How to Be a Better Film Snob
by Chris Cantoni
There was a famous joke before hipsters were hipsters that went like this: “How many indie kids does it take to change a lightbulb?” When the person shrugs or gives an “I don’t know” you melodramatically (in true hipster fashion) scoff, “You don’t KNOW?!!!!!!!?”
So it can be at times with movies. We like to think that finding the dusty Jim Jarmusch film on the back shelf of the indie video store - and then pouring over it for subtext - makes us somehow cooler. I can still remember telling a kid in my INCO 103 (public speaking) class, with no small amount of condescension, that I bet he loved movies like The Fast and The Furious - which quickly led to a collection of turned heads wondering what, exactly, was my problem with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel driving around in sweet cars? And thus I learned an important lesson: movies are entertainment too, sometimes. This was only reinforced when, during another conversation, I was told that I “like movies, not films,” which, while dripping with derision, taught me yet another lesson (thank you very much Lydia, eat shit): that movies can be art, too - though there’s no need to be a dick about it.
If you’re reading this (or, gasp, writing it) then chances are you just might be a “film snob” in one fashion or another, so perhaps it would be helpful if we go over the basics, together…
Lesson One: Like what you want to like. My disastrous decision to buy that Train album one time after seeing them open for Counting Crows not withstanding, I try not to get involved in shit I don’t really care about. Guess what? I LIKE kids movies AND romantic comedies. Yes, I’m a grown up dude, no I’m not gay, and I just happen to enjoy those movies. Deal with it. I can let myself be moved by Armageddon! I love Die Hard and thought Brokeback Mountain was pretty terrible once the “taboo” of two dudes enjoying some lovin’ was removed. I like what I like. And I hope you do the same.
Lesson Two: Let others like what they like. Now, I couldn’t stand Transformers and the Shrek series never did it for me. However, there are clearly people who enjoy them. It doesn’t mean I have to enjoy them too. I have specific reasons for disliking these movies, and can defend my views quite robustly. But that’s it. You’re not dumb for liking a movie I think is dumb. And it’s not because “oh it wasn’t art,” - it’s because I wasn’t entertained. So if you were, it’s all good. Different strokes, as they say.
Lesson Three: Lesson two doesn’t mean those movies don’t suck. We can debate the merits of various filmmakers for hours, but nothing is going to convince me that Michael Bay is a good director, because he’s not. All of his movies look exactly the same and you can expect that same stupid pan around the hero as he rises from getting knocked down, music swelling so that we know he’s up and not gonna take it any more. I’m over it. The hard truth? Movies can suck and still be entertaining. Movies can be incredibly admirable but still not entertaining. Respect others for liking what they like. But respect yourself by being able to articulate why you disagree.
Lesson Four: It’s the group’s fault, and the group’s success. Film is a unique medium in that it is impossible to be done by a single person. Painters can paint, sculptors can sculpt, and writers can write, but if you want to make a film, you’ll need a ton of help from your friends to get it done, no matter how much of a slash (eg. writer/director/actor) you are. Scripts get changed, bad takes get used, weather gets in the way. It’s very hard to make a great film, and in the process there are millions of little possibilities that can make it a terrible one. So respect the process, and the people involved.
Lesson Five: Be honest. I saw Synecdoche, New York and it weirded me out. Yeah, I thought it was interesting. In fact, I think Kaufman was pushing film to a new artistic level that goes beyond what we think of when we think of movies - which is exactly what made it so hard to like. And the truth is, I have no idea if I “liked” it. I was confused, and if I convince myself I wasn’t smart enough to understand it, I’m giving the filmmakers too much credit. But if I convince myself it was actually just contrived form of mental masturbation, I’m not giving them enough credit. Truth be told, it’s somewhere in between; the point being that if you can’t honestly talk about a movie, you inevitably won’t like it since you’re spending too much time resenting it for not letting you be honest.
So that’s how we do. If you spend all your time just enjoying the escapism of mindless explosions and terrible dialogue, you’re not paying respect to the art of filmmaking. And if you criticize every audience-friendly film full of celebrities for “selling out,” well, you’re just not having any fun. You’re allowed to disagree (passionately even!), but then, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Chris Cantoni is an aspiring screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He tumbls here.
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