Manohla and AO Scottdefend boring movies.
Hat tip, Hatley.
Scott's best point:
Some of this anti-art bias reflects the glorious fact that film has always been a popular art form, a great democratic amusement accessible to everyone and proud of its lack of aristocratic pedigree. But lately, I think, protests against the deep-dish and the highbrow — to use old-fashioned populist epithets of a kind you used to hear a lot in movies themselves — mask another agenda, which is a defense of the corporate status quo. For some reason it needs to be asserted, over and over again, that the primary purpose of movies is to provide entertainment, that the reason everyone goes to the movies is to have fun. Any suggestion to the contrary, and any film that dares, however modestly, to depart from the orthodoxies of escapist ideology, is met with dismissal and ridicule.
However, here he goes wrong:
Why is it, though, that “serious” is a bad word in cultural conversations, or at least in discussions of film? Why is thinking about a movie an activity to be avoided, and a movie that seems to require thinking a source of suspicion? It seems unlikely, to say the least, that films like “Uncle Boonmee,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “The Tree of Life” or Jean-Luc Godard’s recently and belatedly opened “Film Socialisme” will threaten the hegemony of the blockbusters, so why is so much energy expended in defending the prerogatives of entertainment from the supposed threat of seriousness?
I think Manohla and Scott are making a classic deductive mistake.
1. Film can be serious, not just entertainment.
2. Hollywood strives to make entertainment, not serious films
3. Therefore, films shunned by Hollywood should be taken seriously.*
*Of course there is a caveat to this, in that only serious filmmakers should be taken seriously. It merits asking, then, who defines serious filmmakers. It is critics. And so it becomes basically a parlor game of critics past and present to determine who are serious and they view their enemy as Hollywood Film Executives who are also in their own game of trying to determine who is a brandable filmmaker.
I would argue each system has a different set of values and different metrics of success, but neither can claim superiority. It is either the critics determining worthiness or the film executives - and both take it upon themselves to speak for the "audience."
The article made me read Richard Schickel, who I think gets Tree of Life correct -- or at least a lot more correct than most critics who seems to bend over backwards to find something they like about the movie just because Malik made it.
Aside from his first movie, the bleak and darkly witty “Badlands” (about a serial killer on the run with his dopily romantic girlfriend), that has not been the case. All of his subsequent efforts have been pretty, narratively empty and emotionally unengaging. You can admire his effort to find new methods of screen story telling, but it has proved impossible to involve yourself with his films at any level.
Yet, critically, no one wants to give up on Malick. He does make beautiful images—though I think they are more self-conscious intensifications of conventional screen imagery than they are highly original—and he plays the role of the dedicated artist convincingly (it is said that he spent four years editing “The Tree of Life”). This makes it extremely difficult for critics to believe that a man so devoted to his creations, so uninterested in grosses or the trappings of fame, could actually be quite an inept filmmaker.
Ouch. But I'm afraid he might be right.