Why This Site Exists, or: The Death of the Movie Middle Class
I know, I know. That (points upward) is a seemingly pretentious title, especially for an—essentially—gussied-up blog and portfolio of my work. It has this air, at least to me and my ever-self-critical ear, of placing importance on myself and my work rather than any goal I might have. That is my last intention. And as silly as these sorts of mission statements may seem, this stuff is important. So bear with me.
(I'm also kicking myself a little right now for falling into the same trap of Renaissance-era author's prefaces that Cervantes so rightly made fun of in the preface to Don Quixote, the "oh I'm so humble/my work is so meager" schtick.)
As a culture, our discussion around films is polarized like never before. I'm not talking about in critics' or art culture circles, but the discussion in general. For everyone. You know, people who don't know who Pauline Kael is or give a shit about Chekov's gun. Because yes, it is good to know and care about these things—but not everyone does. And the critical discourse about movies needs to stop simultaneously pandering to and condescending the average moviegoer. In the mainstream, there appear to be only two ways of talking about movies. They are either spoken of mindlessly, with such gems as (and you've all heard these before,) "it's just a popcorn movie, what did you expect," "it was okay I guess," "the CG was amazing," or by people who appear to be so somber and dedicated to talking about films as an art that they forget films are meant to enrich our lives and be taken in, not only appraised.
Joe Moviegoer is a slob who Just Doesn't Get It. Jim Film Critic is a pretentious snob who Can't Have Fun.
Now neither of those grossly generalizing statements are true. But that is what the majority of people that I have encountered think, on both sides. We live in a seeming golden age of film criticism, where we have more voices than ever speaking, but the flood of opinions from ignorant Youtubers and professionals alike has made each individual opinion feel less important. Paid film critics (and journalists in general) are facing an existential crisis right now. What makes them so special? Honestly, we can't say, other than a vague "quality of thought." Unfortunately, some film buffs have therefore chosen to resort to a clubhouse mentality to keep the fresh onslaught of movie plebs out (at least in my opinion). These individuals use the established Film Canon of Universally Accepted Classics as a bludgeon or binary criteria rather than as a guide or the starting point of a conversation. Don't like 2001? Well you just don't get it and probably aren't really an appreciator of film, regardless of the nuance or incisiveness of your reasons. In response, there's the disturbing anti-intellectual strain on the other extreme of the spectrum, where the average moviegoer likes whatever movie they see as long as it is bland or inoffensive enough and then calls you a contrarian or snob when you disagree. Don't worry, though, there's a third group boldly rebelling against all of the above by swarming to the internet to offer the thought-provoking and critical opinion that every Transformers is "just a popcorn flick" and every successful movie of some craft (ala an Inception or La La Land) is "overrated." Do I sound bitter? Good. While I'm sure most who say things like this mean well, these dime a dozen sentiments, if they are stated without real personal thought or investment, only hurt the discussion around movies.
What I'm getting at is a real loss in movie culture in recent years—the loss of a "movie middle class." Those who aren't professional critics who've seen every film, including foreign and arthouse, from now to D.W. Griffith, but also don't take every movie at face value alone. People who truly love movies and think about them for fun without being paid for it. It's rarer, right? I'm not crazy for thinking that? In case it's not obvious yet, I consider myself a staunch member of the middle class. And here, in the middle, while people yammer away more than ever on the internet, I hear less and less conversation in person. Or if there is conversation, it is a regurgitation of something someone read from the chatterboxes online. And why should this be surprising? If someone believed any of those extremes that I listed in that mess of a paragraph above, they'd never want to talk about movies ever! Hell, before my girlfriend knew me, they just assumed I was of the elitist strain of film people just from how much I talked about movies, and didn't talk to me about them. They were worried I'd be narrow-minded, judgmental. Now imagine that one instance on a larger scale—it's not a stretch to assume that many others feel afraid to share their opinions on movies, especially if they deviate from the norm. That is the situation we are in.
Some pessimists would argue that people have simply become less critical or independent in their thoughts. I don't believe this to be the case at all. We only appear to all have the same opinion because those are the majority of stances being spoken. Even worse than just a majority, I believe most interesting film opinions have never even been uttered aloud. Those who hold them are too afraid to.
Still with me? I hope so. Regardless of whether you agree with this assessment or not, I hope you can at least understand my stance and where it comes from.
It is time for us, as a culture, to move closer to a healthy middle ground once more. Mainstream movies and tentpole films should be given the same critical eye and care that is usually lavished on the latest indie darling, for these big movies are what, for better or worse, steer the greater culture. For some people, blockbusters and silly comedies are their only exposure to the magic of filmmaking. So rather than abandon these at the roadside as "low brow" or unworthy of greater critical attention, and then bitching that "movies have gone downhill," let's start taking responsibility for the culture we live in and actually examine them. Then, we know when to demand more, or, more importantly, when to notice and encourage quality mainstream filmmaking. Also, from a pragmatic perspective, a wider audience is more likely to appreciate thoughts on movies they've actually seen.
Readers should be challenged and their thoughts widened, yes, but they should never be condescended to. Any good discussion, not just in art, but in general, is about collaboration and openness, a genuine desire to communicate. And that's what I'm hoping to help foster here. There are already great film people who talk smartly yet generously about movies—Film Crit Hulk and RedLetterMedia immediately come to mind—but I care enough about this that I'm willing to throw myself and my opinion out there as well. If I encourage even one person to talk or think more about movies, this site is a runaway success in my eyes.
So that's why this site exists. Not because my opinion is oh so special, but because of the exact opposite. By putting out my own weird, contradictory opinions on movies, I hope others are encouraged to do the same, to speak up.
We don't read thoughts on movies just to hear our thoughts validated (at least, God I Hope Not) or to have someone to tell us what to think. We read to see how someone's mind moves, and everything in this blog is how mine does. Hopefully, you enjoy it. And remember, when you disagree with me (and that is near guaranteed given enough time,) drop a line in the comments.