[Warning: post contains too many instances of the word “interesting” and its variants]
I’ve reached the 100 mark in my film watching this year. Since I’ve never kept a count before, I’ve no idea how good this is or not, but I imagine it’s more films than I usually watch. The last film was Barbet Schroeder’s cheery counter-counter-culture heroin-fest More, which I’ve seen before and was watching again for research purposes (I’m thinking of going to Ibiza and becoming a junkie, though I’ve heard it’s changed).
By decade, I can’t help noticing, my film-watching has a strange pattern: a quarter of the films come from the 1960s and a quarter from the 2000s, but no other decade gets into double figures (I suppose the 2010s would too, if multiplied out proportionally). The 2000s is no doubt merely recency; but the 1960s does seem marked out as a decade of great film-making.
My film-watching also happens in waves: I watch a lot of films night after night, and then none at all for weeks. I feel, when disillusion sets in, it’s the fault of bad arthouse films. In fact, my taste in films – in arthouse, at least, is very similar to my taste in books: most American and English arthouse is dreadful (tedious stories about nothing and misery, in which no one could be interested); the only interesting arthouse films are foreign, and even then a lot of it is terrible (often seems to have no interest in choosing a subject the viewer might find rewarding, or even bearable – pacing impossibly slow). I have no patience with this: bad arthouse is like so much bad literary fiction; and it all gives literature and film-making a bad name. When Ian Rankin says, for instance, he could write a literary novel as well as any Booker-prize, I think, well, maybe you could; but in my eyes, by saying that, you’re claiming nothing worthwhile whatsoever (though all the same, having glanced at his style, I’m not convinced he could). But you’re duped if you’re thinking any of that’s literature, in the same way that most arthouse is just as tedious and uninteresting as its detractors often claim. Mubi, which I often praise, being an odd arthouse menagerie of output largely from the last few years, is a fine example of this. I’d guess probably around 80% of the films on it are dreadful: many have I switched off after ten minutes or so, and never will go back to. But, as with Yilmaz Güney the other month, there are also great discoveries to make there, if you have the patience (or the impatience) to look for them.
So I answer a second question: why do so few films get very low marks, and why are a lot of those Hollywood films? It’s not because I’m any good at selecting films (I like to try out new directors, however infrequently this is successful); nor is it because Hollywood films are in general demonstrably worse (this is where I differ from my analogous reading). Rather it’s because I’ll turn off a bad arthouse film as soon as it begins to bore me; whereas with a Hollywood film, usually – whether it’s good or bad – you can sit in front of it and it’s entertaining. Which again brings me to a complaint about literary fiction: which is, why does the author so often set out to find the least interesting subject possible to be at the heart of his novel, and then find the least interesting manner in which to approach that uninteresting subject. I think it’s likely that it’s, all the fault of modernism.