A Rebuttal to ‘The Idea of What a Movie Is’

greed2
Greed (1924) | Directed by Erich von Stroheim

Greg,

There’s a film writer I like named Marya Gates who once tackled the idea that “old movies” aren’t worthwhile. In a short video overview of film history from inception to the present day, she concluded that “if you don’t love all of it, I don’t understand how you can watch any of it.”

This, to me, is the only valid way of viewing movies. Dismissive negativity is the cheapest commodity in the world and the culture of holding yourself in smug superiority over what you’re viewing seems only to grow in the echo chamber of the internet, full as it is of teenagers and self-proclaimed cynics who cling to their assumptions and prejudices as an essential and valuable part of themselves, not recognizing that those qualities are our greatest failings. So, I’m baffled by your piece The Idea of What a Movie Is.

Its whole argument smacks of a basic unfamiliarity with film. For example, the idea of older films as “melodramatic overacting filmed in front of a flimsy set,” a common complaint from those whose only interaction with classic cinema is parody, a complaint which displays an ignorance of naturalistic acting in films like A Woman of Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, Marty, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as well as an ignorance of the absolute glut of pre-New Hollywood location-shot films like Greed, Fort Apache, Speedy, Cairo Station, The Lineup, or even literally thousands of low-budget movies like Carnival of Souls. This is frankly shocking and inexcusable obliviousness and/or callowness from someone who is presenting himself as an educated film viewer. This is basic, basic, basic, day-one minute-one stuff.

But beyond that, your argument falls apart on a structural level; the very core of it is basically capricious. “12 Angry Men is an exception” to your 1975 line in the sand because… why? It is a great film, for sure, but it’s hardly a singular one. What sets it apart from the television play version of the same story, or Hitchcock’s 1930 Murder!, which has a very similar courtroom sequence? Or Compulsion, or Anatomy of a Murder, or any of the dozens of similarly shot, similarly acted, similarly written, similarly edited films from the same era? What of director Sidney Lumet’s other work? Does The Hill (shot on location in 1965, by the way) not count because he just suddenly lost his knack? Or how about The Grapes of Wrath and The Ox-Bow Incident in which Henry Fonda plays very similar roles? Or the dozens of other films Lee J. Cobb performed his slouching naturalist New York School acting in, which is a concept that, to you, apparently didn’t exist before the 1970s—one of these Lee J. Cobb films being 1960’s Exodus, which also starred Paul Newman and Sal Mineo, two of the masters of modern acting.

And what is wrong with melodrama? Why are you so childishly afraid of something being unrealistic? Do the heavy shadows in Rick’s cafe in Casablanca destroy you on some level, and if so, what about the hard formalism of your beloved Signs which is fundamentally structured in replica of Hitchcock’s Vertigo-era style? It is ridiculous to me that someone can love Signs but scowl at the thousands of films Signs designed itself to be like.

Your argument makes no sense on any level. It’s arbitrary and has no concept of the history it’s dismissing. You’ve also said earlier that you shut off any film that doesn’t immediately impress you. It seems to me that you approach films from a place of anger, as a person who doesn’t enjoy or empathize with them in any way. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not liking movies, I guess, but my question is: why do you write about them? Why do you spend your hours theorizing about a medium that you have nothing but competitive (‘impress me in five minutes or I shut you off’) contempt for? There are plenty of other ways to spend your time. Like Marya said: “if you don’t love all of it, I don’t understand how you can watch any of it.” I also don’t understand, then, why you want to write about any of it.

Marya starts her tour of film history with the Lumière Brothers’s legendary Arrival of a Train at a Station. This is that film everyone’s seen in every documentary about movies, the French short in which a old-time steam locomotive pulls up to the camera. Everybody knows the story about how when this film was first screened, audiences ducked out of the way of the oncoming train. This is generally called “the first movie ever made,” even though that’s not true—it wasn’t released until 1896 when in fact filmmaking began in 1890.

But we remember this train movie very vividly, and it’s appropriate that we think of it as the birth of movies, because it’s a perfect metaphor for the potential of filmmaking—it crashes through barriers and seems for a half an instant to enter our world. The Lumière Brothers, for the first time in the entire history of the human species, got a visceral sensory reaction from the replaying of a moment lost to time.

That’s the core of motion pictures, and it’s something we’re so accustomed to that it’s worth considering again: Filmmakers demolish time and rebuild it in their own image.

Filmmakers demolish time and rebuild it in their own image.

Filmmakers demolish time and rebuild it in their own image.

Old films are not “boring”—you are. Film is a communication medium like the telephone and the letter, and so every film, even the bad ones—hell, especially the bad ones—is a message across time and space. Each and every second of film is an instance of time and space put in an aquarium and preserved to play out over and over again for as long as we do the upkeep to keep the footage alive (support your local film preservationists). Every last movie represents a victory against the muting of time. As long as we preserve our films, we will always know more about the world from 1890 on than we can ever know about the entire steppe of human time before that year.

This is a magical, amazing, impossible, fantastic, wonderful, beautiful, dizzying, brilliant thing. Faulkner often wrote with heartbreak about the inflexibility of time—movies are the one realm in which we have claimed a victory against time. We can replay, reverse, speed up, slow down, cut down, loop, and even eliminate time entirely. When you put on a film from, say, 1941, you have destroyed 72 years. You have destroyed age, and you have for a brief moment, destroyed death.

For this reason, the lion’s share of films only get better as they age, and they become both a meditation on the world and an invitation to a world utterly inaccessible otherwise. That’s an extraordinary experience. It’s something that has happened once, arguably twice, ever—first with the written word and now, tentatively, with the internet. And you and I are lucky enough to be alive during the first gasping breaths of movies, an art only a century and change old. We are in a period in which the art of filmmaking is reshaping the very way we interact with and understand the world we live in. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I believe that in 1890 we invented ghosts. And I believe that this is one of the most amazing things to ever happen in all of humankind. And I believe that I’m impossibly lucky to be around to witness it. I feel sorry for you for not experiencing that as well.

John D’Amico writes about film regularly at Shot Context.

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42 Responses to A Rebuttal to ‘The Idea of What a Movie Is’

  1. Joel Bocko says:

    Haven’t read the original piece, not sure I want/need to but even as a stand-alone essay this ow wonderful, nailing not just the aesthetic joys of film but the historical fascinations as well. A true rallying cry for lovers of cinema, not just individual movies but “the movies”: the medium, the achievements, and the possibilities. That romantic dreamer in all cinephiles. Kudos.

  2. Mary Pickering says:

    Breathtaking, Mr. D’Amico!

  3. Th. says:

    .

    Well said. Though I don’t know that there’s a need to bother replying to a post that read like a proof of Poe’s Law.

  4. Boris says:

    I’m sorry but this rebuttal has failed. I can discern two points that you are making – you want to discredit the author of the original piece and you disagree with his statement that movies before “Jaws” are not worth watching. I can’t take a position on either of the two because I haven’t seen a lot of old movies and my interest in movies is just slightly above that of the casual movie watcher. I have only seen about 70% of the movies from the original article but sadly I don’t recognize any of the titles mentioned in this one. I suspect the movies given as examples in ‘The Idea of What a Movie Is’ were meant to be examples that are accessible to a wide audience which you might be mistaking for incompetence on the author’s part.

    I don’t think the author of the original meant that we shouldn’t watch anything prior to “Jaws” or not love bad movies. He was making a point of what constitutes a good movie and I think he did a great job of that. Heck, we need bad movies! Just as much as we need good movies.

    “Film is a communication medium like the telephone and the letter, and so every film, even the bad ones—hell, especially the bad ones—is a message across time and space.” – I get the sentiment but let’s not glorify bad movies. Love them if you want but call them what they are – bad!

    • Greg DeLiso says:

      Thanks Boris that’s very nice of you. Well put.

    • Thomas says:

      “I’m sorry but this rebuttal has failed.”

      Well no, not really. It’s actually a pretty beautiful rebuttal – one written with far more consideration and passion than the original article really deserves. It cuts away all the fat and really gets to the heart of the matter by revealing how paper thin a lot of Greg’s assertions are.

      “you want to discredit the author of the original piece”

      Well, to be fair, the author of the original piece discredited himself when he made statements like “only two movies made before ‘Jaws’ are worth watching.” Besides, considering how much time he spends trying to discredit others – he conjures up the image of a bunch of “black hearted” “intellectuals” who have to “convince themselves” that “Raging Bull” has a story and who have the audacity to like things that he doesn’t like and who don’t share his (incredibly idiosyncratic) aesthetic preferences – I don’t think you can fairly criticize the author of this piece for calling into question Greg’s credentials.

      “and you disagree with his statement that movies before “Jaws” are not worth watching.”

      Well yeah – because that statement is moronic on the face of it. There were TENS OF THOUSANDS of films made around the world before “Jaws,” and those films were made in an incredibly wide range of styles and told an incredibly diverse range of stories. Even if you don’t like a certain style of film popular during that period, you’ll still have plenty to choose from. (Don’t like the films of the Hollywood Studio era? Give the surrealists or the expressionists a try. Don’t like those? Try the Czech New Wave or the Japanese New Wave or the French New Wave or try avant-garde filmmakers like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren and Norman McLaren.)

      Pre-1975 film simply cannot be pigeonholed – it’s too massive and diverse a period of filmmaking.

      You really, really shouldn’t have to have seen a huge number of films to recognize why a statement like “only two films from 1890 to 1975 are worth seeing.”

      “He was making a point of what constitutes a good movie and I think he did a great job of that.”

      Like this?

      “Jaws is sort of the first movie because it’s one of the first times a movie feels like a movie, like where things are happening and you care about them and it’s executed in an interesting and effective way. ”

      Because I would have a hard time thinking of a more under-thought “point” or a more useless definition of “what constitutes a good movie.” I can think of literally THOUSANDS OF FILMS made before “Jaws” that involve “things happening,” that many people “care about,” and that are “executed in an interesting and effective way.”

      Yes, I understand that all reactions are art to subjective – but a “brilliant” piece, or any piece worth reading really, will actually bother to provide evidence for its points. All the original post does is make a series of assertions that make the less informed feel good about themselves for ignoring huge swathes of film history (“I was write all along – every single one of those ‘old’ movies really is bad and boring!”)

      Look, perhaps you simply connect with the idea that certain acclaimed films focus too much on style instead of narrative. I can appreciate that. If he had just left it at “I really dislike films that focus more on creating a unique style than telling a compelling story,” I doubt he’d be getting such a negative response. But that was only one part of his argument. The problem comes in when he attempts to stereotype more than 80 years of film output as “all bad, with the exception of two films” – especially when those two films, while excellent, aren’t all that unique in terms of style or the stories they tell. His statements are completely inexplicable and unsupportable for anyone who actually knows anything about those films or that period. Most of us are sitting here saying: “Yeah, those films are really good – but what makes them so unique compared to this film and this film and this film and this film and this film?”

      In other words, his argument relies on ignorance. He can only support his “there were only 2 good films in that period” narrative if you ignore thousands of other films.

      “I have only seen about 70% of the movies from the original article but sadly I don’t recognize any of the titles mentioned in this one.”

      It’s really a shame if you don’t know “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Casablanca.” You should give them a try.

      • Thomas says:

        Sorry, pardon the grammatical and spelling errors. It’s clearly past my bedtime.

        Let me correct a few things:

        “You really, really shouldn’t have to have seen a huge number of films to recognize why a statement like “only two films from 1890 to 1975 are worth seeing” is ridiculous.”

        “I was right all along,” not “write.”

      • Joel Bocko says:

        Man, thanks so much for articulating what I was too flabbergasted to write myself. This really nails it. Typos and all. 😉

      • Boris says:

        Re: Thomas
        Although there are some notable exceptions, great movies are by large based on a solid narrative and social issues, not style. I believe that was the main argument in the original article and everything else stands to support it, therefore is secondary. I don’t understand why the rebuttal goes after secondary issues but fails to address the main point.

        Thank you for the movie suggestions!

        • Joel Bocko says:

          Boris, is the first paragraph your view or are you paraphrasing what you believe to be Greg’s? I VERY VERY strongly disagree with the statement, so I’m curious to know.

          • Boris says:

            It’s my view but I believe it’s one shared by many people including the author of the original article.

            • Joel Bocko says:

              I would say this is the probably even the majority view among casual moviegoers, but probably not among more enthusiastic cinephiles (which is not to say those who held it are therefore “casual moviegoers,” it’s a trait but not an exclusive or definitional one).

              I also think it’s “wrong” – and by “wrong” I mean too narrow, too exclusive of the many pleasures a movie has to offer. And the many particular pleasures a movie has to offer; in other words, you can get a story or social issues from any medium, or even something that is not a work of art (a news article has a narrative arc and a topical subject) but you can’t get the joys of editing or camera movement from a book or play, let alone a piece of journalism. Those are special features of film itself, some of its many unique gifts.

              There’s more that can be said, and maybe will be, but that’s where I start.

              • Boris says:

                Yes I agree, the story arc alone is a very narrow perspective to judge movies from. But a very important one. If it’s missing, then something else must be really good about the movie.

    • Paul Ryder says:

      Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

  5. J. Renouf says:

    Excellent rebuttal to a simplistic, crudely argued article. I particularly liked your use of the phrase “dismissive negativity.” It’s great fun, of course, to give an abhorred film a thrashing, as long as one isn’t dismissing it out of hand with mere assertion and without any knowledge of the directorial intentions or the historical context.

    For my taste, so many old movies are actually, on the whole, vastly superior to the plethora of dumbed-down, infantile, special-effects-ridden blockbusters that populate the market these days. I particularly like silents (Caligari and Intolerance are two of my favorites).

    The only thing I might agree with Greg about is the hype surrounding Raging Bull, which has always seemed to my eyes stylistically pretentious and inferior to Scorsese’s best work like Taxi Driver and, especially, Goodfellas.

    • Greg DeLiso says:

      Glad we agree about Goodfellas. I should mention, I don’t just thinking old movies are bad I think new movies are bad too, and for exactly the same reason. I think most of the movies made between 1980 and 2000 are bad too, it just so happens that by virtue of era, technology and style aligned to foster a period where movies maybe had a higher chance at being good. But again, most of the movies sucked then too. The point of the essay is to express all of those ideas. I’m not really trying to argue anything, it’s just a perspective. Spelling it out with brevity seemed more funny and effective than going on and on about why I think Vertigo is boring.

      • Thomas says:

        Well Sturgeon’s Law certainly applies to film just as much as it applies to any art form. A majority of all art – film, literature, music, etc. – is crap. It’s the good stuff that matters (though, as the author of this piece points out, bad works can be interesting and revealing in their own way.) And there’s been good stuff throughout the entire history of film – I see little evidence to support the notion that one era is better than another overall.

        I don’t buy the argument that technology or “changing eras” has somehow made films better overall. Art forms generally don’t really “progress” – they simply change. The intelligence and craftsmanship of the individual artist is and always has been by far the biggest influence on the quality of a film, and those traits haven’t changed over time. (That is to say, artists haven’t gotten more or less intelligent over time.)

        For the record, I would never attack someone for disliking any specific film or films. As I stated in the other thread, I’m indifferent to “Vertigo” overall (but would never, in a million years, think to compare it to a “filmed play”) and like “Raging Bull” and “Field of Dreams” about equally – but don’t feel strong opinions about either. It’s the sweeping generalizations that make your “argument” (or “perspective”) seem weak. I personally think it’s completely foolhardy to condemn 80 years of filmmaking, but if you are going to try, you should probably put a little more effort into it then “that old stuff is boring” and “these new films are interesting and make you care and stuff.”

  6. Oliver says:

    “Melodramatic overacting filmed in front of a flimsy set”

    Wait, what, are we talking about Zac Snyder movies now?

  7. Alex says:

    As someone who has seen more films made before 1975 than after (due to my mother’s love of older films), I very much appreciated this rebuttal of an article that seemed to be an affront to the movies I love.

    Thank you.

  8. Michael Hitchcock says:

    Hey, I quite liked your piece here. It covered some of what I would rebut to Greg.

    I don’t have much else to say, but there is no “like” button on a blog- so I have to give you feedback thus.

    So I am totally with you on “how can you not love all of it?” (Or mostly totally. I mean, I sure hate once in a while…)

    But one thing I find with your rebuttal and with many others in the comments is that you are all saying how arbitrary Greg’s line is. What I would like to know is why do you think your lines are less arbitrary? There have been literally millions and millions of films now- it is not physically possible to have seen them all. It is too many hours. It is almost not possible to have even just seen all of the films that show up on notable lists. There isn’t enough time in the human life-span for all that.

    So how do you choose your lines?

    • John says:

      Michael –

      I’m actually not really sure how to answer that question, I don’t think about it terms of “lines.”

      I wish I could be more eloquent about it, but my problem isn’t with what movies Greg likes or chooses to watch, that’s entirely his pleasure and I don’t think anybody should criticize anyone else for that, my problem with the idea of dismissing 85 years of artwork in a miasma of misrepresentation and misinformation about those years. It’s a larger problem with presenting dismissive ignorance as insight.

      I don’t really have any hardline rules about what eras or genres or whatever I will and will not watch. I guess I learn towards the stuff that speaks to me, like everyone does, but I try to keep abreast of what people are talking about and try to be open to things that may sound initially unappealing – there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t like at first because I was a young dumb idiot, so I want to keep my net broad. When I was first getting into movies I checked out a lot of the sorta canonical lists, and they’re a fine resource, but I kind of have my footing now so really I just look for stuff that seems good and try it out. Those are, I guess, my lines. It sounds dumb and glib, but in all sincerity that’s the best answer I can give ya. Unfortunately.

      How do you pick your films?

      • Michael Hitchcock says:

        Similar to you, actually.

        In 2005 I saw a movie was coming out called 2046 and I was like, “Cool title, I’ll go see it.” No foreknowledge or anything. Became one of my favorites!

        Someone took me to the movies for my birthday and I walked into the multiplex with my ears covered and looking at the floor (yes I see how autistic that looked hahaha). We ended up in Shaun of the Dead- which I had never heard of and which became another favorite.

        But mostly I just watch whatever anyone recommends, and whatever an actor, director, writer, story, or concept I like is putting out there (I like dystopian future sports movies for some reason. ROLLERBALL (original) hoorah)

        And anytime I am reading something that references a movie- if I care about the thing I am reading, I will try to watch the movie.

        See what gets me about the history of all of the arts- and now film has been around long enough to be subject to the same effect- is that there is too much of it for us to ever have seen it all. There are some snobs and others who pass themselves off as experts. I know of at least one film blogger who has the cheesy balls big enough to put out lists like BEST MOVIES OF THE 1920’S. How do you know- you haven’t seen them all… You can’t have. You are going off of the words and lists of the critics of the time- whose views were shaped by the same somewhat arbitrary notions of style and worth as their contemporary artists.

        And say, for instance, that during the early rennaissance, there were painters doing impressionistic landscapes or cubist portraits (probably didn’t happen, but could have) or say that in the 1700’s someone invented the 12 tone scale and started pioneering atonal music (more likely than the art thing to have happened, but probably did not). Their work would have been unlikely to survive to the present day.

        So when I see art critics and lazy theorists claiming you have to know what came before to really appreciate what we have now, I grumble a strong “bollocks!” The seemingly clean line of artistic advancement is a simplification or a lie. For us to be truly aware of all that has happened before, we would have to spend an eternity being crushed under the weight of history.

        And it seemed like all these other people who hated Greg’s piece were ignorant of this impossibility, and considered themselves super well informed about film history as opposed to Greg’s assumed ignorance. It annoyed me- but somehow your response was not annoying. So thanks. Haaa.

        Also, I think Greg is stupidly rough on films and I am so much more likely to love everything for what it is than to hate it for what it isn’t, but his extremely narrow view doesn’t threaten me or hurt my butt any, I just get a sense for what he thinks is worth anything in a film. (Like how I will forgive almost any amount of ugly cinematography/clumsy camerawork if I really enjoy the story and the characters.)

        • John says:

          “I like dystopian future sports movies for some reason.”

          See Przekladaniec (1968).

          • Michael Hitchcock says:

            Thanks! That sounds right up my alley!

            Read the IMDB page “story about a racing car driver who has had so many transplants that it can no longer be determined which people have contributed to his make-up” and closed the page immediately. Hahaha sounds good already. Let me be surprised.

            It’s on the list.

        • Joel Bocko says:

          Hmm, I disagree with this one even more than your other comments!

          I have always been more of a “breadth” person than a “depth” person when it comes to cinephilia, more interested in sampling from all the fascinating eras, movements, genres, and artists that are on offer than in borrowing deeply into this or that focus area. That’s just my nature, but I don’t begrudge people who do, say, focus largely on noirs or on the films of Preston Sturges or on French cinema of the 1970s. Furthermore I would certainly respect their knowledge in said areas, probably superior to my own. But I would take umbrage if they felt their grasp of the overall range and development of the medium matched or surpassed my own.

          The idea that because we can never know all of cinema history we are all equally ignorant simply isn’t true.

          Furthermore, dismissing canons and critical opinions of the past is not very helpful. Part of appreciating any medium is understanding its traditions, which are shaped by or grow out of critical discourses (among other features of the history which you view as compromised). Even if it’s just to subvert said traditions – there has to be a base of common knowledge one starts from.

          By all means, attack the sacred cows, re-interpret the accepted interpretations, turn conventional wisdom on its head. Mark Cousins’ wonderful documentary Story of Film does many such things: but it does so precisely by knowing what it is subverting (and in some cases, respecting – Cousins is not out to be contrarian for its own sake).

          I just loathe this idea – not limited to cinema, by the way – that because historical narratives are flawed or misleading, they should be disposed of altogether. Revisionist history only works if one knows what’s being revised.

          • Joel Bocko says:

            Oh, and incidentally – do you know Max Clark? I ask because you know Andrew Beamis, whom I met through Max. Totally irrelevant and has no place on this thread, haha, but there it is.

            • Michael Hitchcock says:

              I don’t know Max Clark.

              I used to know Andrew well, but the only social group I met through him were more his hometown friends.

          • Michael Hitchcock says:

            Hmm I agree with this commont MORE than your other ones.

            Later that day, while working, I realized that I may have come off as “you can’t know history so why bother” when what I really mean here is more complicated….

            Something more like, you do not have to know the currents and forces in history that shaped everything to understand and appreciate it.

            Music and literature are probably more my areas of expertise and the real fact is, when you memorize terms and dates and “rules” for styles, such as classical, baroque, modernism (eh), POST-MODERNISM (come on!), you are definitely participating in a (useful) simplification of what is really going on- so any true expert I meet from any field has a since of humility, excitement, and willingness to both learn and educate.

            Even though I disagreed with Greg’s review, all the people who wrote back worthless comments to him seemed to lack these fine qualities.

            The other thing that is and always will be true about the arts (and sciences, actually!) is that what came before already shaped what is to come, and there is definitely no reason to HAVE to know what came before to appreciate what is to come.

            Newton NEEDED phlogiston to “invent” the rules of light. Could not have done so without it. We do not need to know that to appreciate his insight.

            Hmmmm. I think what I am trying to say is that I enjoy learning about the past paradigms and shit (especially of music, literature, and science), but it is not the only way to examine things. Another way to approach things is in the abstract- generally. (you are talking to an ultimate lover of breadth over depth)

            Now, I know a philosophy professor (highly regarded in that little world) who loves and admires my essays in his field. He is not at all threatened by the idea that I ignore all of the history of it, and I am not threatened by the vast number of times I reinvent the wheel. He is enthusiastic about my insights, shares with me the people, time, and context where people have made these insights before, and does not care at all that I am so opposed to learning the history of philosophy- that is his interest.

            Compare that to a bunch of people yelling at Greg about a subjective article where he defines “not a movie” as the kind of gut reaction some people have when seeing Warhol’s Empire (or, I presume, an Adam Sandler movie). How could such a statement have brought so much impotent internet rage?

            I read it and thought- ok here is a definition of film boring with some (but not enough) positive statements about what makes film NOT boring.

            I was suprised with the arrogance with which Greg’s (supposed) arrogance and ignorance was attacked- and most everyone came off as ignorant in the wider view of Art that I (sooooo briefly) outlined above.

            Finally- the wack assumption everyone made that Greg doesn’t know the history of film had me in stitches. That guy has watched as many hours of film as any butt-hurt amateur critic in the biz- but he has also taken the time to make films that people watch and enjoy. Something to think about.

            John made a nice- very nice “rebuttal” that had positive statements about why he thinks the past of film is important and some of what makes a film good.

            Great. But if those same arrogant people now sigh and say “yes- that is right and Greg is wrong and we can all rest easy for one more day” (or however critics talk) then that doesn’t erase their ignorance or the validity of those who want to ignore some of the history of film.

            Anyway- you did a good job here explaining why history is important to you. I liked it. I can assure you I do not believe in any of that “all equally ignorant” shit. No no- I believe in expertise. But in my experience expertise is humble and welcoming.

            • Joel Bocko says:

              Gotcha. This generally makes more sense to me; though, out of curiosity and on another subject, why DON’T you want to know the history of philosophy?

              • Michael Hitchcock says:

                I don’t mind learning some of it piecemeal as it comes along, and I even find much of it interesting, but thanks for asking. I will indulge both of us and express it as well as I can… HMMM

                Philosophy and ways of thinking are always reactions to the present era. A lot of people get hung up on these old answers and try to apply them out of their temporal and cultural contexts because it seems right and it seems vaguely rational- “hey man, if it worked in Prussia….” But the dot dot dot ellides right over all the context that made the hypothetical idea work.

                Some of the people who learn historical philosophies really miss the point- a lot of the value of the old philosophies is not in the actual answers (though they can be great too) but rather in the method of inquiry.

                The other reason is more nebulous, but it has to do with the idea that if I learn all that stuff right in a row the way they learned it, I will perforce be thinking exactly like them without having had the chance to make up my own mind.

                Outside of science and math, I think a certain number of people who are ignorant or naive (in the good way) are totally necessary- that is where a lot (but of course not all) of innovation comes from. I would be happier reinventing one philosophy than I would be in memorizing all of them.

                Anyway, that is a super short treatment of how I decided to preserve some of my ignorance. Of course I understand that I was/am shaped by a culture and ideas that were shaped by the ideas I am ignoring, but by the time I was old enough to realize this, I was too old to grow up in a Skinnerbox or whatever. So I just keep as fresh as I can.

            • Joel Bocko says:

              On another note, I agree that sometimes knowing too much context can interfere with appreciation of the film at hand. Also, side note, when I speak of educating oneself in film history I generally think the autistictat approach (albeit aided by books on the subject) is healthier than the academic “official” one.

              • Joel Bocko says:

                And yes I know how ‘autodictat’ is spelled. Still getting used to typing with my thumbs…

              • Michael Hitchcock says:

                Nice.

                Holy Motors is a great example of this. I really loved it for itself. I thought the film was complete in itself.

                Then I read all these film writers harping on the biographical elements. and I was like “WHAT ABOUT THE FILM!?!?!” and they were like “THIS IS THE FILM, DUMMY!” and I was like “EH, WE’RE BOTH RIGHT, WHY ARE WE YELLING?” (paraphrased)

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  10. That Fuzzy Bastard says:

    Much thanks for smacking down that dippy little article, for bringing a lot of knowledge about location shooting in older films, and for the right on and endlessly fascinating point about movies as preserved time. Jacques Barzun once said that every film is a documentary, and it’s amazing how much more interesting the worst films become when you remember that.

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