Saturday, July 11, 2009

How many people have actually seen Citizen Kane?

It's comforting to know that when I write something there are some people who actually read it! Even better that they want to talk about it. It's the most rewarding thing. I don't really care if it's criticism or general agreement with my thoughts - the interaction is the important thing.

And so that is where this specific post begins. After I posted my State of Union, a friend of mine - who I shall call the V Machine - challenged one of my assertions. The gist of my assertion was that I felt marginalized at NYU because of my love for the big movies, the ones the public see, the ones they want to see. V Machine felt the opposite. What little movies we did watch were the canonical texts with no attempt made to broaden the filmic scope.

I am not sure we actually came to common ground because neither of us really wanted to budge from our intellectual bunkers. For a minute, we got stuck on what might almost qualify as a cliche in the halls of academia - "gaps of knowledge." When did we finally get to see the Excorcist? How long before we could actually sit through the Godfather without getting bored? Perhaps it might be helpful is to talk of "gaps of WANTED knowledge." I am perfectly comfortable in my American movie bunker. Yes, it might be most talked about, but certainly not exhausted. V Machine (I think) wanted more international cinema in her schooling. I guess she is the better person because its not like she has no interest in American, just another interest. Me, I have no interest in the international movie scene.

For the most part, I stand by my assertion but I will make one addendum - a qualifier for my knowledge. I am interested in what people in my general social circle (United States) are watching NOW. My one qualifier is the CONTEMPORARY component. Some may see my position as a limiting one and perhaps even an ignorant one, but my two reasons are simple.

The first and most important, I want to talk with people about movies. And I don't mean the cinephile. I want a simple but engaging conversation about a movie. The easiest way to do that is with my family and friends and the movies they see. I want to see the film playing on 6 screens at the local multiplex. It's easier to talk about TRANSFORMERS 2 than say, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN.

Secondly, to borrow from Bordwell and Thompson title, film is art - ALL OF IT. I care about narrative heterogeneity, cinematography, editing, color, and voice-over. When I say, ALL OF IT, I mean the films. Even the worst films have redeeming moments or something you can learn. I believe this is why I am a forgiving critic - that and I am generally a positive person.

Perhaps if I say it this way: All of the movies I wrote about for final papers were big Hollywood releases within the last 15 years (BRAVEHEART, SYRIANA/BABEL, TOY STORY, SIN CITY, MINORITY REPORT, 300, and THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING). For some reason I feel this to be against the norm. Does this help with my sentiments?

I want to know what is driving the culture. If The Da Vinci Code becomes a worldwide phenomenon, I want to read it because of that reason. Yes, I've read Twilight and plan to read the second one. It's water cooler conversation but I love it! This is not an indictment of my fellow MAs at NYU. We had and still have water cooler conversation. However, it seemed that when it came time to write a paper, the expectation was to jump into the deep end of the cinema pool, because that is where the robust material resides.

Perhaps it boils down to my never-ending quest against the disparaging of something simply because it's popular. "I used to like them, but ever since they started playing them on the radio, I don't like them anymore" makes no sense to me. Either you like or you don't.

The last thing I want to say is very important. My post sounds like I didn't enjoy my time at NYU. Far from the truth, I enjoyed it. It is a place where no idea is too stupid. Nothing is unquestionable. Debate is encouraged. Some cynics may disagree with me, but that's okay. I am a positive person.

1 comment:

aka Victoria Lucas said...

v machine sounds like a jamba-juice/smoothie thing that's incredibly healthy but not very tasty. which, of course, is awesome...

anyhooooooo, i would agree that it's unfortunate that most people in academia do feel the need to dig deep–sometimes unnecessarily so–in order to impress the powers that be/be a "good" academic.

i agree that there's plenty of stuff to be said about the workings of blockbusters. i mean, every frame of a robert zemeckis film is just as engineered as one of sergei eisenstein's. but probably because these films are written about so much in the popular press by people who either have unrealistic expectations or are so blinded by their unrelenting love of technology, nostalgia, explosions and boobies (harry knowles, i'm looking at you) that they remain too surface level. eroding that (in)tolerance is just the job for a drive-thru academic.