You walk out of the cinema and you feel a bit woozy. The sound has been reduced to an audible whisper and there is nothing louder than the shuffling of feet around you. The warm lights are a pain in your eyes, fresh from darkness. You are part of the line that is heading towards the exit door, walking like a machine on Auto. Then you reach the exit door—by then you are used to the light. You walk on but you don’t connect with tangible reality. You can only think of the film. Scene after scene, it plays in your head; its intensity lingers, the characters overstay their welcome in your head; you feel the film warm your soul, its tone leaves residue all over you; you don’t feel like you know your own life anymore. It is a kind of benign paralysis. It is a kind of isolation.
Have you ever felt like that after watching a film? Have you ever been completely submerged in it, that when it ends you feel the friction and the difficulty of getting back to your life? It’s a place of discomfort, for you feel the traces of your real life, yet you seem to breathe the soul of the film, even though you know that it is all an act. For some reason you feel the film to be real (by all means it can be real), but there is a certain disconnection between Life and Film.
Yet you think the film was awesome and you want to watch another on just like it. It is a wonderful place to be—you crave the way it makes you feel.
So what truly makes a good film? I think the description above makes the cut—a good film should have that kind of paralysing power. Films are a kind of art, and art is art because it should be capable of evoking one’s emotions. The base of my logic is this: if you are overwhelmed with intense emotions after watching a film, and feel a sublime connection to it, it is a great film. If you feel absolute apathy after watching a film, it is a bad film. But hold your horses! It is never that simple to point your finger, snarl, and call the film plain bad.
One of the greatest conflicts I have had in my experience of watching films is: I cannot comprehend why great films are great. What is it about Citizen Kane or The Godfather trilogy that makes them classics? I’ve watched them and they haven’t particularly changed my life in any way. I felt no paralysis. Perhaps I am not well versed with the technicalities of film-making and I cannot appreciate how forward they were for that period.
Once in a while I stumble upon a classic and that I truly relish, I was lucky enough to have come across 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet. The performances were heart-pounding, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. (This begs the question, how do you define great acting?) Of course when something like that happens it is quite obvious then that it’s got to have some element of greatness. But if I felt like that, what about the rest of the world? How did they feel like? On what basis was it classified as a classic?
The problem arises when you have that connection with a film that’s not really for the masses. It may be a film made with as much vision and direction as any one of the classics; it may have all the heart and soul of any great film, sometimes even more; it may have as strong and profound a voice; the only difference is that it is independent. You get the same intense feelings, you feel it’s just as great—heck, it’s changed your life—but it’s not on any one of those greatest-films lists! What do you do then?
I was reading what Paul Morrissey, an associate of Andy Warhol, was talking to the latter about. This excerpt is from POPism:The Warhol Sixties¹:
“Isn’t it amazing?” Paul said on the phone one night while I was still in the hospital. “Hollywood’s just gotten around to doing a movie about a 42nd street male hustler, and we did ours in ’65. And there are all our great New York people sitting on their set all day—Geraldine, Joe, Ondine, Pat Ast, Taylor, Candy, Jackie, Geri Miller, Patti D’Arbanville—and they never even get around to using them…”
The films in comparison were Warhol’s underground film My Hustler and the Academy Award-winning Midnight Cowboys. So what if one is not rated on Rotten Tomatoes and the other has got a 90% rating. It doesn’t reduce the film’s worth. (The operative word being worth, for I do not mean that the film should receive higher recognition. If it is meant to be an underground film, it is meant to be an underground film. Obviously if it is selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, very well then.) Essentially, they are about the same thing—a male hustler—and I believe that Andy Warhol has as much vision as any other revered director.
When watching a film, I like to try to understand where the creative team is coming from, what they’re trying to do with the film, before coming up with my verdict. This believe this is fair judgement and it can be applied when judging other kinds of art. When I find that there is no vision in a film (or a TV show or a song or a work of art), I classify it as a bad film. With material like that, the only kind of vision evident is profit.
But there are films, and other kinds of art, that can successfully balance both artistry and marketability. Maybe that’s what makes them classics.
¹ Warhol, Andy, and Hackett, Pat. POPism: The Warhol Sixties. London: Penguin Books, 2007. Print.
salamanda’s new favourite director is Ben Affleck. She recommends that you check out The Town.
Picture taken from here