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September 15, 2012

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lipranzer

Two thing occurred to me as I read Matt's piece:

(1) It's odd of all the Bond movies Sean Connery made that it would be FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE that elicited that reaction, as it's the - well, maybe "grittiest" is too strong a term for it, but it's certainly the most straightforward and least reliant on special effects of Connery's Bond films. It's also, if memory serves, the Connery Bond that has the least amount of what I would call "only in the 60's" filmmaking (the "look but don't touch" coyness that made, for example, that made the 60's CASINO ROYALE - and yes, I know it's not Connery, but bear with me - more irritating than fun for me, the emphasis on certain colors, the lounge music) of all of his Bond films. I like GOLDFINGER a lot, for example - next to FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, it's my favorite of the Connery Bond films - but that film contains a lot of "only in the 60's" filmmaking that, I think, would feel more dated than anything in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

(2) I unfortunately worked with someone who seemed to watch a lot of movies just to feel superior to them, and I really do not understand that attitude. And it wasn't a case of him being someone who just didn't "get" older or "foreign" movies (he could talk about, say, Truffaut in a clearheaded fashion); he did this with modern and older movies. I hesitate to call this kind of attitude a generational thing (as labeling something like this as such intrinsically bugs me), but I have seen it more often as of late.

Petey

It IS sorta ironic that Zoller Seitz tries to use Singing In The Rain to try to illustrate his point, given that Singing In The Rain intentionally has the audience at the time of its release laughing at outmoded styles in older films...

Petey

Getting past the irony, this is a relatively universal problem, likely exacerbated over recent decades for a variety of societal reasons.

A cinema tends not to be a museum, and folks without historical context are going to have trouble with outmoded styles, especially if they think they are there to react in the same way they'd react to a modern 'popcorn' movie.

Camp exists. And folks who aren't prepared to appreciate a film in an outmoded style on its own terms are highly susceptible to foregrounding the camp aspects over everything else. Once that happens, they are watching a completely different movie than you are, and will react in different ways.

(My solution is to try to hit The Film Forum for matinees rather than nighttime shows, especially avoiding weekend nighttime shows, which all seems to correlate to a lower percentage of viewers who are there to play Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

In short, you need some education in cinema, or you need a Beginner's Mind, to appreciate Solaris.

Steve

It's my experience that audiences are generally respectful towards older foreign-language films. It's classic Hollywood films that bring out the giggles. For some reason, Film Forum has a bigger problem with this than any other theater in New York. (Maybe it's the proximity to NYU.) Seeing Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk melodramas there is torturous.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Among the many reasons why Film Forum is on my "never go there if it can possibly be avoided" list. Between NYU and Chelsa, it's an audience that's there to snicker.

J. Nyhuis

I blame Mystery Science Theater 3000.

D

I think Seitz identifies a problem, but his solution can be as troublesome as that which it seeks to address.

Simple courtesy would indicate that people attending a film should behave in the manner least disturbing to others around them. But Seitz' imperative demands more: he believes that the superior choice is to "connect emotionally and imaginatively — giving yourself to the movie for as long as you can, and trying to see the world through its eyes and feel things on its wavelength." But what if imaginative connection is prevented by the cultural biases of the work in question? As a queer progressive I cannot imaginatively connect with a work of art that is racist/homophobic/sexist. I can recognize these (and other) ideologies as present and refrain from making comments during the film, but to "feel things" on wavelengths such as this is not possible since my wiring does not run that way (and unable to feel these things is not a failure of imagination -- not to comprehend that a person could feel on this wavelength would be a failure of imagination).

In the instance of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the images he points out were regarded as sexist even when the film was released (albeit by a far smaller segment of the population than might do so today), and it is not an act of historical revisionism to see them as sexist now (and there are other ways of viewing these images as well).

Sophistication is the problem only insofar as people believe that their response demands immediate expression, and I do not believe this is so much a generational issue as one of class. The world is rife with Biffs and Muffys who were raised with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement -- always catered to by helicopter parents who demanded that all who came in contact with their Christ-children acknowledge each utterance as a pearl of wisdom and each action as a golden nugget of self-expression not to be interfered with lest lifelong damage ensue. When you have run your family since childhood, it is doubtful that you are suddenly going to discover restraint when loosed upon the world (especially when mommy and daddy help pay your rent so you can pursue whatever non-renumerative career you regard as your destiny).

In my view, the spectoral imperative is to remain always open to the possibility of a connection, and when one does not occur, begin the process of understanding why the connection is absent and refraining from any immediate announcement -- an admittedly onerous request for many people in this age of Facebook and Twitter. After all: mommy and daddy never said shut-up, so why would anyone else?

Steve

D, do you really manage to avoid connecting at all times with work that expresses an ideology you disagree with or find offensive? What about art that is progressive in some respects but sexist/homophobic in others, such as the music of Public Enemy?

That Fuzzy Bastard

"What if imaginative connection is prevented by the cultural biases of the work in question? As a queer progressive I cannot imaginatively connect with a work of art that is racist/homophobic/sexist. "

"In my view, the spectoral imperative is to remain always open to the possibility of a connection, and when one does not occur, begin the process of understanding why the connection is absent and refraining from any immediate announcement"

I find it very hard to understand how one can believe both of these things.

Petey

Personal Experience:

As a studying cinephile, I found Gilda to be pretty hilarious due to all the over-the-top phallic symbolism of The Walking Stick. Still an enjoyable movie, though.

As an untutored and rambunctious teen, I was dragged to a screening of The Tin Drum, which I found hilarious throughout. My constant laughter annoyed my companion, and probably detracted from the experience of others in the cinema. (Though I'm happy to have just read Ebert's review and found some tutored company in my inability to immerse myself in the movie on its own terms.)

Petey

And seriously, I am the only one who thought the particular inclusion of Singing In The Rain as an example in Zoller Seitz's piece was unintentional hilarious / unfortunate / seriously undermining?

Steve

Seitz's article is hampered by the fact that it's about FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - after all, someone could defend laughing at it as a feminist act. But he's right to point to a general lack of empathy with the past. You could take his article and change a few details, and it would describe my experiences at screenings of JOHNNY GUITAR and WRITTEN ON THE WIND.

Petey

"Seitz's article is hampered by the fact that it's about FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE"

I get that point. But, again, Singing In The Rain is a VERY special case in that its contemporary audience is invited to laugh at old movies for being out of fashion. So having a modern audience laugh at that now old movie for being out of fashion seems somehow at peace with the universe.

"But he's right to point to a general lack of empathy with the past."

No doubt, I just find citing that particular movie to be especially unfortunate to his argument.

"it would describe my experiences at screenings of JOHNNY GUITAR and WRITTEN ON THE WIND"

No doubt again. Those movies are camp magnets. I feel quite lucky to have avoided such annoyance at my cinema viewings of both wonderful flicks.

Peter Damm

I think that the type of engagement that Seitz is championing does not prevent one from critically engage with the work aesthetically or ideologically. In fact I hunk that by looking at the work from he perspective that he viewer is somehow more advanced denies any kind of engagement critical otherwise.

With regards to Singing in the Rain; I would regard that pictures humor is located less in making fun of silent films and rather making fun and reflecting on the ego in Hollywood as well as the challenges in adjusting to a new technology.

That said, full disclosure, I really like The Room. Although I'm prepared to defend that on terms outside of camp. Troll 2 not so much, but I also like that.

D

Steve: I do not avoid connecting with material as a conscious choice -- it is just that when a connection does not occur, I notice this fact and then look for a reason for this lack of connection. But just because I am not connecting with a particular aspect of a work's content, does not mean that I do not connect with other content aspects or with the work's formal attributes. Each aesthetic experience has its degree of connectivity -- and that degree can increase and/or decline over time and repeated engagements (and usually does).

FB: What is your difficulty? Quite probably I expressed myself clumsily.

That Fuzzy Bastard

D: I find it hard to understand how you can lay down as an iron rule "I cannot imaginatively connect with a work of art that is racist/homophobic/sexist," yet still "remain always open to the possibility of a connection." It seems to me that declaring that it is impossible to connect with a work of art which expresses (consciously or unconsciously) noxious values shuts down the possibility of connection preemptively, and closes off an awful lot of major art.

I mean, I understand that it can be genuinely hurtful when a beloved artist makes clear that s/he doesn't want you in their work---a decent chunk of my adolescence was wasted having a crisis over artistic idol T.S. Eliot's contempt for my Hebraic nature, and his willfully archaic anti-Semitism is positively genteel compared to what the victims of more contemporary prejudices suffer. But to declare that such conflicts make a work of art haraam forever after strikes me as a terrible loss to one's personal pantheon, and does more harm to me than to the artist.

Brad Olson

NYC audiences are (or at least can be) the worst. Same thing has happened to me at films ranging from Godzilla to The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. Film Forum is the absolute worst for smug, self-satisfied NYC d-bags getting all superior. They suck.

BB

Thanks for the link; another really good piece by MZS. I feel his pain, I really do. Want to add also: if you are so fucking pedantic that you can't feel the point of this piece due to his examples being FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and SINGING IN THE RAIN, just stop it right fucking now, alright?

george

Maybe these people went to "From Russia With Love" expecting it to be campy and over the top like later Bond films, and couldn't deal with the fact that it was played fairly straight.

I saw this movie in a theater about a decade ago. A couple of teenage boys sitting behind me guffawed at every line. I won't say it ruined the viewing experience for me, but I could have done without those two guys.

andy

I dated a really nice girl who loved movies and even wanted to be a film critic, but grew up with MS3K and didn't realize that, just for starters, if she had seen a movie on that show, she hadn't actually seen the movie...she got the point after listening to me fulminate or whatever I ended up doing, but it was disappointing to me that a person who was savvy enough to love Ophuls and Lang etc could be just as jaded and removed as her peers when it came to something less honored...My most annoying experience of this variety in recent memory was seeing JCVD and hearing the howls of laughter during the scene where his chair begins to rise up and the armor comes off. Such an unexpectedly transcendent moment and it was not even being given a moment to process by the (stereotypically clad, no less, so I'm not just throwing the word around) hipsters before its loud dismissal. These idiots don't even require the distance of time to not get into the spirit of a film.
The other worst thing is seeing a film with an older, educated audience who have to give little knowing mumurs of chuckles to the subtlest of things to show how they are "getting" the film most appreciatively. Sort of the flip side of the coin. Excruciatingly smug and clueless all at once. But I guess preferable.

Grant L

I don't think this is even that much of a new phenomenon - I experienced the exact same thing at screenings of The Killing and Rebecca back in the early 80s. I know it's certainly not something that occurs in every showing, and I think just one or two people can slowly infect the entire group, but it was one of the factors that's kept me from seeing much in repertory ever since.

Samuel

I saw the Exorcist in the theater when it was rereleased in 2000. That viewing was maybe the sixth time I'd seen it, and it still scared the crap out of me. The rest of the audience thought it was a comedy; they laughed the whole time. I just don't understand, twelve years after the fact.

Petey

"I don't think this is even that much of a new phenomenon - I experienced the exact same thing at screenings of The Killing and Rebecca back in the early 80s."

If you want to date the mass outbreak back to the origins, I really think you have to go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight shows at the Waverly Theater in 1976, which mainstreamed some more fringe camp cinema as entertainment experiences from the late '60's / early '70's.

Combine that with a loss of reverence for cinema as The Central Art Form that came in with the Jaws / Star Wars blockbuster era, and by the early '80's, we're already there.

george

A TCM programmer said you need to introduce people to old movies at an early age. If you wait until they're in college, it will probably be too late. Black and white photography, and the style of movies from decades past -- long takes, long scenes, the emphasis on dialogue instead of action -- may seem too odd, too alien for them.

I grew up at a time (the '70s) when local TV stations ran movies from the '30s, '40s and '50s almost every day. That's how they filled time slots in the afternoon and late at night. So watching "old movies" was second nature to me and most people my age. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case for later generations.

Petey

"A TCM programmer said you need to introduce people to old movies at an early age. If you wait until they're in college, it will probably be too late."

I'm somewhat an exception to the rule. I wasn't really exposed to older movies prior to college, with a few minor exceptions like Citizen Kane and Dr. Strangelove.

But once I got to college, I ended up getting exposed with a vengeance, and could quite quickly handle even silent movies on their own terms. But, unusually, I did have good peers, good teachers, and exposure to the production process. And all of that got me up to speed in the first semester or two.

"I grew up at a time (the '70s) when local TV stations ran movies from the '30s, '40s and '50s almost every day. That's how they filled time slots in the afternoon and late at night. So watching "old movies" was second nature to me and most people my age. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case for later generations."

My own experiences aside, I do think you are on to something here. The lack of TV exposure for children and adolescents probably does have a large impact on the inability of recent cohorts to be able to parse older movies on their own terms.

george

Probably helped that I didn't start my old-movie viewing with heavy stuff like "Kane" or "Grapes of Wrath." That would probably have bored me as a kid.

I started with what the local TV stations ran in the afternoon: Abbott & Costello, Francis the Talking Mule, Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis. Not to mention Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang. Then, a bit older, I moved up to the movies shown at night: W.C. Fields, Marx Brothers, Bogart and Cagney, Universal horror, "Grand Hotel."

Maybe if today's young people were introduced to the FUN movies of the past, instead of starting with viewings of The Classics in college, they might have a more positive experience.

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