It is a difficult thing to love a popular art form, especially film. It means that one must accept that there is an assumption of equality of opinion amongst the public in relation to the form in which you have chosen to invest yourself. That is to say, most people feel qualified to watch a film and give their opinion of its quality.
By saying this, I do not wish to imply that people do not have a right to their own opinion. There is no doubt that people should feel comfortable expressing their views, especially within a medium whose target audience is (at least within the mainstream) the broader public. But what I am saying is that there is an assumption in the modern age that the opinions of each individual must be considered objectively equal, and that cinema’s status as the most accessible and publicly digested form makes it more susceptible to such a reading.
On the one hand, this would seem to make sense. When an individual says ‘I like this film’, it is an overtly true statement. When an individual says ‘the films that I like are good films’, there is no doubt that this is a subjectively true statement. But if we move away from these subjective statements alone and place multiple alternate and contradictory statements next to each other, a problem arises that negates the logic that has worked thus far. For example if a historian, a film academic, and a member of the general public go to a see an old WWII film, they may respond like this:
Member of Public: This film is very good. It has great cinematography and excellent acting.
Historian: This film is very bad. It ignores key aspects of history for the sake of the story, and is riddled with historical inaccuracies.
Film academic: The film itself is beautifully crafted, and all performances are exceptional,but there are some problematic elements here. While the film shows a willingness to misrepresent historical circumstances, contemporary audiences should be more wary of the regressive gender and racial politics at play.
Here we see that the member of the public is responding positively to the core visceral strength of the film itself. The historian, being the most invested and qualified to judge the film on its historical merits, defines the movie’s quality on these terms and elects to view the film negatively. The film academic acknowledges the quality of the craftsmanship, the historical inaccuracies (the film academic will almost certainly ensure that they have at least a cursory understanding of the historical background to the film before responding), but displays a far greater concern with the ideology of the film. All three have qualitative judgements they have placed on the movie, but all three are not equal. The member of the public may be able to advise if a film is entertaining, the historian is best qualified to assess it on grounds of historical accuracy, and the film academic, while probably less knowledgeable about the historical elements of the film, is concerned with an overarching assessment of the film from all angles.
In other words, the value ascribed to the opinions of each individual, on any given subject, cannot necessarily be considered objectively equal – one must take into account the knowledge and quality of argument that that individual brings to the table. To reject such a proposition is to demonstrate today’s rather narcissistic cult of the individual (the relatively small price we pay for democracy). One would presume that the MD knows more about medicine; the plumber knows more about plumbing; and that the historian knows more about history than the average individual. Of course, one can already hear the immediate response – that these are professions that require very specific skills. The general public would most likely even acknowledge that in arts like painting, literature and sculpture there is a kind of coding or higher-mode of understanding that one might require specific skills to fully understand. But not in cinema, why?
As a teenager I once got into a rather aggressive drunken conversation with a heavily tattooed bikie in a rundown pub just around the corner from where I lived. I was trying to explain to him that the movie Pearl Harbour was not just an appalling piece of cinema, but also an abominable misrepresentation of history. His argument was simple enough, one driven by the modern individual’s absolute acceptance of capitalism as a qualitatively defining force: “If it’s bad, why has it made so much money?”
You’ll have to excuse me for separating this man’s opinions from the adjectives upon which he heavily relied, but I think you get the point. For him, popularity and profit were the markers of success and therefore of quality. This is a sentiment implicit in the modern western mode of thinking – one driven by concepts of capitalism and the rights of the individual. For the majority of people, films are not objects to be assessed based upon their examination/representation/questioning of gender, race, politics, history or any other ideological mode – they are images to be digested without critique for the sake of entertainment.
I’m not saying things should be any different. All I’m saying is that it is a difficult thing to love a popular art form, especially film. It means that one must accept that there is an assumption of equality of opinion amongst the public in relation to the form in which you have chosen to invest yourself.