Not long ago, I wondered out loud about whether I was being too narrow in my evaluation of movies by placing an overwhelming priority on the necessity for logic. Holes in the narrative were an absolute “deal-breaker.” One “head scratcher”, and I’m out.
I went on, however, to reference movies that I originally rejected because of their logical insufficiencies that I later came to admire and even love, one of them being Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own (1992), which I originally scoffed at, because, for one reason, Tom Hanks was served up as a home-run-hitting slugger, when his less than Ruthian physiognomy suggested a difficulty grounding one to shortstop, but later came to revere.
Maybe, I considered in the post, when rejecting films I ultimately came to appreciate, I was over-emphasizing the “logical” requirement, while short-changing the movies’ “Intangibles”, which, upon further consideration, triggered the reversal my original opinion.
I did not include this in my original post, because I feared I might be perceived as being sarcastic when I did not mean it to be, but maybe, in the current movie-going environment, a film’s making sense is not only not the most important thing, it is now, actually, an option. (Can you see how that might be construed as sarcastic? Even if I wrote “And I’m not being sarcastic” after it? That might, in fact, make it sound even more sarcastic.)
I am being entirely serious here. (And not as you might infer, or even believe I should be, sarcastic.) Maybe logic isn’t always, and should not always necessarily be, the primary issue. (Even though I personally am temperamentally programmed to need it to be.) Maybe “making sense” is a “style cramper” for the artist in any medium driven to go “deeper.”
With these thoughts floating in my mind, on Sunday morning September the 30th, I come across a commentary in the L.A. Times’ “Calender” section – read: “Entertainment” section; apparently, the Times’ Marketing Department believes they can sell more papers if they avoid the word “entertainment” – written by film writer and historian Steven Farber, which targets this concern, using a movie I discussed in another post, The Master, as an exemplifying case in point.
Check out his opening paragraph:
The few negative reviews of “The Master” – and yes, there have been a few – have used adjectives like “oblique” and “opaque” to describe this often perplexing opus from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. More enthusiastic critics have described the film as “elusive”, “enigmatic” and “confounding.” One glowing review rhapsodizes that the movie “defies understanding.”
I cannot say for a certainty but I think Mr. Farber was being sarcastic.
Like me, enigmatic movies do not seem to be the commentator’s cup of confusion. Farber cites other practitioners of cryptic filmmaking’s current vogue-iness, singling out (or “doubling out” ‘cause there’s two of them) Terence Malick (Tree of Life, 2011) and Christopher Nolan (Inception, 2010) Generally, he goes on, planting his flag unequivocally in the “making sense” camp,
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.
At the end of his provocative and well worth reading commentary – if you’re interested, you can do some Internet voodoo and track it down – Farber compares The Master with (the currently re-issued classic) Lawrence of Arabia, observing that
(Lawrence) is a visually stunning, thematically rich film that is not without its mysteries…reminding us that clarity in art does not preclude complexity.
I was thinking of ending this post with an “embed” of Ernest Pintoff’s Oscar-winning animated short The Critic (1963), in which we hear Mel Brooks’s crotchety “Old Jew” voice trashing the dots and squiggles on the screen, intended to represent “Modern Art”, offering critical potshots like, “It must be some kind of symbolism… It’s symbolic of junk!”
After re-watching The Critic, however, I decided that, though entertaining, this disparaging perspective was no longer – if it ever, in fact, was – representative of my own.
I recall once standing in front of a large Jackson Pollock canvas – I never looked to see what it was called – staring at these, what appeared to be, random streaks and splotches, getting a sense of the piece in its entirety, and discovering startling and unexpected tears in my eyes.
Logically…there was no “logically” – it was streaks and splotches. But somehow, the artist’s intention, eluding my intellectual defenses, was screaming to me, “My head is exploding, and this is a picture of how it feels!”
Earl’s Conclusion: If it gets to you, it doesn’t have to make sense.
If it doesn’t, it may very well appear to be garbage.