Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are You Dumb If You Didn't Like Interstellar? NO!

One of the reasons I love films so much is because of my mother: she is a huge fan of the silver screen, and she passed her love for cinema onto me, for which I am deeply grateful. Every weekend, she tells me to email her about any films that I have seen and whether or not I liked them; I have encouraged her several times to go see films I think she would like, but she never does. So, this weekend, I wrote her about Interstellar and how excited I was about it, and she went and saw it. Had I any idea she was going to go, I would have steered her in a different direction. We talked about it today, and she confessed that she felt really dumb because she just didn't get what was so great about it, or why Nolan was a genius. After talking about it for about 30 minutes, she then decided she liked the film (which she does quite often) because then she understood; she said she felt bad because she was so dumb she didn't pick up on any of this stuff; is she dumb? No, absolutely not, and this is a good time to have this discussion.
After discussing the film with my mom, I realized there were some topics of discussion I should have included in my original post, but didn't, so that has been expanded, topics including: how Cooper reacted to what Murph's teacher, Ms. Kelly, told him about what Murph did; Cooper driving so recklessly through the corn field, why Murph set the corn field on fire later in the film, what STAY meant and why Tom won't let his family go and wants to keep them with him instead. The post, with all the updates, can be found at this link.
It is easy to be dominated by others, especially others that you feel have a legitimate claim of expertise in a field, and for your opinion to be shaped by theirs. My mom, who is an educated viewer, because she knows that what she sees in films means something, even if she doesn't always sit and think it through. She wanted a film that would be entertaining and it wasn't. The only good part about the experience for her was getting to see the three trailers at the start and, her feedback on the film led me to realize I needed to update my post, which I did. She didn't enjoy the Interstellar experience at all; is she dumb for not "getting" the film on her own? No. Is Christopher Nolan a bad director for not making the experience better for her? No. Am I describing a perfect world that doesn't really exist, but am creating reasons to "save" my mom and "save" Nolan? No.
Let's be perfectly honest: it's highly intimidating when "everyone" else likes something and you don't. At this blog, I assume that, if you are reading this long-winded, never-ending posts, it's because you are interested in engaging with film/art on a deeper level. We all know that I have a rather "odd" threshold for aesthetic experience, and my idea of  "loving a film" is going to be exceedingly different from someone else's experience because we have different standards, and a film is going to meet of fail to meet those standards based on what the film maker's standards are. I am assuming that you are interested in films based on the deeper level of engagement that can be achieved in particular films, for example, for someone wanting to be a wine connoisseur,  you don't want to taste cheap wines that lack complexity, you want to practice on increasingly complex wines that will give you experience so you can start to learn and develop your own advanced tastes. I rarely remember to say things like this, but this is basically the point of this blog. Just because a wine is complex, however, doesn't mean that you are going to enjoy drinking it. There are plenty of films that I didn't really enjoy watching, The Deer Hunter, for example, but I am glad that I saw it (because it's frequently referenced in films); this doesn't mean that I am a dumb viewer, nor does it mean the people who made The Deer Hunter are bad film makers; it just wasn't my glass of wine, but I tasted it and I am glad that I did because it helps me when I do find a "glass of wine" I deeply enjoy, because I have more experience judging for myself what is wine I like, and what is wine I don't like. As any decent wine maker will tell you, there is only one good wine: the wine you enjoy drinking, and there is only one type of film that's good: the one you enjoy watching. 
Film is art.
There is art you like, there is art you don't like. That's fine. I am an art historian, and I hate Leonardo Da Vinci. Am I a bad person for that? No. Everyone else in the world raves that he was the greatest artist who ever existed, but I wouldn't even put him in the Top 30 Artists Of All Time. Does that mean Da Vinci is a bad artist? No. Does that mean people who like Da Vince don't know what art is all about? Of course not. Da Vinci had to be true to what his vision of "art" should be; he was. My concept of art, and his concept of art differ. That doesn't say anything about either one of us, but that "we don't get along." Art is complex because the artist is a complex person. You are a complex person interacting with the art.
Mark Rothko White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) 1950 Most people would say this isn't art, and I myself was never very thrilled with Rothko, until something happened. I was watching Simon Schama's Power of Art series (which is available on Netfilx) and he described how he himself hadn't been fond of Rothko until an accident happened, then after that, he was a big fan. I never want to over-rate myself, but what Schama did for me regarding Rothko, I try, I attempt to try, to do for you and anyone else interested, in film. When someone loves something, talk to them about what it is that makes them love it, because those are the people we really learn from. I haven't found someone who really loves The Deer Hunter to be able to explain to me why I might also come to really love it but maybe someday I will. Even after explaining a painting like this to someone, they might still not like Rothko, and that's fine, that is called "individuality." The more we protect our individuality, the more apt we are to protect the individuality of others, and be happy for them when they have found something that makes them happy, and we realize we don't have to like it, too, nor do they have to like what we like.
When you and art engage on the same level, it's amazing! When you don't engage on the same level, it's mediocrity, or banal, or--even, heaven forbid--intimidating. All your history, all your hopes and dreams, happiness, sadness and frustration, all your unconscious and conscious mind makes you highly complex; parts of your unique complexity is what all art hopes to tap into and mine in order to make the art "live" for you. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't, that's why you have favorite films, that is why you have favorite songs and favorite paintings: maybe the only artist you like is Van Gogh, or Monet; there's nothing wrong with that, that is what you like, period. That doesn't mean that Marcel Duchamp isn't an artist because you don't like him, it means you don't like Marcel Duchamp. Period.
I remember the very first time I experienced someone who provided a "critical" reading for me, and it changed my life forever. Dr. Brooks was teaching English 524 British Literature, and the first poem we did on the first day was Thomas Gray's Ode On the Death Of A Favourite Cat. We read the poem in class and, I thought, this poem sucks. I am not going to pretend to like a pompous poem that I don't like just because this is English 524. Then Dr. Brooks started talking. How did this Englishman come to own all the things described in this poem, he asked; trade. As Dr. Brooks talked, and introduced us to the basic principles of Orientalism, and how using them, we could find the deeper meaning of the poem, namely, that the cat symbolized the greedy English empire, over-extending its reach and resources to obtain beautiful goods, just like the cat trying to get the gold fish (and we see quite a bit of Orientalism in Penny Dreadful). Dr. Brooks took a poem that I hadn't even scratched the surface of, and turned it into the pinnacle of literature for me. I know I am not capable of doing that for others, but I hope to introduce the tools to you by which you can come to achieving that for yourself when you are engaging with art: my interpretations are NEVER the end-all-be-all of the art, just a starting point for you to use as a launch pad to explore the meaning in your own way. I usually don't come across that way ("This film is so pro-socialist," or "This film rocks capitalism!" doesn't really make it sound like I am helping you to form your own judgments, does it? But we all have a "reason," a "goal" or a "desire" in interacting with art, mine happens to be rooting out socialist propaganda, so just be aware of what yours is, that's all). 
So, as it is with any film, just because you don't like it, and maybe everyone else does, doesn't mean you are dumb; just because you like a film and no one else does, doesn't mean you have bad taste. If everyone is calling a particular film maker (or any artist) a genius, but you don't see it, that doesn't mean you are dumb for not seeing it, nor does it mean that person isn't an artist. Christopher Nolan has a very particular film making style that appeals greatly to certain people, but not everyone; this is called "individuality." It's to be celebrated, on both ends. One of the greatest compliments I ever got from a reader was for The Innkeepers: someone wrote that he and his friends had watched it over the weekend, and he hated it, but he wanted an answer to a question, so he did some research, found my blog, read the post, and now, he said, it was his favorite movie, and he and his friends were going to watch it again so they could catch everything. That was awesome for me, because that is sharing love, and I don't think there is anything in the world that is better to share than that.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
The post for Bad For Business: The Innkeepers can be found at this link.