Not long ago, I was browsing in the video section of Tower Records and saw an amazing occurrence: a 20-something guy stopped dead in his tracks when he saw a copy of Akira Kurosawa’s
Seven Samurai, telling his wife/girlfriend /significant other that this is the movie they must rent. “It’s a classic,” he told her, “a genuinely exciting piece of cinema that stands up against today’s films very well.” “Over my dead body,” she replied. “After all,” she explained, “these are the kind of films I had to watch in college, and there’s no way I’m going to rent one.” I felt bad that the guy didn’t get to rent it, but I felt even worse that such a great film was being relegated to the dubious classification of homework.
Unfortunately, that’s the way most of cinema history is now seen: endlessly dull black-and-white films with little or no relevance to a contemporary audience. In this pop culture-defined world, it’s just too damn much work for people to sit and analyze a film. It’s easier to grasp the easily grasped, to rummage the shallow waters of pop culture and declare it an ocean. If you think I’m exaggerating, look at the film criticism in Salon, which has made an art out of analyzing pop culture and extracting its meaningless essence. The zine recently ran a pop culture defense of the indefensible 1977 remake of
King Kong, as if to say the current generation of pop film pundits have reconsidered film in terms of its inherent trash value.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy pop culture as much as anyone – maybe even more – but the following examples prove film can be both art and entertainment. Consider them homework if you must, but don’t think your Uncle Nick doesn’t love you. Think of this as tough love.
The Man With The Movie Camera (1929)
“The Man With The Movie Camera is the ultimate example of Vertov’s radical
documentary style, and while he made the film with the Stalin regime overseeing
the project, there is something very subversive at work here. For all it’s imagery
of the triumph of Soviet industrialization, the film questions the very nature of the
images it portrays….”
“What is really explored here is the fragile nature of relationships film people have
as an occupational hazard: relationships are formed by these people who are
desperately in need of love and acceptance, only to have these short term
relationships terminated with the wrap of each movie’s production….”
“This is a film that is impossible to
be assessed after a single or cursory viewing. Like a novel by Joyce or Nabokov,
Fellini’s film needs to be lived in, absorbed and savored like any great work of art….”
“Irma Vep is such an unassuming and seductive piece of film
making that it’s possible to watch the entire film without realizing that it is a
punchy satire on the neutering of French cinema by American pop culturization….”