The Dangers of Watching Great Movies

Good afternoon, my pretties! I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me but I promise I haven’t abandoned you — I merely got sidelined by germs, fatigue, and the parts of my life that don’t happen on the internet. Can you believe there are any? Neither can I, sometimes.

But now… I am back to blogging!

Ben Franklin butter statue. Nothing as American as cardiac arrest!

In case you missed it, a little over a week ago there was this big holiday known as American Arterial Distress Day, or something like that. After stuffing myself full of delicious, delicious animal fat courtesy of friend and blog reader Brent (hi Brent!), I atoned for my crass excess by having one the most pretentious weekends of all time.

Said pretension consisted of reading four-or-so back issues of The New Yorker that had piled up next to my bed and taking a quick tour of mid-century European cinema. Films viewed were Blow-UpThe 400 Blows, and Breathless. In case you’re keeping track, that’s Antonioni, Truffaut and Godard in a two-day period. And yes I think my own farts smell just delightful, thank you very much.

I’m not here to wax poetic about the brilliance of the films and my feelings about them, because so very much has been said about these films already.  No, I am here to talk about the fact that there is always something kind of disorienting and anticlimactic about coming to “the classics” late, or once you are of sufficient age to have already watched a lot of movies. This weekend was the second time I’d been confronted by this phenomenon in recent days; the first was when I watched Citizen Kane last month for the first time since I was 13.

Warning: this child will escape with your soul

The problem isn’t with my perception of the quality of these films; I’m not here to tell you that Citizen Kane or The 400 Blows just don’t stand the test of time — they do. The issue is more that these “iconic,” “revolutionary” films have been so ceaselessly imitated in the past 50-70 years that even when watching them for the first time, I had the feeling I’d seen it all before. There is this sense, especially with French New Wave, of watching one art-house cliché after another: jump cuts, tracking shots, improvised dialogue, blurring of the three-act structure, and so on and so forth.

As I watched, I had to step back and remind myself that when these films were made such techniques  were not yet clichés, and only became so because of the influence these films had on subsequent directors. There are some really great films that knocked off the New Wave style (see: Bonnie and Clyde) but there have also been innumerable bad ones and countless that are merely ok — succeeding with the technique but somehow missing the heart, and therefore just coming across as self-consciously “arty.” Getting the style but missing the substance, if you will. And having long since gotten tired of the film-school pretensions of every middling American director with serious ideas about “cinema”, it took a moment for my knee-jerk eyerolling at Antonioni’s hyper stylized, photo-like compositions to subside and for me to realize he was actually really doing something with that sensibility.

Making art about making art = meta

But this, of course, is the classic penalty of being “influential” — countless lesser  artists imitate your work until your creations are doomed to be seen as unoriginal by the younger generations, whose eyes have been clouded by decades of derivative nonsense.  And you can only hope that some of them are smart enough to tell the difference between a knock off and the genuine article. Like the difference between a $20,000 Birkin and some leather thing with fasteners they sell at Zara, for example. As someone with discerning taste, I clearly have a whole closet full of Birkins. Just like Victoria Beckham. I’m so on point with my metaphors today.


But again, this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my trip down one of cinephilia’s Yellow Brick Roads. The New Wave stuff in particular prompted me to spend a good hour tolling the internet for black-and-white photos of Paris, fantasizing about my past life as a gamine, ruffian-chic bohemian strolling down the left bank with a cigarette dangling from my lips and a string of tall-dark ne’er-do-wells trailing heartbroken in my wake.

As we have discussed, I have a problem with that sort of thing.


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