After a great week of submissions we’ve slowed to a stop. I haven’t received anything new for some time. Oh sure, I’ve gotten the emails saying "Sorry for the delay, I’m still working on it. Have it to you soon." That’s all good, I’ve got about 10 columns left to run before the barrel runs dry. But I sure want to keep this column rolling, don’t you? I’m taking a personal challenge in the month of November (enrolled in NaNoWriMo.com and attempting to write 50,000 words before the end of the month), wouldn’t you enjoy interrupting my writing goals? I’ll stay on top of this column first. That’s my promise to you.
Cinephiles vs. the Average Movie-Goer
By Chris Olson
Allow me to set the scene: last week, I was sitting in my Intro to Mass Communication class, and I was very excited because we were starting the section on film (my favorite pastime). The first thing the professor did was pass out a little survey asking us what the best/worst films we’ve seen recently were, as well as our favorite/least favorite films of all time. Needless to say, I was quite eager to get on with the lesson, and filled out my survey with enthusiasm. You see, I am a cinephile or, more simply, a film snob if you prefer. Hell, feel free to just call me a movie geek already and get it over with.
Just to provide you with a bit of a framework for where I am coming from in regards to my taste in film, on my survey I wrote that the best movie I had seen recently was Hero (I enjoyed Sky Captain, which I saw more recently than Hero, but the Jet Li vehicle is most definitely the better film), with Aliens vs. Predator being the worst. I had a difficult time with my favorite movie of all time as there are just too many that I adore and I can’t pick just one, but I had absolutely no difficulty naming Armageddon as being simply the absolute worst film of all time. That’s not to say that all I enjoy are art films… I laughed hard throughout Dodgeball and think that UHF is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. I enjoy films like that for what they are, but it is only the great films that I truly love.
Well anyway, after a few minutes the professor went around the room and asked us to name some of our choices. As I expected, my tastes ran very differently from the majority of the other students, with many of them naming some of my favorite films (among them Solaris, 28 Days Later, Bubba Ho-Tep, and even the original Star Wars trilogy!) as the worst films they had ever seen. I must admit that even though I was expecting it, I was still somewhat flabbergasted by this turn of events.
Now, I’m not trying to point to this incident as being some sort of sudden, eye-opening revelation. I came out of the geek closet years ago, and therefore I’ve long been aware that my tastes are not shared by the majority. Hell, I had an acquaintance who once confided in me that he couldn’t understand why a “crappy” movie like Citizen Kane is considered to be the greatest film of all time! What really struck me, however, was that, despite the fact that we share a common pastime – in this case, movies – and that there are many films that are well-loved by both camps, there is still a vast ocean of difference that separates the average film geek from the average movie-goer. This is something that has been becoming more and more apparent to me as my tastes have matured over the years.
For instance, earlier this year I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I found myself utterly enraptured by it. As I watched it unfold before me, I knew I was seeing something special, something that transcended all of the conventions that have bound the
A similar thing occurred when I saw Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris. Now, I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Gondry’s masterpiece, and it is nowhere near as thought-provoking as Tarkovsky’s version, but Soderbergh’s version of Solaris is still a very, very good film. As I sat entranced, people once again began to leave the theater before the film had even reached the halfway point. Not to mention that the older couple – obviously fans of Clooney’s lighter romantic work who had no idea what the hell they were getting themselves into – sitting behind me kept complaining about how stupid they thought the movie was, with the woman proclaiming loudly and often that next time she would be the one pick which movie they would be going to see.
I could go on and on. I could talk about the angry customer who stormed into the video store where I used to work and literally threw a copy of Pulp Fiction, a film I recommended to him the night before, at me simply because he didn’t like movies where guys fucked each other in the ass. Never mind that it’s one of the top 10 films of all time, if it’s got butt-sex then he don’t like it! Or there was the time that I was watching Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, one of the greatest films of all time made by one of the greatest directors of all time, and my own mother laughed and told me to remind her never to buy that stupid movie. It was also my mother who complained that Unbreakable was too slow and boring, and that neither Best in Show nor Waiting for Guffman were in the least bit funny (her basis of comparison being Weekend at Bernie’s II). And of course, there’s my friend who absolutely hates Fight Club but will sing the praises of Adam Sandler films to anyone who will listen. Hell, just visit the average talkback over at AICN and you can see this sort of division played out almost daily.
But then, on the flip side of the coin, I find it hard to believe that there are people in the world that actually enjoy the Scary Movie franchise. I know they’re out there, though, as I’ve met many of them (I’m even related to some of them). I also find it hard to believe (actually, make that I REFUSE to believe) that there was a weekend in which Bringin’ Down the House, Kangaroo Jack, and National Security were the top three movies in America (not necessarily in that order). Oh, and I don’t care how much justification you offer, I will simply never understand the need for a Criterion Edition of Armageddon (I see that on the shelves at my local Media Play and my brain just shuts down). However, I know there are people out there who enjoy – and in some cases dearly love – all of these movies and will never be able to understand my hatred for them.
Ultimately, what it all comes down to is passion versus enjoyment. The average film geek is very passionate about films, and practically demands that film be challenging and involving. Rather than just sitting there letting the movie wash over us, cinephiles have a desire to become actively engaged with the events that are unfolding before them on the big screen. Film geeks want to search for the hidden subtext that is hiding just beneath the surface, they want to try and spot all the little homages the director has made to those films that inspired him or her, and they want to hear exactly what message the movie is trying to convey.
The average movie-goer simply enjoys movies for what they are, and goes to the theater simply to be entertained. That’s it. There is no desire to look any deeper than what is on the screen in front of them. To the average movie-goer, film is a passive experience, one that is simply there. Perhaps it serves as a distraction from the drudgery of daily life. They pay their $9.00 (or more) and spend two hours with their brains shut off. They don’t need subtext. They don’t want to be challenged. They just want to be entertained, whether it’s through laughs or big explosions or both.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. We geeks have to realize that it is perfectly okay for people to get their jollies that way. Just because a movie is simply one explosion after the other, or if it stars Adam Sandler, that doesn’t automatically mean it sucks (although the vast majority of those films really do…). We just have to realize that it wasn’t made for us. On the other hand, it would be really nice if the average movie-goer would realize that just because a film is slow and contemplative or just plain beyond their understanding that it doesn’t automatically suck. I just wish we could all get along. After all, we all love movies…don’t we?
Rickout writes: I just read your STAR TREK VI review on CHUD. It was eerie in that it was like reading my thoughts as told to some of my friends in talking about that film compared to some of the others. I can almost rank this one up with badness of V. (Bad bad not the good bad) It pains me to think the last two films with the original crew had to fall so far short of what they should of been. I sometimes wonder if others have seen the same film I did when they rank it above the better ones. I also always thought the traitor should of been Saavik in that she had become part of the crew to a degree and was part Romulan (they kind of hate the Klingons). Oh well hindsight is a bitch and I guess in our minds you can recreate a stronger story…
Matt responds: It is eerie, isn’t it? You don’t expect me to have my own opinions, do you? Pay no attention to that neuron-shunt at the base of your skull. Thanks for reading. How about writing?