Sunday, February 21, 2016

857. A Further Reply to Armchair Squid

In which I present a rambling reply that was too long for the comments section and is probably of questionable merit, but here it is all the same...

Winter Soldier is about as good as any Marvel movie has gotten, but I've never for a minute believed Marvel was producing the best movies (let alone comics) despite how popular they are.  There's a huge gap between what's popular and what's good these days.  They're not always contradictory, and not always contradictory, and not always contradictory (all emphasis variations equally valid), and viewers realize this while not necessarily comprehending it (witness the rise of extreme hate for extremely popular movies even when they absolutely don't earn the hate).

We've grown increasingly unsophisticated as a culture.  I'm not talking sophistication such as classical music (which remains just as good as it ever was), or snappy banter (which is what a lot of Old Hollywood was about, like Philadelphia Story, which I would argue is far more an argument for how women rose in societal prominence in general post-WWII, when they began to shoulder far more of the culture than ever before; in a lot of ways we've been experiencing backlash from Hepburn's day, which is what happens every time society makes a huge push to help a given sector out). 

What most people deem the dumbing down of succeeding generations because of various pieces of technology is actually a reflection of disparate elements shrinking away from each other again and not having the slighted clue how to come back together.  We live in a nation with more land than it knows what to do with.  We're spread out, and we like it that way.  We like our isolation, even when something new comes along to make the world smaller (the phone, the car, the Internet).  And we're in the midst of a huge pushback.  We don't want to know what the other guy thinks.  And it retards everything. 

I keep coming back to this: We're aware that everyone thinks differently, but it's one thing to know it and another to understand it.  (We live in a culture that idolizes memorization without comprehension, and possibly it's always been that way.)  Obviously you like movies for different reasons than I do.  I keep going back to examples like Shakespeare and Melville because these are things generally recognized as genius now that were apparently incredibly easy to dismiss as so much fluff in their own day.  We still admire Marlowe and Twain, but for much the same reason we always did.  We see depth in Twain because Huck Finn gave Jim a chance, but in the end, Huck Finn is a boy whose grasp of the greater world is immature, not wise, and his journey with Jim one of rebellion, not conviction.  Ahab grapples with the fundamental questions of nature. 

We retreat to older things, because there was a time when we weren't so afraid to recognize good things for what they are (alongside the above examples, you understand).  We don't see that happening anymore.  Popular things are assumed to be rubbish.  And never given near the consideration as older things.  The same with new things in general.  Critics invariably like isolated things better.  Not necessarily the good isolated things, just the ones that are similar enough to the stuff they love, the stuff that doesn't challenge them, makes some general point but otherwise saying nothing new.  Because we hate challenges.  It's so much easier when there's a reasonable consensus about what we're supposed to like.  We're exactly like all the people who hated Elvis, who hated the Beatles.  And the people who liked Elvis, who would have had their say, don't say it, aren't allowed to be considered authorities.

So we become more and more unsophisticated, not because the culture lacks sophisticated things, but because we pretend it doesn't.  And then totally misinterpret what is sophisticated.  One final example.  To me, Pixar was both the birth and death of sophisticated animated movies.  It got so far ahead of itself that in its artistic pinnacle, WALL-E, it went for the most obvious, least sophisticated answers about life, the exact opposite of what it achieved with Ratatouille, what I consider to be the studio's best, in the ways it both supported and subverted animated movie norms.  Yet no one argues that Ratatouille is Pixar's best.  Which is completely incomprehensible to me.  Pixar has done a lot of variations on the mold at this point, something for everyone, and yet its best work is also likely to become, inexplicably, forgotten.  (At least for now.)

Technique is a funny thing.  It's very much a thing suited to the era where it originates.  Sometimes there's something so far ahead of its time, it takes a long time, predictably, for everyone else to catch up.  Star Wars is just the most obvious modern example of that.  Took decades for Hollywood to figure out how George Lucas did it.  We're living in that era now.  I agree that technique only exists to serve the storytelling.  That's why I look for the best stories, the best storytelling, and yes, the best technique.  Everyone likes to be entertained.  But the best work, to my mind, should be the hardest to enjoy.  But not this much.  At this point, Beethoven would be exactly what he probably was to countless readers of Peanuts, an insider reference to something otherwise never personally enjoyed.

...And I'll stop yammering now.  Because most of the time we talk in order to understand ourselves, most of all.  If it happens to help anyone else, so much the better...

7 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

I have no idea what you guys are talking about.

Spacerguy said...

Look at Joss Whedons early work, Firefly got axed but Avengers Age of Ulton was a hit. Abrams directed exciting Star Trek movies but it was only until recently that he delivered the readies with Star Wars the Force Awakens. James Cameron seems to be the exception with an Avatar 2, 3 & 4 in the works, now that should be interesting.

Tony Laplume said...

It always surprised me that Serenity wasn't a bigger hit. But it was also ahead of the curve.

The Armchair Squid said...

Time is the ultimate critic. Granted, not every work of quality finds enough of an initial audience to have a chance at lasting but time has a way of weeding out the fluff.

Sticking with film for the moment - though I think it could apply to other art forms, too - one can find high-quality work that isn't so popular and may never be. But you have to be willing to invest the time to search for it. You have to hit the indie theaters, the festivals, etc. If you limit yourself to the 12-screen multiplex, everything will average to adequate. It's rare to see anything that will genuinely knock your intellectual socks off, let alone anything that will continue to do so 20 years from now. Maybe one movie in ten will be worth even watching again.

But time weeds out the fluff.

Tony Laplume said...

When I was at my movie-going peak a few years back, I was able to catch a lot of movies I would never have heard of (The Fall, Source Code) otherwise. These days I've had to limit what I see, and I literally don't know what I'm missing. Some of the stuff people rave about (Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road) I just won't know what it's actually like until maybe years down the road, so I have to rely on the chatter to see what susses out. That's kind of why I rely on the filmmakers that have impressed me in the past (which is why I earmarked The Revenant early, and clearly it's one of those movies that has connected with wide audiences, too), and wait to see who emerges. What I've got to be careful of is not limiting myself to the familiar, which is always the great danger, because the unfamiliar, to a lot of people, necessarily must become the enemy, and therefor what limits us.

The Armchair Squid said...

Understood. I am hopeful that the age of streaming will bring a lot more edgy material to a wider audience without overextending the schedule or the budget.

Tony Laplume said...

So far no creative force has embraced streaming channels. I guess we'll know when that happens.

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