Postulating & Pontificating: Your Taste Is Unacceptable!

I’ll tell you what to like and dislike, thank you very much!

I’m a guy who loves the films he loves with no reservations. I’m okay with this fact, but in the world of cinephilia it’s not always okay for a person to like what they like and dislike what they dislike. I’ve been involved in countless discussions where I’ve been told, “wait, you like film X but dislike film Y? You’re not a real film buff then I guess.” On the surface it’s easy to see why that is such a ludicrous statement, yet I encounter statements of such ilk all the time. It’s not limited to me either, respected film critics will say much the same to other film critics.

I happen to be a big fan of Roger Ebert, but I shook my head in disgust when he lambasted fellow film critic Armond White’s tastes by saying, “It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2” but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.” That statement is the height of superiority, and it is a way of thinking that sadly pervades the world of cinema, from film critics all the way down to casual fans. When Mr. Ebert made the above statement I actually became numb with anger and frustration. I’ll be the first to admit that Mr. White is very contrarian, but why can’t he like what he likes and dislike what he dislikes? Why do people have to take others to task over their personal taste? Dismissing someone, or labeling them a troll, for liking certain films and disliking other films does not work within the subjective world of movie watching.

Does it somehow make me less of a fan of film if I own up to thinking Uwe Boll’s BloodRayne is a master work while Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a jumbled mess of a film? It shouldn’t, yet I know that as people read that sentence there are some who will immediately dismiss what I have to say because of that admission. Why is such a closed off way of thinking a part of the movie community? I ask this question because I know that I do not have the answer. The easy answer would be to say that it’s because people are assholes. That’s a cheap answer and one that I am not willing to go along with. Yeah, people are assholes, but there has to be more to why cinephiles are so willing to dismiss a fellow cinephile when their likes and dislikes don’t adhere to the majority accepted opinion.

It may come down to the issue of canon films. In the film world canon generally refers to films that have been labeled by consensus as among the best of all time. Canon films are the films that people think they need to see to be real film buffs. In the interest of full disclosure I find that notion just as ridiculous as the general issue of this opinion piece. My opinion on canon films has always been that canon is what a person makes of it. When I tell someone of the films they absolutely need to see chances are that Last Action Hero will be on that list at some point. Some will scoff at its mention, but I have my reasons and I believe they are perfectly valid. That’s why the canon argument does not work for me, canon is what the individual makes of it and the idea of canon films should never be used as a guide to interpreting the validity of another persons personal film taste.

There’s also the issue of context and relative agreement. Mr. White’s views are backed up by his thoughts. I happen to like reading Armond White’s criticism despite almost never agreeing with him. The reason I like reading his work is because he posits interesting thoughts and explains in a well written fashion why he feels the way he does. I do think some of his views on film are crazy and he and I are as far removed taste wise as two people can be. However, he does bring content to his takes on film and that is what matters the most to me. To use Mr. Ebert as an example, he is more than welcome to his opinion of The Thing. I understand the context of his take on John Carpenter’s film, and I am more than willing to allow for his opinion on the film. That doesn’t mean I agree with him, in fact I completely disagree with Mr. Ebert’s take on The Thing, and many other films.

Does this mean that Mr. Ebert’s opinions are invalid? Going by the “you like X and not Y,” example the answer would be yes. Mr. Ebert can lavish never ending praise upon the Academy Award winning Crash and he can be revolted by Kick-Ass. If I am to look at those films based upon my own personal taste, I borderline hated Crash and loved Kick-Ass, and apply the “you like X, and not Y,” example then it’s clear as day that Mr. Ebert is not qualified to talk about film because he has no taste.

I hope that everyone reading this article sees what I just did in the above paragraph. In no way do I think that Roger Ebert is not qualified to talk about movies. Truth be told he’s more qualified to offer critical judgment of the cinematic landscape than almost any person on the planet. However, the same could be said for Armond White, and that is why Mr. Ebert’s easy dismissal of Mr. White’s tastes irks me so. There’s no reason that film critics, cinephiles, and casual fans should dismiss the tastes of others. I think I’ve established that despite my assertion of the easily seen ridiculousness of the dismissal of a fellow cinephile because they “like X but don’t like Y,” said mindset is not easy to decipher. I like what I like, and dislike what I dislike. If my likes and dislike don’t match up to your likes and dislikes that does not mean I should be dismissed as a troll or someone who knows nothing about the world of film.

I don’t have any answer as to why cinephiles the world over think it’s okay to dismiss the opinions of others when they don’t match up to their own taste. I love The 13th Warrior despite most people thinking it’s crap, and I don’t care how good anyone tells me that Blade Runner is I don’t get much out of that film. Instead of dismissing those opinions how about we work as a collective film community on accepting the different tastes, likes, and dislikes that make discussing film such a wonderful thing! That’s my two cents at least, accept or dismiss them at your own leisure.

Cheers,
Bill

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6 responses to “Postulating & Pontificating: Your Taste Is Unacceptable!

  1. I agree with you 100%. There is a reason why people dismiss a fellow cinephile when their likes and dislikes don’t adhere to the majority accepted opinion, it’s called the ‘herd’ mentality. You see it in the art world all the time. I think Jackson Pollack paintings are worthless, but a select few put the spin out about the originality and daring in his work, and the glitterati, who want to appear knowledgeable and hip, go along. I saw a film years ago with John Lone called The Moderns which played upon this scenario. Lone, in essence, pontificates about how it is the ‘cultured’ class that decides what is art and what is not, and the masses must follow.

  2. Interesting, I’ll have to seek out that movie.

  3. I love Roger Ebert though I don’t agree with him all the time. Armond White however, is someone I don’t read and refuse to. I don’t mind his contrarian view but the way he will compare a film to something that definitely couldn’t be related like he recently compared Jack & Jill to a Lubistch film or something makes him sound more idiotic than ever.

    If you wondered one of the reasons why I left Epinions.com more than a year and a half ago. It was because of the rise of trolling and opinions that really have no validity or intelligence. It’s just a bunch of “hey, this movie is great and this is fine and blah, blah, blah”. It’s becoming a sinking ship now and the only reason I frequent there is to retrieve the old reviews I have since I lost my original copies on the old external hard drive that I dropped two years ago.

  4. Frankly Steven, if you’re not reading him then you don’t know the way in which he may have made a comparison between Jack And Jill and a Lubistch film. Even then the reason I wrote this article was because I believe that you don’t have to agree with such a comparison, but if White constructs a well thought argument that he believes such a connection exists then it should be accepted and not dismissed. Agreement does not need to exist, but dismissal should not exist.

  5. I agree with most of what you wrote. I consider my site to be “recommendations”, not “critiques”. I liked the movie to one extent or another and I am saying why and suggesting that others might like it, too. If someone disagrees with me, though, it does not bother me. It might surprise me, in a “huh, I thought this film would be more popular” way, but it’s not like it makes me lay awake at night worrying about why I’m out of touch. I believe you said it in your post – I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. I have given a few films a second (and even third watch in the case of Blade Runner and Annie Hall), but I’ve yet to go from disliking to liking, or ambivalent to loving, a film.

  6. I’ve had a massive switch in my taste when it comes to documentaries lately. I used to have documentaries in general, found them to be a waste of time. But, in the past couple of years I’ve been exposed to docs like Style Wars, Grizzly Man, Into The Abyss, and many more than have helped change my original opinion that was based on things like Hoop Dreams and the work of Michael Moore. I don’t expect everyone to suddenly change their film opinions, but it can happen and it’s enjoyable when it does (whether the change in opinion is from bad to good or vice-versa).

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