Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Questions, questions, questions

So, I'm wanting to make it a habit to write a "discussion question" in the mornings, simply to blog about thoughts I'm having with regard to movies. I'd love to hear thoughts from other peoples out there so, if something strikes you, I'd love it if you commented like it's 1999.

Last night, I was discussing good movies, bad movies, Gates of Heaven and the ending to A History of Violence with my girlfriend, Tara, and she said something that I liked a lot. It was something along the lines of "All movies ask questions of the audience. The good movies explore these questions, the bad ones try to answer them." I like that a lot. You could certainly apply that to all works of art, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll think about it in terms of movies.

I don't know if attempting to answer its questions makes a movie "bad" automatically, there are many other things about movies that can save them from that label (including something about pure kineticism that I'll probably start talking about when a couple of Rambo movies come in from Netflix [which will be pretty soon, actually]), but I believe that most of the great movies I've ever seen state their questions, show several possible answers, ask new questions of those answers, and, ultimately, throw their arms up in frustration and say to the audience, "well, what do you think?"

I think it's a particular problem in mainstream Hollywood fare, to be sure. I mean, I like mainstream Hollywood fair 99% of the time (I'm easily entertained) but Hollywood no longer produces great movies. The best you can hope for is something that, while it's telling you the "right" answer to the question it has posed, is speaking in a way that's entertaining. Perhaps the reason mainstream Hollywood movies have such a problem, on a whole, is that the questions they're asking are not conducive to exploration (Aliens invading? Your smarts will save you. Or your love of family. Or your love of family & God) They ask questions that can have only a "right" or "wrong" answer. Or questions that don't apply to anyone (when did you stop beating your wife?). Or maybe they're not even asking questions, mabye they're just assuming we all have the same questions and telling us the answers to them by showing how loveable retarded people can teach us all important lessons.

I'm not sure and am now throwing up my arms in frustration. What do you think? har har har.


Gorf said...

Okay, I'm just going to address American issues concerning the movies; 1) because I'm American and it's all I know and 2) we seem to be talking about hollywood.
And this may be sort of an easy answer, but...I think there's a generational difference at play. Not to say that a generational difference can account for lack of quality, but to me it seems that the most questioning and eye-opening movies came from the era when he baby boomers were coming of age. Violence and war and fear were the new way of life after World War II. Not to say that there wasn't American violence previous to WWII or that America was perfect. (My vision of a perfect America would have nowhere near as many lynchings as we had.) But after the hot war we had the cold war and an incredible military buildup that became a necessary component of our economy. This combined with the fact that we had a growing middle class sprinkled with intellectuals intent on examining these new issues and !!KAPAPAPAOW!! you have a whole new level of satire and engaging art.
Our generation, however, has come of age in a time when these political, social and sexual issues have been questioned and left unanswered and largely unchanged. To be a boomer and question conventions was noble because maybe there seems to have been a feeling that questioning the problem was just a step away from solving the problem. But to follow that generation and try to effect change in the same manner seems almost foolish.
"When the cold war ends there will never be another. We've grown past that as a society....Uh-oh, here's another one!"
"HA HA HA! McCArthyism! How representative of an unenlightened society! Uh-oh...."
As a reult, it seems we're left with many of the methods used to question societal norms but the lack of desire to raise questions. Most movies I feel are great today don't change the way I feel about life, but rather just about movies.
Why be genuine and fail when you can be ironic and succeed?
This is oversimplification, but nobody can make fun of me to my face because I'm just posting it on a blog.

David Wester said...

Maybe the reason City of God felt like such a jolt to the movie-watching system is that changed the way I felt about the world AND movies at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Dave, can I make a recommendation? "Munchies" . The title just popped in my head after a few days of thinking. Saw it when I was a kid.


Anonymous said...

i think most of hollywood's great movies are fairly simple when comes to some of the questions you raised. 'citizen kane' is generally considered the best movie ever. the question it asks is pretty much why did kane go bad? the answer was he was his child abandoment issues.

Ash Karreau said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ash Karreau said...

I disagree. I think there's a place for films that both pose a question, and present a point of view, and an important one. That's at the heart of personal filmmaking. Leaving a question unanswered is fascinating, like History of Violence, but that doesn't mean that the filmmaker providing his own point of view devalues the film. It's that personal touch that can separate a film from the pack of Fast and the Furious clones.

That said, sometimes I hate the filmmaker's point of view, like in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But that doesn't make it any less valid. In fact, documentaries often work best when they have a distinct opinion, and I would argue that that is the same for narrative films.

David Wester said...

I would agree with you that point of view is important. I think what I'm arguing here is something along the lines that when the filmmaker's point of view is the only one that is honored, it makes the movie a weaker movie. Stronger movies tend to allow opposing voices equal weight. And I think that the strongest movies acknowledge that there can be no real answers to important questions, but provide one anyway due to their point of view.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is something along the lines of this:

Bad movies seek to tell us that there is a right answer, while good movies seek to explore many answers, neither right nor wrong.