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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Subjectivity Of "Important" Films

I recently had a great discussion with one of my good friends and fellow cinephiles who was lamenting about how she didn't love the latest "important" film. You know, one of those films that everyone considers a "classic" and required viewing--so much so that if you haven't seen it or don't love it then you watched it wrong. Clearly the idea of subjectivity escapes many.

It reminded me of when I was first introduced to Citizen Kane years ago. I was in college studying journalism and the film was another one of those mandated watches. We saw it in class after a long-winded introduction from the professor essentially explaining how it will rock our world. She turned off the lights, I leaned forward onto my desk, and...fell asleep. Well, rather, I dozed off. I woke up for several long moments in order to catch most of the story.

This isn't to say the movie is bad. It's not. I was probably just very tired that day, or maybe--and more accurately--I just don't rank the film very highly. Don't get me wrong (and don't start throwing things at me), I think it's a good film, a solid film. And to be fair, I did end up watching it fully awake a few years after that. But, wait for it, I don't feel the need to ever see it again.

I know, I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor after that one. I don't mean to disrupt your top 10 films of all time list or even dissuade you from revisiting the movie on those long, cold wintry nights. It's just one of those movies that I'd file under "list check films," movies that I'd watch just to say that I did, just so I can be a part of the conversation and interrupt it long enough to say, "Oh, that film? It's ok." Simply put, Citizen, like certain other films I won't name (*cough* Twelve Years a Slave *cough*), is a chore to get through but painstakingly well done, yet not rewatchable.

I was reminded of my conversation with my friend during last night's "Cinema in Noir" podcast, in which we discussed a recent New York Times article by Armond White who argued that "Television will always be a medium that is aesthetically inferior to cinema" partly due to the fact that revered films like Lawrence of Arabia stand the test of time.

First of all, as I've written several times on this blog, there are some TV shows I'd watch 10 times over before I'd step near certain films ever again, including Lawrence of Arabia, which to this day I have not been able to get through. While there are many classic films of yesteryear that I've seen on loop, and new timeless gems still popping out of the Hollywood canister today, I wouldn't consider Lawrence of Arabia one of them. And, quite frankly, I'm tired of being told that I should love this movie. In fact, I'm tired of being told I should like any movie.

It's not about not appreciating a film as much as someone else. We all have specific things that we look for in a film, that makes us come back to it over and over, and that's fine. I love looking over these lists and discovering new films I haven't seen and adding them to my never-ending Netflix queue. Some of these films I end up loving, and others I feel indifferent toward (while others I think are just bad). We need to let go of this notion that we should all consider the same 10 films important and start honoring our own opinions. We won't always agree with each other (what would be the fun in that anyway?), but we need to alleviate the pressure to unify our lists of important films because we're told they should look a certain way. Besides, film should inspire unique perspective, not group conjecture.

To listen to the full "Cinema in Noir" episode, click here.


Brittani Burnham said...

Damn, I wish I wasn't at work so I could listen to this. I 100% agree with you about Citizen Kane. That's the first film I watched on my Blind Spot list this year, and I was completely underwhelmed. As I was last night watching Rebel Without A Cause. I always feel a little bad when watching older "Classic" movies, because I rarely enjoy them as much as I'm told I will.

Candice Frederick said...

yeah! Some of those films I really, really, like and others I'm like, "THIS is the film you've been calling a classic?? Eh, I don't think so." LOL

Unknown said...

I remember when people were commenting on Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman being "important" for its time. I think it had a particular appreciation factor at that moment that was at its apex then, although its "groundbreaking" qualities ( a woman going from dependent reliance to confident independence, etc.) could still be appreciated today. Good post.

Candice Frederick said...

@Michael Rajnovic I actually really like Unmarried Woman and do appreciate it for the time it was made. And, I'd actually watch that again. But, that's the idea--it's all subjective toward the person.

Daniel said...

I'll be honest I really enjoyed Citizen Kane when I finally watched it and can tell why it was such a hallmark. That being said there are plenty of classic films that I just don't get, Godfather is the first one that comes to mind. I don't think it's bad but I don't get the hoopla either....

thatfilmgirl said...

Completely agree with this. I immensely enjoyed 12 Years A Slave (as much as you can for a film like that..), I have always been severely underwhelmed by The Godfather Part II (Godfather was great, don't see anything nearly as special in Part II), and especially Lawrence of Arabia. Long and boring, mainly.

Manon de Reeper said...

Hey Candice! Totally agree with you. Call me crazy, but I've always thought The Shawshank Redemption is wildly overrated - that's the movie that made me doze off... Maybe I should see it again to see what the rest of the world raves about?

Candice Frederick said...

@Manon de deeper I love Shawshank, but it's all about opinion!

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