Overrated Classics

Micheal Haneke: Provacative, maybe, enjoyable, decidedly not.

Micheal Haneke: Provacative, maybe, enjoyable, decidedly not.

What is it with critically lauded films that are for the most part confusing , frustrating and makes you feel like nearly everyone-else understands or gets it apart from you, and therefore you must  either be a philistine or just a little bit dim. Neither of which you feel you really are. Watching two films by recent Golden Palm winner Michael Haneke, Caché (2005) and Funny Games (2007) (admittedly not the Austrian original but seeing how the US version is meant to be virtually identical it probably doesn’t make that much difference) the other day I felt quite cheated (which I suppose people will say was Haneke’s intention meaning you never can win an argument with a Haneke fan). But having heard so much about this director, and having sucked in by the many film festival plaudits and recommendations I was convinced that I would like him.

 Perhaps  he is a director that would naturally divide people. But  regardless, his films seemed to me to be cold and calculating, designed to attract critical analysis of how clever he’s being by showing up the audience’s morally suspect and voyeuristic desire for violence in whatever form. And clearly not designed for actual enjoyment (Indeed he has said that his films are designed for “for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.”) These films actually defy enjoyment or pleasure apart from maybe purely technical matters, but a film for me cannot get by on cleverly edited shots alone. Now , I’m not saying a self-reflexive analysis of film’s attractions shouldn’t be done, but it has certainly been done in a more entertaining and less obvious way by directors like Alfred Hitchcock instance.

Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) left me with a similar feeling filled as it was with pointless graphic violence and sex designed just to get a reaction (within the first five minutes a cute little girl complete with ribbons and teddy bear is gunned down).  I could hardly watch till the end, it was just so banal and I usually always try to watch films to the end on principle but I just couldn’t do it, and yet how many people had praised this film and heaped it with awards (nominated for amongst many other things two Oscars, a César and a BAFTA).  I would also argue it’ s basic premise of violence inflicting a idyllic suburban town was also something done with much better cohesion and sense in Blue Velvet.

And when we come to the critically lauded films that many people seem to have a theory about but in the end is utterly incomprehensible, nothing beats Mullholland Drive (2001) a film that made me want to feel clever again by watching,  I dunno something with Vin Diesal in it. Which is precisely why people have praised it, it’s just so unconventional and because you can’t really understand it, it must be clever mustn’t it, I mean Lynch knows what he’s doing doesn’t he? Surely he knew why he put a laughing dwarf at the end (sorry to spoil the ‘ending’).

And then are those established classic films that are unquestionably good and if you don’t like it well than you obviously just don’t like film , but actually there just really really dull, ok there’s a few nice carefully composed shots which you can read something into. But you spend so much time wondering when it’s actually going to get going that you fail to really appreciate these shots. One film that comes to mind is Robert Bresson’s Diary of A Country Priest, a relentlessly gloomy film with an aggravatingly sappy and self-sacrificing central character (the priest of the title) who spends most of the film looking so self-pitying (he gets mocked and completely undermined by the  locals and survives on a diet of bread and wine) that you want to give him a good shake and tell him to pull himself together and maybe get a new career. Ok so I admit I didn’t watch the whole of this film, but I just couldn’t do it and actually walked out the cinema, which is only the second time I’ve done that, the first time being the abysmal Eddie Murphy vehicle Holy Man

The same sense of tediousness could be applied to Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), which I watched as part of my film course. It’s one of the top 100 best films according to Roger Ebert and Total Film, and yet what an unmediated bore where nothing  much happens and hardly anyone displays any emotion. Ok so I may not have been in the right mood to see this film having just heard my assignments were due much earlier than expected, still it  just seemed to go on and on with no end in sight.

Anyone-else got any overrated classics they want to rant about?


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