Wednesday, November 5, 2014

You're Liking It Wrong

‘Tis the season for best-of-year list-making to once again consume the minds of tastemakers, both actual and wannabe. For us clammy, opinionated few in the Sun arts section, that means a lot of time murmuring, alone, at a shared GoogleDoc spreadsheet, worrying why FlyLo’s “Never Catch Me” is not on every ballot and casting shade at everyone else’s taste through snarky comments and Tim & Eric GIFs.

That explains my experience, at least. Truth is, all this antagonizing comes from a playful place, not from any legitimate, swirling anger directed toward the tastes of my peers. Part of this ease stems from my acceptance, sometime over the last two years, that there is no “Best” anything, especially when decided en masse. Midway through last awards season, when movies become racehorses and cease to be seen as art, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott observed, “Criticism rests on the independence and integrity of the singular.” Words I can live by.

With the power to judge works on a personal level comes the profound yet, in this clickbaitian epoch, devalued responsibility to respect the opinions of others. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true, and it requires a few more words to unpack. So let me first backtrack and pose a new question: Is it possible to take issue with someone who likes a movie that you do but for totally different, and therefore wrong, reasons?

In short: Yes, you most certainly can, you definitely should and this should not come as a surprise to any of you. One of the more implicit and important lessons to a humanities education comes in the recognition that there are not just other people in the world but other minds, too, all equally vast and treacherous. That is humbling to admit, and crucial to remember until the day you die, but it does not mean we should keep quiet. Every person is a precious flower, yeah yeah, but growth stems from these little intellectual quarrels, when we form an argument addressed at a formidable friend or foe and secretly, unconsciously hope his or her retort is good enough to keep the volley going.

You think The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a barrel of laughs and pastel colors? I’d say you missed a great deal of sadness, fascist metaphor and meta-commentary on the iterability of storytelling. Boyhood is “relatable” and nothing more? I’d say it’s an upsetting depiction of the ways we both change and fail to change, or even retain agency, over time and how our messy lives never fit into neat narrative arcs. Non-Stop and Lucy are trash and thus worthless? Well … you should know where I stand on those two by now.

Of course, no one else shares my takes on every film. Not because mine are right or better than anyone else’s, but because they are influenced by my own subjective experience, which is something I have elaborated on a couple times this semester. I have put in the time to develop what I hope are rigorous and interesting readings of a great deal of films, yet I recognize that these readings coexist with a million different others. Just because I say something specific about, say, the tracking shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey does not cancel out, in my eyes, the validity of an opposing interpretation.

I hope others think I’m “getting at something” or that I’m “right on the money” with my piece on [insert film here], but deep down I know any supposedly perfect review could be countered by a perfectly reasonable alternative written from a different frame of reference. I still own what I believe in, and I will defend my position with fire if required, but I’m not going to lose sleep because one friend or the Tomatometer disagrees. All I have in this world is my taste, which is true only to me no matter how adamantly I believe otherwise, but I’ll do my best to sustain the illusion with a marvelous grace.

This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here

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