Monday, February 05, 2007

Art and criticism


I was having a discussion with my boss the other day about the new The Hills Have Eyes by Alexandre Aja, which he liked but I did not, and King of the Ants, which I liked but he did not.

Then I read No, Art is Not Purely Subjective by Joe Rice, which has led to some interesting discussion in comments.

I've already written I like genre fiction better, that covers a big part of where I disagree with many who feel their taste is better.

But what I've been pondering this week is how much of what we judge an artistic experience, especially a movie, based on what we don't notice... or don't particularly notice.

Much of the aforementioned conversation, which was rather brief, involved the person who didn't like whichever movie stating why and the other replying, "Yeah, I suppose, but..."

So often that's our entire experience with the movies we love or even just enjoy. It's part of the process, like plot holes...

Ok, I've lost a couple of you. Plot holes have gotten a very bad name in recent times.

Every single story in the world has plot holes, most by design.

If I tell a story that goes, "John woke up a six this morning. He took a shower. He had a cup of coffee and then he went to work."

It's perfectly readable, if nothing resembling terrific writing. However none of the many holes I left in the would necessarily cause any problem with anyone's enjoyment. In fact, if I told you about what woke him up, an alarm or his internal clock, whether he made coffee for himself or picked it up at Starbucks or how he went about getting to work, it could get tedious, unless I was developing character, mood or plot pieces. Reasonably, I may have plans to develop the character, mood and plot pieces planned for once he's at work and these other details would merely have cluttered that up, so I moved along to where the meat is.

And that, to some extent, is what I'm talking about.

Depending on your mood, the rhythm of the story or even your personal issue, one of those details might bug you more than most.

But it's not only plot holes that people overlook, it's stylistic choices, acting styles and internal logic. Some of those are mere preferences, of course, but I'm not talking about those in this case.

What I'm talking about is the stylistic choices, acting styles and pieces of internal logic that if, after watching and enjoying the movie without noticing, you would acknowledge as flawed, to whatever extent, once it's brought to your attention, causing you to say, "Yeah, I suppose, but..."

In my continuing pondering, I'm beginning to think which things you ignore or miss is probably more important than the things we notice and enjoy. It's also the part that's most difficult to express in offering one's opinions, either professionally or in a forum such as this.

Does this mean I don't think there's value in casual reviews and in-depth criticism? Of course not. I just think it's an interesting complication in the process and I'm making note of it.

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