Symposium: …and CUT.

First off, I am offended at your two’s vocabulary. If you were an experienced film writer such as myself, you’d know never to use the word “movie.”

I don’t mean to caricature John’s argument, but I’m sure it’s what he’ll claim afterward. It seems to me that John is arguing that a film’s quality is entirely dependent on the response it evokes not in its collective audience, but in the individual member of that audience. Hence, “Calling a movie ‘great’…is ALWAYS a subjective judgment. If you enjoy a movie, then you think it’s a good movie.”

John’s myopic take on film quality, in which each individual acts as the arbiter of overall quality, essentially makes any and all comments about film both conceivable and credible.

According to John’s logic, if you enjoy the process of watching a film more, that film is better. It is easier to take this highly subjective approach when your favorites tend to line up with what are objectively considered the greatest films of recent history—read, The Godfather and Pulp Fiction. (These are two of John’s favorite films.)

Let’s take the former. Why is The Godfather a great film? I earnestly don’t get it. I mean, it’s mildly entertaining and suspenseful at times; but why is this widely considered the best American film of the last half-century? There has to be something that both infuses it with a mass appeal that resists being plebeian or commonplace. As we all know from the case of Juno, there are few things more detrimental to a film’s popular opinion than its being recognized as popular. Why did this never happen to The Godfather?

This brings back in my question to Josh about Up? What is it about that film, in particular, that resonates with audiences and critics alike? Why do so many people like this movie? And isn’t there something admirable in that?

Now I’m led to my next question for John: In order to consider something “great,” doesn’t it have to have some kind of reach? Isn’t The Godfather made greater by the fact that it’s become part of the American cultural fabric, that you can see vestiges of it in other films, that it resonates with multiple generations of viewers?

In the Zen phrasing, can a film be “great” if nobody sees it? (“Nobody” here means very few people, not literally, “zero individuals.”)

Let’s return to what I quoted from John above. To me, there’s a difference between “entertaining” and “good.” Gladiators fighting at the Colosseum were “entertaining;” I’d argue such a spectacle was not “good.” “Good” implies a sense of value beyond mere entertainment; it comprises things such as enlightenment, thought-provocation, and inspiration.

John and Josh would likely disagree with my claim that there is a difference between something that is entertaining and something that is enlightening or thought-provoking. They might argue that the provocation of thought itself qualifies as entertainment. That, however, would be misinterpreting the word, which means “to divert or amuse.”

When I say that Mindhunters was entertaining, I mean that it was an amusing experience for roughly 90 minutes. In fact, I probably enjoyed those 90 minutes more than I enjoyed the three weeks it took me to read The Brothers Karamazov—my favorite novel. In fact, there are several novels I enjoyed reading more than The Brothers Karamazov. This, by no means, makes those better. The Brothers Karamazov stands apart because of its wide-ranging and deeply intellectual treatment of things like religion, family, and the quest for meaning. It stands apart even from other “good” novels because I still think about it on a fairly regular basis some six years after reading it.

As for John’s hypothetical, clearly he hasn’t read the book. The “light-hearted sex romp” part occurs near the end, between “The Grand Inquisitor” and “Ivan’s Dream of the Devil.”

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on June 20, 2009 at 1:37 AM

    Some final thoughts on the issue…. Yes you do misrepresent my argument. First of all, you equate a film with “the process of watching a film,” which is pretty misleading. If the two things were the same, my favorite movie would likely be “Remember the Titans,” since I’ve experienced “the process of watching” it about 180 times. But everyone knows the amount you watch a film does not translate into how much you like it…. Certain films simply require more effort and work to be engaged with. Watching a good movie like the Godfather can be draining.

    You would respond to this by selectively defining “entertain” as “to divert or amuse” when it actually just means to hold one’s attention. Entertainment does entail “enlightenment, thought-provocation, and inspiration,” at least for most people. (Your gladiator example is incredibly disingenuous, you obviously realize that we’re discussing an aesthetic good, which is different from a moral good.)

    Finally, you compare Mindhunters to The Brothers Karamazov. If Mindhunters is “amusing” for “roughly 90 minutes” and you still think about The BK “on a fairly regular basis some six years after reading it” then I think you are as much as admitting that the novel has entertained you more than the film. It was much more demanding and rigorous, but nevertheless more rewarding.

    The reason why I object so vehemently to the term “entertainingly bad” is because I think it allows people to maintain some distance from their opinions… it’s like saying “I understand that most people don’t like this thing, but I kind of did, so I’ll praise it in a way acknowledges how bad it is.” It’s like saying you like something ironically. Commenter Alex said on Josh’s first post that we probably just mean different things by the term “good” in this instance. That is likely correct, but “good or bad” should not be some final judgment on a work, it should be the beginning of a discussion.


  2. […] Somewhere in there we actually had substantive arguments about political and legal theory, the value of film criticism, and candy. We’ve chatted about college basketball, the World Series, and the BCS (oh so much […]


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