Friday, September 24, 2010

Of All the Mindless Horde, John Hates Teenage Girls the Most

Let's take a closer look at what I wrote, John, and we'll see that I put a little more thought into the statement than appears at first blush:

"The reason I cited my use of the Tomatometer was to say that sometimes I will weigh more heavily the audience percentage than the critic percentage because I believe these people are going into a film with fewer preconceived notions and prejudices. These are folks who either like something or they don't- film watching is a much more visceral experience for them, more honest sometimes."

There are a few elements to this assertion, which I will list and elaborate upon.

1) "fewer preconceived notions"- I did not say "no preconceived notions" and I did not make any claims about what types of preconceived notions the mindless hordes were bringing into the theater with them. I believe that "fewer preconceived notions" is an accurate statement because a film critic can add intellectual and learned academic preferences and prejudices to the list of instinctual ones they share with the masses.

2) "film watching is a much more visceral experience for them"- At it's core, film is about pleasure. Yes, there are messages of life and there is beauty and there is craft, but we wouldn't be watching films if it didn't feel good to do so. The masses respond to films on a much more primal level that cinephiles do- they like what they like and they don't like what they don't like and they disregard what they don't understand.

3) "more honest sometimes"- This instinctual response to film is more useful to me as one who analyzes films more thoroughly because I can layer my own thoughts and theories and opinions on top of gut-level reactions in a way that I can't with more intellectual analysis. Those layers are already there- the critic's own intellectual experience with film clutters my own thinking and makes it harder for me to know what it is that I like or don't like about a film and why. That's not to say that I'm not ever interested in those kinds of opinions, just after I've had an opportunity to form my own opinions first. Because of this, I feel that the audience's general consensus is more useful to me initially.

I have a rough guide to how I use the Tomatometer (which is not always, for sure- I use Fandango's "so-so" and "must go" ratings system in a similar way)- high audience and critic ratings generally mean a good film, but not necessarily a thought-provoking one. It is a film that does everything right, but possibly plays it safe on a number of levels. A film with a high audience rating and a low critic rating usually means something that is entertaining but likely forgettable. A high critic rating and a low audience rating usually means something slow and dramatic, with great characterization. I've found that the best films are ones with a high score in one category and a so-so score in the other. This means that one side or the other is not quite sure what to do with it-it's either entertaining, but with a soul, or well written and crafted and dynamic to boot. I really don't want to know a lot about a film before I go to see it- I even try to avoid trailers if it's by a director I'm familiar with. But I Iike knowing what a film's aura is, and in my opinion the best way to get that is by getting an average score of the reviews. Rotten tomatoes is unique in that it separates the paid critics from the mindless hordes, and thus gives me an even better sense of that aura.

Other than that, dear John, I appreciated what you wrote about films like Tall in the Saddle, about your start as a cinephile (it was Ben Gallman's fault in my case, combined with the excellent selection of films at the Houghton library), and about why you are negative about more modern films than older ones. Actually, your explanation of the last part made a lot of sense- presumably if you had watched as many films from 1944 as you had from 2010 we'd be exposed to a lot more of your negative ramblings where the so-called "golden era" is concerned.

I'm quite pleased that we've had this discussion, I must say. I feel like I have a much better understanding where both of you are coming from and what you're looking for, and I would go out on a limb to say that I think we're looking for a lot of the same things. We differ in where we think we're finding them, but that's what makes the whole thing so interesting. Thanks, fellas. This is good stuff.

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