Thursday, July 29, 2010

But Just a Little Bit

There are a lot of great blogs with a lot of great writing, but a very lucky few have the good fortune of having comments sections as worthwhile as the posts that bore them. Recently, I was skimming comments on one of Jim Emerson's Inception posts, where I found this note by OMG:
To be honest, there have even been some truly classic movies--and I mean really groundbreaking, monumental stuff--that have bored me to death even as I appreciated them. But then getting together to talk about them, such as in a film class run by an inspiring teacher...yeah, now that's fun.
It got me thinking not so much about the age-old topic of films that are more fun to talk about than they are to watch, but rather about films that you love in spite of the fact that they're kind of a drag to watch. And I'm not talking about movies you "appreciate" or "can recognize the value of" or whatever the latest euphemism is for "I didn't like it, it bored me, but a lot of other people seem to like it, and I can't really find anything bad to say about it." I'm talking about movies you flat-out love, that touch you deeply and opened the world to you and everything else great art is supposed to do, even if experiencing that particular work of art is just a drag.

I first experienced this with Stanley Kubrick. Seeing A Clockwork Orange for the first time was a marathon of frisson, but when I sat down to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, I wanted to tear my hair out even though, as the screen went black and the credits rolled, I knew I had experienced something of terrifying majesty. The experience was intensified in both directions when I saw Barry Lyndon, which is now my favorite both in terms of Kubrick's work and any film from the 1970s.

But even that's not quite what I'm after here - in subsequent viewings of each, I've come to adore every second of them (the difference between seeing Barry Lyndon on my 19-inch tube TV and projected in 35mm was certainly edifying in this regard). There are still films that, even after watching them a handful of times, are still a bit of a chore.

The first two that came to mind are Frederico Fellini's and Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad. Once again, let me reiterate - I love these films. Especially Marienbad, which means about as much to me as a film can to a person. I'm more of a La Dolce Vita man, but I do still deeply love 8½. And yet every time I see them, they hit a point about midway where I go "man, there's a lot of movie to this movie, isn't there?" Same with L'Avventura, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, or The Seventh Seal.

And it's not just great classic works of foreign cinema. I've seen Bringing Up Baby four times, it's my favorite Howard Hawks film and Howard Hawks is one of my five or so favorite directors. But only once was I consistently elated by it - watching it in a film class, in which every single person in the class was completely in tune with it (and man, what a way to watch that one). I never told a single person Che wasn't the longest damn film they'd ever see, and not only because statistically it almost certainly was. Anybody who says there aren't dead spots to Raging Bull is lying to themselves. And don't get me started on Robert Altman...

But, when taken in whole, these works are absolutely electrifying. Altman's and Godard's films are as galvanizing as ever, and the last shot of Nashville still stands as one of the most transcendent, fascinating moments in all of cinema (ditto the last shot or sequence of any Antonioni film), but...good Lord, it's a three-hour movie about people talking. What are they talking about? Oh, nothing in particular. And don't get me wrong, Nasvhille (which I love) also runs the gamut of being wildly hilarious, totally captivating, achingly awkward, and heartbreaking, but it's only when put in this huge canvas that any of it means anything, but as a result, those moments come to mean everything.

Jeffrey Wells has this bit that "quality movies flirt with being boring from time to time." He couches his stance, using words like "a little bit" to describe the level of boring, but I'll just say it - there are sections many films that I absolutely adore that bore me. It just blows my mind that so much of the film industry in constructed to prevent this feeling when, and I would agree with Mr. Wells here, it is so often (though not always) the mark of quality. A good film will usually take its time, let us ruminate on it, and on ourselves. It's necessary.


Unknown said...

I love this. There are quite a few films I watched early in my film student career that were such drags to watch but I loved them immediately afterwards. Chief among them: Sunrise, The Bicycle Thieves, Brief Encounter. I also thought Citizen Kane was a total drag, but I'd say I appreciate that rather than love it, it's not close to my heart. Bringing up Baby - agreed!

Scott Nye said...

As it happens, so does Peter Bogdanovich - on the commentary track for Bringing Up Baby, he said to hang in there, 'cause it plays a lot slower on video than on film. I'm sure he chiefly means sitting at home by yourself versus seeing it with a crowd, though.