Friday, May 3, 2019


So, there’s been a lot of pieces that have floated around on the internet in recent months about how some people have gone back in time and rewatched or in some cases saw for the first time, some of their favorite films and have discussed how certain elements or in some cases, the entire films themselves, well, they don’t play as well as they do now, for one reason or another. It’s not even limited to films, one of the more recent ones of these pieces was included a recent re-examining of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” album.

This Jezebel article pissed me off, ‘cause I was literally listening to that album at the time, ‘cause it’s one of the best ever, and who isn’t listening to it as constantly as they can,…-, but, I’m not gonna criticize that piece, or any of the several rebuttals to it. (Although I'll leave the link to Variety and Medium rebuttals.)

Or Molly Ringwald’s observations about some of John Hughes’s less-than-perfect portrayals and observations on men and women that don’t hold up in the #MeToo era, which you can find below

or any of the other ones you can think of, at least I don’t intend to. 

There’s also a backlash to these pieces in though, in general, not just these specific ones, and I totally do understand it. Bill Maher actually devoted a whole “New Rules” segment to the trend on his show awhile back.

Just on a sidenote here: I don’t get most of the criticisms of Bill Maher, I know people on both sides of the political aisle who really despise him, and maybe he is a bit of a prick/douchebag or whatever, but usually I tend to think he has good ideas and that he in general, makes good points, and more importantly is always funny even if he occasionally slips up and crosses a line. That said, eh, I can’t quite agree with him here that just because it’s in the past means that we shouldn’t be analyzing a piece of work by the standards of modern times either. Times do change, and our thinking does alter how we see some films, and that’s worth analyzing, especially in pieces of art. It also helps because you should also try to understand how we got to a point where something like that was appreciated by that audience, or was it actually? A lot of time, many of the criticisms of pieces of art from the past that we have now were criticisms at the time. 

Even people who saw Shakespeare’s original production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the time, mentioned that the play is completely ridiculous and nonsensical, and thought his “The Taming of the Shrew” had quite a few sexist undertones to it, and they weren’t wrong then, and they’re not exactly wrong now. That’s also a criticism nowadays of a lot of these pieces that these criticisms were levied against the art at the time, but-eh, that’s not always the case. I mean, I’m sure there’s criticisms that existed on some level of the criticsphere, but it’s almost important sometimes to challenge pop cultural perceptions of art as well, especially if they’re so ingrained in our culture. Besides, there’s plenty of reasons to revisit past works and take a look at how they look through a different modern lens. Hell, that’s basically how auteur theory was created. Truffaut and Godard didn’t just see whatever latest Hitchcock or Hawks movie they saw that week, they went their whole filmography and analyzed the visions and motifs and ideas they had, and when we go back through others work, we can learn about them in other ways as well. One of them includes comparing how a work was received, accepted or viewed at the time compared to how it’s looked upon now, and even compared to how it actually, may be sometimes.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either, pieces like this have been written long before the internet and even without that it's not like any of these writers were the first to have disagreeing thoughts with a pop culture consensus of a piece of art. I can think of a few examples over the years off-hand where I’ve watched something from the past and found some things that were different or disturbing to my eyes that seem to conflict with what the popular perception of the film is. A big one for me in this regard was “Saturday Night Fever”, is a movie that I grew up understanding that it was the definitive zeitgeist piece of cinema to the disco era and John Travolta’s disco dancing is what made him a superstar, and those things aren't untrue. The movie is still the go-to iconic example of the disco era and it's incredibly fair to say that Travolta's career was made by the movie, but they don’t mention, how big a piece of shit Tony Monero can be, especially to other women, or how selfish a character he is, or that he and his gang of friends beat up another gang, one that apparently didn’t deserve it, even by their own standards, or that the movie’s climax involves both a gangbang that turns into a gang-rape, and a death of a character, that may or may not have been a suicide. Now, I still love the movie, but if all you know about the film going in are the scenes of Travolta on the dance floor and listening to the Bee Gees songs on the amazing soundtrack, you’re in for a shock when you actually watch the movie. Even those who I knew had seen the movie, revisiting it afterwards had forgotten just how dark and disturbing the film could be.

That said I can think of some examples where I do end up going against the conventional wisdom too for one reason or another, reasons that perhaps say more about me and the time or era or situations that I grew up in than simply just the quality of the movie. I don't remember if I've ever talked about Hal Ashby's film "Harold & Maude", it's pretty universally beloved film these days, but I've always thought it was utter garbage. I hate how “Harold & Maude”’s main character seems to be disturbingly obsessed with deaths to the point of constantly imitating and faking his own suicide on a daily basis and yet all the distressed young boy needs to make him feel death is a cheery full-of-life older woman for him to care about, reality? Life? There's a lot about that movie that I don't understand, but yeah, the I think Bud Cort's supposed to be like some kind of proto-Benjamin Braddock, but all I see is every horrible and stupid emo trope played for laughs, and the laughs don't even make sense. It's the kind of movie that's about a kid who feels alienated from the society he's in, that's written by somebody who's never actually felt or knows about that kind of alienation feeling, and is only observing it from afar. All I ever see is a really disturbed kid who's needs like, real therapy and a family that shouldn't be as flippant as they are over his unhealthy preoccupations with death and suicide, and all this leads to a friendship with a cheery old woman who talks about the full life she's lived the whole time...? Maybe I would get it at the time, but compared to many other portrayals of teenagers who deal with various form of depression and alienation I've seen since, "Harold & Maude" always seemed very naive and misguided to me. (Also, some of Hal Ashby's directing in the film is frigging awful. I like Ashby a lot, but there's a greenscreen montage sequence at the end that just pisses me off every time I think about it.) 

Although a good example I’d rather bring up is actually a friend-of-mine’s observation about the movie “M*A*S*H” that we disagree on. Of course I love the movie, it's in the Canon of Film.

I probably should go back and rewrite that article a bit now that I'm looking at it; (It was one of my earliest articles; [sigh]) but he finds the movie disturbing, especially how the film portrays the women in the movie as objects of sex and ridicule and sexual ridicule, and there’s never any punishments for these actions. He’s not wrong, necessarily. In fact, the movie is actually toning it down. If anybody’s ever happened to read the books-, yes, books, there’s several “M*A*S*H” books, they’re much gaudier than the movie. They actually play more like bad “National Lampoon” sequels than the movie, which-, this is where I disagree with my friend, ‘cause Robert Altman does actually take those behaviors and empathizes with them, but not because he agrees with them, but by underlining the setting and situation the characters are actually in, justifying the non-empathetic and cold-hearted treatment the doctors have towards others, by showing that they're in an even more oppresed and inhumane situation, like in the middle of a pointless meaningless war, where they sew up injured soldiers back to health just to have them go back and become dead soldiers,  as opposed to what was actually originally written in the novels which were far more, right-winged in terms of content and comedy and those behaviors seem cruel and mean because they're cruel and mean. That said, yeah, I understand how on the page, out of the context, and sometimes even in context on a first viewing, I can see how things like, tricking a character into being naked in front of the whole camp, just for the purposes of a bet about her hair color is a bit mean-spirited and awful, right before they’ve done surgery on a few dozen teenage soldiers and Koreans who’ve had their insides taken out of them because of guns, landmines and bombs going off for no good reason, etc. etc. etc....Like I said, in that situation, me and my friend disagree.

That said, there is something about these pieces that I find kinda curious. And it’s something that I’ve actually railed against in the past, and people have criticized me about it, and I’ve defended it and I still think I’m on the right side on it now. You see, the main insighting incident to most of these pieces, isn’t that they just wanted to discuss how a movie or album or TV show or blah, blah, blah, how the piece doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, but, really, it’s about how they came into the experience, with expectations. Anticipation. They came into these films and things, because of reputation, the expectations they had. They had heard so much about the piece of work they’re now questioning that they were confused or surprised or shocked when they actually went to see it, that they weren’t met. Like I said, I’ve had that happen to me too on occasion, but why? Well, they heard the talk and reputation of the thing, and that got into their head?

Okay, but why? No seriously, why? I have never, ever understood how getting really amped or excited for a past piece of work is a good thing. Even when it's a film I love like the "Saturday Night Fever" Even outside this narrow window of these articles, every time I see somebody ask in a Facebook film group, “What movies are you looking forward to the most?” or some variant on that, I never answer, because it’s a stupid question, ‘cause why are you looking forward to a movie?” You don’t even know if it’s any good! I understand that it’s a human emotion, and nobody including me is able to squelch that kind of feeling, but, all I can think of is all these fans who get excited from pre-production to casting to staffing the crew to filming and waiting months or sometimes years for the film to be finishing and waiting anxiously all this time to actually see the movie, and it’s totally shit! A complete dumpster fire of a garbage film! Even if it isn’t, imagine all that build up for something that was just okay, or good-but-not-great? I get why we feel compelled to do things like that, we’re human, so I’ve been told, but why does that make it a good thing? I do my damnedest to temper and mitigate every expectation I can have before I watch anything, especially since I’m a critic. For one thing, it could distort your perspective of the art, but more than that, just on a personal level, nearly everything I come into with those kinds of expectations to them, the film won’t live up to them. It makes me not appreciate good films as much as I should sometimes because they might not be as great as I was hoping, and they may even make me think average films are far worst because of them. I see that all the time too! All that hate towards “The Phantom Menace” for instance. (Seriously, it’s like, not the worst thing ever. “Attack of the Clones” was way worst; trust me, I’ve seen them recently.) Besides that, if I come in with as little built-up emotions and biases I find that when something is good, I can appreciate it much more than if I were to come in, hoping or expecting it to be good.

Or in these cases, expecting it to be something else. One of the better takedowns I’ve seen of somebody re-examining past works that I’ve seen in recent months is this video by Maggie Mae Fish that’s a complete takedown of Tim Burton’s oeuvre.

Admittedly, part of why I love this piece is that, I think she’s totally right about Burton and I wish I had the guts and ability to explain all this to the Tim Burton fans I know who can’t understand why I don’t find “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to be that interesting, and blah, blah, blah…, however, I do find it a little troubling, how/why Ms. Fish decided to do this analysis. The way she got into this analysis is interesting to me too, cause she apparently got really excited about watching “Beetlejuice” and was disappointed when the movie, didn’t match the expectation. Now, Ms. Fish is observant  and brilliant enough to decide to look deeper into how and why there’s such a drastic difference between the public perception and the actual film, but that’s not something that I usually see touched upon in these pieces. Why did we have the expectations based on the public perception, or more important, why do we give so much credence or credit to them. Can’t we just shut these other things out and watch the piece of art for ourselves and see what we think? I’ve always contended that this should be a goal as a film viewer, and if anything, these articles have affirmed that belief?


It seems like much of the catalyst of these pieces is some variation on, "Well, we’ve heard all these things about these pieces of art before we get into them,,,," and there’s nothing wrong with that, in of itself, but when you take those outside aspects of viewpoints on pieces of art that are in the pop cultural ether and then view the movie in the context of all those thing you’ve heard beforehand, that can be dangerous and deceptive. Okay, sure, maybe it’s a good thing, especially since it does lead to these pieces, I guess, but I would also think pieces like these could happen without them. Like, it can’t just be, that, “Oh my gosh! Something that everybody loves that’s from the past and indebted into the society, is actually bad; this needs to be analyzed…”, like, if one doesn’t put those expectations onto it, then you’re just analyzing and reviewing a film, isn’t that enough for these articles? Or do I and everybody else have to have a new (finger quotes) “Hot Take” on everything that’s 20 years old or older that I think’s awful, or troubling, or whatever!” I mean, if I or any other critics/commentators have to start doing that, then we’re gonna be here awhile. I mean, I could go through all my opinions and you might say that you would be interested in my new 42-Part Blog Series, "These Filmmakers are Overrated as Fuck!" (Working title) and my first blogpost in the series on how Josef Von Sternberg's portrayals of working women in the 1930s don't hold up as progressive portrayals either then or at the time, but even I'm falling asleep thinking about it. 

That’s why most of these pieces have this apologetic tone to them, that the reviewer is sorry that he/she sees these films differently or might just be unable to look at them through the prism of the zeitgeist and era they came from, cause supposedly these are special movies, movies that people grew up loving or have a huge fanbase, etc., but- I don’t know, I always feel like the more expectations are built up, the worst the disappointment is when you actually see it. Now, I generally think that’s bad enough for modern pieces of film and art, but now it seems to be inflicting older media and leading to these re-analyzing thinkpieces. And…, I don’t know if it’s entirely bad, ‘cause I think re-evaluating is ultimately good, but I still question the method of going into these films and pieces of media from this perspective to begin with, if for no other reasons then, our imaginations are always going to run away with us and we start to piece together our own ideas of what the art is before we ever actually see it. I don't they should be ignored in the analysis, but I do wonder how much/whether those outside factors impact the viewing of a film to begin with. 

Then again, you can't ever shut outside influences down like that entirely. Times do change, expectations and accepted behaviors change, our perspectives change, and films themselves do indeed change as we grow older and reconsider. It is important to study how we were, what we thought was acceptable, why we did then and why we don't now and how that change occurred. We can't just accept things by saying, "Well, that was then and this is now." Imagine if we do that to say, "The Birth of a Nation" or "Triumph of the Will", and just not even bother with any other analysis? Maybe it's impossible to take an older beloved film and not see it as a beloved older film and analyzes the reasons it is, as oppose to just viewing it as a good movie (Although I still think that's a goal worth striving for, every time.), but I think you can still analyze those films on how things have changed and how things that might've been so blissfully ignorant and blind to many back then are shocking and startling to see now. Like, when you watch an old TV game show for 40 or 50 years ago and see all the contestants smoking, or hell, go read Manohla Dargis's New York Times article about "What the Movies Taught Me About Being a Woman" article again just to get a reminder of just how far we've come in a society.

Bill Maher is right about that, we'll always be looking back and wondering just what were we thinking, unlike him, I do think it's actually important however, to occasionally seek an answer to that question, as well as two other questions, in regards to today's media, "What the hell are we thinking now, and why are we thinking that?

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