Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Of Personal Interest
by Christopher Campbell
February 9, 2009
Last week, I focused this column on one kind of subjective moviegoing experience - that of seeing certain films with "beneficial companions." To continue the topic this week, I'd like to discuss the more common act of seeing films because of personal interest or relativity. It's such a typical reason to see a movie, that we don't even think about it most of the time. Those people who love football usually enjoy football movies, good or bad; the same may be true for people who love other sports and their corresponding films. And likewise, someone who loves dogs and/or has one may go see Marley & Me and Bolt and even Hotel for Dogs and will appreciate them subjectively regardless of what film critics have to say about their worth.
As for film critics, they have their own subjective interests, but they try not to let them interfere with whether or not they like or recommend a certain film. However, films about filmmaking and Hollywood tend to gain more appreciation and attention from critics than they might realize. This finally occurred to me a few years ago when I first saw Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story at a press screening, where the crowd roared with laughter throughout, and then later I saw it with a "civilian" audience, which wasn't nearly as appreciative of the cinephile-centric humor. I enjoyed it less the second time, not because I found it any less funny on repeat viewing, but because there was much less enthusiasm from my fellow moviegoers.
Unlike most people who get paid to watch movies, I see a majority of films with normal, non-professional moviegoers. And I think a lot about the other people in the audience and how they're receiving the movies. But I'm especially curious and concerned when the movie is something I'm more subjectively interested in. This doesn't happen too often, because a lot of my personal interests aren't popular subjects for films. For example, one of my obvious interests is movie theaters, and it's not every year that a Cinema Paradiso or Goodbye, Dragon Inn is made. However, there is a new Filipino film called Serbis, which is set completely in a movie theater. So, without a care for its critical reception, I ran out to see this film right away. It turns out that I could only partially relate to Serbis, because I've never before worked in a Filipino porn cinema, but for the most part it satisfied my cinemaphilic interest. While watching the film, though, I wondered what drew the rest of the audience that day. Were they also present or former employees of movie theaters? Or were they attracted to the porn element? Or were they fans of Filipino cinema? Or did they have a more objective reason to see this little-known limited release?
A few days later, I attended another film I primarily like on a subjective level. A local film society (the newly founded Film Society at the Gowanus Studio Space in Brooklyn, to be specific) screened Ross McElwee's 1986 documentary Sherman's March, which was preceded by a relevant short film (Cindy Sherman's Doll Clothes) and a themed dinner of Southern food, including pie. Sherman's March is a must-see for anyone with even remote ties to the South, as its first-person narrative deals with everything from Civil War history to regional traditions to McElwee's forced-upon attempts at finding a Southern girl to marry.
Because I am a Connecticut Yankee with roots in Alabama, I can relate to the film, which sees McElwee, a Southern transplant who has lived in New England for many years, reconnecting with people and observances from his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina (and other locations along the titular Civil War general's campaign). But did the others in attendance share my subjective enjoyment of and attraction to the film? Or did they come initially for the chicken and the pie and the beer? And did they mainly appreciate the documentary's dated clothing and unfamiliar customs? In a way, perhaps their youth and New York-ness brought about a different kind of subjective interest, something akin to anthropological curiosity.
It would be difficult for me to write an objective review of either Serbis or Sherman's March because of my subjective interests in the theatrical exhibition industry and my own Southern ancestry, respectively. But I also love hearing about and reading subjective responses to moviegoing experiences, whether it's from the man I know who will walk out of any movie displaying an act of infidelity, or from an actual mall security guard who went to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop, simply because of that personal relativity that each has. So feel free to drop a comment below and share your thoughts on any movies you love or hate, not because it's actual good or bad, but because of a personal connection or relative reason for seeing it.