The always psychotic yet highly enjoyable Jeffrey Wells just linked to some thoughts from critic Marshall Fine on his blog, Hollywood Elsewhere. The combination of the two really touches on some essential aspects of the whole art vs. entertainment issue and the importance of thinking about movies in terms of resonance, depth and beauty and not just how much fun they are.
Note: The text within quotation marks is Fine's, the rest is Wells'
Marshall Fine has written a fairly sage Sundance sum-up piece, although the only film he seems to have fully embraced is the fascinating but faintly icky Catfish. What about The Tillman Story (which I saw and responded very well to last night), Buried, Get Low, Animal Kingdom (top-tier Australian crime pic in the vein of At Close Range), The Mormon Proposition, Winter's Bone and Boy?
"Ultimately, audiences want what they want," he writes, "and the mass audience wants mass entertainment. Whereas Catfish, one of the most surprising and moving films I've seen this year, will never appeal to a mass audience -- even if you give away free tickets that included a raffle chance at dinner with Brangelina." (New iconic power-glam couple needed -- these two are apparently toast.)
"It's not that the mass audience is made up of cretins -- it's that the vast majority of people don't go to the movies (or to the theater or turn on their TV) to be challenged," Fine explains. "Life is challenging enough on a daily basis; entertainment, they believe, should be entertaining. That's not a judgment, just a fact."
Here's another fact: moviegoing cretinism is precisely defined by those who primarily view films as get-away vacations or hideaway shut-downs. People of depth and intelligence view films as opportunities to feel, commune, turn on, see inside and dig into the richness of things. To them, theatres are churches. But to the lowbrows the ideal movie experience is equivalent to popping a nice Lemon quaalude or getting a soothing, emotionally reassuring massage.
I love going into comfort zones also -- who doesn't? -- but to be only interested in movies that are the equivalent of a luxury Carnival Cruise is basically an admission of spiritual failure and cowardice.
To the church-going crowd, movies like Catfish, The Tillman Story, Get Low, Animal Kingdom, Four Lions and Boy are entertaining. Because they're clever, oddly hilarious, surprising, gripping, head-turning, quietly emotional and always up to something fascinating, sometimes in a slightly off-kilter sense and sometimes not. Imagine that!