Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Everybody Doesn't Love Movies (and that's totally okay)

In these great United States (and no doubt other parts of the world as well), there is a myth that permeates nearly every aspect of the societal strata. It's really more of a carefully designed con, actually, centrally based in getting as much money from consumers as possible. This fateful lie has been perpetrated for decades (now almost a century), and it has become so ingrained into our culture that even a mere reference to the contrary can be met with offended glances. What's this great lie, you ask?

"Hey! Everybody loves movies!"

This thought, this vapid idea has caused more cinematic grief than I can possibly elaborate on, but I'm going to do my best. Even though this is a concept shared throughout the world, the US seems to have it the worst. Often, the domestic box office results each week are terribly disheartening, with decently good films barely making any money here, even when the films cleaning up overseas. It's not necessarily because "those Americans are stupid!" Personally, it's been my experience that most cultures are on unique but more or less equal levels of retardation (sorry you had to find out this way, France). However, our proximity to the very apex of the movie-making machine, Hollywood herself, makes us a perfect target for this beautifully constructed con. Remember those old advertisements movie theaters would play in the 50s? You know the ones: they'd show a typical Eisenhower-era family going to see a movie. There'd be closeups of each demographic in the theater, and you'd get that high-as-a-kite narrator telling you that "Mother" likes to see mushy romances, "Father" wants to see rough-and-tumble action, "Sis" likes musicals, and "Junior" gets a kick out of the endless bloodshed and carnage found in westerns. Following this, the announcer sums up his voyeuristic diatribe by saying something like "See? Everyone loves movies!" It's little propaganda pieces like this that have fostered Hollywood's agenda for the better part of the 20th and 21st centuries. The studios shove the entire populace into subsections like livestock, filing potential viewers by race, gender, and age range. The distributors realize that only a very small portion of this populace are genuine movie-lovers (maybe "Father" wants to go see a romance film because he heard it was, ya know, a good movie), so they do what any business worth its salt would do: give the people what they want.

See, the average Joe doesn't care that much about quality. Going to the movies for a normal person is about meeting expectations. So long as Adam Sandler farts and Michael Bay explodes things for 2 and a half hours, it really doesn't matter if the end result is good or not. It's what the public paid to see. Audiences don't like new things, so originality is out unless the director or franchise is already established in the public consciousness. Audiences don't like sad things either. Real life is sad enough. Who wants to be reminded of how much things can suck when things already suck? So the movie has to have a happy ending, even if the ending is forced and doesn't gel with the rest of the movie. Bad guys are also important, because, unlike real life (where adversaries can come in many varied, unpunchable forms), there needs to be that satisfying bit where the villain gets his. The checklist gets even more demanding when we break off into different demographics and genres. In romantic comedies, the leads have to be attractive people unless they have a physical abnormality that is plot-important; the female lead is usually incredibly bland with the exception of a series of funny "quirks" and a good heart or something. Action movies need that "walking away from the explosion" shot for the trailer, and, if there isn't such a shot, the lead actor better be Jason Statham. The movie will tank at the box office otherwise. I could go on all day, but I'll spare you the annoyance.

Really, a world where everybody loves movies wouldn't look anything like it does today. Paramount wouldn't be green-lighting a fourth Transformers movie because the first one (or at the very least, the second one) would have bombed, and older films would be getting theatrical re-releases on a regular basis (AND NOT IN FREAKING 3D!!!!!). Also, demographics wouldn't really exist in the same way they do today. A movie's success would be at least partially based on how good it was, even if the film isn't an Oscar-bait title. Now I'm not saying that movie-lovers aren't fickle (they can be just as bad as any other audience at times), but I genuinely think that there would be a bigger response to a film outside of a target demographic if the movie itself was rumored to be a quality experience. Just to sum up, we don't live in a world of people who love movies, and you know what? That's totally okay.

To put into perspective why this isn't a bad thing, allow me to use a personal example: I know nothing about fine art. Oh, sure, I love me a pretty picture, and going to art museums is a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me (thinking of each painting as a screenshot from a movie adds something for a film fan as well). But, any art-lover would have a terrible time trying to explain to me why Renoir isn't an impressionist, why my bathroom sink doesn't count as a Dadaist ready-made, or why Pablo Picasso is a more important artist than Frank Frazetta.

Answer me truthfully: Which one of these paintings would you rather hang on your wall?

The bottom line is... I'm no art expert. I can appreciate a colorful, detailed piece as much as the next guy, but I can't tell you why a great painting is a great painting. Frak, I'm not even 95% sure what art is, anyway!

The same goes for movies. Saying that someone "doesn't love movies" does not mean that he or she is incapable of loving a movie. It's just a more cut-the-bullcrap way of saying that movies aren't that person's "thing." Unfortunately, in the rush to get maximum profits from a poorly informed audience, Hollywood studios have lowered the IQ of their product incredibly and alienated genuine movie-lovers. Even back in the heyday of "You love movies!" propaganda, the 50s, the only way to learn about a movie's quality was either through word of mouth or, more often, newspaper criticism, so quality did mean a little more. Today, we have the Internet, where anyone, including some 12 year old who constantly drinks Monster because he thinks it's "hardcore," can write an IMDB user review. Ah, yes... the Internet Movie Database, where most audiences go for quality info. Or you could go to a movie blog, where a couple of disgruntled fools who think Starcrash and The Black Hole are quality movies will tell you what's good these days.

You know what? Frak the Internet.

The really sad bit about this whole con is that people think they know what's up. People trash amazing movies because "they suck." At no point does personal opinion enter into the conversation. People who say silent movies are awful because there aren't words and stuff never seem to begin their sentences with that all-important phrase, "In my opinion." Opinions are great, guys! Sharing those opinions with others is even better. Here's the deal though: Just because you have an opinion doesn't mean you're right. More importantly, just because your opinion is shared by a majority of your friends doesn't mean you're right either. And, sadly, because people who don't know anything about movies (which, as I mentioned previously, is perfectly okay) think that they do, people who actually do know movies get branded as "film snobs" or "movie hipsters." The exchange usually goes something like this:

"Boy, I sure loved that movie!"
"Oh, you love movies?"
"Oh, awesome! Me too!"
"Really? Cool. What's your favorite movie?"
"Oh, Metropolis. It's great! You got Fritz Lang at his directorial peak, some really memorable performances, timeless visuals, and some of the best special effects ever put to screen. Wonderful stuff."
"Oh, you're one of those."
"One of what... Hey, where are you going? Come back!!"

Crap, I hate when that happens...

Anyhoo, I think I've wasted enough of your time, so, by way of a few parting words, I'll just say this. Movie-lovers, stay strong. It's a rough road, and the theatre hasn't been the most rewarding shrine to cinema in the past few years. However, there have been some bright spots, and hints at the winds of change are already breezing their way around the film community. Those who don't love movies, please try to put up with and support those who do. I know they're strange, and half the things they say don't really make a whole lot of sense, but they're passionate about what they love, and, hey, you gotta respect that.

This has been Joel Davidson of the Cinemologists, saying see ya next time!


  1. Beautiful. Thank you. When I saw L'Atalante described on an imdb thread as 'The Most Boring Movie I've Ever Seen' (which is indeed a commonplace comment regularly heralded by Upper Case Signifiers, and usually accompanied by 'it was sooooo slow') I rather gave up on caring what most imdb users think, but I have tried hard to get through to the dear things, usually when I have to confront fratboy homophobia (and I *do* have to confront it). But I have to brace mysefl for a slew of insults back, and as for the Brokeback M'ntn boards... why bother?
    There was always fun to be had on Arbogast on Film's blog, but alas even he has now closed up shop. Still, his archives are great reading. OK, now I'm babbling. Thanks again, great little essay.

  2. excellent! "as long as adam sandler farts and michael bay explodes things for 2 and a half hours", the old bums in seats maxim. this piece of writing should be expanded into a book and yes.. many of my friends turn and run when i try to show them a melville movie or a silent classic like metropolis or battleship potemkin! to each his own i guess. but at least "give quality films a chance guys" i tell them.