Cinema: A Personal Perspective

by Mark English

It is impossible to put an exact date on it, but around 1990 I changed my mind about movies – or at least new movies. I was increasingly indifferent to them. Even many films of a type I would normally have appreciated had become positively painful to watch.

An appreciation of the arts is a very personal and tenuous thing. It can be seen almost as faith-based. A character in one of Iris Murdoch’s novels used to visit the National Gallery in London and these visits were for him uplifting, like a religious experience. But for some reason he lost the faith, as it were, and the magic no longer worked. In this case, it was not the Gallery which had changed, but the man.

In the case of my about-face on cinema, however, the man stayed pretty much the same, I think. It was the films which had changed – and the world which they represented. I am not talking about the external world here so much as the ideas behind the films. The ideas and stories being offered were simply no longer interesting to me.

During my childhood years, we lived near one of those grand old Art Deco cinemas. It was family owned and its best days (the 1940s?) were long gone. It struggled to survive. Cutting costs to the bone, the management would show one classic mainstream movie (Lawrence of Arabia, say, or Born Free) for many months on end, sometimes for more than a year.

In terms of genre and content, as a child I favored science fiction in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells; as an adult, I gravitated to character-based narratives centered around families, friendships and ordinary life. In some ways my cinematic preferences were affected by my parents’ views and attitudes.

My father had grown up in the early days of film. Apart from Chaplin, whom he admired, he showed little interest in the cinema. He was a voracious reader, however, and a big fan of George Bernard Shaw. He approved of the 1938 film Pygmalion (for which Shaw himself wrote the screenplay). He enjoyed the musical My Fair Lady which was also based on Shaw’s play. But a combination of social conservatism and a predilection for solitary reading predisposed him to see the cinema as something of a passing fad for which he had little use.

My mother was much younger than my father and had more modern and progressive views. As a teenager she was influenced by Bertrand Russell’s popular essays. From her early years she had been an avid movie-goer and she talked to me about the actors and movies she had loved. Many of these movies were shown on television when I was a child.

Lately I have been watching or rewatching old English, European, American and some Japanese films. One of the things which I find interesting is trying to see patterns in my preferences. There are various personal factors at play, of course. One gravitates towards writers and directors (as one does towards personal acquaintances) with whom one shares temperamental or cultural affinities. There is also an ideological dimension. But I shy away from films which attempt to be in any way manipulative in this regard.

Any kind of “ism” or ideology is suspect as far as I am concerned. If ideology is taken to refer to a personal framework of values and moral priorities, however, the concept is unexceptionable and applies to us all.

Though each of these individual value frameworks is unique, it is the fact that they overlap with the value frameworks of others which makes them relevant and viable, which gives them traction in the social world.

Cinema, in its own small way, demonstrated the importance of a shared vision. The classic cinema experience – the crowd of silent strangers nestled together in the warmth and the darkness – works best when values are shared at a deep level.

That’s all over now, for me at any rate. But at least these old films still exist and are readily accessible to individuals interested to know how it was back then so that they might have a better sense of our cultural trajectory and – looking to the future – a clearer view of cultural and moral possibilities.

I conclude with a few notes (which I may expand on in the future) on the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. She interests me because her career illustrates both the connections between European cinema and Hollywood and some of the differences and divisions.

In the 1940s, Bergman took the English-speaking world by storm, but this was not her only public manifestation. She was renowned in her own country before she went to Hollywood and – surprisingly – she almost became a German film star (her mother was German) just before World War 2.

In 1938 Bergman went to Germany, having signed a three-film contract. She was pregnant at the time and only made one film there – a very light but strangely touching drama, Die vier Gesellen – before returning to Sweden to give birth. An offer from David Selznick took her to Hollywood soon after.

Die vier Gesellen was designed specifically as a vehicle to launch her German career. The film is very stylish, and veteran director Carl Froelich does a wonderful job bringing out the complexities and vulnerabilities of the main characters. Bergman is particularly good. She plays an ambitious young commercial artist who is in love with her former art teacher but is determined to prove herself in the tough, male-dominated commercial world of late-1930s Berlin.

Intermezzo (1939) was Bergman’s first American film. It was a remake of a film she had made three years before in Sweden which was co-written and directed by Gustaf Molander. The Hollywood version – directed by Gregory Ratoff who had replaced William Wyler who walked out after a dispute with producer David Selznick – is flawed by schmaltz, gratuitous moralizing and a dumbed-down script. Some scenes are positively ludicrous. By contrast, the original Swedish film – though melodramatic at times and made in a style reminiscent of the silent era – is intelligent, well-crafted and full of subtle and realistic touches.

After World War 2, Bergman continued to work in America but also worked in Europe. Notably, she appeared in films made by Roberto Rossellini, whom she married. Journey to Italy is set in and around Naples. Though Bergman, her co-star George Sanders and most of the other actors spoke their lines in English, the film was first released – dubbed into Italian – as Viaggio in Italia in 1954. The restored English-language version is generally recognized as a masterpiece. It has almost the feel of a documentary but is profoundly personal and (I would say) truthful. It is basically a study of a marriage in crisis but manages to incorporate a good deal of understated humor.

Late in life, Bergman returned to Sweden to make Höstsonaten with Ingmar Bergman. Höstsonaten (co-written by the director) incorporates thematic parallels and echoes of earlier films in which Ingrid Bergman appeared, notably Intermezzo.





72 responses to “Cinema: A Personal Perspective”

  1. Interesting. I had the same experience in the early 2000s: cinema lost its magic.

    I don’t know why. One factor probably was that I worked in the audiovisual media in the 1990s. I had learned (in another context, not the movies) how to tell a story with images, and I started to see the same patterns in movies – sometimes I had the feeling I could predict the next shot.

    Georges Polti claimed at the end of the 19th century that there are only 36 different dramatic situations. I don’t know if that’s strictly true, but there is some truth in it. It doesn’t matter for the best movies. The way “Once Upon a Time in the West” tells its story, makes you forget it is, essentially, a revenge western. Unfortunately, few movies are among the best. If you have seen enough movies, all too often you start to see, on some meta-level, the same dramatic situations everywhere. In the beginning it’s fun; after a while it gets boring.

    I wonder if the movies, as a cultural technology, haven’t reached their limits.
    There are things movies can’t do. They’re not very good at giving the viewer insight in the mental state of the characters. Voice-overs are an option, but they get stale easily. I think it was Tom Wolfe who pointed out another limitation: movies are terrible at explaining something. Balzac shamelessly interrupts his stories to explain how debt notes worked in 19th century France, and the reader needs this information to understand what’s happening. In a movie, a similar interruption wouldn’t work. It’s possible to explain how debt notes work in a documentary, but in a movie – no way.

    Movies can do a limited number of things, and I think the movie industry has reached the point that is has explored most of them. As a cultural technology, movies perhaps have done almost everything they can do, although there’s still some space at the margins: special effects probably can become even more realistic and spectacular; there’s the option to show blood, gore and cruelty more explicitly than in the past.

    I don’t think this is a problem for people who relatively recently started to view movies. But a viewer like me, who has seen his (very modest) share of movies from the 1930s to the 1990s, has build a mental back-catalogue of scenes and ways to tell a story that serves as a reference for every new movie. That Big City scene at night? Yeah, well, Taxi Driver. Etc. In other words, there’s perhaps a law of diminishing returns at work. In the 1980s, movies were exciting and promising. In the 2000s, I was glad if a movie was OK.

    However, as you write: “An appreciation of the arts is a very personal and tenuous thing.”

  2. It’s always such a shame when one’s vision and taste narrow. Certainly as the public ethos and aesthetic drifts too far away from anything that continues to be recognizable or desirable, it is going to become more and more difficult to appreciate contemporary work — I am experiencing that myself, for example, with the new versions of Star Trek — but your limitation seems far more severe and less comprehensible. That is, *if* I am reading you correctly. Goodfellas, Boyz in the Hood, Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, and The Silence of the Lambs were all made in the 1990’s and are masterpieces — in some case genre masterpieces — in any era and by any measure.

    The same is true of Memento, No Country for Old Men, Kill Bill, Donnie Darko, Requiem for a Dream, Mulholland Drive, and more, all of which were made in the 2000’s.

    If we expand to include the 1970’s the list of masterpieces reaches up to the sky.

    Without any actual account of what these scruples are that suddenly prevent you from enjoying half a century’s worth of cinematic masterpieces, the essay is somewhat baffling.

  3. s. wallerstein

    I stopped seeing movies after my son’s death in 2001. The reasons why are personal and painful, so I’m not going to explore them here.

    However, for most of us it’s not so much that our tastes narrow as we get older. We know ourselves better and we know our tastes better. In the year, say, Bonnie and Clyde, appeared, I saw it because “everybody” was seeing it. I was in my 20’s and was in the process of developing my own tastes. As I get older, the fact that “everyone” is seeing a certain movie or reading a certain book matters little to me because I know better who I am. When I was a kid, I’d ask for stuff from my father, say, a new type of bicycle and I’d argue “everyone has a bike like that”. My father would inevitably answer: “you’re not everyone”. I didn’t understand his reasoning at the time, but I do now.

  4. Mark,
    I largely agree with Dan here. 1990 was the year of this epiphany? The year of Goodfellas? I don’t get that. If “ideology” is your problem, the fact remains that good filmmaking , honest filmmaking, allows for differing ideologicaol interpretations of the same material, and, with important exceptions (Birth of a Nation, Triumph of the Will) always have. Spike Lee’s 1989 Do the Right Thing is undeniably a politically biased message film; but Lee is a good enough, honest enough director that he leaves plenty of room for sympathy for the Italian pizza-maker and for skepticism concerning the motives of the Lee’s own character, who instigates the riot – rightly or wrongly? Has Lee’s character done “the Right Thing?” In interviews, Lee says he thinks so; but his film allows disagreement on this and other issues, without mitigating the fact that the final tipping point is a police choke-hold on a young Black man who dies. A tough film, a tough-minded film, but ultimately a fair (albeit not unbiases) presentation of a difficult issue. And a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

    My own background reads film as more a visual art than a dramatic art. I often used to say, in response to auteurist theories, that the true magic of a film happens at the editing desk. I was also a great admirer of the experimental films of the ’60s, especially those of Stan Brakhage, and while no doubt that era had its day and is now long gone, there was so much to learn from those films….

    I have my own “end-of-cinema” narrative, but it is wrapped up with the general problem of the Post-Modern. To put it briefly, cinema no longer has a history. Films today seem to reference all movies made, and thus run into the problem of diminishing returns couvent2104 complains of; but ultimately these many influences cancel out, and so films today reference nothing historical. The comic book films that have made so much money over the past two decades, reveal the problem here. With apparently rare exceptions (which I only know by report), they build on nothing filmmakers did before them, they just run us over a roller coaster of muscle-flexing, explosions, and long drawn out fisticuffs – the sort of “action film” vapidity Vachel Lindsey warned his readers about as a reviewer way back at the dawn of cinema.

    The current pandemic has added an elegiac note to this retreat from artistry – a major theater chain, Regal, which dominated theaters in my area, called it quits a couple weeks ago. The experience of sharing seats with others in the darkness watching the play of light on the screen, the performance of drama or comedy in worlds only imagined for us by the filmmakers, may indeed be unrecoverable now. But streaming media is also part of that story – the technological solution was in place even before the crisis occurred.

    There are still entertaining movies made. But one has to search them out. I don’t have the energy for that anymore; but I certainly hope that young film viewers and filmmakers do. There are no great advances to be made in the medium anymore; but there are still reasons to love it; there is still the appeal to vision.

  5. Peter Smith

    Mark, as usual you delight with your lovely essays. There has been a surfeit of indifferent pieces and your essay is an antidote. And of course we have had the usual naysayers, which is a great pity, because you touch on such an important subject.

    I dragged in the word ‘surfeit’, above, because it is all about the surfeit that Shakespeare alluded to: “A surfeit of the sweetest things/A deepest loathing the the stomach brings” and it is not “a narrowing of tastes and vision“. However Shakespeare has dramatically overstated the matter, but he was a dramatist after all!

    Our minds are difference processing machines.We are finally tuned to spot changes in our environment, whether it be in movement, colour, texture, temperature, sound, expressions, smell, and much more. When we detect differences our minds are aroused because differences potentially signal danger(or opportunity). We all know that the wearer of smelly old socks is unaware of their stench, which is immediately offensive to anyone else entering the room. The wearer was unaware because his senses were saturated and he could no longer detect differences.

    As our experience of life increases we commit more and more of these experiences to our inner template store. This is very useful because it allows us to respond effciently and quickly with minimal thought when confronted with a situation that matches(more or less) with one in our template store. While useful, this is a kind of saturation that we have also in sensory experiences and in the same way it masks our sensitivity to differences. We respond efficiently but without the arousal that would be stimulated by the detection of differences.

    I think this process underlies your descriptions of your cinematic experiences and it is the result of your eclectic and extensive experience of life. It is not a narrowing of vision and tastes but rather a result of great exposure to vision and tastes.

    This brings up a real problem. How do we keep alive our sense of delight and arousal in the presence of growing saturation as we accumulate experiences of life? This is one reason travel is a source of delight, because it introduces one to new ways of seeing things. We crave this delight and arousal and may resort to bizarre strategies to recreate it.

  6. Kanthelpmyself

    Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
    Norma Desmond: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.
    –“Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

    I agree that it’s the movies, particularly American movies, that have changed. I also think the decline of movies in recent decades, and of many of the other arts, is tied to the gradual disappearance of adults in American society. For the two generations of movie audiences that were raised on repetitive sci-fi franchises, super-hero soap operas, masturbatory “sequels,” gaudy animations, and similar juvenilia, movies that promote insight and deepen judgment by evoking the emotional and psychological experiences of realistic characters in credible circumstances are not just unwelcome, they are largely unintelligible.

    Movies have long been made and marketed for the younger segment of the public, but, although the targeted age group remained the same, its members’ discernment did not. The movies followed the audience. The cheapened and narrowed quality of public education, and the effacement of liberal arts study in favor of more “useful” degrees contributed to the clamor for movies oriented to a middle-school sensibility. The nuanced interplay of image and dialogue by which genuine characters and themes are produced was replaced by audience manipulation in the form of gee-whiz visual grandiosity, periodic shocks of violence, and pervasive sentimentality. For some moviegoers who knew better, “guilty-pleasures” were indulged so often the guilt was soon forgotten.

    While, formerly, one of the worst things that could be said about a movie was that it was “cartoonish,” that quality has now become the aspirational model. Add to that the censorious distortions of both “woke” culture and of the all-important China market, and the “all-the-marbles” economics of feature filmmaking, and the inertia of most American movies becomes perfectly legible.

  7. Meredith

    it’s no masterpiece but “The Love Witch” (2016) deals with sexual politics and critiques the 3rd wave in a thought-provoking way, that you just don’t see…

  8. ombhurbhuva

    Mark English:
    Thanks for that tip about ‘Journey to Italy’. It’s on youtube in a renewed pristine form. As we get older we tend to like films that dwell and compose and without writerly tricks and twists. Ingrid Bergman doesn’t dominate the screen but she’s there, holding back her beauty that is useless in the face of mortality. By the way did you notice that they are Mr. and Mrs. Joyce and that she dropped in a little homage from The Dead?

  9. “There has been a surfeit of indifferent pieces.”

    Thanks. It’s nice to be appreciated. 🙄

  10. Some of us do appreciate those “indifferent” pieces.

  11. The author of most of those “indifferent” pieces thanks you, Neil.

    Now, if I could just stop being one of those pesky “naysayers.” 😉

  12. ombhurbhuva

    Missed that. My first reaction was: “What? An Irish connection?” But of course Joyce lived in Italy and Switzerland. European culture was amazingly integrated despite the linguistic and cultural diversity.

    Rossellini obviously knew that many educated viewers would pick up the reference. But whether this borrowing came from him or his co-writer Vitaliano Brancati or from the novel by Collette on which the screenplay was loosely based I do not know.

    Rossellini’s father built the first cinema in Rome and Joyce himself was involved in the film business.

    “Joyce returned to Dublin in mid-1909 with George, to visit his father and work on getting Dubliners published… While preparing to return to Trieste he decided to take one of his sisters, Eva, back with him to help Nora run the home. He spent a month in Trieste before returning to Dublin, this time as a representative of some cinema owners and businessmen from Trieste. With their backing he launched Ireland’s first cinema, the Volta Cinematograph, which was well-received, but fell apart after Joyce left.” (Wikipedia)

  13. Peter Smith

    To continue my line of thought.
    There are actually three processes at work here. With the accumulation of life experiences we tend towards cognitive saturation and satiety which reduce our responsiveness to differences, numbing our sense of delight. This is the process I described and which I think underlies descriptions like those of Mark.

    The second process is how we deal with challenges to our sense of order, predictability and to our implicit world model. As we accumulate experiences we develop and build out our implicit frameworks or implicit world model. These orient us in our progression through life and are vital to stabilize us in a world of confusing disorder. Early on our frameworks are fluid and we adapt them readily to the challenges posed by reality. And then, once we have accumulated enough experiences, these models firm up. And then we reach a transition point where we start defending our models from change more than we adapt them to reality. Creative thinking becomes supplanted by critical thinking. Adaptive thinking becomes supplanted by defensive thinking.

    We are none of us immune to this transition because our sense and meaning making urges drive us towards world models that reduce disorder. And this is the second problem we face in our lives, how to restore an openness to challenges to our world order. The first problem was how we keep alive our sense of delight and arousal in the presence of growing saturation as we accumulate experiences of life.

    Then there is the further problem in that “truthism” has invaded our cultural thinking. In science ascertainable truths exist and this has infected our cultural outlook. We now invest certain cultural modes of thought and behaviour with the cloak of ‘truth‘. This has the consequence that deviations from ‘truth‘ must be detected, corrected and punished(Twitter greatly aids and abets this process).

    Apart from the obvious damge that this does, the cultural impetus of ‘truthism’ has the negative effect of bringing forward the time when we naturally transition from fluid models to rigid models. We then defend our outlooks more than we adapt them. And this has the effect of diminished curiosity, which is always a bad thing.

  14. Dan

    “It’s always such a shame when one’s vision and taste narrow.”

    I suppose it is, but how you tie this comment to what I have written here escapes me entirely.

    In fact, I can’t even begin to see how a confessed lack of interest in a particular art form as it was (and, as it happens, is being) practised during a particular period of time equates to *narrow vision.*

    Does it show a narrow vision if a person prefers some art forms over others? Hardly. So how does a preference for the forms of a certain period do so?

    You could say that someone who was not responsive to art or beauty in any form was a philistine and had a narrow vision. But strong preferences in the arts are not equivalent to narrowness in the sense you are using it.

    “Certainly as the public ethos and aesthetic drifts too far away from anything that continues to be recognizable or desirable, it is going to become more and more difficult to appreciate contemporary work…”

    Just so.

    “… but your limitation seems far more severe and less comprehensible [than mine].”


    “Goodfellas, Boyz in the Hood, Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, and The Silence of the Lambs were all made in the 1990’s and are masterpieces — in some cases genre masterpieces — in any era and by any measure.”

    Just to be clear, I am not condemning everything made post-1990. I said that somewhere *around that time* my attitudes changed.

    I can think of a few 1990s films I liked. Six of the seven films you mention I haven’t watched, so I can’t comment on them. I liked Silence of the Lambs (made circa 1990). Jonathon Demme established his reputation in the 1970s and I liked at least one other film he made: Melvin and Howard (1980).

    “… If we expand to include the 1970’s the list of masterpieces reaches up to the sky.”

    But I am saying I lost interest after about *1990*. Why bring up the 1970s? I have not cast any aspersions on the cinema of that time, have I?

  15. couvent2104

    Glad to know others have had a similar experience.

    “[T]here’s perhaps a law of diminishing returns at work. In the 1980s, movies were exciting and promising. In the 2000s, I was glad if a movie was OK.”

    It depends what you are looking for but if you are looking for what I am, the form matured and peaked long ago.

  16. Thanks Meredith. Doubt that I would like it (witchcraft, etc.) but Anna Biller sounds interesting as a person and is obviously well versed in older films and cinematic traditions. (Even her name… a play on/tribute to Annabella, the French actress?)

  17. ejwinner

    “My own background reads film as more a visual art than a dramatic art.”

    Well it’s no wonder that our judgments on particular films differ.

    “To put it briefly, cinema no longer has a history. Films today seem to reference all movies made, and thus run into the problem of diminishing returns couvent2104 complains of; but ultimately these many influences cancel out, and so films today reference nothing historical.”

    With this I agree.

    We are also agreed that the classic cinema experience (friends and strangers in a darkened theatre) is unrecoverable.

  18. s. wallerstein

    “[F]or most of us it’s not so much that our tastes narrow as we get older. We know ourselves better and we know our tastes better.”


  19. Peter

    “How do we keep alive our sense of delight and arousal in the presence of growing saturation as we accumulate experiences of life? This is one reason travel is a source of delight, because it introduces one to new ways of seeing things.”

    Agreed. And despite a shrinking and relatively homogenized world, there are still adventures to be had.

    (Thanks for the kind words, by the way.)

  20. Kanthelpmyself

    I agree with most of what you say, certainly about the state of play. Causes are more difficult to identify and specify.

  21. Why is it unrecoverable? My wife and I did just what you describe several weeks ago, when we went to see Tenet.

  22. Peter Smith

    Thanks, this is a delightful find.

  23. Mark, yes, I think it always is a sad thing when one’s openness to experience shrinks. Certainly, I am sad of it in my case, as I indicated in my remarks regarding the new Star Trek series that have been recently released. To participate in contemporary popular arts is in part to participate in contemporary culture, and to be alienated from one’s culture is sad. Again, at least for me. I watched the original Star Trek as a child, when it first went into syndication, and it had a profound effect not just on my childhood, but on the development of my imagination, which has carried over into adulthood. Star Trek grew with me — I loved the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, which brought us into the 2000’s and me into my 30’s.

    And yet, now, I find the new Star Trek offerings unbearable. They actually give rise to an experience of loathing. If you are interested, I can explain why. But the point is that I am sad about it. Sad that I cannot enjoy this remarkable franchise’s latest offerings; sad that I cannot share an experience with today’s young people that was so powerful for me when I was young. And sad at the realization that it is in good part because I am aging past the point of being *able* to identify and participate; that what this signals is a distancing from contemporary society and culture — and thus, people — themselves.

    I also am aware that you were not condemning everything or even anything. My remarks were not made in that spirit. And while I understood that your realization came in the 1990’s, I did not understand that it was with regard only to post 90’s films, as all of your examples were from much earlier eras.

    With regard to this remark: “Does it show a narrow vision if a person prefers some art forms over others? Hardly. So how does a preference for the forms of a certain period do so?”

    Well, it depends. But my inclination is to disagree with you on this. Generally speaking, a broader palate is better than a narrow one. When my daughter was very young, it was common for children to have very narrow palates. Encounters with kids who would only eat three things — usually fried chicken fingers, french fries and corn — were very common. My daughter, by contrast, had an unusually broad palate, enjoying fish, lamb, a broad variety of vegetables, and diverse culinary styles, and in that sense was far superior to the rest of her age cohort.

    In visual arts, I used to only really enjoy French Impressionists and closely related genres. I think it is a good thing that I no longer “prefer that art form over others” but now have the capacity to enjoy and be enriched by multiple genres from multiple historical periods.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the piece and thought it a good platform from which to discuss some of these issues.

  24. Peter Smith

    For how much longer will this experience be available? Remember the Drive-in? The movie theatre industry is in decline, under pressure from streaming. Home theatres have become all the rage. The Covid-19 restrictions have given the movie industry another kick in the pants. The direction is clear but the end point is not and my crystal ball remains cloudy on this point. I suspect however that Mark might have a point so I would not rush to judgement.

    According to the MPA 2019 theme report box office revenue in the US/Canada has declined by four percent from 2018 to 2019 while admissions have declined by five percent. Expect even bigger declines in 2020 and a behavioural trend will have been established which is unlikely to be reversed.

  25. Yes, it certainly has diminished radically, even pre-Covid. But whether this is a single, linear progression, or whether it is something that will cycle around, I am not sure of. Pre-Covid, in my town, dinner-movie-theaters, with substantial, high quality menus were enjoying the sort of enthusiasm and success that previously had been enjoyed by regular theaters.

  26. s. wallerstein

    One thing that is missing from this conversation is the impact of internet.

    Until internet it was possible to keep up with new cinema, new music, new novels, new poetry, new theater, trends in the art world, etc., or at least to have a general idea what was happening in all those cultural areas, within one’s native language and cultural area.

    Now we can access cultural phenomena from all over the planet and even translate them instantly. When I was in the university, there was broadway and off broadway theater, then there was off off broadway and now in Youtube you can see theater from cultures that I never even knew existed when I was in the university.

    Time is limited and we all have multiple responsibilities with our families and local communities. So no one can keep up with all areas of culture any more. Thus, if someone decides to eliminate Hollywood cinema from their cultural menu, that’s probably because there are other areas of cultural which mean more to them. From what I can see of the people who comment regularly in this blog, they have an intense interest in culture and if they’re no longer watching commercial cinema, they’re dedicating their time to other cultural phenomena, out of the multiple instances found in internet.

  27. “I think it always is a sad thing when one’s openness to experience shrinks. Certainly, I am sad of it in my case”

    EJ mentioned Do the Right Thing. It’s a movie I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, when I was asking myself why cinema lost its magic for me.
    It’s an absolutely great movie.
    But I suspect it couldn’t be made anymore in 2020. Too much moral ambiguity, an observation on race relations that’s too … well, I don’t know, perhaps “too honest” is the right expression, although I’m afraid to use it in the current Zeitgeist.
    Did your openness shrink, or is it something else that’s shrinking? The liberty of the Spike Lee’s of this world to make movies like Do the Right Thing perhaps?

  28. Peter Smith

    Pre-Covid, in my town, dinner-movie-theaters, with substantial, high quality menus were enjoying the sort of enthusiasm and success that previously had been enjoyed by regular theaters.

    I hope that this format survives. It has a lot to commend it.

  29. Kanthelpmyself

    “[H]olding back her beauty . . . in the face of mortality.” Nice turn of phrase there– succinct, but so expressive!

  30. ombhurbhuva

    Thanks. She does a wonderful Hedda Gabler too. It’s on youtube as well, twitchy, cruel, hair pulling mean girl and high Strindbergian Nordic devil woman.

  31. Kanthelpmyself

    As you made clear, transition periods in American filmmaking are gradual—like a lap dissolve: one thing begins to fade out and something else starts to appear. Yet, I think the year 1990 is as good a pivot point as any. The revitalization in American movies that began in the late sixties, surged through the seventies, crested during eighties, began to show signs of fatigue by 1990, a year that, while notable for the release of of “Goodfellas” and “Miller’s Crossing,” also included a lot of retread sequels, fluff, and what critic Manny Farber categorized as “White Elephant Art.”

    Causes? To some extent, I think that, post-eighties, many of the drivers of the reinvigoration period—Scorcese, the Coens, Coppola, etc.—were catching their breath after a period of astounding development and productivity.

    But another factor may have been on the business end. In escaping the studio system during the sixties, actors, screenwriters, directors, editors, and other behind-the-camera personnel put together tight films on relatively low-budgets without major studio backing pursuant to something like a gig economy. By the nineties, budgets had swelled to the point that production/distribution companies had begun to exert choke-point control over financing and distribution reducing the role of the artists regarding both which movies got backing and, particularly how they were made. I haven’t looked at this in any detail, but major developments during the period suggest it.

  32. I just think this is wildly overstated. I can produce just as robust a list of cinematic masterpieces from the 2000’s.

  33. Peter

    Diminished curiosity is, as you say, a bad thing but the point I want to make is that diminished interest in a particular art form does not equate to diminished curiosity or openness broadly construed.

  34. Dan

    “I think it always is a sad thing when one’s openness to experience shrinks.”

    You seem to want to equate “openness to experience” with embracing *particular* art forms or works.

    Part of your concern seems to be with one’s ability to adapt to current tastes in film and television. I personally see no need or reason to try to do this.

    But I think your real concern is with the broader culture from which many of us feel increasingly alienated. This is indeed a pity — perhaps a tragedy. But for me it is impossible to retain the values and standards and hold to the things and people I have come to love and *not* be alienated from many aspects of contemporary culture.

  35. I thought I explained why I think it important.

  36. “By the nineties, budgets had swelled to the point that production/distribution companies had begun to exert choke-point control over financing and distribution reducing the role of the artists regarding both which movies got backing and, particularly how they were made.”

    Good point.

  37. Meredith

    Mark, Anna Biller made the film about the female gaze and female interests – witchcraft. Why do you think women are interested in witchcraft? I’m sure men don’t want to watch this film because it’s not about you nor does it center your interests and that’s the entire point. And you will feel uncomfortable – good!

  38. […] focussed on Ingrid Bergman – I will post separately at a later date. The EA article elicited some interesting comments, by the […]

  39. Movies of 2000-2020 that are outstanding by any measure and in any era. (And this is just after one quick think-through)

    Memento (2000)
    Requiem for a Dream (2000)
    Almost Famous (2000)
    Donnie Darko (2001)
    Mulholland Drive (2002)
    Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)
    Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
    Watchmen (2009)
    Boyhood (2014)
    The Florida Project (2017)
    Dunkirk (2017)
    Annihilation (2018)
    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
    The Irishman (2019)

  40. Okay Dan. I can’t say a lot in response to your list because I haven’t seen the films.

    Fortunately — in a real sense — I can’t lose. Because if I am right, I am right. And if I am wrong then I will have a wealth of material to explore and enjoy for years to come!

    Let me make one serious point, however.

    You claim to list films which are “outstanding by any measure.” Doesn’t it all depend on what you are measuring, on what you think is most important? As I said previously, much depends on what you are looking for in a film.

    (If indeed you are seeking anything at all in that particular space. Arguably cinema has become less central to the broader culture, less “essential” over time.)

  41. The point regarding “outstanding by any measure” is that in each case, cinematography, casting/acting, writing, etc., are all top-notch by the standards of any era, as is direction. Indeed, included in the list are films by some of the best filmmakers of the last 50 years: Martin Scorsese; David Lynch; Darren Aronofsky; Christopher Nolan…

    From the essay:

    “around 1990 I changed my mind about movies – or at least new movies. I was increasingly indifferent to them. Even many films of a type I would normally have appreciated had become positively painful to watch.”

    “In the case of my about-face on cinema, however, the man stayed pretty much the same, I think. It was the films which had changed – and the world which they represented.”

    I find these statements difficult to understand — especially the second — given that your reply seems to indicate that you have little to no familiarity with movies post-1990. The list I produced from the last 20 years was put together with just a few moments’ thought and checking. I could easily add a dozen more. And the same is true for the decade spanning 1990-2000.

    Perhaps if you had given some — *any* — indication as to what precisely changed in the film of the last 30 years to justify such a sweeping dismissal, it would be easier to understand where you are coming from.

  42. Kanthelpmyself

    Maybe, but as I said, I think that they become scarcer during that time. Of course, this illustrates a real problem with this type of discussion of movies: differences in taste–which movies are “masterpieces.” De gustibus. So, stalemate.

  43. No stalemate. The question of the subjectivity of taste really isn’t relevant here.

  44. Dan

    As discussed in comments, there were changes in the industry; more importantly, there were changes in the broader culture and changes in the culture of the people dominating the film industry. On the one hand, there was the commercial mainstream, producing material mainly for a young, international audience (thus an increasing emphasis on special effects and violence; and then the independents, who tend to be more arty and/or political. (The political directions I find rather tedious and predictable.)

    You are pushing me to say (and condemn) more than I want to say here. But, in fact, I do have very strong negative judgments about the directions of the industry and the quality of its products.

    The specialist technical side of things has an aesthetic aspect but acting or editing or cinematography can’t redeem a basically flawed story, concept or set of ideas.

    For me it all comes back to the basic story and ideas behind the film. You can spoil a great idea through poor execution. But you can’t redeem poor or muddled ideas.

    I see the changes of which I speak as being associated with many things. One of them is reading and literacy. Older filmmakers (including people like Martin Scorsese, some of whose work I like, and David Lynch whose work on Twin Peaks impressed me — though I haven’t got around to seeing Mulholland Drive) were brought up in a world in which the written word played a dominant role. The new art form challenged, as it were, the dominance of the printed page and the creative tension produced some wonderful products over the years.

    But, as I say, this process has played itself out in ways which have led to films becoming less essential to the broader culture (if we still have a broader culture at all these days).

    There is a lot to say. I can’t say it all here.

  45. I’m not trying to force you to say anything. I just think that you’re missing out on a lot of really outstanding cinema on the basis of not very good reasons. You talk of poor or muddled ideas, but none of the films I’ve listed can be credibly accused of either. It’s just a shame, that’s all. Not a huge deal.

  46. s. wallerstein

    We’re always missing out on something. Human cultural expression today is just too huge for anyone to keep up with it.

    You like Hollywood cinema and no one is criticizing you for that. You live in the U.S. and it’s understandable that you
    enjoy one of its prominent cultural products.

    However, the globalization of the 80’s and the 90’s (I know that Mark English stopped watching Hollywood cinema around 1990) is over. In the 80’s and 90’s U.S. commercial movies and pop music via MTV videos were hegemonic throughout the rest of the world and there was little cultural alternative. That ended with internet and above all, with Youtube.

    Today any independent Chilean film-maker can put his or her work in Youtube without cost and I’m generally more interested in what he or she is doing than in what Hollywood is doing. Are you aware of what Latin American cultural products are available in Youtube? Have you seen the latest work by my friends, Jaime Alaluf and Cristian Sanchez, two Chilean film-makers, in Youtube? No, you don’t have time for that and I’m not criticizing you for missing out on that.

    The U.S.A. is not the center of the universe.

  47. I love foreign films. I just didn’t include them in the list I posted. And there have been amazing foreign films produced in the decades since 1990.

  48. Roma
    Pan’s Labyrinth

    These are just some of the incredible foreign films of the last two decades I’ve enjoyed.

  49. s. wallerstein,
    just a slight emendation:
    “In the 80’s and 90’s U.S. commercial movies and pop music via MTV videos were hegemonic throughout the rest of the world and there was little cultural alternative.” Actually, the greatest impact on genre films in the 1990s, and still to some extent, was achieved by the Hong Kong action films of the 1980s (the “Hong Kong New Wave” – Tsui Hark, Chan, Sammo Hung, John Woo, too many others to name). This is understood in the industry – listen to Tarantino rave – but of course went under the radar for general audiences.

    The impact of the Internet, and streaming media, is of course of an importance that we have yet to come to terms with. (A Netflix film winning Academy Awards leaves me befuddled – I don’t subscribe to any streaming media, what am I to do with movies I can’t watch?)

    In general, it can be rightly (if too broadly) said that regarding science, technology follows science, in that it develops tools for research into questions scientists already ask. (Eventually, the technology takes on a life of its own, and no longer needs science to justify it; but that’s a whole other issue.)

    In art, the relationship is reversed: Art follows technology. Provide the tools and artists will figure out what to do with them. That means that culturally, generational gaps will almost certainly occur, since older artists, and older audiences, will find themselves committed to modes of expression and response that are gradually going out of date. The visual realism of Chinese films after the hand-over of Hong Kong produced a number of wonderful films – those by Johnny To, or the first Ip Man film; but something was lost with the gradual displacement of the highly stylized look of the Hong Kong New Wave. What does that have to do with technology? Well, the cameras of the post-hand-over films are capable of the greater focal resolution that realism requires; and yet also allowed for greater integration with green-screen CGI. The Hong Kong of Ip Man doesn’t exist outside of the computer altered images; the whole China of Red Cliff doesn’t exist outside of such alteration! The dissemination of cheaper high-fidelity digital cameras, on the other hand, has lately given rise to a new generation of Chinese films that look largely made for television – the seams between the theatrical and the televised are now blurred to the point of that the two formats are indistinguishable, except by the amount of money that can be manifested through the production quality of the image. Some older artists are capable of adaptation – John Woo directed Red Cliff, and in America, Scorsese took up the challenge with The Irishman. But my sense is that these older artists are not entirely happy with the choices the new technologies ask them to make. And perhaps that’s just as well. Perhaps the newer technologies demand new generations to realize their full potential.

    Although largely agreeing with Dan, I confess sympathy with Mark. But I lean more towards Dan’s view because I’m aware that generational changes never sit well with the older generation trying to pass the torch. After all, the young may just say “Torch? what do I need with a torch, I’ve got a flashlight?!” And indeed, to accommodate the generational change, didn’t the English just call the flashlight a ‘torch?’

    But the flashlight belongs to the young, let them make of it what they will. Fortunately, thanks to the technology of recording media, I still get to light my torches on occasion.

  50. Kanthelpmyself


    “The question of the subjectivity of taste really isn’t relevant here.”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something. I thought the topic of Mr. English’s essay was the gradual drift of movies away from his personal tastes since approximately 1990 (“The ideas and stories being offered were simply no longer interesting to me.”).

    If one claims movies have gotten better over time, and another says they have gotten worse, what are the bases for each view other than subjective taste? To say that X, Y, or Z films are masterpieces “in any era and by any measure” is an assertion of the primacy of one’s own subjective taste, but a denial of that assertion is hardly inarguable. In fact, one’s own list of masterpieces may change over time.

  51. Well, he didn’t just say that he stopped liking movies. He attributed a number of qualities to post 1990 films to which he attributed his dislike. I contested whether films post 1990 all have such qualities and then provided lists of *widely* and *highly* regarded films, which demonstrably do not. He then admitted that he barely had any familiarity with post 1990 film. So, no, I don’t think it really is *just* a matter of the subjectivity of taste.

  52. Dan, replying to a comment by Kanthelpmyself:

    “Well, he [Mark English] didn’t just say that he stopped liking movies. He attributed a number of qualities to post 1990 films to which he attributed his dislike.”

    Yes, in the comment section, I made some general remarks to help explain why I *gradually* became disillusioned with movies over a period of time and eventually lost interest.

    “I contested whether films post 1990 all have such qualities…”

    At no stage did I claim that *all* post-1990 movies had the faults I referred to.

    “[I] then provided lists of *widely* and *highly* regarded films, which demonstrably do not.”

    You presented these films as masterpieces which were “outstanding by any measure.”

    “He then admitted that he barely had any familiarity with post 1990 film.”

    What do you mean “then admitted”? I made it clear from the start that I gradually lost interest because of the trends I was seeing.

    Maybe the “admission” to which you refer related to the fact that I hadn’t seen the films in your list. But these were post-2000!

    Or perhaps you were thinking of a comment *s.wallerstein* made to the effect that “Mark English stopped watching Hollywood cinema around 1990”?

    I don’t want to appear hypersensitive but I do take exception to the “then admitted”. It implies I was hiding something.

  53. No, of course I don’t think you were hiding anything. As you know the word ‘admit’ need entail no such thing.

  54. You wrote: “He then admitted that he barely had any familiarity with post 1990 film.”

    Does this not imply that something which was previously hidden was exposed? But I have been upfront from the start.

  55. No it doesn’t.

  56. 1970scholar

    I came to this essay very late, catching up on my electric agora. I am a cinephile, indeedI am now working on a fairly involved book on the cinema of the 1970s, so to say i read your essay with interest and enthusiasm would bt to put it mildly. To be more specific I have given a lot of thought to the question of the value and quality of 70s movies. Are they better than what came after, which in your case definitely includes the 90s? Are they equal to all other eras yet special nonetheless in terms of their style and character?

    Well I have come up with a few answers. In general what you are experiencing when you speak of movies over the past thirty years is, (for the most part, I will get to exceptions in a bit) the outright destruction of the qualities of 70s films. Or rather 1970s mavericks started to abandon those qualities and return to classicism. (Scorsese for example). They have come back however in very isolated forms: the art indie film movement and, odd enough, streaming long form television. have seen an outright 70s sensibility return to an uncanny degree, The first mainstream director to do this consciously was Quentin Tarantino. P T Anderson also experimented with this. They were harbingers of what was the come in the 00s and 2010s.

    You mention Voyage To Italy, one of the greatest films of all time and on some critics list. Interestingly some say it is one of the first truly modern films, and anticipates the sensibility of Antonioni or even John Cassavetes, But you are talking mainly in your essay about classical and early cinema and Voyage To Italy is still part of the classical period. But what puzzles me about your verdict on 1990 is that is the year that classical style filmmaking returned with a vengeance. I should think you would like the 90s a lot more than you do since in them I was see so much influence of Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks etc. This at the time was very exciting since we had not seen that kind of meticulous craft in film art in a long time, but it was the cost of a certain loss of experimentation and emotional complexity.

    I do think streaming t.v. is the new cinema and where it’s really at. Roma from last year comes to mind. Charlie Kaufman’s film for netflix, These are not continuations of the 90s and 00s but a reaching back to the spirit of the 1970s, for the first time in a long time. The series Glow is in every way a nod to the 70s sensibility though the show was never discussed in this way and few seems to remark upon it. One of the things 1970s movies did was call into question the shared consensus of classical Hollywood. This was so incredibly exciting for who many of us, in 1990 we had a new consensus, I believe Silence of The Lambs,. L A Confidential and The Matrix, to name but a few, reflect this reaffirmation of consensus. Now consensus is being challenged again, at least artistically.

  57. 1970scholar

    I am glad you found the essay of interest.

    I am not putting myself forward as any kind of expert, even in relation to periods etc. concerning which I have fairly extensive knowledge. I write as someone who has a particular set of values (aesthetic and otherwise) which predispose me to like or dislike specific works.

    There is a parallel with my approach to politics. You have a view on this specific topic and that specific topic, etc., but you don’t have to have a view on every topic or embrace some party platform or abstract label.

    So my approach is: take a film; watch it carefully; discuss; make judgments. Obviously comparisons will be made with other films. But I am a bit skeptical about overarching narratives regarding cinema history, about dividing films into stylistic categories and putting them in labelled boxes according to preconceived ideas. Such approaches often lead to unnecessary distortions and simplifications.

    Pointing out transitions of style and influences is worthwhile, however. In literature and the history of ideas, for example, some figures are more “transitional” than others (e.g. Rousseau or Chekhov). And Journey to Italy does seem to prefigure future directions in cinema worldwide (including aspects of the French new wave — particularly perhaps Éric Rohmer).

  58. Kanthelpmyself

    Yes, but my comment embraced not just Mr. English’s opinion regarding overall decline, but my own as well. I’m very familiar with films post-1990 and I’ve seen most of the films on your list. Your list reflects a particular taste—it leans strongly toward fantasy, for example, which itself is a taste category. As Mr. English said, it depends on what you’re looking for in a film—i.e. taste. I would dispute many of the entries as “outstanding.” And, regarding the issue of declining quality, compare the following list of releases during the 20 years c. 1970-1990:

    Taxi Driver (1976)
    Chinatown (1974)
    Raging Bull (1980)
    Mean Streets (1973)
    The Deer Hunter (1978)
    The Godfather (1972)
    The Godfather II (1974)
    The Conversation (1974)
    Apocalypse Now (1979)
    Blade Runner (1982)
    Dirty Harry (1971)
    The French Connection (1971)
    The Wild Bunch (1969)
    Patton (1970)
    Deliverance (1972)
    Midnight Cowboy (1969)
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    Network (1976)
    Brazil (1985)
    Raising Arizona (1987)
    McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
    Blue Velvet (1986)
    Five Easy Pieces (1970)
    The Last Picture Show (1971)
    Days of Heaven (1978)
    Blood Simple (1984)
    Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
    Full Metal Jacket (1987)
    Bull Durham (1988)
    Do the Right Thing (1989)
    Miller’s Crossing (1990)

    Enjoyed the discussion–thanks.

  59. Kanthelpmyself

    Well put, Mr. English. Gradually, during the period since 1990 or so, overall and with exceptions, American movies became less ambitious philosophically and aesthetically, and more peripheral to the creation of American culture..

  60. 1970scholar

    Thank s for your response. Two things. If I was too historical in my comments it was because that is the way you began the entire discourse, in a discussion of general eras and decades and so on, rather than the individual uniqueness of any particular film. I followed that in my analysis. I could have gone in many other directions if those paths not taken had been your template. I was quite surprised to see your refusal to see a film, as it so happens one of the most unique to have been made in the recent years, The Love Witch, on the sole basis of one aspect of its content and theme. There have been other fine films on the subject of what gets called witchcraft in the past of course. I only bring this up because it seems to me arbitrary and it is of a piece of your discussion of 1990 onwards. I use arbitrary to describe a refusals or avoidances that don’t seem to be warranted, particularly if the avoidances or refusals form a large part of the overall subject. (In the case of cinema, of course, the genre of horror itself). It does reming me of Tarantino’s quip that saying you don’t like violence in movie is like saying you don’t like tap dancing in movies. I do respect your deep past with the classical period and that movie theatre you mention (though I would maintain that Voyage To Italy influenced more what i would call the narrative avant-garde than it did the more accessible Eric Rohmer, it is much more a portrait of bad marriage in an extreme naturalistic approach, more A Woman Under The Influence than Claire’s Knee or My Night At Mauds, but that is a quibble)

  61. As I indicated, the films I listed were just a first run-through from memory, with some checking. It was in no way comprehensive and it in no way suggests that my tastes “lean heavily towards fantasy.” I entirely left out Asian horror films — indeed, I largely left out horror as a genre altogether — as well as children’s movies made by Pixar and other studios, the inclusion of all of which would make the list much more substantial and would rival the one you provide. (It is interesting that with regard to movies for children, one could make a Mark-style argument in reverse. One would be hard-pressed to find children’s films of previous eras better than Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Shrek, and others from the last two decades.) I might say the same thing about documentary films.

    I’m rather surprised at what a fuss all of this has created. My point was really simple and I doubt very controversial, if people are thinking clearly rather than emotionally (and is in part informed by 25 years now of teaching and doing academic research in aesthetics and art criticism). Any critique that dismisses three decades of an entire medium for “muddled ideas” or “tedious politics” is clearly a wild overgeneralization and largely performative. Yet we really were given no more reason than this for the dismissal and this only after a substantial back and forth. Originally, we were simply told that Mark hadn’t changed, cinema had, and that it had changed significantly for the worse.

    I am the first one to criticize contemporary developments in popular culture — popular music being exhibit number one and television being exhibit number two. The latter is controversial, because the consensus is that TV today is experiencing a new golden age. But if I were to write on the subject, I would try to communicate my *reasons* to the reader. If there were objective developments on which I could hang my critique I would (in the case of music, there are many such developments, including, for example, how people purchase and consume music). To a great extent however, the reasons would have to do with my own aging and increasing alienation from contemporary world. This essentially is what Mark is suggesting, and yet, puzzlingly, he says that he hasn’t changed, the medium has.

    Over on Twitter, as here, I lamented the fact that I could no longer enjoy or even tolerate the newest versions of Star Trek, a show I have been watching for almost all of my 50 years of life. I lament it not only because it means a longstanding source of pleasure and stimulation of the imagination is no longer available to me, I lament it because it signals the extent to which I am no longer a part of the contemporary world. This, I think, is one of the great tragedies of the human condition. Yet, it may also be the thing that makes the thought of death easier to stomach. You reach a point when the world is neither really your world anymore, nor one that you particularly care for. To suggest, however, that this is primarily a problem with the world just seems obviously mistaken.

    The funny thing is that I was thinking of writing something very much like this myself. It’s probably why I have so many things to say about Mark’s essay. I have been thinking a lot about my own alienation. The difference is that I afford a much larger share of the reasons for it to myself, rather than to the world. But maybe that’s a mistake?

  62. Peter Smith

    I’m rather surprised at what a fuss all of this has created.
    Mark wrote a gentle, restrospective essay where he quite tentatively advanced his opinions. Your response was surprisingly strong and combative(I can quote you, if you like).

    I went back to re-read Mark’s essay and having done that do indeed wonder about the fuss. He gave a considered judgement on artististic matters where people can reasonably disagree. I respect that. More interesting to me are the insights that may be gained from understanding how or why he arrived at his position. That seems to be more the business of philosophy. In that spirit I gave one possible account. However for the most part the commentary has been about advancing opposing claims of merit, a fruitless exercise if ever there was one.

  63. I wrote it. I don’t need it quoted back to me. And I remain surprised.

  64. s. wallerstein

    You say that you’re “no longer part of the contemporary world”. The world isn’t just the media. Maybe it sounds corny, but the world is the sky and the trees and the dog running down the street and the kids playing football and so many other things.

  65. I thought my meaning was clear in the context of this discussion.

  66. s. wallerstein

    Your meaning is clear, but that you speak of being alienated from the media as being alienated from the world is worthy of further analysis. It says something about the culture that we live in that we all understand you.

  67. I meant alienation from contemporary culture: that would include not just popular culture, but political culture, contemporary mores and values, etc.

  68. s. wallerstein

    You seem to find kindred souls.

  69. s. wallerstein

    I have to leave, but when I say that “you find kindred souls”, I mean that you form in some way your own counter-culture, which is another “world”.

  70. Peter Smith

    I wrote it. I don’t need it quoted back to me. And I remain surprised.

    Your acerbic response was actually quite useful to me. We are talking about a form of narrative. And narratives, though wearing the guise of entertainment, are much more than that. Narratives encapsulate our values and build out our world views. This makes them important to us and worth defending. We defend our chosen narratives because they say something important about us. Our narratives encapsulate our values and are thus valuable, indeed even sacred to some.

    But is defensiveness the right reaction for a philosopher? I would have thought that understanding differences, rather than attacking differences is the right reaction.

  71. Kanthelpmyself

    Some good points. I could, of course, only address the movies you saw fit to list, and not those you “could have” listed. Your list nonetheless presumably represents something since it was, as you say, created spontaneously.

    You claimed that my point regarding subjectivity, taste, and their sources, was “not relevant here” on the basis of what I believe was a somewhat narrow reading of Mr. English’s essay and comments. It seems we are now inclining toward greater agreement (no one having “admitted” anything!) that subjective taste is the heart of the matter. One develops a subjective taste preferably on the basis of an omnivorous consumption of movies ranging over broad genres, eras, and styles. A broad study focuses preferences, and one eventually develops a taste for movies that provide, however tautologically, what one is looking for in movies.

    If one’s taste is shared widely enough, one finds a vein of such movies in contemporary releases. Movies released over succeeding periods, however, eventually go in other directions as other (younger?) audiences look for movies that serve different sensibilities. As contemporary films diverge from one’s taste, one senses a decline in quality.

    As I stated at the outset, my own “bias” is for movies “that promote insight and deepen judgment by evoking the emotional and psychological experiences of realistic characters in credible circumstances.” So, as much as I love Tarantino, the two “Kill Bill”s, are not among my favorites, despite their stylistic exuberance. Moreover, if I regard my own sensibility as classical for having been formed by a degree in film and many decades viewing innumerable films, I also see the current sensibility as less immersed in film history, less conversant with the development of styles, genres, and ideas, less informed, and consequently, less sophisticated in its appetites, which provides a greater market for junk. If, however, one doesn’t start from my assumptions, results, as they say, may vary.

    So, I don’t believe you made a mistake in identifying the reasons for alienation. One comes to love the world, but eventually the world disappoints because both it and oneself have changed.

  72. Seems to me that Mark’s essay has done what every good essay should hope to do. Inspired and evoked substantial, serious critical engagement. I really think everyone is tired of offense-taking, turning everything into personal conflicts, etc.