Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Alienation Opinion Theory

There's an invisible line in film criticism. To acknowledge it is to display weakness, in the eyes of many. Yet, to ignore it would be an exercise in sovereignty none of us possess. It is the line between feeling a certain way about a film and understanding the way others feel about it. Often times we are guilty of ignoring this line. We view the world of criticism through a mask of our own opinions, rejecting the notion that these opinions may in any way be flawed. Protection in numbers is our defense and shield from the differing viewpoints of others. Because of them, we annex each other from the whole.

Is it any wonder that just about every forum for every film or TV show on IMDB has at a bare minimum one forum post with the subject line "am I the only one... ?" Of course not. I doubt they truly believe themselves to be the only one on anything. That's the world we've created, however. A world where to like or not like something means you must do more than explain yourself, it means you must be placed under constant quizzing and scrutiny - if your opinion defers from the prevailing social collective. Where bold and brash statements claiming strong disagreement with said collective must be planted firmly in every post, lest they be deemed unforgivable.

This year I watched the film Exit Through the Gift Shop. When the credits rolled I found myself woefully underwhelmed, borderline tears of disinterest. I sought to write a review for the movie, alas nothing of any publishing worthy quality came out. A few idle chats on twitter about the film became the extent to which I bothered discussing it, but those quickly dried up. So I let it sit. I distanced myself from the film, and didn't bother to add another second of reflection on it. In my eyes, it was as forgettable as most modern Nic Cage films, or any pop album released in the last five years.

Then, of course, it came time for people to discuss the movie of 2010 which they believed to be the most noteworthy in accomplishment, and accolade deserving. Not so much to my surprise as to my continuing bemusement, Exit Through the Gift Shop has found itself featured prominently on many of the blogs and websites I follow, including quite a few placements as the number one film of the year. The first few times this happened I shrugged it off. Didn't have anything to do with me, and they were perfectly entitled to their opinion. But by the fifth or sixth time I started to get weary. "What did all these people see that I didn't?" I began asking myself.

Soon twitter was overrun with discussions on how amazing a film it was. Each list was met with rousing 'hoorahs' of glory as Bansky and Thierry Guetta became representatives of a new wave of cinematic appreciation. Alienation began to set in. "Did I miss the point? Am I wrong? Should I watch it again? Why do they all love it so much?" I leaped to the internet and sought out reviews on the film. I digested them quicker than Takeru Kobayashi devours hot dogs. And when I was through I did the only thing I could do - I watched the film again.

Yet, nothing changed. Hatred and frustration began to set in. Sure there were reviews out there that agreed with me, but why did so many disagree!? I was ready to place the film on my top 10 worst films of the year. My declaration would be staunch, irrefutable, but of course dignified. Through my words I would rouse those discontent with the movie. Those who sought to present only adulation before the knees of its creators would be cast aside! But I couldn't do it...

To do so, to even assume so, would be the deconstruction of everything I firmly believe about film. I don't hate Exit Through the Gift Shop. Honestly, I think it's a far cry from the worst movies I've seen this year. Like many have before me, and many shall after me, I simply found a film in which I struggle to understand what others see that makes them praise it so highly. The last thing I want to be apart of is a pseudo-cool collective who believes themselves superior because they dislike a movie many readily enjoy. That's not me... and it's not someone I ever want to become.

10 better thoughts:

Jess said...

Excellent post! You're right, people don't often acknowledge this line, but most of us are aware of standing on it. And to second you, I just saw Exit through the Gift Shop and almost watched it again immediately sure that I'd missed something. Interesting maybe for 40 minutes and then I just didn't get what the fuss was about.

Simon said...

Excellent writing...

CS said...

Great article! While I have not seen the film yet, hope to in the next month or so, I had similar experiences with films such as: The Reader, The Blind Side, The Fountain, and more recently Splice. Sometimes I think people go into films naturally assuming it is great based of the award buzz, reviews, etc. I believe that they try to convince themselves it is good just so that they feel on par with the masses. It is no different to people who automatically think every Scorsese, Nolan, Aronofsky, Fincher film is a classic just because they directed them.

Alex said...

Man, don't worry about it, I feel this way about a large number of well-received movies (most recently The Fighter). Just say "Eh, everyone else is probably stupider than me" and go about your day.

Univarn said...

@Jess Thanks. I think my interesting started to wane at about the thirty to forty minute mark as well.

@Simon :P Thanks for the comment

@CS I would say there's an element of delusion, but I might argue it's more rapid among classics. Much harder to go against the grain for a film that has been loved for decades.

@Alex Do you mean, "more stupider?" ;)

The Mad Hatter said...

Very, very interesting piece.

I think your test subject might be questionable, since at the crux of GIFT SHOP is questions surrounding art...and since art is subjective, you're subjectively submitting yourself as a subject to a subjective offering. (Did that make sense?).

While people like me might chide you for what not following the herd, I think what might make the difference is personal reaction. For me it was a big difference between BLACK SWAN and SOCIAL NETWORK. I was deeply impressed by the artistic technique of both - but the former reached me on an emotional level, and the latter left me a little cold.

Perhaps that's the line.

That said, part of the reason why I annoy people with my "watch it again" mantra is because I am increasingly discovering film to be at the mercy of its audience's x-factors.

Their age, their likes, the buzz, the hype, the viewing environment...hell even the viewer's mood that day.

So no, you aren't missing anything that someone like me who loves the film saw...but that's not to say that you won't circle back to it sometime and get something from it that you didn't get the first time.

Does any of that make sense?

Jess said...

I think Hatter put it well - I can walk out of generally beloved movies and feel a bit "meh" (cough, Avatar) and know it was good, but didn't reach me on a personal level.

Castor said...

I feel the need to ostracize Univarn for not "getting" Exit Through The Gift Shop ahha. But on a serious note, great post. I think it happens more often than a lot of people want to admit. I'm the first one to tell you that I often feel like people are simply echoing the general perception of a movie and not thinking for themselves. May it be Inception or Black Swan, I often feel slightly underwhelmed while everyone is literally jumping on cars, raving about these movies. So no, you are not alone.

simoncolumb said...

Film criticism is tough - its all about expectations.

Expecatations of a genre ('horror' should be rated 18...), expectations due to your knowledge of the film (if 'everyone' says its good then...), your personal experience of films and movies and art (watching a Tarantino is potentially much more satisfying for a film buff)

All these things play a part - the expectations for a documentary is different to your expectations of a film and these boundaries are closing in with the likes of EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, CATFISH and THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Fact VS Fiction.

But then you have to consider what the filmmaker is expecting to present. Someone who does not watch alot of avant-garde cinema might be a bit perplexed if thrown into some abstract-expression of passion. Does the filmmaker achieve what they set out to achieve? Do you personally like the film? These are two copletely different questions... with potentially completely different answers!

Anonymous said...

What Simon said. Film criticism is so hard nowadays because it is SO omnipresent. We hear buzz about movies more and more, and it can't help but color our opinions.

I find it hardest in the movies that I give a grade "B" to. There are two types of movies that end up there - ones that I expected to be great and underwhelmed but not to the point of disgust, and ones that I expected to be terrible and were better than I expected but not fantastic. It's so hard to draw that line of where we actually stand on a movie and how we feel we should stand.

Fantastic, fantastic, FANTASTIC post!!!

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