Sometimes I feel like I’m a philistine who watches too many big, corporate mandated blockbusters at the expense of more interesting artistic films. Other times I feel like the exact opposite; a snob who thinks that anything with a budget over a hundred million is nothing more than a focus group mandated cash grab, designed to please everyone and challenge no-one.
Clearly the two self-perceptions don’t comfortably co-exist, yet co-exist they do.
My Dad, who can often get a bit pigheaded if challenged on just about anything, really pissed me off a couple of years ago when I told him I’d enjoyed Birdman and he responded with a withering dismissal about how my artsy film school sensibilities meant that I couldn’t see the obvious shortcomings of a film he deemed pretentious. Only a few months later, when I told him I enjoyed Terminator Genysys as a dumb popcorn diversion, he told me with equal scorn that I should know better because of, well, my artsy film school sensibilities. This whole idea that my education can be used to denigrate my opinion either way irritates me to no end. It’s like when people try to tell me I’m too critical to enjoy movies, or that I’m deliberately contrary. None of that is true, I want to scream while shaking them. I just enjoy what I enjoy. The only difference my education in writing for screen has given me is the ability to recognise and articulate why something works or doesn’t.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I can get a bit self-conscious about the broad palate of my cinema tastes. When I’m around friends who are in the arts, I don’t like admitting that I’m excited for the new Avengers or that I really loved The Last Jedi. Likewise, if I’m with the friends I grew up with back in the country, I have a terror of being judged if I try to talk about the new Richard Linklater film or that really cool play I saw a few weeks ago. On one extreme I feel tasteless, on the other, pretentious. I try to play up or play down my enjoyment either way, depending on the company. And that is stupid and annoying. I shouldn’t have to do that. But it comes from a valid place because people are judgemental and I don’t like having eyes rolled at me or assumptions clearly made about the kind of person I am when I admit to liking something outside the collective taste of the group I’m in.
The truth is that it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. In the last few weeks, I saw on their first day of release Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Solo. I’ve also been to see Chappaquiddick, Tully, Cargo, Last Flag Flying, The Party and a whole bunch of other arthouse films that I catch at Lido’s cheap Tuesday every week. And I get different things from different films. Movies like Last Flag Flying really stuck with me, gave me things to think about and effusive recommendations to make to friends. Deadpool swept me up in action, adventure and laughs. Solo didn’t work on any of the above levels, but that’s another story.
I’ve been framing it to friends as though I catch the blockbusters for fun confections, and the indies for real, nutritious meals, but in truth it’s not that straightforward. There are great blockbusters (my all-time favourite film, Jaws, started the trend) just like there are utterly garbage indies (The Party, which I saw a few weeks back, was one of the most appalling films I’ve ever managed to sit through). Are big Hollywood blockbusters more generic overall than they used to be? Sure, but every now and then you get an exception, like The Last Jedi.
Let’s be clear; Last Jedi wasn’t impeccable cinematic craft in the same way as, say, A Quiet Place. In the grand scheme of things its themes weren’t especially challenging and its much-touted subversions were only subversive because we expected it to follow certain beats. Taken in isolation, the film isn’t as revolutionary as some people say it is. But it did more than it needed to, all within the framework of one of the biggest film franchises in history. The Last Jedi had to serve a lot more masters than Tully, and the fact that it took the risks it did comes close to miraculous. Seen in that context, it’s hard not to get excited about the perceived rule breaking of what, in essence, is a pretty straightforward Hollywood special effects extravaganza. And yet in certain circles, I still feel like an idiot for getting excited about The Last Jedi.
In the end, anybody who looks down on you for being passionate about something that is ultimately harmless is the one with the problem, not you. I genuinely believe that judging films on the merits of what they’re trying to be rather than what they aren’t is the only healthy way to consume movies. A film, ultimately, either makes a mark on you or it doesn’t. They are engines designed to make us feel something, and the only barometer of their individual effectiveness is in how successfully they achieve that goal. The budget, degree of studio interference and cultural significance is all secondary. You won’t remember any of that when you think about a film in five years’ times. If a movie can stick with you, then not much else matters.
I don’t think that tailoring your expressed excitement is really a bad thing. There’s no point in singing the praises of The Last Jedi to an audience of people who will never watch it. But that doesn’t mean pretending to have liked something less than you did. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Enjoy what you enjoy. Nobody can take that experience away from you.
Writing words about writing words.