Stephen Soderbergh’s new film, The Girlfriend Experience, over at Reverse Shot, by Michael Joshua Rowin. The film, about an expensive call girl who, when with her clients, acts like a girlfriend (spends the night, does other, non-sex things if desired – like a girlfriend, kisses on the lips, etc) in NYC, stars real life porn star Sasha Grey. (Glenn Kenny, the film critic/blogger behind Some Came Running has what is, by all accounts, a scene stealing part as a particularly sleazy wannabe client).
With the twin caveats of I still haven’t seen the film AND that I tend to like all of Soderbergh’s output more or less (I have great admiration for artists of any medium who can veer back and forth between commercial/mainstream ventures and more avant garde, difficult, underground adventurous ones) the line that got me in Mr. Rowin’s review was this one:
Due to Soderbergh’s status as a filmmaker who seems more concerned with showing off his director-of-photography skills via technological gimmickry or pure stylization than developing consistent themes, it’s difficult to gauge which representation he believes to be true.
What I gather from this aside is that Rowin – who both seems to know what he’s talking about film wise (more so than I) and endorses the film – believes that a filmmaker’s work should show some sort of consistent thematical arc.
And this sort of view seems as restrictive to me as, say, always having happy endings or including some sort of life lesson in one’s film. Or always having likeable characters. Or even a coherent plot.
There’s nothing wrong with having certain criteria for what makes a watchable film for you, but I do sometimes marvel at the sort of criteria people have. Or event the criteria I used to have that has since withered away in the previous 15 or so years. When I first saw Citizen Kane after my freshman year in college I thought, “that’s it? why is that so revered?” Now, having reduced my criteria of items needed to enjoy a movie, and probably from having experienced and learned appreciation of many other things, not only do I appreciate the film, but I genuinely enjoy it.
So it makes me wonder, what sorts of things are dealbreakers for you in films? A series of pretty images is just not enough? Or is it? Do you need to relate to, or at least like the characters? Does the plot need to make sense? (It doesn’t really make sense in The Big Sleep, but that is one of the best regarded – and my favorite – of the Bogart/Bacall films).
Just random musings on a tuesday afternoon in June.