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There are no film snobs, only film bigots!

Is 'Film Snob' an oxymoron?



Words by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)


In a New York Times article, film critic A.O. Scott (one of the best working today) examines what it means to be a 'Film Snob', concluding that he's quite happy to be labelled as such. "I sneer at most biopics and costume dramas. I like my pleasures slow and difficult. I would rather watch a mediocre film from South America or Eastern Europe about the sufferings of poor people than a mediocre Hollywood comedy about the inconveniences of the affluent," Scott writes. I would argue that Scott in fact isn't a Film Snob, because such a thing can't really exist; rather, Scott is a Film Bigot.
Somehow, film genres have been divided along class lines. Arthouse movies are considered the domain of the middle class, while Hollywood blockbusters are associated with the working class. This makes no sense, as a ticket for an arthouse film costs no more than one for a blockbuster, and given the latter often comes with a 3D surcharge, shouldn't the reverse apply? Cinema is one of the few artforms still open to everyone. The middle classes stole opera, classical music and even to a lesser degree, jazz from the working classes, at least in the Anglo-Saxon world (these musical genres are still accessible to all in continental Europe and South America). With over-priced tickets and restrictive dress codes, working class music lovers just can't join in anymore. That's not the case with cinema. Film is open to everyone. Too often, people make excuses for ignoring certain strands of cinema, particularly foreign language movies. "I don't want to have to read subtitles," is the most common argument. Again, this is an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. Here, subtitles are ignorantly associated with impenetrable arthouse fare, as though non-English speaking countries don't produce any comedies or action movies (Pound for pound, Australian movies are far more esoteric than Argentinian movies). An all too common excuse for ignoring arthouse cinema is the old chestnut of "I don't want to have to think while I'm watching a movie!" That argument really doesn't hold up, as modern Hollywood movies are far more likely to require you to use your brain; given how poorly scripted most of them are, you're forced to keep your brain fully functional to figure out what the hell you're watching. Arthouse movies, where plot is often secondary, allow you to shut down your brain and enjoy the movie on a purely sensual, emotional level. Turn your mind off for a Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation and you'll quickly find yourself lost; the same can't be said for an Antonioni movie, designed to engage you on an entirely sensory plane. Some viewers think of arthouse cinema as akin to "homework", ironic given how many big Hollywood franchises - those of the comic book variety in particular - require you to invest in a lot of pre-screening research in order to fully understand the movie.
"How can you say Film Snobs don't exist when there are people who only watch starkly lit Portuguese movies about the travails of Cape Verdean immigrants?," you may ask. Well, frankly, I don't believe those sort of people are actually movie fans; they're the equivalent of those types who don't enjoy opera yet own a Verdi box-set to impress dinner guests. I don't know any true movie lovers who solely watch arthouse movies, simply because they inevitably came to love those films by way of Hollywood, which is everyone's entry point to cinema, and I'm always suspicious of those folk who claim they're "too old" for Hollywood or genre movies, as if a visceral response to visual stimuli is something you grow out of.
There are of course movie lovers who dismiss certain genres, but I feel 'Film Bigot' is a more suitable term than 'Film Snob', as this has nothing to do with class, simply ignorance. Let's return to Scott's claim of "I would rather watch a mediocre film from South America or Eastern Europe than a mediocre Hollywood comedy." Mediocrity is mediocrity. Would you rather watch a masterpiece from Chile over one from the U.S? Surely you'd want to watch both? What Scott really means is that a Hollywood comedy is far more likely to be mediocre than a South American drama, because the production of the former is most likely motivated by economics, whereas the latter will probably be a project its filmmakers actually care about. You'll rarely see me award a positive review to a Hollywood comedy. It's not because I don't like Hollywood comedies, it's simply that they're not very good anymore, and they're all too often made by people who don't really want to be making comedies. If I were reviewing movies in the 1940s, I'd be writing rave reviews of comic masterpieces on a regular basis. Every genre has equal potential. If you can't accept that, well, you're probably a Film Bigot!


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