Last week’s ActionFest—which was eschewed by some cineastes who don’t like “action”—and my narrow escape of having to watch Soul Surfer—which I was spared thanks to Justin Souther—give rise to the question of what people just plain, flat-out, categorically, without fear of going back on it, simply won’t watch. Since I long ago surrendered the possibility of playing the “you couldn’t pay me to watch that” card, my own feelings in the matter are largely theoretical. At the very least, my feelings are reliant on whether or not someone else can be forced or somehow cajoled into stepping into the breach. Most of the world has no such consideration. So what evokes my paraphrase of Mr. Astaire’s song about not dancing in you?
Actually, Soul Surfer—or Soooouuuullll Surfer, since the title reminds me of Soul Train every time I see it—comes very close to being the film I would refuse to watch. It’s a fact-based, faith-espousing, uplifting sports movie. That’s a hard parlay to buck. All they needed to do was make the main character mentally challenged to ace it. OK, that sounds cynical. Well, that’s because it is. I’ve seen too much fact-based stuff that I know is lying through its teeth. Worse, there are gangs of people who are immediately out for your blood if you don’t like it because it’s “true,” as if this gets anything a free pass. I’ve yet to see one of the crop of faith-based movies that have been finding their way into theaters in recent years that I even thought was watchable. (These, by the way, are distinct from films with religious themes, which can be very moving and thought-provoking.) And the uplifting sports movie has never in the history of motion pictures worked on me or for me.
I’m glad I didn’t see it. I’m glad I was able to get Justin to review it. I’ve already been told that—for payback—I will be watching something called Dolphin Tale, which appears to be about Morgan Freeman and a dolphin that loses its tail. The cost could be heavy, but I suspect worth it. Now, if the dolphin gets religion and wins the big game, I’ll rethink that.
I have never really just ruled out a type of film totally. I tend not to naturally gravitate toward Westerns and war movies, but I often like them all the same. I’ve remarked in the past that I’m actually surprised by how much I’ve liked nearly all the Westerns I’ve had to review since doing weekly criticism. And war pictures? I always used to say that my favorite war movie was John Cromwell’s Since You Went Away (1944), which takes place entirely on the homefront in a Norman Rockwellesque vision of small-town America—and not a battle scene to be seen. And there’s some truth in that, but there’s a good deal of hyperbole, too. Plus, there’s more than a little dodging involved, since I’m not including things like Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967) or Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970) or Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) in the mix.
Looked at in a broader context, at least part—and a pretty important part—of Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven (1927) is a war picture. And I rank 7th Heaven very highly—easily in my personal top-five silent movies. While it’s not exactly a war film, Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) is set against a civil war in China, is partly about the general heading up the rebellion, and contains a degree of fighting—including shots of soldiers being executed by machine guns. These are unarguably war-movie elements—and they’re in a film I find endlessly watchable and is in my top 10 from any era. Isn’t Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) a film set during—and revolving around—the Spanish Civil War? I could go on, but that makes the point.
It isn’t that I don’t like war movies, it’s that I mostly don’t like a certain type of war movie—and that type is what rushes into my mind when the genre is mentioned. It’s equally fair to say that there are certain types of horror movies I don’t like, but when you say “horror movies,” my brain defaults to the types I do like. I don’t think I’m unique in this by any means. I know lots of people who say they don’t like musicals, and what they mean is they don’t like the first things that occur to them when you use the term. The default is traditional 1950s-60s Hollywood musicals more often than not adapted from a Broadway show. Well, if you put it on that basis, I don’t much like musicals either. There are few things I’d less care to watch again than Fred Zinneman’s Oklahoma! (1955). But it’s not what I think of when I think of musicals. It’s a kind of musical.
That’s why I’m a little hesitant to say I won’t watch something. In the overall sense of the term, it would be perfectly fair to say that I am not an action movie fan per se, but that only extends as far as the definition of action movie being one where “stuff blows up real good” or musclebound chuckleheads beat the crap out of each other. I would never try to deny that both Hobo with a Shotgun and Super are action films, but neither are that kind of action film—and neither are very much alike, except that they’re action and subversive. And I very much liked them both and for different reasons.
So what I’m asking here is what you really mean when you say you won’t watch something—and to gently suggest that maybe you’re doing yourself out of something by eschewing certain genres by taking the term as having more specific meaning than it does.