Sunday, September 30, 2012

Enigmatic movies

There is a recent LA Times article by Stephen Farber titled: 'The Master' is too muddled to be a masterpiece.

I have no problem with Farber not liking the movie. I myself didn't much care for it. And I also don't have a problem with the headline in general. But I do have a problem with one particular part of the article, which to my mind, is completely wrong headed and naïve. He writes - in all seriousness:
"The Master" epitomizes the rise of a new school of enigmatic movies, which parallels similar post-modern developments in literature and music. Recent movies embracing inscrutability hark back to landmark European films of the 1960s that shattered traditional narrative conventions. Films like Ingmar Bergman's "Persona," Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup" and Luis Buñuel's "Belle de Jour" incorporated surreal dream sequences and built toward mysterious, sometimes impenetrable endings that delighted art house audiences of the era.
This cryptic style of filmmaking has resurfaced in recent movies by Terrence Malick — "The Tree of Life" as well as his newest effort, "To the Wonder" — and even Christopher Nolan, who made the mind-bending thriller "Inception" that tantalized many audiences (and left others befuddled). And this same oblique approach to storytelling has characterized a new generation of European filmmakers such as Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke. "The Master" aims to join this company, but its release only proves to me that the cult of incoherence is beginning to pall. Too many movies, novels and even TV series dispense with all sense of logic; they revel in unintelligibility and dare audiences to enter their tangled web.
How does one begin to tackle this absurd view? With a straight face he is criticizing a slew of movies for essentially being non-formulaic and hard to follow. He actually has the audacity to say that movies that 'dare audiences to enter their tangled web' are a bad thing! How can we take Farber seriously as a critic if he favors a Hollywood mainstream mentality over movies that challenge him, expand his horizons or make him think?

He has to know that most all children's movies, action films, comedies, romantic movies and feel good dramas are depressingly formulaic. This, no doubt, has been the case since movies were silent. We can forgive many of these movies [especially the older ones] because part of the evolution of the art form was one of mass entertainment. This has been the case for 100 years and continues today. But one thing a smattering of movies in each decade and particularly movies in the 1960's and early 70's did was to accept the fact that the audience was made up of adults who wanted to be challenged just a little bit. Rather than lay out the plot in an obvious [boring] manner some of these movies allowed the audience to partake in or contemplate the movie's precarious or, at times, intellectual narrative; Movies such as The 400 Blows, Persona, Red Desert, Weekend, 2001 A Space Odyssey come to mind. They allowed moviegoers to exit the theatre and have a conversation about the movie rather than just have them nodding in agreement and then forgetting what they saw.

I don't know how Farber can call himself a critic if he is not open-minded enough to understand that the art form simply cannot move forward if these kinds of 'enigmatic' movies are not made. What's more, he seems to be holding a 40 year grudge against movies that 'shattered traditional narrative conventions.' That debate should be long over at this point.

To call The Master enigmatic or a film that defies understanding is to be incorrect [it's not that hard to understand]. But then to up the ante on the critique and embrace an idea that tells the world you don't enjoy following a non-formulaic narrative and that [just maybe] you are turned off by movies that make you think is odd. I don't believe that is a message any critic in any field wants to leave his readers. But until further clarification by Mr Farber I have to conclude that is what he wants us to believe.

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