|François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock.|
Why is it that some people think film critics (to paraphrase Cyndi Lauper) don't want to have fun? More to the point, why do people get so upset when you don't have the kind of fun they had at a hit movie even though you can explain clearly why it didn't deliver for you? (People never get this incensed when the picture is a commercial failure.) If I find a picture sluggish and heavy-spirited, as I once did with Ivan Reitman's massive 1984 hit Ghostbusters, why shouldn't I say so? Just because it was intended to entertain and make money for the studio doesn't make that a criteria for evaluating its quality. A good critic always judges a film on whether or not they are enjoying it, but they also go further to try and articulate why (even though, according to some moviegoers, you're not supposed to have a contrary opinion when the picture is a huge Hollywood production with a pedigree). Yet, as in politics, the Emperor sometimes has no clothes. But those same folks who always strip the Emperor down to the buff in politics seem to feel that the same doesn't apply to the popular arts which you should just let wash over you. This may explain why there's been such an uproar over the new remake of Ghostbusters where people are insane with rage that Hollywood has dared to reboot a 'classic.' Meanwhile, others get appalled if you diss the original. They assume that, due to your discriminating intellect, you can't simply party down and enjoy getting slimed.
If audiences develop their taste for art by first having an appetite for mindless entertainment, as Pauline Kael once suggested in her essay, "Trash, Art, and the Movies," it's because good criticism makes that process possible. My own movie collection, for instance, ranges from Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game to Dumb and Dumber. Obviously, there's a world of difference between them, but both movies are enjoyable on the terms they offer. There's an irresistible charm that silliness and even stupidity can provide when it's done with a certain tone and skill, just as a profound work with an artist's vision can irrevocably change the way you walk and talk. Yet there's a kind of snobbery that crosses between both high and low tastes. For instance, I know some very literate friends who'd be stunned that I'd even consider Dumb and Dumber a good comedy because their intelligence and higher tastes prevents them from getting in touch with the polymorphous infant in themselves. There are others, no doubt, who think my love of Renoir means I should get out more. Movie pleasure can be delectably superficial, or it can deliver a deeper satisfaction, the same way one develops a taste for better wine while still having the occasional desire to chug a beer.