Positivism

Kyle Smith

The older I get, the more I realize I’m stupid. I read essays, articles and reviews by people who know more than I do; I watch movies and listen to music made by brilliant artists, and I have friends who discuss important issues with a clarity I reserve for conversations about my tumultuous relationship with my Mach3 Turbo razor.

Sometimes, though, my shortcomings may be a gift. After doing this “movie critic” thing for six years (and retiring fairly soon), I’m finally able to justify my biggest failure as a reviewer: the fact that I like everything. I used to think this was me being soft and lazy, but now I have accumulated enough knowledge of philosophical bullshit to offer a bogus explanation for why I like everything.

I call it posivitism, and let’s first distance it from the real meaning of the word, which has something to do with the notion that human experience must be derived from our senses. The basis for my positivism is this: the notion that the experience of all art is, to some degree, beneficial. One is never less of a person for enjoying or consuming art, even if said art is “bad.” I’m a poor conversationalist when it comes to movies, mainly because I don’t seek to change anyone’s mind. We are both right. Such is positivism.

A case study: Last week, I visited the lovely Gene Siskel Film Center for a press screening of Mikio Naruse’s 1953 film Husband and Wife, showing Feb. 22. Naruse, it seems, is most famous for being considered the fourth greatest Japanese filmmaker, after Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi; every conversation I’ve had about the man has had more to do with his place in history than his films (even the Siskel’s program description makes mention of his inferiority).

Husband and Wife was pretty boring. Still, I came away impressed: Naruse has an interesting way of moving through interior and exterior spaces that lends his ho-hum domestic tales a bit of natural energy. And, as is usually written about Naruse, his female characters are remarkably strong and well-drawn; Husband and Wife climaxes with a lucid argument about abortion, of all things. So while the experience of Husband and Wife was underwhelming, it still whelmed.

Saturday night my friend AJ and I split a fifth of rum and saw Final Destination 3. This was, to put it mildly, a remarkable experience. Cynics often write off teen horror films, saying they have no plot, an argument that holds no water for me. And while the advent of Scream and the self-aware horror film has given us a decade of slasher flicks with a faux pedigree of intelligence, they also wore down the genre into a self-obsessed mess.

FD3 reinvents the rules of the horror film by killing everyone. The workmanlike fashion with which the film produces corpses is more admirable than frightening. But what gives FD3 (and the whole series) its power is the inescapable system of fate at play. Details, hesitations and vanity (Tanning salons? Weight rooms?) are what kill the kids, not sex or drugs.

Final Destination 3 may be labeled as “bad” cinema, falling into a cheap cadre of cult and camp. My experience with films of this ilk is usually ten minutes of cynical enjoyment and then hours of boredom. I can’t read films in an overt campy sense; it simply feels too cheap to revel in badness. Alternately, Husband and Wife is the sort of esoteric revival house fare that highfalutin critics can laud as a product of the unheralded voice of Japanese cinema. This reeks of pretentiousness and, more often than not, of ideas cribbed from a more definitive source. And though I don’t subscribe to either of these attitudes, they’re examples of how to gauge a movie’s power.

It’s funny how people so badly want a concrete rating for a film. Most publications don’t offer ratings for books, operas, musicals and paintings; why label a film with an out-of-four-stars ranking? So the discerning movie-goer can choose whether or not Husband and Wife or Final Destination 3 is a better buy? You’re not just comparing apples and oranges, this is like comparing apples and dynamite. The point I’m failing to demonstrate here is that both movies affected me positively (as in, I liked them), though in vastly different ways. Movies are more than plot, acting, quotes, camera movement and a good score; because of its natural, inherent depth, the cinema can captivate an audience’s interest with relative ease.

The paradox of cinema is how its role as public spectacle interferes with its ability to affect on a personal level. All this simply reiterates what I’m trying to say: The experience of watching a movie, even if it sucks, is still positive on some level. And most movies provide, at some moment or another, a nugget of truth, tragedy, hilarity, horror, drama or desperation that nudges you ever so slightly.

Such is the positivist way.4

Communication senior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]