A Non-Dogmatic Declaration of Intent (Part 1)

In light of the three recent posts on ‘2001’ at The Film Talk – in which I reflected on how and why I love this movie; we had the pleasure of interviewing the man-ape himself, Mr Dan Richter, and most recently Jett told us about a kind of High School Musical version of the opening titles – listener Kyle Meyers wrote to us to explore our thoughts further, asking if we agree/disagree with some comments from Michael Roberts at The Auteurs, which makes an eloquent case for the movie as an atheist tract.

Well, for a film as complex and transcendent as ‘2001’, ‘agree/disagree’ must be a trick question.  I’ll say this: we know that Kubrick tended not to publicly interpret his films, even saying that he wouldn’t contradict a viewer’s perceptions even if they differed from his own intentions; so we’re not going to find a meta-interpretation from the Creator, this side of the Stargate at least.  And, even if we could, I’d suggest that the search for one Ultimate Meaning in a film is not the richest way to approach it.  What purpose is served by me ‘proving’ myself ‘right’, and you ‘wrong’ if what you get out of the film serves you already?  Why would I want to tell you that you’re misguided if ‘Mr Holland’s Opus’ makes you want to be kinder to people?   (To the person with whom I had that very conversation, I apologise.  I think I’m growing up.  I hope.)  This does not mean that I won’t advocate for certain films being rich and beautiful experiences; it just means I have reached a turning point where I realise that I have zero interest in competing with other people’s opinions.  I’d much rather participate in a conversation that allows for a variety of interpretations to enhance each other.  So, please, tell me why you love ‘Transformers 2’ or ‘The Headless Woman’, or ‘GI Joe’ or ‘Goodbye Solo’.  I’m genuinely interested.  I’d like to tell you what I thought too.  But I’m not interested in proving you wrong.

This is important to me – I love films, some more than others.  Some people I love happen to enjoy some of the same films, some more than others.  Some people really dislike some of the films that I love.  There are ways of talking about this that serve the purposes of better human relationships, and ways that push us apart.  The opening titles of ‘The Film Talk’ have me saying ‘I could never love anyone who didn’t love ‘Field of Dreams’’; this is mostly a joke, and a hyperbolic way of underlining my admiration for a much-maligned movie; one that I happen to think is both profoundly true on an emotional level, and one of the most elegantly told linear narrative stories in recent US American cinema.  But of course I don’t mean that I could never love anyone who didn’t love it.  Invert that statement, and you might be closer to the truth – it’s easier to relate to people who share common interests; and so if you like some of the same movies I do, or perhaps you like movies in the same way I do, it might mean we’re more likely to be friends.

But I suspect this should not be so.  I declare it only as a confession of my own human weakness: I am as superficial and fickle as any of us; I’m a work in progress, and it will serve me better to try to remain open to whatever nurtures the common good.  Disdaining someone because her favourite movie is ‘Crank’, or because all he likes to do on a wet Saturday is to indulge in the collected oeuvre of the makers of what Cahiers du Cinema might call ‘les flics des chicks’?  Does that make my life more whole?  Does it grant more light in the world?  Does my indulgence in snark give me anything other than a sensation, to quote the late Northern Irish politician David Ervine’s reference to sectarianism, not unlike urine down the inside leg – a warm glow that turns bitter pretty soon?

If these rhetorical questions sound patrician, I beg your indulgence; I’m not trying to impose my opinions on anyone.

In fact, that’s the point.

I’m tired of snark in film criticism; tired of attempts at monopolizing the conversation; tired of skirmishes whose purpose appears to derive more from a desire to be seen as ‘superior’ than to express what is, for me, the highest experience of art: to reflect us back to ourselves, and offer, as Professor Levy says in the coda to ‘Crimes and Misdeameanors’, the courage ‘to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things, like … family, their work, and their hope that future generations might understand more’.

Next week, I’ll post my own faltering attempt at a theory of how my approach to films (and life generally, or at least how I communicate about life) is radically changing.

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