Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spiraling in the Orbit of Precious: Films We're Not Watching

Thanks to the Oscar® nominations, there is another round of discussion around the film Precious.

On February 4, critic Ishmael Reed got some play in the New York Times. He had previously discussed his views elsewhere (e.g. in the comments to a post over at NewBlackMan) but the Times has now deemed fit to give his critique wider distribution. This caught the attention of Prometheus 6 (P6), who started a thread about not giving Precious an Oscar.

Although I've previously voiced an opinion about movies of 2009 I probably won't see, including Precious and The Blind Side, I'm pulling some of my own comments from the above P6 thread for possible cross-pollination here. I said in part:
With the movie, there's the work itself, in its intended medium. And then there are the memes emanating from it across several media as to what it means to be "realistic" and "black" at the same time-- becoming and carrying the message much more than the book ever did. To judge the work itself as a work takes more than I have in this phase of my life. I can tackle movies not of this era with all their faults (with a couple of exceptions), but Precious is both too current for that and so obviously not made with me in mind.

This led to what I meant by "not of this era... (with a couple of exceptions)" and I followed with the exceptions, films of the past that I find eminently skippable:
The exceptions right off are Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, and what I mean by "tackle" is to accept them as products of their time, study and analyze them, or maybe even refuse to analyze-- to detach just enough to watch them as is. Birth, I've seen it once and might do it again. GWTW, I've never been able to sit through.

A question we didn't get to over at P6 (although we are having a lively exchange about films, Black films, really good films, and really good Black films) is whether we can speak and write intelligently about something we shy away from or won't see. I think this is possible (I think I have a viable example besides controversial films) but I'd like opinions on it.


Pdub said...

After so many years of immersion in modern media product, many if not most of us have developed various ways to mentally detach content from the physical properties of the medium (e.g., people who are willing to ignore repulsive song lyrics because they "like the beat" or folks who frequent slasher flicks); we think of ourselves as sophisticated, particularly those of us who have participated in the various media production arts. We have convinced ourselves that we are astute enough to protect ourselves from negative ideas, themes portrayed in the images and sounds we choose to consume.

Some people who feel this way may also argue that it's difficult, if not impossible, to judge a popular movie without actually seeing it. I wouldn't.

I am not convinced that we can completely shield ourselves from the memes and messaging delivered by the content. To say that motion pictures can influence human thoughts and emotions is to understate the actual power of cinema, particularly as it is wielded in 21st century America. It is in our best interest to carefully monitor our exposure to these powerful communication forms. I support the idea that we can learn enough about a film or a book or TV show to have an intelligent opinion about them with actually experiencing them. You don't have to actually bite into the rotten apple to know it's bad for you.

ProfGeo said...

Pdub, in this era a film has enough media presence across many media to allow us to have an informed opinion, if we're paying attention. We obviously have to consider the source of any criticism, but then we should be able to apply our sense of judgment.

Coincidentally, today an office colleague (white female) tried to recommend Precious to me. To be fair, she knows I'm a movie fan and she's seeing all the Oscar nominees. So I tried to acknowledge all she was saying, which was backed up by reviews and commentary I've already seen. And I tried to explain why I still wouldn't be going to the movie. It was a short conversation during a work day, and I'm going to say she sort of got it, in the time allotted.