' ' Cinema Romantico: You've Gotta Stand for Something (or You'll Watch Anything)

Friday, February 24, 2023

You've Gotta Stand for Something (or You'll Watch Anything)

My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I just returned from a short trip to New York City where, among other activities, we visited The Met, as one does, making sure to fit in some cool, refreshing French Impressionism. And as I reveled in a whole wall of glorious Monets, a couple early-twentysomethings, one guy, one girl, passed behind me, left to right, taking in the same paintings at a much swifter pace. Indeed, while the guy seemed at least generally interested, looking, leaning forward, the young woman’s posture was indifferent, slouched back, arms crossed, and as they departed the room, she said in an immaculately haughty vocal fry, “It’s just a bunch of pastoral landscapes.” I had to actively fight to hold in my laughter, and not because I was mad at her.


The movie industry is going through some sort of seismic shift, one we will not fully understand, no matter how many people tell you they already do, until we are completely on the other side of it, though a good chunk of this ongoing reconfiguration pertains to the endless desire for pure, continual content. In writing about “the merciless drive for profit and the soulless imperatives” of modern college basketball, the esteemed Charlie Pierce noted that such a dynamic is engaged “once sports becomes about producing content rather than playing the games.” He may as well have been writing about cinema. Because there, too, the merciless drive for profit has fostered an incessant need to produce content rather than make movies. Yes, yes, the movies have always been a business, thank you very much, but the first major film studios and the people men who ran them made movies too.

This new inclination to eschew making movies for producing content is increasingly yielding something strange and alienating, a midpoint between late critic Manny Farber’s theory of White Elephant movies and Termite Art, the latter nibbling around the edges of the more formal former, Jetson Food Pill film, down the gullet, evoking the burgeoning AI art movement in spirit, strictly synthetic. Of course, people like Farber existed to help hold the movies accountable. And though he was a critic, movies have always been a form of mass entertainment, and with mass entertainment, if you buy a ticket, you, too, get to be a critic, them’s the rules, and yet more and more in our Let People Enjoy Things culture, wide swaths of people take offense to any criticism in the first place, exposing just the kind of apathy toward critical thinking that op ed columnists frequently cite the younger generations for lacking. No one wants to appraise movies, to hold them accountable, just consume them, which is how we frequently end up with ostensible analysis prefaced by the dreaded “Sure,” something like Sure, the actors are flat, and the camera is never in the right place, but it’s a movie, and I was distracted. WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as suspicious of the reflexive consensus bashers as I am of the consensus, but if you aren’t honest with art on both ends of the spectrum and everything in-between, that’s how art gradually gives way to mush. And if it seems like I’m just one more old man yelling at clouds, I’m honestly not, because in that young woman’s upturned nose toward my main man Claude, considering, deciding, and then dismissing, I saw hope for the future. 

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