Friday, 11 May 2007

Wearing Movies Like Prada


So last night I'm sitting in a gourmet hamburger restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. thinking hard about the usual LA concerns--money, networking, my abs--when a small posse walks in. Beyond the nobodies that make up 5/7 of that group is Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman.

"Excuse me," Kimmel says approaching my table. "Have I seen you in anything?"

"Yes, I get that a lot," I reply, trying to sound as polite as I can.

"Grindhouse, right?. You're Freddy Rodriguez."

As Rodriguez has stolen my beard style and haircut, yet looks a whole foot shorter than me, I find this vaguely insulting.

"No. I'm not Freddy Rodriguez."

"Are you sure? From Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse. Oh man, it's great. You need to see it."

On a sociological level, what's most interesting about this exchange (which may or may not have transpired exactly as documented) is the way Kimmel made no effort to conceal his love of Planet Terror. He wanted me to know he loved it. People try to shape their image through telling people what movies they love.

It's that whole thing about checking out your girlfriend's CD collection before judging whether she's worth your time. Except that music purchases are less reliable. Just because I took a chance on buying something doesn't mean I like it. It doesn't compare to the utility of including 35 titles on my MySpace top movies listing.

It's not worth anything to like a movie if others don't know how cool that makes you. That's why people wouldn't stop telling me how great they thought Little Miss Sunshine was. It's a sensibility that says, "Not only is this movie off the beaten path of my viewing habits, it defines me."

This is one of the reasons I don't like arguing movies with people I don't know. Beloved films become so tied in to one's identity that it's like arguing religion. People like what they like. I found The Royal Tenenbaums shrill and precious, but when I debated its merits with a friend it was like convincing him he was worshipping a false god.

Here's a true story: A couple weeks ago I was on a roadtrip with a bigtime filmmaker, his girlfriend, and a British guy who unforgiveably tried to cockblock me later that afternoon, but failed, so I can't be too upset.

Anyway, we have the radio on, and some sleazy film journalist is interviewing the director of a popular new English take on American buddy-action films. The interviewer comments that he thinks it was funny that the police force in said movie is called NWA--based of course on the trend setting gangsta rap unit.

"Yeah," the director responds. "I wanted to have a scene where somebody says "F-the Police", but they already used that joke in [$30 million-grossing biker movie that the director sitting in the car directed]."

"Holy shit!," the car passengers exclaim in near unison. This guy knows his modern B-movie history.

"Now we're getting into the classics," the snide interviewer says.

"[$30 million-grossing biker movie] is one of the greatest bad movies ever," clarifies the English director.

Now, I get a clear impression that this unnamed director is a fan of this unnamed movie. (Both are unnamed because as a reader of this blog, I like to keep you working hard for my insightful rewards.) Yet he's still hiding under the veil that this movie is ultimately a guilty pleasure.

Funny thing about people who qualify some movies as guilty pleasures: You can't trust them.

"Guilty pleasure" is one of the most overused terms in the popular film lexicon. Like "The worst movie ever made," which I suppose is the opposite of "The worst movie ever not made." It's a free ticket to snobbery. What kind of hypersensitive fool would feel guilt for liking a movie? It goes back to the film as fashion issue: Movies as identity projection.

"Well, I have a guilty pleasure," British cockblocker adds to our debate. "Troy. As a kid I always liked those kind of sweeping epics, which is what this movie reminded me of."

"That isn't a guilty pleasure," filmmaker counters.

"It's MY guilty pleasure."

"Why are you guilty about liking Troy?," I ask.

"Because it isn't very good."

"So what?"

The thing is, if a Hollywood movie gives you "pleasure" it probably isn't worth feeling guilty about. And in most cases, people who call these films guilty pleasures are just trying to disassociate themselves from the way they look by liking them. It's a way of kowtowing to society's standards of what's good and what's bad.

If you're willing to tell people you barely know that it's a guilty pleasure, it isn't a real guilty pleasure. It's not like saying you fuck sheep or fantasize about eating shit off Scarlett Johansson's chest.

"Well, I have a real guilty pleasure this time," British, basically good-natured, guy qualifies. "The movie Dune."






I'm not sure when we became so self-conscious about how movies look on us. I have absolute faith in my tastes in movies. Afterall, they're mine. But I also won't deny that I've seen Idle Hands and Not Another Teen Movie probably a combined dozen times.




The worst instances of guilty pleasure discussions come when people try to show how absolutely superior their taste is by condescending to a universally lauded film as something beneath them. Example: "I only watch Fellini and Antonioni films, but when I just want to relax, Casablanca will do... you know, as a guilty pleasure."

What's interesting is that the fashion statement aspect of movies has reached a stage where movies are now consciously defining their viewers.

By the mid 90s there was a surge of action films with interchangeable, but no-nonsense titles like Maximum Risk, Sudden Impact, Executive Decision. Those films sound like brute cologne. And there was a market for that stuff that lasted about 5 years.

But the funniest instances are with recent Women's Films. There has not been a more expertly titled movie in the past year than Because I Said So--the mother/daughter Diane Keaton/Mandy Moore Thing. I don't even know what that title has to do with the movie (and I've seen the thing), but it speaks very specifically to a female audience. Something's Gotta Give has a title that falls into the same camp of comfort films for women who can't get the respect they want from men. Soon we'll be seeing You Promised to Call, I Told You Already, and the urban equivalent Oh No You Didn't.

9 comments:

alex said...

I guess it depends on whether you equate enjoyability with quality, which I don't. For example, I thoroughly enjoy eating Big Macs, but that doesn't make 'em fine cuisine. When I refer to something as a guilty pleasure what I am saying in so many words is that "In spite of this art/food/music's generally poor quality, I relish something about it." The word 'guilty' may mislead a bit, but we aren't that literal minded are we?

Mark Palermo said...

I really think the term guilty pleasure is mostly taken at face value by people who use it. It's a way of disassociating oneself from a thing one enjoys, because of how society regards that thing. You could say you like Big Macs, and I wouldn't assume you thought they were good to eat all the time. By saying that it's a guilty pleasure it becomes apologetic: I enjoy this thing, but must qualify that I'm better than it. Granted, there are reasons somebody might really feel guilty for eating a Big Mac, but that doesn't really apply to most movies and music that get that label. There should be no shame. Pleasures are pleasures.

Joefilmfan said...

When I refer to something as a guilty pleasure what I am saying in so many words is that "In spite of this art/food/music's generally poor quality, I relish something about it."


Of course you’d have to define what “quality” is. In your definition, “enjoyability” doesn’t equate, which in my opinion is kind of arbitrary. You may think a Big Mac as having generally poor quality compared to a low fat salmon dinner, but since you are extracting “enjoyability” from the quality criteria, the value system you are basing the remaining factors on may be on salmon dinner terms: calorie/fat ratio, fish taste, omega 3, etc. Another viewpoint from the perspective of a capitalist could wax lyrical on the perfect quality of the Big Mac: flavor/cost ratio, market iconography, ease of consumption while driving a car (which is the main reason hamburgers sell so well). The point is you can quantify and politicize "quality" in endless permutations.

Now…I appreciate enjoyability like the rest of you inferior salmon loving slaves, but when I’m locked in a room listening to my emo records, my guilty pleasure is insoucient torpescence.

That’s quality.

alex said...

Of course you’d have to define what “quality” is. In your definition, “enjoyability” doesn’t equate, which in my opinion is kind of arbitrary.

I'm not sure if I get your point. Yes, definitions of 'quality' are absolutely arbitrary, and based on the criteria that is important to the person making the judgment. My point is that when I call something a guilty pleasure, it's because in my opinion there are good reasons to dislike something (based on my own personal criterias) but I find something compelling about it.

BTW Mark, tell your boy Joe Khan that I watched Torque on TV recently and the motorcycle duel at the end was great, one of the best over the top action set pieces in recent memory.

Mark Palermo said...

Alex - I'm sure he appreciates the Torque praise.

That's a good way to personally define guilty pleasure. And it makes sense.

For me, it's always a matter of judging whether the good in something outweighs the bad. If I can defend why I like something, I won't feel wrong about liking it. If I can't, I probably don't much like the thing to begin with.

alex said...

Thanks homey. Next time you're out in Cali you should make a stop in Van City.

Joefilmfan said...

My point is that when I call something a guilty pleasure, it's because in my opinion there are good reasons to dislike something (based on my own personal criterias) but I find something compelling about it.

And if it is compelling enough for you to like it, you may have to re-examine the validity of your personal criterias. Just worth a thought.

I'm sure Kahn would love the compliment, if he would stop doing hookers and coke.

alex said...

And if it is compelling enough for you to like it, you may have to re-examine the validity of your personal criterias. Just worth a thought.

Definitely worth a thought. But I'm usually too lazy to reexamine much of anything, which is why Mark is a movie critic, whereas all I do is write bullshit about industrial bands from the nineties no one cares about. Xorcist represent!

BTW, I just perused your profile. Dude.

riley said...

i disagree that you can't specifically quantify good vs. bad quality. rule of thumb: truly bad shit goes straight to video.