Sunday, August 30, 2015

joe's dreaded genre

Marley as a pup in "Marley and Me," the only "animal movie" that one movie fan can tolerate.

During my years as a working critic, I harbored some very rigid opinions about what people assigned to the movie beat should and shouldn't do.

Celebrity interviews were out of the question.  Too dangerous.  My opinion was that no professional critic should sit down with a filmmaker or a movie star to discuss a project that the reviewer inevitably has to critique.  It's too easy to be charmed and flattered by the movie person sitting across from you - and too easy to adjust an initial impression of a film in favor of the film.  There's no getting around it: Movie people can be seductive.

As I once told an editor, "I don't do windows or interviews."

No, "reviewing" and "interviewing" should be two separate jobs done by different people. I was adamant about that and still am. Period.

Another of my pronouncements was that it was a movie critic's duty to see everything - anything on celluloid, in those days - that was available for review.  A responsible critic would never pick and choose based on likes and dislikes.  No genre should be avoided.  Doing so was contrary to being an adventurous moviegoer, to being opened to discovery, enlightenment.

There was no room for snobbery or elitism.

One was duty-bound to see everything, even if one wasn't reviewing a particular title. I extended this rule to self-described "movie buffs" as well.  See everything or risk being branded a lazy fraud.  I was impossible.

Well, I've changed my tune on that point since becoming a civilian moviegoer.  For one thing, the sheer number of movies being produced these days - and the ones lucky enough to get theatrical play are just the tip of the iceberg - makes it impractical to see eveyrhing.  But even if the vagaries of film distribution were more reasonable, I've come to realize that there are certain genres in which I have absolutely no interest.

Nothing could entice me, for example, to sit through a "sword and sandals" epic or anything set in "middle earth."  Life is way too short.

But more remarkable is that I have no interest in any film about animals which, may seem odd, because I love animals and consider myself something of an animal advocate.  I don't want to see any movie that's about a dog, cat, horse or lion.  Sorry, Elsa.  This occurred to me after I wrote my previous essay on a potential remake of ”Born Free.”

The fact is, movies about animals are always - always - sad and disturbing.  Awful things traditionally happen to the animal star.  The MGM/Lassie films are the worst.  "Old Yeller" is the pits. (Blasphemy!) I do like Asta in the "Thin Man" series and Pyewacket in "Bell, Book and Candle," but those films really aren't about them, are they?

And David Frankel's “Marley and Me,” for me, remains a great film because it is about a life - in this case, a dog from puppyhood to death - and because of its complete, unapologetic empathy for the animal.

It is such an intelligent, acute depiction of what's like to have a relationship with an animal and how the sudden absence of an animal companion can make one feel so terribly desolate because, well, the animal is always, reliably there - a point driven home in the scene where stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson watch home videos after Marley's passing.

In one of the videos, Aniston is standing at a kitchen counter talking to a friend.  She has a baby on her hip and eating food off the counter.  Marley is behind her and, almost absent-mindedly, without thinking, she gives Marley some of the food - because she knew he would be there.

A truly under-appreciated film, the only "animal movie" I can tolerate.

Note in Passing: Regarding the use of animals in films, check out this eye-opening, jaw-dropping exposé, "No Animals Were Harmed," that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.
Marley in his prime, always there


Charlotte said...

Joe: I hate animation. There, I said it. I feel better now. Also, I know exactly how you feel about middle-earth flicks. I feel the same way about animation. I have aversion to even anime and, yes, I still consider myself a movie buss.

Alex said...

I agree. Nothing ever good happens to an animal in an animal movie. Their journey is always arduous and they tend to meet every kind of abuse imaginable - lots of bad people doing unspeakable things. Why is that?

Kiki said...

Because of what YOU wrote, I'll try to watch Marley and Me next time it is on. But yeah, would I ever watch Old Yeller? Yeah, like I'm going to have my fingernails removed by a specialist in Chinese torture.

Marvin said...

Lovely piece, Joe. And I am glad that you changed your position that TRUE movie buffs should see each and every genre. I, for one, won't see Middle Earth, or Sword and Sandal (usually), or animation, or documentaries (most), or "religious" films. Marvin P.S. I have absolutely no problem with sad animal films. I love 'em!