Given that the movies I've seen in the past two weeks (in order: The Island, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Devil's Rejects, The Bad News Bears, Hustle and Flow, The Wedding Crashers, Sky High and Stealth) could all be generally classified under the heading of "studio" releases, this post over at The Backrow Manifesto's had me thinking: why do I do this? Especially when there's stuff of real "worth" playing around town: The Conformist, Saraband, and more.
While I definitely acknowledge the overall slumping of the industry and the toll this is taking on the indies, I don't think cinephiles of any stripe should feel embarrassed by a bit of time spent multiplex hopping, in fact, I think it's necessary. Although the pleasures of sitting down with mindless entertainment and laughing hysterically can be undeniable, watching even the "worst" film can be time well spent.
Many of the people reading this will be, to their circle of acquaintances, "the movie friend"—that person whose taste in film is regarded and opinion is sought after, and who can usually be counted on to crap all over some more mainstream film that's generally well-liked. (I once killed a party by violently stomping Hotel Rwanda.) That interaction is only possible if we're not willing to cede the field; if we stay rarefied, and holy in our cinema-going we don't have any credibility in bashing the mainstream or praising the highbrow outside of a small circle of people who share the same cinematic values. I saw Wedding Crashers for a very simple reason: Because everyone else in America is seeing it, and I wanted to be able to join the discourse. And now when someone asks me what I thought, I can honestly say: "Yeah, I laughed a few times, but don't you think the gay character is a little problematic?" Then I can neatly switch the conversation to something more worthwhile, like say, Linklater's The Bad News Bears, a comedy you don't have to feel bad about enjoying.
The other reason I spend so much time scraping the bottom of the barrel: Maybe optimistically I still believe that you can never really know what you're getting when you buy a ticket for anything. If I told you how much I genuinely enjoyed Sky High you'd probably laugh, but I did. See it if you can. Almost every film playing has some small pleasures, and it can be a treat to spot them. Before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hits train wreck-awful, audiences get some of the best, warmest Burton in years. Or Stealth—abominable as a whole (as expected), but I had to give some credit to Josh Lucas for trying to make a meal out of a role that was little more than an amuse—trying to infuse that piece of crap with some shred of integrity was a sight to behold. And don't even get me started on the "Freebird" sequence in The Devil's Rejects. Love or hate Zombie's film (I think it's pretty great) his closing sequence—now that's cinema.
A slight confession: I did catch Phil Morrison's lovely Junebug at a press screening in and amongst all these other behemoths. But I wonder if I would have appreciated its gentle quiet as much as I did if without all the noise of the larger films ringing in my ears. Buying tickets for small fare is great but the cinephile slogan shouldn't be "support indies," it should be "support movies." As anyone who watches a lot of films should know, big doesn't necessarily mean bad, and just because it came from Sundance doesn't mean it'll necessarily have any more value than anything else.