"You Just Don't Get It"

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RyderFlynn

RyderFlynn

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I didn’t like The Godfather. Or at least, not the first time I watched it, and not even the second time just a decade ago when I gave it another shot. I remember that when I expressed my sentiments about my lack of interest and enthusiasm towards one of the most acclaimed cinematic masterpieces of all time on a film forum called “Filmspotting”, one member told me that he loved it because it has this larger than life quality, with the Corleone legacy playing out like powerful empires of the middle ages ruled by almighty kings. And looking back now, even someone as dim-witted as me could see that it almost serves as a criticism of the often romanticized American Dream where someone could achieve power and success through hard work. While my understanding of the mafia in America is very little, I do kinda know that it was such a different time back then that you have these ruffians running around trying to control a trade and justifying their actions as the opportunism of a businessman. As Al Capone put it, “I’m just a businessman, giving the people what they want.”

With that said, I wouldn’t have known about all of this context if I wasn’t exposed to the type of American media I would often associate myself with. As someone who doesn’t even live in America, it’s such a different place and culture that sometimes, the context of it is so vague that I truly don’t “get” the appeal of certain American movies.

And what I find funny about all this is that it works both ways. Audiences of “high art cinema” sometimes “don’t get it” as well when it comes to superhero movies. “You just don’t get it.” “You missed the point.” “If you lived in America in this specific decade or era, you would understand why The Godfather is a masterpiece that reflected that cultural landscape of our country.” “If you read the comic book, you would understand why Spider-Man 2 is a masterpiece that reflected how inspirational the fictional character connected with us everyday people.”

“You simply just don’t get it.”
While watching Bob Chipman criticizing Batman v. Superman, I remember that he described this remark as very… dismissive and just plain rude, to claim that someone is either too ignorant or just lacking intelligence to comprehend the context of a work of art. At the same time, he also said that there are times when someone simply doesn’t possess the sufficient understanding of a work to really judge or even create an imitation based on said work. Watchmen the movie lacked the kind of nuance the comic book has towards criticizing edgy superheroes of the ’80s. It wasn’t supposed to be a book about how sympathetic superheroes can be the way ’70s comics depicted Peter Parker as sympathetic; Alan Moore was showing just how unlikable superheroes can be while at the same time showing why forcing completely realistic values on superheroes doesn’t work in a society as cynical and mistrusting as ours. Rorschach was a psychopathic murderer, not a hero.

That being said, I think there’s a counter argument to be made against the egoistical thinking some of us learned individuals can possess. I used to be a lot more extreme in my worldview. If you Google “Hack Snyder,” it’s an actual term people used as a joke to make fun of Zack the filmmaker, but I think that’s more than a bit unfair and crass now that I’ve (hopefully) mellowed a lot more as a person. I mean, I might still not enjoy his works on an intellectual level because there’s just so much favoring of style over substance, but come on, his movies are still incredible works of filmmaking that present the kind of million-dollar spectacle that has wowed audiences worldwide. Try to get yourself a camera and do what he does. He’s still great at what he does, so he’s definitely no hack.

I would like to believe that in recent years (maybe even just recent months), I’ve become a lot more open-minded towards storytellers and their perspective of the world. I want to be more open-minded. I want to believe that even someone like Michael Bay set out to astound his audience with visual experiences that could linger in their mind long after the movie is over. I remember listening to the “Quick Question” podcast by former Cracked.com editors Soren Bowie and Daniel O’Brien this morning (fantastic and hilarious podcast by the way), and they were discussing James Cameron’s Avatar. The interesting thing about Avatar is that, much as people criticized it (for good reasons), Cameron was also justified (in my opinion) for wanting to show the world this 3-D universe, literally taking his audience to an entire new world shown through a revolutionary technology at the time. It was still groundbreaking filmmaking at the time, even if the script didn’t match up to the technical side of the movie.

It feels better celebrating someone else’s work than slamming it out of some self-righteous ego. Or as Lee Boucher of “Cinema Wins” said it, “Because liking things is more fun than not liking things.” And truth be told, while I admit that it feels satisfying sometimes to join the collective voice and criticize a universally-hated movie (feeling like you’re part of a community), there have been other times that it just feels… bitter. There were times when I didn’t enjoy trying to prove which Spider-Man movie is better. I would much rather have peace in my life than get into some pointless conflict on the Internet over men in tights swinging from rooftops. What do we get out of it? Trying to prove the other party wrong? It just leaves a bad taste to get that worked up trying to tell someone else that his favorite movie sucks. I would much rather just enjoy myself binging to a show or playing some farming video game in a mindless state, the latter of which I’ve been doing so for almost a month now. I lost count.

But I digress. To return to my original point, context and perspective matter when criticizing a work of art, but on the other hand, the brilliance of art itself is that it can have 9 different opinions in a room with 10 people. Something cheesy and generic like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day can have a great impact on many people all the same (certainly does for me). At the same time, something intelligently written like the animated version of Ghost in the Shell might just prove to be amusing and interesting for a brief moment, but ultimately doesn’t leave the kind of impact many others claimed to have (again, speaking from personal experience). By the way, I “get” Ghost in the Shell’s message, but it just doesn’t compel me the same engaging way it does for others. What we as fellow armchair critics claim people “get” or “don’t get” can be arbitrary and fatuous at times. We might find Pokemon to be childish and bad storytelling, but tons of 10 year olds in Japan still aspire to be like Ash, I kid you not. What exactly is it that we “get” that these other people “don’t get?” Maturity? Wisdom? Seniority? I say live and let live.

To be clear, I think that it’s still important to recognize contexts and differentiate why one work might lack the nuance that defines another work. I still think that’s it’s important to recognize that a work of art’s cultural values would be better taken into consideration than be ignored, because it could only add to the conversation and improve your work. For example, Jimmy Olsen from the Superman comics. While many would dismiss him as an annoying twat who serves little purpose as Superman’s sidekick than being a comic relief, it’s also important to see that Jimmy is part of the equation and part of the supporting cast members that humanizes Superman, not to mention acting as Superman’s surrogate son to lots of people back in the day who saw Supes as their surrogate father figure. So I think it’s an understatement to say that his only purpose in the Extended Cut of Batman v. Superman to be shot in the head is more than a little crass (the theatrical cut didn’t name-drop him as Jimmy). It’s edgy, it’s immature, and it disrespects the entire cultural relevance the character has for an entire generation of readers just for a cheap 5 or 10 minute scene that name-drops this character specifically to be executed. Bob Chipman made this observation about Jimmy Olsen’s role in the comics by the way, not me, so credits to him.

Regardless, like all things in life, there’s compromise to be made in terms of respecting someone else’s opinion. While it can be helpful to inform someone about the context, let’s not judge someone else’s enjoyment (or the lack thereof) towards a movie or any other forms of artwork. Maybe it’s true that myself and a whole bunch of other people simply “don’t get it” about The Godfather or Citizen Kane or Casablanca, or even Rocky. But someday we might. I would like to think that life experiences could shape me enough that someday, I could grow older and mellow enough that I could appreciate Rocky the way millions of people have. I’ve certainly had lots of appreciation for the later Rocky films like Rocky Balboa (or Rocky 6) and Creed, when Rocky’s age has now given him the kind of perspectives I could relate to, when he starts to lose precious things in life and tries to connect with a world that might reject him. Age seems to be the one defining factor that informs us as audiences. A movie that might not hold meaning for us 20 years ago just feels so much more different and poignant now.

A favorite quote of mine is from writer Drew Magary of news blog “Deadspin” musing about Toy Story 2 and just Pixar movies in general, how they always try to rip your freaking heart out instead of settling for something less. “You went to go see a comedy about toys. You ended up halfway through flashing back to sitting at your grandma’s bedside as she passed away.” I remember another article discussing how the movie feels different once the writer got older, that once he (or it could’ve been a she) got older, the movie strikes a tone where there’s this fear of abandonment towards his children that resonates in the movie. A young adult watching Toy Story 2 like myself might associate the abandonment themes with something else, perhaps the strained parental relationships we might have, but it bears a different meaning once we are the parents.

Age and life experience change everything. And that’s the wonderful thing about art, your constantly changing perspectives giving you a different picture of the picture. We might not “get it” now, but a little patience and a little introspection goes a long way, even when it comes to cartoon toys and spandex heroes.
 
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