Destroy All Monsters: I Don't Need Movies To Be Good
I find movies so interesting, I really couldn't care less if they're good. This is the story of me, of where I'm at now in my relationship with the films. I'm sure there are other territories yet to traverse and whole other categories of meaning I've yet to discover. For now, though, for this year, this is the truth.
My column here at ScreenAnarchy is just about a year old. It sometimes gets referred to, mistakenly or otherwise, as a review column. It isn't that. I can understand the easy confusion. Post-Ain't It Cool movie coverage sites like ScreenAnarchy scrape their butter across the bread of the online world's seemingly endless willingness to offer up its opinion -- specifically, in this case, about movies. It's all around us here; in the reviews; in the comments for the reviews; in the context-setting introductory paragraphs for the news items about the movies that will be reviewed later. This site, and others like it, is half-journalism, half-book club.
And in writing about the movies I write about, I invariably toss in a line or two about whether I, personally, thought the movie worked. But I do this because, not despite, the fact that my opinion of the movie doesn't matter.
There are exceptions, obviously, but generally speaking when it comes to writing these words I couldn't give less of a fuck if I thought the movie I'm writing about (or TV show I'm writing about, or pop cultural event I'm writing about) was satisfactory to me personally. It's those last two words that set the course: "me personally." In a time when I cared a lot more about whether the movies were good than I do right now, I wrote proper film reviews for a lot of different outlets. Even then, I was aware of a vast gap between the self-importance of my own opinion and its actual value to the reader.
Movies, as I'm sure you know, are a wholly subjective experience. Wholly subjective. There are no "good" and "bad" movies, and no, opinion isn't democratic, either. Who was it that said that every book has two authors, the one who wrote it and the one who reads it? So it is with movies. Every single one you see, only you see. The person sitting next to you sees something like it, but hers. The person sitting next to her, too. And so it goes.
Some of those people are film critics, professional reviewers, or non-professional reviewers. The same truths apply. We locate film critics whose insights into the movies we are interested in might, in some way, crack open those movies for us; but anyone who is trawling the muddy waters of Rotten Tomatoes trying to work out if a movie is "good" or not is engaging in foolishness. The only way you will ever, ever, ever know if you will like a movie is to go and watch it.
(Even then, it's a dodgy affair. What kind of mood were you in when you saw it? What were you wearing? How recently had you eaten? How recently had you had sex? Did you get a phone call from the hospital the second you left the theatre? Did the guy in front of you get a phone call from the hospital, before he left the theatre?)
Once you've accepted that your experience of a film is yours and yours only, subject entirely to your particular whims and eccentricities (as well as the time, the place, the circumstance), writing about what you, personally, think the film means or achieves becomes a much finer art. Roger Ebert excelled at it. It's a sing-from-the-diaphragm proposition: find your voice and give it strength, because it's the only thing you've got.
For me, though, or for us -- with "us" here being any community of people who watch, on average, more than four movies a month, because I assure you most people do not -- I think the deluge of movies also washes away some of the trivial details of moviegoing.
Principal among these, for me, is whether or not the movies are good. A lot of movies are good -- I've seen a lot of those. A lot of movies are terrible; I've seen a lot of those too. A lot of movies, in my experience, are just sort of average, and holy fuck, I hate those. I hate those in colours only insects can see, and in sounds only dogs can hear.
I hate them because they aren't interesting. I hate them because they're rote. I hate them because there's nothing particular or spiky that I can find and pull out of them.
The ones that aren't average, the ones that are particular and spiky, I love, whether I liked watching them on their own terms or not. I just love wandering down their throughlines of meaning and vision, intentional and not; the canyons of connection between the gargantuan, branded, for-profit Product that a multi-million-dollar enterprise represents (as all movies must); and the strange, anthropomorphic, dirty-hippies-in-a-commune village of craft and art that comes of a few hundred people working within their skillful garrets to put on a show.
I love Do The Right Thing because of the opening credits. I love Live Free Or Die Hard because of what it (unintentionally) says about post-9/11 America, and pre-9/11 action movies. I love Furious 6 because Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez have sex, but using their cars as proxies. I love The LEGO Movie because it completely can't handle girls, and nobody got it. I love Joe because it isn't Mud. I love Cowboys & Aliens because, holy fuck, why don't Westerns work any more, ever, ever, ever? I love Blue Ruin because the blood spurt in the first kill is a visual amazement. I love Wajdja because of Wajdja's hair. I love Iron Man 3 because, yeah, daddy issues are for pussies.
These are human works. Even the most mechanical among them is mechanical because humans made it that way; even the most painstakingly heartfelt, home-grown indie is a singing machine of working parts telling stories. They are so fascinating to watch, experience, think about. All the rules about how to do that are meaningless. How can anything as unique and frail and weird and human as a movie be "good" or "bad," anyway? When was the last time you reviewed your best friend? How often do you roll over, kiss the love of your life good morning, and then publish a star rating out of five?
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.