Talking Movies

March 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

I didn’t realise it was social distancing at the time in 2017, I thought I was just going to deeply unpopular films

“Siri, what is a ‘cinema’?”

The cinemas have closed all over Ireland, all over America, and some may never re-open. As it looks like this global pandemic is going to last long enough for a latter-day Daniel Defoe to write a modern Journal of the Plague Year you have to wonder if cinema as we understand it will come back from this enforced hiatus. As the streaming wars ramp up just as everyone is suddenly stuck at home and at a loose end, will the idea of spending multiples of your monthly streaming fee to take a one-off punt on a film in a cinema full of obnoxious strangers coughing germs at you, flashing their phones, and shouting their conversations in your face become absurd? Will wasting time going somewhere else to buy over-priced snacks to watch something you can’t pause or rewind, when you could just stay where you are and stream instantly in your sedate cosy living room with your own snacks whenever you wish to pause or rewind, become as antique as the notion of carefully composing your message into as few words as possible in order to afford the telegram you are about to dictate? Stop.

Aloha and the xkcd challenge

I recently rewatched Aloha on RTE 1, and the knowledge that it had been beaten senseless by the critics made me suddenly think about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but what about proving your independent streak by liking films universally reviled? Randall Munroe gave under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, [the other two parts of the trifecta being that they came out in your adult life post-2000 and are not enjoyed ironically] and gosh darn if poor old muso turned writer/director Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and Elizabethtown aren’t both under 50%, standing at a measly 20% and 29% respectively. And you know what, their critical pasting is undeserved. They’re not great movies, but they’re not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch either again. Elizabethtown has a number of ideas and scenes in it that I still treasure years after my single viewing of it on DVD, such as the distinction between a failure and a fiasco and the imperative to finish the rock-out of ‘Freebird’ over-riding all concern of personal safety, while Aloha has a vein of melancholy running thru it in the acceptance but continuing regret over squandered opportunities in life choices that is quite rare in Hollywood movies while the two silent conversations between Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski are a thing of joy.

April 30, 2018

Why Fund the Arts?

A little over two years ago a post here bemoaned the impact of austerity on the arts. Now I’d like to re-examine the topic with a considerably more critical eye.

The clash between Minister Hacker and Sir Humphrey still carries much weight. Art subsidies can easily be presented as a middle-class rip-off.  Take the funding of cinema, distribution rather than production that is. Cinema is not in any trouble. Well, historically it is, but let’s not open that can of worms here. Cinema is not in any trouble. (Hear, hear) There are cinemas everywhere, and people go to them ever Saturday night.  Advertisements for cinema roar at you from buses and phones, radios and televisions, billboards and newspapers. You would have to be in a coma not to have some subliminal awareness of what blockbuster is playing right now. Cinema is not in peril. What is in peril are unpopular films. Now, I like unpopular films. I routinely end up in screen 3 of the IFI, watching the films that are the most unpopular in the home of unpopular films. When the IFI writes to the Government they are obliged to camouflage their simple request for subsidies that they may show films nobody wants to see. That is brutal, but it’s the truth. I personally benefit enormously from this; I saw Alex Ross Perry’s masterful Queen of Earth during its six day run in the IFI. I am an appreciable percentage of its entire Irish audience. But should everybody else have to pay so that I can indulge my obscure tastes? Is that right and proper that Sean Citizen stump up so that I can watch a film flickering on the big screen as intended by ARP rather than get with the programme and just watch it on Amazon video?

A key argument against cutting arts funding in the last decade’s ceaseless austerity was that art develops empathy, and is therefore very useful for society. But the current obsession here, in England, and in America with *representation* completely vitiates that contention. I have identified completely with Seth Cohen, Rory Gilmore, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Esther Greenwood, and multiple characters in Brideshead Revisited and Michael Chabon novels. But the American Jewish experience is alien to me, as is the small town New England female adolescence. I know nothing of vampiric existential angst, or of 1950s female depression. I am neither a gay English aristocrat, nor a depressed creative writing student. I can look at all these characters that not like me, in nationality or gender or class or era or humanity or life experience, and empathise… But *representation* can be summed up by Mark Waid celebrating the much loathed character of Rose Tico purely because young Asian-American girls can look at an Asian-American woman onscreen and empathise – with themselves. That is not empathy. There is a GK Chesterton quote that hits this at an angle: “They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves”. Representation is the opposite of empathy because it demands that art be a mirror held up to the person consuming the art. No work of empathy is to be done in imagining themselves in someone else’s life, and looking in this solipsistic mirror they expect that art will be representing them with positive feedback only, please; this is a safe space, you know.

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