Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Best vs. Favorite

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom certain members of my family have been stricken with list-o-mania (as distinct from Lisztomania, though that would certainly be on a list I would make ). It started innocently enough with lists of favorite books and favorite movies and other such things. This I understood because lists are fun, but then they moved from the safety of “favorites” into the realm of “bests,” which strikes me as definitely risky and possibly unnecessary.

Generally speaking, no one should berate you for liking a movie—at least within limitations. (Liking the 1963 Stanley Kramer bloatathon It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is marginally excusable on the grounds of impaired taste or misplaced nostalgia. Liking Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen merits calling in mesmerists, exorcists and possibly witch doctors.) A person can’t be said to be “wrong” for liking something. “Like” is not even a remotely objective term. I understand there are people who like cauliflower. I think they’re nuts, but I won’t say they’re wrong. However, when you start making “best” claims, you’re just asking for trouble, because you’re suggesting an objective—or at least supportable case.

I really like the so-called “Monogram Nine” (well, eight of them)—those super-cheap trash horror movies that Bela Lugosi made for Sam Katzman at Monogram Pictures in the 1940s—but I’m fully aware that they’re not good. I once described them as being the sort of thing you might expect if a technically savvy ten-year-old was allowed to make a movie. This, in fact, is their charm. I won’t go as far as Katzman himself did when he opined that anyone who went to these movies—his movies, mind you—was mentally defective, but I understand his point. Unless you’re making a list of “Best Worst Movies” or “Best of Bad Bela,” you would have to be mentally defective to put any of these on a “best” list.

What interests me here isn’t so much that it’s possible to like something that isn’t good. That’s a pretty easy concept. But what about the reverse? Is it really possible to call something “best” if you don’t like it? On what basis are you then making that claim? And why should you have to?

The general answer you get for “best movie ever made” is Citizen Kane (1941). I did recently see someone say that Kane was old hat, but considering that he had the uber-predictable choice of The Godfather (1972) on his list, I was unconvinced that I was in the presence of an original maverick thinker. The thing here is that I have no real issue with Citizen Kane in this capacity, but I also happen to like it. I think it’s a lot of fun in every sense. It’s exciting filmmaking and it tells an entertaining story in an entertaining way. No, I wouldn’t answer the question with it. (If pressed to give an answer to what is really a preposterous question like this, I’d probably say F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise [1927]). But I understand the choice and am not about to go best two falls out of three over it. But I wonder how many people who actually give Citizen Kane as the answer actually like the movie—and how many are just hooked on conventional wisdom?

I haven’t seen—or have avoided seeing—one of those “polls” of greatest movies in some time, but you used to be able to bet that the number two film was likely to be Gone With the Wind (1939). Now, there’s a movie I do have problems with—and, no, this isn’t some PC thing. The movie is of its time and I have no problem accepting that. It’s simply that it’s this big, lumbering behemoth of a soap opera that goes on forever—and is impersonal as hell. It—along with most films of the overrated year of 1939—is the expression of corporate filmmaking in full flower. It’s slick, glossy, pretty and I don’t much care. But the funny thing here is that I fully believe that, unlike Citizen Kane, it’s a movie that ends up on such lists because people actually do like the damned thing. (Truth to tell, I like a lot of things in it, but I don’t think it’s a great movie—though it is the ne plus ultra of a kind of movie.)

Here’s the thing—movies are an art form and all art has to do with communication on one level or another. Now, unless a film communicates with you in some significant way that genuinely makes you like it or feel in some way enriched by the experience, on what possible basis can you honestly label it as a “best?” That film may not be particularly deep (I wouldn’t call Kane deep) and its claim to greatness may be largely technical, but it’s not impossible to like—even love—a film strictly on that basis. Why should anyone feel the need to label a film among the best without liking it? For that matter, are they being honest if they do?

Some of this comes down to a kind of cultural peer-pressure, I know. It’s always easier to stick with the safe choices—the schoolbook choices. It makes life flow rather more smoothly, but it’s also a little—or a lot—boring. Someone who is only prepared to discuss art with you based on the accepted masterpieces of the schoolbook sort probably isn’t going to have much to say that’s worth your time. It certainly isn’t likely to lead to any kind of spirited debate—and a spirited, intelligent debate is the very thing that keeps art alive and fresh. If someone tells me that the Mona Lisa is the greatest painting of all time, I’ll probably start looking for the nearest exit. If someone else tells me that an Henri Rousseau tropical forest with monkeys painting is better, then I’ll pursue that conversation. (Nevermind that comparing Da Vinci and Rousseau is pointless.) There’s some level of actual thought going on there—not just somebody repeating something told to him or her in ninth grade.

Sometimes this sort of thing can be pretty funny when placed in historical context. There’s a scene in David Butler’s You’ll Find Out—a 1940 musical comedy thriller starring Kay Kyser that isn’t likely to be on anyone’s best list—in which guest villains Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff are standing in front of a painting. The painting is The Man with the Golden Helmet. Lorre enthuses over the painting, “Ah, The Man with the Golden Helmet. Yes, Rembrandt. He was indeed the master of them all,” and Karloff adds, “I think that’s one of his best.” Typical movie level culture vulture stuff—“culchah” for the masses. There’s only one problem—many years later, expert after expert determined that, hey, guess what? The painting isn’t by Rembrandt at all. So here are Karloff and Lorre frozen for all time with cultural egg on their faces for waxing rhapsodic over this subsequently bogus Rembrandt. Or are they?

Without getting into the questions being raised today by new experts that maybe the old experts were wrong and that the older experts were right and it really is by Rembrandt, let’s look at it another way. Our old chums, Boris and Peter, may be perfectly right artistically in praising the painting. It is after all the same painting—the painting didn’t change—it was before it was discredited. So if they were actually admiring the painting and not just bowing to the Rembrandt brand name, there’s nothing really wrong with their enthusiasm for it, is there? (Granted, they’re only reading what someone else wrote, but the principle’s the same.)

The point is worry a little less about what you’re supposed to like and consider great, and worry a little more about the honesty of your response to a thing. If you can sit down with Citizen Kane and come away going, “Hell, yes, that’s the best movie ever made,” then fine. But don’t force yourself to do it because you’re “supposed to.” These are movies, not broccoli that your mother is forcing you to eat—and if you’re approaching them as the latter, you’re doing neither the movies, nor yourself any favors.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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67 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Best vs. Favorite

  1. steph

    I’ve kind of felt that way with Casablanca. I’ve watched it twice, the second time to see if I “got” it but was always left cold.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve kind of felt that way with Casablanca. I’ve watched it twice, the second time to see if I “got” it but was always left cold.

    I go on and off Casablanca. Right now, I like it more than I don’t.

  3. Dionysis

    Best? Clearly it is a toss-up between ‘Tank Girl’ and ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown.”

  4. Ken Hanke

    Best? Clearly it is a toss-up between ‘Tank Girl’ and ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown.”

    It distresses me that you might not be taking this seriously. It worries me that maybe you are.

  5. Dionysis

    “It distresses me that you might not be taking this seriously. It worries me that maybe you are.”

    No need for distress or worry. I should have stated ‘favorite’ instead of best. While I was kidding about ‘Tank Girl’, believe it or not, I always get a laugh out of ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’. There are many objectively lousy movies that I will pull out periodically because, well, because I just like them. I’ll watch an Ed Wood film, or something like ‘They Saved Hitler’s Brain’ anytime.

    To me, the whole thing is so subjective it’s difficult. While ‘Citizen Kane’ might arguably be one of the best (or THE best film), there are other movies that I would vote for over it. Some include ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, ‘Twelve Angry Men’, ‘Cape Fear’ (original, although I liked Scorcese’s version). ‘Night of the Hunter’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Is Paris Burning?’ to name a few. I also would say these titles are included in my favorites.

    I could add some more contemporary films that may end up in the ‘best’ category, including ‘The Pianist’, and some that I consider favorites include ‘Local Hero’, ‘Gross Point Blank’ and ‘Tapeheads’. Most of my favorites, however, are horror films from the Universal series onward, and science fiction films from the 50s and 60s.

    Oh, as an aside, I bought a copy of ‘Return of the Vampire’ for $3 and watched it a few days ago for the first time in decades. It was much better than I remembered, in spite of the talking werewolf carrying Bela Lugosi’s laundry.

  6. What interests me here isn’t so much that it’s possible to like something that isn’t good. That’s a pretty easy concept. But what about the reverse? Is it really possible to call something “best” if you don’t like it?
    I have an example that slots in perfectly here. I despise MOULIN ROUGE, find the whole thing irritating, obnoxious and almost impossible to sit through. But it is a great movie, from the performances to the cinematography to the set design. I just happen to not like it.

    As for the best/favourite discussion, I have no problem with KANE as best, because I love it. I don’t know what I consider the best film of all time. My favourite films are THE LAST WALTZ, SOME LIKE IT HOT, MEMENTO and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. I wouldn’t be prepared to call any of those the best film ever made.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Some include ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, ‘Twelve Angry Men’, ‘Cape Fear’ (original, although I liked Scorcese’s version). ‘Night of the Hunter’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Is Paris Burning?’ to name a few. I also would say these titles are included in my favorites.

    I could get behind Night of the Hunter and All Quiet, which would also qualify as favorites of mine.

    It was much better than I remembered, in spite of the talking werewolf carrying Bela Lugosi’s laundry.

    I am strangely resistant to this film — and yet I love Lugosi pictures that are much inferior to it. But there’s something about it that doesn’t work for me — I don’t like the score for one thing, but I think a lot of it is that there’s a lack of rich Lugosiana in the dialogue.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I have an example that slots in perfectly here. I despise MOULIN ROUGE, find the whole thing irritating, obnoxious and almost impossible to sit through.

    Then to me, the film fails — for you — in some significant way, since these are certainly not the feelings it intends to generate. Also, the movie’s simply not been around long enough for me to consider moving it from favorites to greatness. Give it another 11 years or so. (And by then, you may not find is obnoxious, either.)

    My favourite films are THE LAST WALTZ, SOME LIKE IT HOT, MEMENTO and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. I wouldn’t be prepared to call any of those the best film ever made

    I don’t even much like any of them, but the last named. While I would not be prepared to call A Hard Day’s Night the best film ever made, it’s good enough and enough of a landmark movie that changed so much that I’d certainly have it on any list of great movies.

  9. brianpaige

    Ah, part of that 1939 vs. 1932 email turned up in this column.

    I’ll be honest, I understand why Citizen Kane is considered great, but do I consider it the greatest movie ever made? No. I’m not even sure I like it very much. I don’t even know why exactly. Steph said that Casablanca leaves her cold, which is the way Kane makes me feel. I will pose this question: Has anyone here watched Citizen Kane and felt anything either way about what they just saw after it was over? It has a ton of memorable dialogue, excellent performances, brilliant and groundbreaking camera work….yet when it’s over I simply shrug.

    Should I care about Kane as a character? Let’s face it, regardless of how cool the final image of Rosebud may be, the film is telling us this: Here’s a rich guy who ended up lonely in a huge mansion and longed for his youth. The thing is, there’s no real sentiment in the film towards his youth. Having seen Kane’s family and the way he was living initially, why would he yearn for THAT? Kane never expresses much of any longing for the stern Agnes Moorhead or the freezing, snowy weather.

    I personally can’t give an answer for “best movie of all time.” I can list favorite movies or performers, but little of it would make a critic’s list. I do think that whatever the greatest movie ever is should at least stir me emotionally.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Ah, part of that 1939 vs. 1932 email turned up in this column

    Actually, it’s more part of a crusade I’ve been quietly carrying on for about 30 years.

    I will pose this question: Has anyone here watched Citizen Kane and felt anything either way about what they just saw after it was over? It has a ton of memorable dialogue, excellent performances, brilliant and groundbreaking camera work….yet when it’s over I simply shrug

    Well, yes, I have, but not about Kane himself. That’s why I noted — “That film may not be particularly deep (I wouldn’t call Kane deep) and its claim to greatness may be largely technical, but it’s not impossible to like — even love — a film strictly on that basis.” It is, I think, possible to be sufficiently engaged by other elements — and by the sense of joy conveyed on the part of a filmmaker delighting in the possibilities of filmmaking for its own sake — to make the other factors secondary considerations.

  11. Jeff Corpening

    So much has to do with when you see a movie (or view any art form). From where the viewer is standing alters their perception and reception of the art. When I was 8 or 9 years old I loved The Pirate Movie. Today, I wouldn’t even show that one to my children. Kane didn’t impress me all that much the first time I saw it. But today I recognize (and appreciate) its greatness.

  12. Ken Hanke

    When I was 8 or 9 years old I loved The Pirate Movie. Today, I wouldn’t even show that one to my children.

    Reasonable enough and the basic concept is fine, but I don’t think anyone debating the point of Citizen Kane is likely to be that young.

  13. Daniel Withrow

    Funny thing is, the most moving experience I’ve ever had at an art museum was as a teenager, transfixed by an Henri Rousseau tropical forest with monkeys painting.

    Wings of Desire is the apotheosis of a certain sort of movie for me: it was beautiful, quiet, intense. And about half an hour into it I was wondering whether I could escape from the viewing by gnawing my leg off. On an intellectual and aesthetic level I appreciated the movie; on an emotional level it nearly induced panic, it was so dreary. I rarely see movies with this sort of dichotomy (usually I think boring movies are failures, and I’m usually entranced by movies that I find beautiful), but once in awhile it happens.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Funny thing is, the most moving experience I’ve ever had at an art museum was as a teenager, transfixed by an Henri Rousseau tropical forest with monkeys painting.

    This will find no argument from me as a wholly understandable response.

    On an intellectual and aesthetic level I appreciated the movie; on an emotional level it nearly induced panic, it was so dreary.

    I’ve never found it dreary or boring, but I can easily see how that would be possible.

  15. Steve

    I have never liked Citizen Kane. I’ve never made it all the way through. I’ve never liked Casablanca, but I think that’s more of a straight movie.

    I go to the movies to be entertained first and foremost. I don’t go to see about the horrors of the human condition – I see that every day at work. I don’t go to be enlightened about man’s inhumanity to man – I’ve experienced that first hand often enough. My problem with “message” movies is that the people who really need to see them don’t.

    So I’ll take some glamour – and yes I love 1939 – or a good laugh. I can deal with a little enlightenment from time to time. But I don’t want to pay $10 to once again watch ‘the beautiful death of kittens’, be told that it’s art, and leave the theater feeling like crap.

    I guess that makes me simplistic. But so be it.

    I try Kane every now and then. Maybe I’m just not old enough for it yet.

  16. DrSerizawa

    Best movie? Why it’s “Gojira”, of course.

    Seriously, there is no “best” movie since as you ably pointed out such measures are entirely subjective. One could rate technical facets of movies good or bad though. This is why a movie like Moulin Rouge can be good in so many ways but still suck in the end.

    I think that the idea of “best movie” was a PR invention so that the Hollywood narcissists could bask in each other’s glow. They invented the Academy Awards and began to hand out such awards with enthusiasm even though in no one year has there ever been a “best” movie. Titanic for example was hugely entertaining but “best” for the year? Hardly. The final indictment of “best” awards is that Hitchcock never got a best director award. Shameful.

    Too many people confuse “best” with “favorite”. You can see this phenomena on internet sites like Amazon where the most vile crap like “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” gets dozens of 5 star “Best Movie Ever” kudos from drug-addles fanboys.

  17. DrSerizawa

    Best movie? Why it’s “Gojira”, of course.

    Seriously, there is no “best” movie since as you ably pointed out such measures are entirely subjective. One could rate technical facets of movies good or bad though. This is why a movie like Moulin Rouge can be good in so many ways but still suck in the end.

    I think that the idea of “best movie” was a PR invention so that the Hollywood narcissists could bask in each other’s glow. They invented the Academy Awards and began to hand out such awards with enthusiasm even though in no one year has there ever been a “best” movie. Titanic for example was hugely entertaining but “best” for the year? Hardly. The final indictment of “best” awards is that Hitchcock never got a best director award. Shameful.

    Too many people confuse “best” with “favorite”. You can see this phenomena on internet sites like Amazon where the most vile crap like “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” gets dozens of 5 star “Best Movie Ever” kudos from drug-addles fanboys.

  18. Ken Hanke

    My problem with “message” movies is that the people who really need to see them don’t.

    I’m not even sure that’s entirely the point of message movies. It sometimes is simply helpful to realize that there are other people in the world who recognize the same problems you do.

    So I’ll take some glamour – and yes I love 1939 – or a good laugh.

    Try 1932. You’ll get bigger laughs and much more glamour. I can pretty much guarantee this.

    I can deal with a little enlightenment from time to time.

    Well, I’m not sure anyone has suggested you need to be enlightened, though I don’t think it hurts on occasion. Then again, what does it even mean to be enlightened? I would say that there are elements of enlightenment in the subtext of Moulin Rouge!, but it’s first and foremost an entertainment.

    But I don’t want to pay $10 to once again watch ‘the beautiful death of kittens’, be told that it’s art, and leave the theater feeling like crap

    I don’t mind being “shattered” or “shaken” by a movie, but I’m not keen on being depressed. Cases in point from last year — The Reader struck me as powerful, shattering, but not hopeless. Revolutionary Road merely struck me as depressing — to no real point. I think maybe you’re looking at this as two violent extremes without much in the middle.

    I try Kane every now and then. Maybe I’m just not old enough for it yet.

    I try 2001 much the same way. It continues to bore the living Jesus out of me. I don’t know how old you are, but I don’t know how old you need to be to like Kane. Then again, I probably liked it best when I was 17 and first seeing it.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Best movie? Why it’s “Gojira”, of course.

    With your name, Doctor, what else could it be?

    I think that the idea of “best movie” was a PR invention so that the Hollywood narcissists could bask in each other’s glow. They invented the Academy Awards and began to hand out such awards with enthusiasm even though in no one year has there ever been a “best” movie.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that there can be no best movie in a twelve month period, but not violently. Actually, the Oscars were the brainchild of Louis B. Mayer and the point of them at their inception lay in his belief that if they handed out awards, the stars, directors, etc. would be happier and less likely to want more money. In other words, it was to amuse and distract the hired help.

    Titanic for example was hugely entertaining but “best” for the year?

    I’d say it was just huge, not hugely entertaining.

    The final indictment of “best” awards is that Hitchcock never got a best director award. Shameful

    He’s hardly alone, and not even the major oversight for me. But there’s a certain difference in between Oscars and people trying to come up with lists.

  20. Steve

    Well I’m 42, so maybe my prime viewing time has passed.

    Oh, and as to bummer movies, I note you gave “The Hours” five stars… I suppose you can argue that it was the actual life of a very depressed woman, but I don’t understand how that is enteratainment. I saw it, because everyone was raving about it, but all it did was depress me.

  21. Ken Hanke

    I note you gave “The Hours” five stars…

    And I still would.

    I suppose you can argue that it was the actual life of a very depressed woman, but I don’t understand how that is enteratainment.

    Well, there’s only one real person in it and it covers three different women — and others — so I don’t think it’s practical to call it actual. I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s entertainmeht. There wouldn’t be any percentage in that. If you found it merely depressing, you did. Personally, I was involved with the characters and often found I could identify with them — or at least understand them — and I was also fascinated by the way the film was made. Would I want a steady diet of films like this? No, but neither would I want a non-stop diet of happy ending movies where all is sweetness and light.

    Are there no heavier-themed movies that you like?

  22. brianpaige

    2001 is a movie best enjoyed on the first viewing. When I first saw it I was blown away in a “WTF?” sort of way. Then I watched it again, and thought long stretches were really boring since this time I knew nothing exciting was forthcoming.

    But let’s face it…2001 was a movie that a bunch of stoners loved to see while dropping acid. If you aren’t wasted it’s not as interesting. It’s like the Pink Floyd of cinema.

  23. Ken Hanke

    2001 is a movie best enjoyed on the first viewing.

    I was 13 or 14 when it first came out and I didn’t much enjoy it then. And while, sure, it’s a movie that invites the altered consciousness approach, I don’t think that quite accounts for all of its accolades.

  24. Steve

    ‘And I still would.’

    I had no intention of questioning your review or rating, and wouldn’t have expected you to change it if I was. My point is that this is a classic “beatiful death of kittens” movie. Let’s take a woman who by most accounts had a tortured existance and was arguably mentally ill, and show everyone her descent into depression and suicide. It’s like slowing down for a two hour long view of a bad automobile accident. Or reading a sad person’s diary for kicks. I can’t understand the relish.

    As to “heavier-themed”, I suppose that is a judgment call. Most of the sad movies I like are chick flicks. The last movie I enjoyed where someone died was Dark Victory. I enjoy Steel Magnolias, but personally I consider a world devoid of Julia Roberts a happier place. But I know that isn’t “heavy-themed”. I cried at Titanic, but there is actually a very funny story that goes with that – for another time.

    I’ve just known enough personal sorrow of my own that I don’t usually go out and buy tickets for more. I’ve survived a painful separation, the deaths of many friends, the dissolution of my family, and my own near suicide, which thankfully I survived. If I want sadness, death, and destruction, I read the news. For free.

    I can’t understand the cult of sorrow-obsessionists who don’t feel that it is Art unless something horrible happens (and no I don’t include you in that number).

    Having said that, I did find the illustrations about modern loneliness and isolation in As Good As It Gets poignant, I suppose because I identified with it. But there again, Ebert faulted the happy ending, because he said it ‘didn’t fit the material’. But frankly, if I want to see someone succumb to their personal demons and resign themselves a life alone, unfortunately there are plenty of examples of that in the real world.

  25. Steve

    ‘I was also fascinated by the way the film was made.’

    This from the man who is so derisive of actors who look like they’re having a good time when they’re making a picture?

  26. Ken Hanke

    My point is that this is a classic “beatiful death of kittens” movie.

    Well, no, it isn’t. That’s to say, it doesn’t fit that glib assessment, since it presents a complex picture of complex people in difficult situations. If it merely took something innocent (none of these people are completely innocent) and cute, then, yes, it would be. It is many things — and it might even be depressing — but it isn’t that.

    It’s like slowing down for a two hour long view of a bad automobile accident. Or reading a sad person’s diary for kicks. I can’t understand the relish.

    I’m sorry. I don’t see it that way. There are movies I see that way, but this isn’t even close to one of them.

    As to “heavier-themed”, I suppose that is a judgment call.

    Well, I suppose it is, but without some examples, I can’t really get a feel. I wouldn’t call the two you named “chick flicks” (actually, I don’t call anything a “chick flick”), but I also wouldn’t call them especially weighty.

    I’ve just known enough personal sorrow of my own that I don’t usually go out and buy tickets for more.

    I can understand that, but here is where I suspect we differ very fundamentally, because I’ve seen enough personal sorrow, too, but the last thing I want when I’m deeply into a state of that kind is a movie that tries to cheer me up.

    I can’t understand the cult of sorrow-obsessionists who don’t feel that it is Art unless something horrible happens (and no I don’t include you in that number).

    I don’t understand them either and have been writing against that mindset since the early 80s, but neither do I want all sunshine and lollipops. It just isn’t going to fulfill me as a steady diet and it isn’t going to speak to me on a number of levels.

    This from the man who is so derisive of actors who look like they’re having a good time when they’re making a picture?

    I’m afraid I don’t see the connection. My appreciation for the way a film is made and structured doesn’t have much to do with whether or not the actors are enjoying themselves. (And I don’t necessarily deride actors for having a good time. I deride the criticism that cuts a film slack because of this.)

  27. Steve

    I don’t want all “Sunshine and Lollipops”. I thought Shortbus was a great movie, but it wasn’t all sunshine.

    My point about the film craft was kind of the same one about the actors having a great time. It cuts the film slack for something that doesn’t have a lot to do with the story. Yes good film craft can help the story, but I think if it draws attention to itself it is a distraction. I think good film craft should be like good service – invisible, or at least not overpowering.

    That was my main problem with Moulin Rouge – a great movi – but after a while it was kind of like a Madonna “Look at me! LOOK AT ME!!” Kind of thing. (I didn’t care for the use of the pop tunes mix, personally, but a lot of people did.) And of course Nicole had to die (not only because it was a stylized new La Boheme) so it could get awards.

    Again, not that Moulin wasn’t a great movie – it was – but I personally think that critics see so many movies that they tend to automatically laud anything different as genius. That’s the only explanation I can find for the emperor’s new clothes “genius” of David Lynch.

  28. Ken Hanke

    I don’t want all “Sunshine and Lollipops”. I thought Shortbus was a great movie, but it wasn’t all sunshine.

    I can agree with both points on that.

    My point about the film craft was kind of the same one about the actors having a great time. It cuts the film slack for something that doesn’t have a lot to do with the story. Yes good film craft can help the story, but I think if it draws attention to itself it is a distraction. I think good film craft should be like good service – invisible, or at least not overpowering.

    I think we have an insurmountable definition difference of what makes a good film. I’ve never subscribed to the theory that filmmaking should be invisible — nor have I ever seen a really convincing rationale for why, unless the whole reason you’re watching a film is the story. Then again, you’ve just cited Shortbus as a great film and it’s absolutely crammed with very obvious, very stylized, very attention-drawing filmmaking, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from.

    (I didn’t care for the use of the pop tunes mix, personally, but a lot of people did.)

    See, for me that’s a large part of the film’s genius — much of its thematic power comes from the choice of the songs on the soundtrack.

    And of course Nicole had to die (not only because it was a stylized new La Boheme) so it could get awards.

    I don’t buy that at all.

    but I personally think that critics see so many movies that they tend to automatically laud anything different as genius.

    Actually, I find an awful lot of critics who are just the opposite and are very resistant to anything different, and will almost invariably default to a so-called standard well-crafted film. Moulin Rouge!, for example, only sports a 77% approval rating. And what took Best Picture that year? If memory serves, it was the uber-normal A Beautiful Mind. Luhrmann didn’t even get a nomination. Shortbus comes in even lower at 65%.

    That’s the only explanation I can find for the emperor’s new clothes “genius” of David Lynch.

    I like some Lynch — not all — but that’s an entirely type of possible emperor’s new clothes, since it works on the basis of being impenetrable, moving into the realm of “I don’t understand it so it must be art.” That’s a very separate thing.

  29. Steve

    Thank you for your responses. Hope I haven’t de-railed the actual subject too much. I had actually forgotten about your Lynch leanings when I wrote that. No disrespect intended.

    BTW, I said Shortbus in error. The movie I was thinking of was Little Miss Sunshine (ironically, since I was arguing that I don’t want all sunshine and lollipops).

    I suppose if I did movies for a living I might look at things differently. I just go to be entertained. If there’s a message slipped in that’s fine, but I don’t go to be preached to, engage in schadenfreude, or see some art-house production I have to be uber-hip to understand. I’m not uber-hip.

    I enjoy a good story, and I enjoy being taken out of myself, and out of the real world for a while. I like to feel better when I leave than when I went in. I guess if I saw every movie that came out, all happy endings would get to be like a diet of all icing after a while – but that’s kind of my point. I go to the movies for a treat.

    I don’t always agree with you, Mr. Hanke, but I always appreciate what you have to say.

  30. Ken Hanke

    I had actually forgotten about your Lynch leanings when I wrote that. No disrespect intended.

    If I got my knickers in a twist everytime someone disagreed with me, I’d scarcely be able to move.

    BTW, I said Shortbus in error. The movie I was thinking of was Little Miss Sunshine

    The two are pretty different.

    I suppose if I did movies for a living I might look at things differently.

    I suspect it has more to do with being a different person with a different worldview and mindset than it has to do with what’s done for a living.

    I enjoy a good story, and I enjoy being taken out of myself, and out of the real world for a while.

    I enjoy a lot of different things about the movie, but what I don’t understand is the apparent antipathy toward extreme stylization, since that seems at odds with liking to get out of the real world for a while.

    I guess if I saw every movie that came out, all happy endings would get to be like a diet of all icing after a while – but that’s kind of my point. I go to the movies for a treat

    So if movies are only good as dessert, what’s the main course? Actually, if you went to every movie that came out, you wouldn’t get all happy endings. The big flaw in your logic here — unless I’m really misreading you — seems to be the notion of some kind of black and white mindset at the bottom of this. It’s like because I like The Hours, it follows that I immediately dislike anything with a happy ending. This is demonstrably not the case. I think part of my problem with this is that I get a sense of disdain from you for people who find merit in other than happy endings.

    I don’t always agree with you, Mr. Hanke, but I always appreciate what you have to say.

    Thank you — and I always appreciate civil discussion on movies.

  31. Steve

    I apologize if I have given the impression of disdain.

    I do admit that I can’t find anything redeeming or pleasurable in watching a woman fill her pockets with rocks to drown herself, but I guess it takes all kinds. I was haunted by that scene, and I can’t understand why or how that’s entertainment. Apparently there were a whole lot of people who disagreed with that.

    I guess I’m just not intellectual enough. But if ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise in my book. Sometimes I just don’t understand the way the world works.

  32. Steve

    Oh, and the main course for me would be a good conversation with friends.

  33. Steve

    Since we’re talking about classics, what do you think about The Manchurian Cadidate? They ran it on TCM last weekend and I missed it, but I’ve been thinking I might try it. It won’t surprise you that I’m not a political intrigue fan, but I can eat a bit of broccoli every now and again. Of course I would be watching the 1962 version.

  34. Ken Hanke

    I do admit that I can’t find anything redeeming or pleasurable in watching a woman fill her pockets with rocks to drown herself, but I guess it takes all kinds.

    I don’t really care personally, but your final assertion there is still implying a strongly negative judgment.

    I was haunted by that scene

    Which actually attests to its merit.

    I can’t understand why or how that’s entertainment. Apparently there were a whole lot of people who disagreed with that.

    Steve, I don’t think people are taking it as entertainment — at least not pure and simple. The problem is, I think, that not everyone wants to limit their artistic intake to such a degree that everything upsetting or depressing or just plain not fun has to be avoided. Art has never done this in any form. Why do you expect it in film? I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t want every movie I see, every book I read, every composition I hear to leave me feeling only one emotion. That’s way too limiting for me. I suspect it’s way too limiting for most people. That you want to avoid things that are possibly troubling is a personal choice. It’s not one I would be interested in making. Funny thing is I’m perfectly willing — even anxious — to accept upbeat works with happy endings as being fully as artistically relevant (potentially at least) as the most downbeat bout of Bergman, but I’m not willing to toss out the Bergman with the bathwater.

    Oh, and the main course for me would be a good conversation with friends.

    I was speaking more in terms of the arts, but this raises a question — would these good conversations be limited to pleasant topics?

    As for The Manchurian Candidate

    http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/manchuriancandidate1962.php

    It is not a particularly comfortable movie.

  35. Steve

    “Which actually attests to its merit.”

    Sigh. I so knew you were going to say that. OK, OK. I’d just prefer not to have PTSD after going to a picture. Once again, I acknowledge that I am the oddball here.

    “would these good conversations be limited to pleasant topics?”

    Probably not. But we wouldn’t sit around and discuss a suicide for hours, and if we did I wouldn’t have a picture of them in my head (hopefully) when we got done. We also wouldn’t lovingly detail the world after a nuclear apocalypse, or cannibalism, or people cutting their own feet off, or getting blown to bits.

    I guess part of me wishes I was hardened enough to see such horrors, and part of me is glad that I’m not.

    Reportedly, Tina Turner was asked in an interview if she had gone to see “What’s Love Got To Do With It” after it came out, and she said no. When asked why, she reportedly said “Because I lived it.” That would pretty much be me. (Not that I’ve cut my own feet off, but I personally have had my fill of horrors.)

    For my personal tastes I’d just as soon put Mayer back in charge (admittedly, the bill to Dionne’s Psychic Friends would be horrible), or have the Production Code back (which opens a whole new line of tangent – I think the production code resulted in some great movie-making exactly because they couldn’t just say what they meant). But as a good liberal I don’t believe in censorship. But I just don’t get it. I was hoping you could explain it to me, and you’ve done a damn fine job of trying – I see your points. Thank you.

    Thank you for the link on Manchurian. I didn’t realize the website reviews went back that far. I don’t have to be comfortable the whole time, I just like a little scrap of hope at the end.

  36. Ken Hanke

    But we wouldn’t sit around and discuss a suicide for hours, and if we did I wouldn’t have a picture of them in my head (hopefully) when we got done. We also wouldn’t lovingly detail the world after a nuclear apocalypse, or cannibalism, or people cutting their own feet off, or getting blown to bits.

    Why do you insist on taking everything to an extreme? Go back to The Hours for a moment. Does it have a suicide in it? Yes. In fact, it has two — and you could say there’s almost a third, and because of the conversations involving the poet character when Woolf is writing Mrs. Dalloway a fourth is mentioned. Fine, but here’s what you’re not factoring in — the movie isn’t about suicide. It’s about how three different stories and the characters in them are strangely connected. Also, it doesn’t go on about the topic for hours (it’s actually under two hours) and not everything in the movie addresses that issue. There are, in fact, a number of lighter moments — some even funny moments — in the film. (Without these other elements I’d probably have less use for the movie than you do.) Your other examples are pretty much on the extreme side, too. I’m certainly not making a case for Saw here — nor would I consider it a heavier movie, merely a rather gross one.

    For my personal tastes I’d just as soon put Mayer back in charge

    Really? You’d rather see a hardline rightwinger, anti-semitic, fascist homophobe in charge of what gets made?

    or have the Production Code back (which opens a whole new line of tangent – I think the production code resulted in some great movie-making exactly because they couldn’t just say what they meant).

    Oh, movies controlled by the Catholic Legion of Decency? The last time I heard anyone put forth the idea that the code resulted in great movies it was coming from someone justifying their own work under the code.

    I was hoping you could explain it to me, and you’ve done a damn fine job of trying – I see your points.

    I still think you’re looking at it in a way that I can only slightly understand, which I accept as a complete difference in personality. It seems to me that sad and even tragic stories serve a very real function in helping others to cope with their own problems. You mentioned liking Dark Victory earlier. This is a film that Bette Davis said she wanted to make because it showed how the main character — dying from a brain tumor — came to grips with what was happening to her and with how to live what life she had. Her exact words were “she did it well.” Personally, I find it a little on the soapy side (and I haven’t anything against soap), but I see where she’s coming from, don’t you? A similar dynamic is at work with a movie (or a book, since the film is very faithful to the book) like The Hours.

    I didn’t realize the website reviews went back that far.

    Well, that review isn’t that old. It’s just that someone showed the film locally. You’ll find a review of De Mille’s 1915 Carmen in the archive, too. There are a lot of reviews of old movies in there.

  37. brianpaige

    I read an article online from Vanity Fair (James Wolcott or someone associated with him) and it was an amusing look at pre code vs. post code. The main point is that the post code era might have been the best but it was almost in spite of the code rather than because of it.

    Personally I think it was simply a case of filmmaking evolving throughout the 1930s. By the end of the decade it was common to see longer films with more development.

  38. Ken Hanke

    Personally I think it was simply a case of filmmaking evolving throughout the 1930s. By the end of the decade it was common to see longer films with more development.

    I’ll still take the first half of the decade.

  39. brianpaige

    Maybe I should have clarified. The early 30s pre code era (especially 1932-33) is my favorite era of movies.

    But critics overall? Probably a consensus of the late 30s. Of course there were a lot more years in that post code era, and thus there were great movies.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Maybe I should have clarified. The early 30s pre code era (especially 1932-33) is my favorite era of movies.

    Yeah, I kind of knew that.

    But critics overall? Probably a consensus of the late 30s.

    True — to a degree. Now, change that to film historians overall and you’ll get a different picture. That, of course, changes if your film historian is an unabashed populist who worships Oscar winners. (Naming no names, but you can see him on TCM all the time.)

  41. Steve

    ‘Why do you insist on taking everything to an extreme?’

    Hey, I didn’t make up those subjects. Those are actual movies, and many of them made a lot of money. I guess I’d like to see a bit more of the money for ‘good’ movies going to more uplifting themes. I’d rather not have to fall back on the Wayan brothers to avoid a depressing night out (thank you for sparing me Little Man). Not that I watch much of the Wayans. Usually, given the choice between a weep-fest and some teen-geared stupidity, I stay home with TCM.

    OK, you’re right about the Production Code, and about Mayer’s control, although I still think some damn fine movies were released on his watch; but I’m willing to concede that some of them probably came out despite him rather than because of him.

    Maybe I’m just nostalgic, not for the strictures, but for some fineness of feeling. So many movies now are so needlessly graphic about lots of things. I know the Saw movies aren’t great movies, but perhaps a symptom of the disease. If a lot of people weren’t going to see them, there wouldn’t have been however many sequels.

    If we are so hardened now that we need to watch people cut their feet off, or need graphic depcitions of tragedies in order to induce our jaded hearts to feel anything, what’s next? It makes me long for a time when there was some subtlty, when you couldn’t just turn on the camera, dump out a tub of guts (metaphorical or actual) and have a movie. I suppose that’s the definition of nostalgia – yearning for things to be the way they never were. I’ve encountered it often enough in people who think that there weren’t any gay people before 1965 or so. I guess that’s a pretty hypocritical longing for a John Waters fan too.

    It’s been a while since I saw The Hours, and I certainly didn’t want to see it again. But I don’t remember anything from that movie that could act as an example for how to live your life – not saying it wasn’t in there, I just can’t remember it. I just remember that everyone in it was miserable for one reason or another. The only scene that sticks with me is the traumatizing one, however artistic it may be.

    My view of life is fairly simple. With so much misery in the world, I just can’t seen getting in line and paying money to stuff myself with more.

  42. Steve

    Dark Victory was soapy. I need that kind of distance to watch something like that. Those beautiful, unrealistic hollywood deaths are so much nicer than the realistic depictions to me.

  43. Ken Hanke

    Hey, I didn’t make up those subjects. Those are actual movies, and many of them made a lot of money.

    I know they’re real. I’ve seen them — and I’ve seen others that could be included. My point isn’t that they don’t exist. My point is that they are the most extreme examples. It’s not like your choices are limited to Little Miss Sunshine and Saw. There’s a large spectrum in between.

    Usually, given the choice between a weep-fest and some teen-geared stupidity, I stay home with TCM.

    Well, if you stay home with TCM — and I do a lot of that — you’re still going to get your share of weep-fests and I don’t think Elvis movies are especially better than most teen-geared stupidity.

    OK, you’re right about the Production Code, and about Mayer’s control, although I still think some damn fine movies were released on his watch; but I’m willing to concede that some of them probably came out despite him rather than because of him

    Well, I’ll admit upfront that MGM made more movies I don’t like than any other studio from the “golden age.” I’d be hard-pressed to find anything good that could be attributed to Mayer himself, though.

    Maybe I’m just nostalgic, not for the strictures, but for some fineness of feeling. So many movies now are so needlessly graphic about lots of things.

    In many cases, that’s a personal call, but without some really good specificity, it’s not a point that can be argued.

    I know the Saw movies aren’t great movies, but perhaps a symptom of the disease. If a lot of people weren’t going to see them, there wouldn’t have been however many sequels

    People said the exact same thing about horror movies in the 1930s and 40s and 50s and… In the case of the Saw movies (which I find indefensible), they keep knocking ’em out because they’re cheap and they’re guaranteed to be a hit at Halloween with kids.

    If we are so hardened now that we need to watch people cut their feet off, or need graphic depcitions of tragedies in order to induce our jaded hearts to feel anything, what’s next?

    Something else cyclical, because it’s all cyclical. I have to ask, though, if you’re considering The Hours to be a “graphic depiction of tragedy?” I mean, come on. Compared to Macbeth or Lear or Hamlet, The Hours is kid stuff.

    I suppose that’s the definition of nostalgia – yearning for things to be the way they never were. I’ve encountered it often enough in people who think that there weren’t any gay people before 1965 or so.

    This, by the way, is the anti-Reagan theme behind Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

    It’s been a while since I saw The Hours, and I certainly didn’t want to see it again. But I don’t remember anything from that movie that could act as an example for how to live your life – not saying it wasn’t in there, I just can’t remember it.

    I’m not suggesting you should see it again. And I never said it was supposed to be a lesson in how to live your life. It’s merely that a lot of people — myself included — find some merit, some sense of being less alone in seeing that there are and were other people in this world who have felt the same pains that they have. Good Lord, if all I saw were movies like Little Miss Sunshine, I’d have to open a vein thinking my life must be wrong beyond all consideration.

    My view of life is fairly simple. With so much misery in the world, I just can’t seen getting in line and paying money to stuff myself with more.

    No one is forcing you to.

  44. brianpaige

    What the hell, I’ll defend the first Saw. The sequels? Not so much. The first one at least has a lot of mystery elements (Who is Jigsaw? How did we get in this room?) that aren’t really there in the sequels. It’s funny since the first time at the theater it was utterly terrifying, but on repeat viewings it is hilariously goofy.

    But yeah, somewhere around Saw 3 the series jumped the shark.

  45. Ken Hanke

    It’s funny since the first time at the theater it was utterly terrifying, but on repeat viewings it is hilariously goofy

    Well, I never found it terrifying, but most of the humor for me came from Cary Elwes giving a world-class awful performance.

  46. Steve

    Well Lord knows you’re right about Elvis movies (shudders). I wasn’t saying everything on TCM is great (nice jibe at Osborne earlier, btw), I’m just saying it’s generally better than most of the new stuff coming out, week to week.

    ‘In many cases, that’s a personal call, but without some really good specificity, it’s not a point that can be argued.’

    OK, if my examples are dismissed as ‘extremes’ and non-examples make my points non-arguable, I’m not sure how to make the case. But yes, I think watching someone saw off their own foot is needlessly graphic. I think watching someone commit suicide on screen is needlessly graphic. As to McBeth et al, those are sylized deaths, not actual depictions – I don’t put someone running a knife under another actor’s armpit on par with the depictions in The Hours.

    ‘And I never said it was supposed to be a lesson in how to live your life.’

    If your rationale for the good of a intensely sad movies is:

    ‘It seems to me that sad and even tragic stories serve a very real function in helping others to cope with their own problems.’

    I was looking for that in my memories of The Hours. I didn’t like her solution to her problems. She had options. Bette Davis’s character in Dark Victory was dying anyway – she merely had a choice as to how she met that imminent demise.

    “No one is forcing you to.”

    You said that you could only ‘slightly understand’ my personal taste in movies. I was just trying to illuminate.

  47. brianpaige

    The amusing aspect of Saw 1 is in fact Elwes’ wildly over the top performance. There are situations there where I don’t know how anyone could pull it off (such as the entire climax).

    Sigh…maybe I’m just an Elwes fan due to Princess Bride?

  48. Ken Hanke

    Well Lord knows you’re right about Elvis movies (shudders). I wasn’t saying everything on TCM is great (nice jibe at Osborne earlier, btw), I’m just saying it’s generally better than most of the new stuff coming out, week to week.

    I really wouldn’t argue that in the main — and seeing as how TCM is the only channel I watch, I couldn’t.

    OK, if my examples are dismissed as ‘extremes’ and non-examples make my points non-arguable, I’m not sure how to make the case.

    Well, you actually didn’t cite a specific film. Saw was easy to figure out, but I have no clue what post-apocalyptic movie you’re talking about.

    But yes, I think watching someone saw off their own foot is needlessly graphic. I think watching someone commit suicide on screen is needlessly graphic.

    I don’t see by what possible method you can put these things on the same level. If you think seeing someone commit suicide onscreen is automatically graphic, then for God’s sake don’t watch Dinner at Eight (1933) or Anna Karenina (1935) for starters. It’s not suicide, but you should probably stay away from Grand Hotel (1932), since John Barrymore gets his head bashed in with a telephone — much more graphically depicted than watching Nicole Kidman with stones in her pockets wade into a river.

    As to McBeth et al, those are sylized deaths, not actual depictions – I don’t put someone running a knife under another actor’s armpit on par with the depictions in The Hours.

    No, you’re talking about the stagings of the deaths in the Shakespeare play, not the material itself. And the stagings you’re talking about aren’t especially relevant to how that material is staged any more — nor has it been for some considerable time. For goodness’ sake, avoid Roman Polanski’s film of Macbeth, Richard Loncraine’s film of Richard III and Julie Taymor’s film of Titus Andronicus. You might call these a debasing of the plays, but that’s definitely arguable, since Shakespeare offers little in the manner of stage direction. Regardless, the material itself is full of beheadings, stabbings, poisonings, suicides, all manner of perversity and even cannibalism.

    ‘It seems to me that sad and even tragic stories serve a very real function in helping others to cope with their own problems.’
    I was looking for that in my memories of The Hours. I didn’t like her solution to her problems. She had options.

    Does she really? The woman is suffering from a mental disorder — one that can, it seems, be held somewhat at bay if she submits to living a life that she detests. But that’s beside the point. I’m not arguing that these are some kind of warped instructional videos — merely that they have the power for some of us to illuminate the darker corners of our own lives by, if nothing else, putting our own sense of suffering into perspective.

  49. Ken Hanke

    Sigh…maybe I’m just an Elwes fan due to Princess Bride?

    Not being a fan of The Princess Bride, that doesn’t clarify it for me.

  50. Steve

    I loved The Princess Bride – probably a good example of a movie that wasn’t the best, but is a favorite.

  51. Steve

    Oh, and Ken the only Shakespeare movie version I own is The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor. I have seen MacBeth and Lear, but like most people, Shakespeare is not something I watch a lot of. Pouring poison in someone’s ear just didn’t have the immediacy for me that this other stuff does. That death, and the method of it, were as much symbolic as actual.

  52. Ken Hanke

    I loved The Princess Bride

    So do most people it seems. I’ve never understood why.

    Oh, and Ken the only Shakespeare movie version I own is The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor.

    That’s kind of irrelevant since I’d guess you don’t own The Hours or Saw either.

    Shakespeare is not something I watch a lot of.

    In all fairness, neither is The Hours.

    Pouring poison in someone’s ear just didn’t have the immediacy for me that this other stuff does. That death, and the method of it, were as much symbolic as actual.

    What’s it symbolic of?

    Regardless, the point remains that all the things I cited are in Shakespeare and they are all far more extreme than Nicole Kidman walking into a river. Here’s my point — I don’t care that you don’t like The Hours. It doesn’t impact me one way or the other. The sticking point for me is the idea that the suicide of Woolf in the film is “needlessly graphic” and some kind of example of our increasingly debased culture.

  53. brianpaige

    Maybe it’s a generational thing with Princess Bride? I used to see it a lot on HBO as a kid and loved it for the adventure aspects. As I got older I liked it even better for the humorous aspects that flew over my head when I was younger.

  54. Steve

    ‘The sticking point for me is the idea that the suicide of Woolf in the film is “needlessly graphic” and some kind of example of our increasingly debased culture.’

    I just used it as an example because it was so highly lauded. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and *for me* symbolizes the celebration of misery that ‘good’ movies have become. Yes, I’d rather eat a sandwich of Rush Limbaugh’s sh*t than sit through it again, but that isn’t the point.

    The only way I can make sense of enjoying such a movie is that our sensibilities are so jaded that it takes a movie like that to make people feel anything. If that’s wrong, then I just don’t understand at all.

    I will admit, once again, that I am the oddball here. Artsy poeple seem to adore the atmosphere of doom. I readily admit, as I have before, that I am not an artsy person.

    I’m a working man who isn’t stupid, and would prefer to have a choice between the mindless and the morose. That’s all I was saying. I’m sorry if I have caused offense.

    So if your opinion is that things are not any more graphic and sorrowful now than they have ever been, that may certainly be correct. You know a lot more about movies than I do I readily admit; and you have handily run circles around me in this debate. But it feels otherwise to me.

  55. Ken Hanke

    The only way I can make sense of enjoying such a movie is that our sensibilities are so jaded that it takes a movie like that to make people feel anything. If that’s wrong, then I just don’t understand at all.

    The problem is that you insist on looking at this — at film and art in general, it seems — as being limited to “enjoying” or “entertaining.” I don’t think that people can be said to “enjoy” a film like The Hours in the sense I’d use the word. There are other aspects to art than mere enjoyment. (This is not meant to sell enjoyment short, merely to say that it isn’t the only thing there is.) That’s why there are comedies and why there are tragedies. Most artists tend to want to at least occasionally show the human condition — and that frequently can be pretty grim.

    The idea that I get from you is that you’re envisioning the people who admire and appreciate a film like The Hours as some kind of weird degenerates who are being entertained by it in the way they might be entertained by, say, Bridget Jones’s Diary. I find that a very unlikely proposition.

    I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea that The Hours could be considered graphic or in any way the sort of thing that’s meant to break through jaded sensibilities. That’s just completely off the radar of my understanding. I can see it being called depressing. I can see it being called artsy. But graphic or aimed at the jaded? No. If anything, it strikes me that it’s an awfully decorous film, that its almost total stylization provides a degree of distance in itself. Actually, to use your phrase, it strikes me as something that actually has that “fineness of feeling.”

    That it was nominated for awards means little in the scheme of things when you consider that what beat it was Chicago — a film that is the very antithesis of “fineness of feeling.” Here is a film that centers on two murderesses who not only get away with their crimes, but become celebrities. Neither character is remotely likable, and the entire film is cold and cynical from beginning to end.

    I’m a working man who isn’t stupid, and would prefer to have a choice between the mindless and the morose. That’s all I was saying. I’m sorry if I have caused offense.

    It isn’t a question of offense — except in the implication that there’s something wrong with those who find merit in a film like The Hours. There’s nothing more wrong with finding merit in it than there is with not finding merit in it.

    So if your opinion is that things are not any more graphic and sorrowful now than they have ever been, that may certainly be correct. You know a lot more about movies than I do I readily admit; and you have handily run circles around me in this debate. But it feels otherwise to me.

    Sure, some things are more graphic. (Saw, for example shows things that a 1932 film like Doctor X only suggests or talks about.) Other things are not, but I don’t see any actual increase in the sorrowful aspect. I suspect the reason you find older movies that deal with matters that can be called sorrowful bother you less has to do more with the distancing effect of time than with any actual difference in the material itself. I think there’s nothing more sorrowful about The Hours (plot is another matter) than Dark Victory, but its newness, the difference in glamour, the immediacy of the less mannered acting styles make it resonate differently with you. But that’s merely a supposition on my part.

  56. Steve

    I definitely have to have some distance. And the stylized death in Dark Victory felt completely different to me than the death in The Hours, which felt voyeuristic. It was like reading someone else’s diary. I found it very disturbing in a way that I did not enjoy. Which I guess is the merit of it, to you. Completely different mindsets.

    The Hours, to me is a great example of one of those movies you’re ‘supposed’ to like, but I didn’t.

    I adored Chicago. I bought the soundtrack the next day. It was so stage-crafted it was hard for me to take the killing seriously. His murder seemed more like a plot device than an acutal killing. The story was so unrealistic that I had no problem suspending my disbelief. Plus he was a lying jerk. It’s a lot easier for me to watch a lying jerk die than a tortured artist. Plus I love a good cat fight. I was a bit disappointed in Rene Zellweger in the lead though. She did OK, but it kind of felt like we were one diva short for me. Even so, I’m a complete whore for a good musical.

  57. brianpaige

    Just read the Princess Bride review…you do give it ***1/2 out of *****. I thought it might be a ** review for a second.

    In fact The Princess Bride basically sums up this initial article on best vs. favorite. Is it one of my favorite movies? Sure. Is it clearly one of the best? I’m not so sure.

  58. Ken Hanke

    I found it very disturbing in a way that I did not enjoy. Which I guess is the merit of it, to you. Completely different mindsets.

    Maybe I’d feel differently if it had disturbed me, but it didn’t — not in the sense you mean. I felt I understood these people and could identify with so many different things they were going through on so many different levels. That — and the filmmaking (which for me enhances rather than distracts) — is why I think it’s a great film, not because it disturbs me.

    The Hours, to me is a great example of one of those movies you’re ‘supposed’ to like, but I didn’t.

    Show me where I told you should. The woods are littered with movies that I’m “supposed” to like and don’t. It really doesn’t bother me.

    I adored Chicago. I bought the soundtrack the next day. It was so stage-crafted it was hard for me to take the killing seriously.

    OK, but show me even a glimmer of “fineness of feeling” in it.

  59. Ken Hanke

    Just read the Princess Bride review…you do give it ***1/2 out of *****. I thought it might be a ** review for a second.

    The review is an attempt at looking at the movie objectively — seeing what about it appeals to people. Personally, I pretty much hate it, but I am able to see that it’s not actively bad and what the appeal is, even if I don’t share it.

  60. brianpaige

    You know more about this than I do, but is looking at a movie objectively really part of being a film critic?

    It’s easier to do objectivity on a movie that is 100% considered a major classic like Citizen Kane. But The Princess Bride? Eh, it’s well regarded but not universally acclaimed, so there’s no spiral of silence when it comes to criticizing it. Or shouldn’t be.

  61. Steve

    ‘OK, but show me even a glimmer of “fineness of feeling” in it.’

    OK, I’ve already yeilded the floor to you in that debate (even though I felt it was unfair to drag the immortal bard into an assertion that movies since the 30’s have coarsened).

    But I’m allowed to have caveats in my own taste. I saw Chicago as burlesque, basically. A fabulous, over the top burlesque, but a burlesque at heart. I don’t have to have fineness of feeling in a burlesque. Plus there was plenty of distance there, as I have explained.

    Now back off cranky, I’ve already told you you were right! LOL

  62. Steve

    “I loved The Princess Bride

    So do most people it seems. I’ve never understood why.”

    Well I have to admit that a large part of it for me was Cary Elwes carboniating my teenage hormones at the time. Lordamercy I wanted that man to come rescue me.

    But I loved the funny dialogue too, dancing on the edge, but without actually breaking the fourth wall. It made me feel kind of included in the joke.

  63. Personally, I pretty much hate it, but I am able to see that it’s not actively bad and what the appeal is, even if I don’t share it.
    And there you’ve more or less summed up my feelings toward MOULIN ROUGE.

  64. Ken Hanke

    You know more about this than I do, but is looking at a movie objectively really part of being a film critic?

    Some people will tell you it’s essential. I’ll tell you it’s by and large crap, but…

    It’s easier to do objectivity on a movie that is 100% considered a major classic like Citizen Kane. But The Princess Bride? Eh, it’s well regarded but not universally acclaimed, so there’s no spiral of silence when it comes to criticizing it. Or shouldn’t be.

    Well, I’d say it’s safer to go for objectivity on a major classic, but that’s another issue. In the case of The Princess Bride, my problem with it comes from a personal dislike of the style of the humor. I just don’t care for that Borscht Belt stuff and I rarely like obvious TV skit humor. The film has plenty of both, However, enough people whose opinions I respect think it’s good or even great. As a result — being in a position where I had to write something on it (otherwise I wouldn’t have watched it again) — I stepped back from the film and looked at it as a film more than as a type of humor that gets on my nerves. What I found was what I wrote. The film isn’t ragingly incompetent and if you like that style of humor it’s fine. It’s just not for me personally. I think I made that clear.

  65. Ken Hanke

    I saw Chicago as burlesque, basically. A fabulous, over the top burlesque, but a burlesque at heart. I don’t have to have fineness of feeling in a burlesque.

    In other words, you are able to rationalize the inconsistencies of your own set of standards. We all do it one way and another.

  66. Ken Hanke

    And there you’ve more or less summed up my feelings toward MOULIN ROUGE.

    Except I believe you conceded that Moulin Rouge is brilliantly made (or words to that effect). I am not of the opinion that Princess Bride is ever more than adequately crafted as a film.

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