Grindhouse Vs. Arthouse Vs. My House

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-03 23:00:00 No comments

My Stephen King problem -

Serious, sensible critics sometimes come to the defense of schlocky, splashily violent blockbuster sorts of novels (and films) — the kind of “entertainment” that, as the film critic Pauline Kael put it, has “plenty of plot but no meanings” — on the theory that we all (even intellectuals who make their living writing criticism) need an escape from life (or from thinking). Much slack is cut for the somewhat better samples of schlock. (“If the story moves,” Arthur Krystal says in a recent New Yorker piece about genre fiction, we’ll forgive everything else that may be weak or bad.) It will even be said (if not by critics, then by the money behind the schlock) that some second-rate piece of writing (or moviemaking) has more “life” in it than any number of “ambitious” high-modernist books of fiction. This is absurd — as if “life” consisted of production values or hokey premises or unearned, happy endings — but for those of us who believe that we have developed antibodies to schlock, it is useful to remember that we may sometimes err on the other side, praising certain pieces of high-modernist writing that are actually boring.

Emphasis mine.

Most bad work, and a good deal of successful if middlebrow work, is fairly quaking with life, but it's life of the kind that we only recognize as life because we have no patience for the real thing. The usual comeback to such an observation is that art and entertainment aren't meant to be the "real thing"; they're meant to be fiction, invention, fantasy, larger than the life that gives rise to them.

Fine. But there's more than one way to be larger than life, and the more positive examples of that we have to draw on, the better. The more starting points, the more endpoints, as long as the endpoints are on higher ground.

Still, I can't argue with the idea that we want, need, and accept entertainments of all sorts, and that things that are schlocky and broad and obvious and silly are part of that. But that's only because I also think everything out there can have its own lesson to teach us if we are willing to accept it. I think schlock can be useful, and not just as a way to turn our brains off, but as a suggestion for a possible starting point that can be transcended or reworked, a way to layer meanings on top of something that normally wouldn't strive for it. That doesn't mean automatically employing such a strategy guarantees success, though. It just means people who use it well now have one more way to do things. (It's hard to imagine Todd Haynes without Douglas Sirk, for instance.)

The ultimate point being made in this passage, though, is the idea that a cheap but entertaining piece of work is more "successful" in its goals than a lofty but ashy one. But again, this presupposes the idea that everything necessarily has to be the same, indivisible kind of good or bad.

Maybe that's a delusion formed by the way certain things we used to think of as lowbrow have eventually ascended into the pantheon. But that mechanism is more more about the dice of history and the process of natural selection for work than because it's the karma of trashy entertainment to eventually be seen as the prescient social commentary it always was. That's something I find is more used to justify someone's love for something, than as an actual explanatory device for its intentions or aims. Take this too far, and you land in Kael's "great trash" territory, where she ended up making an argument that amounted to criticism as a defense of one's taste rather than an analysis of them, where some things are raised up only by dint of other things being pushed down

If we say good things about something trashy and dumb, it's not because everything trashy and dumb automatically deserves such elevation merely if it is sincerely trashy and dumb. It's because sometimes, out of that, every now and then, you get a little miracle, something bigger than its intentions and or aims combined, and that little miracle should be celebrated and learned from whenever possible. It doesn't mean we need to pretend the grindhouse always had more going on than the arthouse, merely because we don't want to look like snobs.

Tags: art criticism critics entertainment