Amph How do you tell if a movie is really deep or just pretentious?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Jabbadabbado, Oct 15, 2011.

  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I've had this problem with two movies in one week. The first was Melancholia, a movie I discuss in the dystopian movie thread as either magnificent or a work of relentless snobbery.

    The second is The Tree of Life. I watched it last night, several times, back-to-back. It may well be the finest movie ever made, and the best film that ever will be made. Or, it is naked emperor level pretentious. Two viewings in I have no idea which. I have to watch it again tonight to see if I can find the key to whether or not this film is the ultimate cinematic masterpiece, or a bunch of pseudo-intellectual nonsense.
  2. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 4, 1999
    star 7
    I have the some problem -- although I often love slow, artsy, difficult movies, in the last several months Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives have both managed to defeat me -- the first literally, in that it was the first movie in a very long time I simply didn't finish, and the second only in that, upon finishing it, I didn't even care to imagine whether its slowness has a purpose or not. And yet both of them are highly critically acclaimed. How much of it comes down to simple subjectivity: what works for some people doesn't for others, and if someone finds a film meaningful then it has meaning, even if to others it's just boring and empty? And how much of it is people trying to score points by claiming to love and/or "get" an obtuse film's meaning even if it's really either over their heads or meaningless to them?
  3. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Mar 19, 1999
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    On the other side, I've been trying to wade through some of the Mumblecore movies. I've come to believe it's possible to celebrate the mundane too much. If storytelling is too much like real life, then it becomes as boring as real life. People do stuff. Nothing happens. A couple takes off their clothes and has sex. Afterwards, they talk about it, but not too much. Then they do something else.

    I would like to make a 2 hour movie about a couple trying to decide what to watch on tv. It will be shot from one camera angle, the tv's pov, for the full 2 hours. It will be set in a studio apartment in Manhattan.
  4. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

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    Jun 4, 1999
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    Mumblecore as a genre doesn't interest me much. What does interest me is when other genres take the mumblecore approach: Gareth Edwards' alien invasion mumblecore Monsters and Aaron Katz' mystery mumblecore Cold Weather, in which they take the "real people" (for certain, usually hipster or yuppie, values of "real people") approach to genres that normally feature eccentric geniuses or larger than life heroes or whatever, can be very worthwhile -- I liked both of those films a lot.
  5. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Monsters was my first experience with a movie essentially released into pay per view. I probably would have liked it more if I hadn't paid the premium price for renting it. But you're right. Mundane people in extraordinary situations has a lot more going for it from the start than ordinary people in ordinary situations.

    Tree of Life has ordinary people in ordinary situations, but then absolutely extraordinary things going on with the narrative flow. The point of view itself is the locus of much of the meaning. If there is any. But that's the question.
  6. corran2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 16, 2006
    star 4
    I think it all has to be subjective. Some people saw Tree of Life and left feeling cold and hammering Malik for being pretentious. I personally left feeling like this was the best movie of the year, and a wonderful meditation on grace. Who's right? You can't really call me or the other viewer wrong; it's all subjective.
  7. duende Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 28, 2006
    star 5
    yeah, it really depends on whether and to what extent the viewer/listener/whatever can relate to the work. i've only seen a couple of mumblecore movies (at least i think they were mumblecore - "wendy and lucy" and "blue valentine") and they worked for me because the emotions of the characters were convincing (for me) within the context of the work, the performances were good enough (for me) to connect with the characters, and there weren't any notes struck that seemed too far-fetched or contrived (to me).

    i've also seen both melancholia and tree of life, and while i felt there were certainly some contrivances/moments that didn't work in both, they rang my bell often enough for me to consider them successful.

    an example of a filmmaker whose work i can't really stomach is harmony korine. i do like a couple of things he's done, but most of his work seems filled with fake symbolism/meaning and so much wink-wink-i'm-subverting-expectations-or-maybe-i'm-subverting-your-expectation-of-my-subverting-your-expectations and hey-check-out-my-junk-aesthetic-isn't-it-so-rad etc. i don't hate the guy, i just think he's a hack. but then, maybe i'm completely missing something worthwhile in his work. i doubt it, but maybe! ;)

    re slow films - i've never had a problem with them because i am usually able to adjust my own time-sense or whatever you'd call it to the pace of the work at hand. a gift?
  8. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

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    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    I think it depends on whether it moves you or not. I mean, I think it comes down to that level of subjectivity. If it bored you stupid, it was pretentious; if you loved it, it was really deep.
  9. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I love Star Wars, but I don't think it's deep. I'm moved by a lot of movies that are extremely shallow.
  10. Drac39 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 9, 2002
    star 6
    I think it really is in the eyes of the beholder. Some films are pretentious but audiences like them and find them deep. I don't think there is a universality to whether something is pretentious or not. I agree with Rouge to a degree about whether or not the film moves you but I also think there most be a sense of some sort of coherence to the arty and deep elements.
  11. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    No, no, I'm not saying that every film that moves you is therefore deep. There are a lot of great movies that aren't particularly deep. I was responding to the question as originally posed: how to tell the difference between legitimate depth and pure pretension. And if a movie is going to fall into one of those categories, then it comes down to the subjectivity of whether it actually moved you in some way.
  12. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Sometimes, it's just that the director wants to hit you over the head with his deepity do dah. This is one of the reasons I can't stand Robert Altman.
  13. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I feel the same way about Altman, like he is trying extra hard to bore me just so that he can prove he's smarter than I am. But my response is: you're dead, and you can never hurt me again.
  14. duende Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 28, 2006
    star 5
    "3 women" is a cool movie, though. i wish he had made more like that one.
  15. Drac39 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 9, 2002
    star 6
    I think a sure indicator is when people say "your not smart if you don't get this movie". Also I think in some cases audiences make a film become pretentious through these means
  16. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Yeah, I think it was Kubrick who said something like that--I can't remember the actual quote. About "2001". It made me want to hit him on the head with a 2 x 4.
  17. darth_frared Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 24, 2005
    star 5
    my trouble is that often, by the standard of what is considered an entertaining film these days, i'm not entertained at all. i find most often that the films are insulting viewers by being simplistic to the point of dull. and they explain everything (see anything that christopher nolan has ever done).

    so i head for the arthouse cinema for something that at least isn't deadly predictable and doesn't try so hard to entertain me.

    that said, tarkovski and i haven't had many good moments...

    i find that i generally enjoy watching films on the big screen more and i'm more able to be absorbed into them with less distraction. slow films benefit from focus, at home they seem to sink into the background. i'm still waiting of a screening of 'the assassination of jesse james' to savour its slowness.

    in answer to your question, i don't really care whether something is deep or pretentious, as long as it goes some way towards being itself and telling its own story. maybe that's pretentious already :p
  18. severian28 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 1, 2004
    star 5
    I think that pretentiousness in film ( or any art ) more times then not has to do with audiences and critics then the artist and I also think that when a film is labeled pretentious and develops a following and acclaim its likely that that film is prescient/prophetic in either theme and/or craftsmanship. I remember someone called Nolan pretentious after Following and Memento. Malick, Lynch, and Kubrick were/are routinely called pretentious by critics but I find that there films are very, very simple ( simple not meaning easy or stupid, just uncomplicated and plain to the senses ). Seriously, I love Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Alfred Hitchcock a whole bunch and when i think of pretentious film they pop into my head, not because they made hard to understand films but that they f'ed around alot with very progressive themes that i could see at times people perceive as pretentious and annoying. Even Spielberg and Lucas had pretentious moments. I mean really, THX? One of my all time favorite films, Donnie Darko, is routinely labeled pretentious and I think that film is crystal clear.
  19. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 4, 1999
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    Agreed. There are so many movies about which people say, "Just turn off your brain and enjoy it." And indeed there are some movies that I'm able to enjoy on a look-at-the-'splosions level. I'm okay with big dumb fun, but there's a whole lot of big dumb not fun out there too.
    I think that's why it's labelled pretentious: pretentiousness refers to a film's exaggerated sense of its own worth. If a movie's actually smart and deep, then it's probably not pretentious, because what need would there be to pretend? I love Donnie Darko (theatrical cut), but I think when people call it pretentious they're not saying it's a very smart movie, but either (1) that it's not as smart as it thinks it is or (2) that it's trying hard to be more clever than it actually has to be to make its point. They're getting the feeling that the filmmaker thinks he's more clever than he actually is. (I get that feeling, too, but fortunately it really only comes through in the director's cut for me.)
  20. TurboExtremist Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 24, 2004
    star 2
    I personally don't believe in gray areas. Either something is beautiful or it isn't.

    So to me, (pardon me using paintings rather than movies) The Scream is NOT equal to Nymphs & Satyr.
  21. severian28 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 1, 2004
    star 5
    I think that's why it's labelled pretentious: pretentiousness refers to a film's exaggerated sense of its own worth. If a movie's actually smart and deep, then it's probably not pretentious, because what need would there be to pretend?



    But its the viewer of the film that's claiming pretentiousness ( and contrarily its high quality and depth ), the director isn't consciously pretending the film is something it isnt ( unless he/she is being dubious to sell the film which to me is a horse of a different color ). I thought Donnie Darko was a deep, moving, and smart film and in no small part because I myself had a white, parochial school upbringing and was 15 at the same time as Donnie. I thought it was the first really excellent retrospective on the late 1980's and really nails down a point in our national history where the hypocritical cracks of the religious right wing really started to become visible for anyone who chose to switch on there common sense. Not many real people did that in the era when the film takes place, nor did they when the film debuted ( the latter in no small part because it was released right around 9/11/01 ). I find the movie brilliant because it very obviously ( nothing at all pretentious ) conveys a deep criticism of religion and the liberal reality of late 20th century American conservativism ( talk about pretending ), and it does that with barely mentioning even the word " god " ( only one small scene and one other tangential connection when Noah Wylies character cant answer Donnies questions anymore ), and doesnt at all mention religion. On top of all that its science fiction pedigree is high and its a really touching love story between the boy and the girl, the boy and his parents, and finally the boy with himself. I do like the theatrical version better. I agree with you there.

  22. darth_frared Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 24, 2005
    star 5
    well, you can see that pretentiousness/depth discussion as a projection.

    i will always assume that malick is a deeply intelligent man and that he puts his films together with purpose. somehow they don't come across that way, they come across as a collection of found objects, and that makes me happy.

    i watched 'salt' last year, twice, because i enjoyed it so much. i understand it is ridiculous as a story, but it had kinetic energy and enough car chases to keep me going. it is intelligent with what it does. i think. i felt taken serious in my need to be entertained :p
  23. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Well, we all have our guilty pleasures (ie. films we know sucketh mightily, but hit a chord with us). "The Quick and the Dead" comes to mind for me: I never miss it on TV and it is quite frankly terrible, by any objective standards. But sometimes I watch a film that has been greatly praised and just reject it: "Election" for instance, which struck me as nastily mean-spirited and condescending rather than the satiric laugh-fest the critics assured me it was. I not only hated it, I put its director on my TBA list (that's "To Be Avoided")
  24. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

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  25. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    I think a good rule to pretentiousness versus art is how much mental investment the creator has put into his work. For instance, I find pretentiousness to often borrow from OTHER things. That is, the creator has borrowed much of their ideas from elsewhere. Someone ELSE has taken the struggle of blood sweat and tears and the pretentious 'creator' builds largely upon that suffering rather than their own.

    This will end up being subjective for many people since all great art has to have some sort of frame of reference. But overall the more original something is, the less pretentious it is. Because it honestly strikes an emotional core with the creator. Now, we may not be able to understand that emotional core or get what the creator is 'saying'. But that's not pretentiousness: that's a failure to communicate, which is sort of the opposite of pretentiousness.

    The work of other artists should be a guide in art, but nothing more.

    The difference is this:

    * The pretentious creator says "Someone else showed the struggle between the mortal and the divine. I shall base this next work off of that question." Or, worse, says "I cannot think of anything I want to say. I shall nevertheless try to appear that I am saying something."

    * The artistic creator says "I remember when my sister died after that long sickness and that made me question God. I shall base this next work off of that. Oh and hey, this is sort of like what someone else said about the struggle between the mortal and the divine."

    * The miscommunicative creator says "I have this thing I want to say and I'm putting loads of effort into conveying that message just right, but not a lot of people seem to get it. That kinda sucks."


    The true work of art follows its own rules and its own logic. A good work of art also makes serious efforts to connect with its audience. A work of pretentiousness follows someone ELSE'S rules and someone ELSE'S logic, no matter how sound they might be. And a work of miscommunication doesn't try hard enough to connect with its audience.