The Marriage of Film Heaven and Movie Hell

By Jacob Jewitt-Jalland

I am often called pretentious, perhaps because I tend to snigger a little derisively when somebody mispronounces ‘meatball marinara’ and places me in their mind in a deep trench in the Western Pacific. Mainly, however, it is because of my attitude to films; people usually incorporate into their slurs the fact that I have vowed never to watch The Shawshank Redemption, have never seen anything by John Woo, and I have made a point of ‘unfriending’ anyone who has seen a film adapted from a John Greene novel (and I don’t mean ‘unfriending’ on Facebook, I mean driving them out to a remote area of the woods and abandoning them for good).

For a while this never bothered me, I had my high horse to ride around on and a cache of Terrence Malick films to keep me company. However, recently it has been distressing me. For one it has made my weekly walks in the woods incredibly awkward and perilous, but it has also made me think that my definition of good cinema is potentially skewed.

Historically speaking, cinema has often been populist, and its greatness is rooted in that inclusive experience of enjoying a piece of entertaining art in a theatre full of people. Recently, however, the modern blockbuster has become so populist that it has misplaced art in favour of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and this has, in my opinion, led to its sinking quality (pun very much intended here).

The string of entertaining and well-made superhero films, while being far too formulaic in general, do prove that good popular cinema still exists. People will still gather together and watch blockbusters with the loud laughs and hushed screams that make the cinema such a special place, and the most important thing is that these films are definitively good. They have star power, they are wittily written, their special effects are excellent (if a little bombastic), and they are, at their heart, just good fun.

In theory, a film does not need to be fun to be good, but it does need to be fun to be enjoyable. For example, I did not ‘enjoy’ Only God Forgives, but I still consider it one of the greatest pieces of cinema in modern history. Whereas, I did enjoy Piranha 3DD even though it is clearly one of the most shambolic pieces of film since I had to sit through my great-uncle’s video-tour of his trip to a Butlin’s in Minehead (he had filmed it on the smartphone we bought him for Christmas, but he had forgotten to flip the camera, meaning it was three hours of staring up his nose. Arguably, it was still better than The Fault In Our Stars, though).

The joy we feel when we watch a film is key, I think, to its integral quality: the marriage of the enjoyment of the audience and the artistry from the film-makers is paramount. The films of Steven Spielberg often demonstrate this relationship perfectly: Jaws, Jurassic Park, and E.T. would be the three I would name as a cluster of the greatest pieces of cinema of all time, simply for their perfect balance of populism and artistry. This means the films can run the gamut of emotions for two hours and leave you with a big stupid grin on your face when the credits roll. Misjudge the marriage and leave out the populist element, however, and the few audience members that do attend will leave the cinema looking like the England football team after that Euros exit, with the overwhelming desire to lie down in a dark corner and cry.

Evaluating this balance in my mind has made me more open in my opinions of films, but I am stubborn deep down – I will stick to my Shawshank fast and rather than going to the cinema full of thirteen-year-olds that intimidate me, I will strike the balance myself another way, by watching the Romanian abortion film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days whilst listening to The Killers.   


Jacob Jewitt-Jalland


Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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