Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No More New Films

I am quitting seeing new films. Not that I see many. The last one was about two years ago. Recently I viewed a film with a redeeming message called "Bella." It was well acted and touching in many ways; but one violent scene--with almost no blood and guts-is still haunting me. (I don't want give away the movie, so no details.)

Opting out of most of hyperactive, hyperbolic American culture has sensitized me to this kind of thing. It is too much. Yes, this scene was probably mild compared to most of the violence out there in films. And it was not gratuitous in that the event depicted was central to the movie. But it could have been done less emotionally, less devastatingly The pychic aftereffects of this scene are too great for me. No more.


BJS said...

wow... I don't quite know what to tell you Dr. G. I'm a bit, well, bemused by this one.

You know people used to say similar things about powerful pieces of art throughout history that you are claiming now. There's a story well told to me by a museum curator once about how a sculpture of Correggio's (circa late renaissance) elicited screams of horror from many patrons upon its unveiling. Several women even reportedly fainted at the site of it. It's a statue depicting a man in deep agony (he looks quite angry), simply sitting there staring off into space (in a pose somewhat like "the thinker"). I couldn't understand why the reaction. The curator explained that the piece was so powerful (it was supposed to be recanting a tale of a man who had been forced into an awful circumstance and had recently lost both of his sons to a horrible fate) that the people just couldn't take it. I admit the detail was exquisite. You could see the pain and anger on the man's face. It WAS intense. Wow. Incredible.

That's called good art.

I'm afraid what you are describing is nothing new. It is not "hyperactive, hyperbolic, [contemporary] American culture." It is called art. It stays with us. It affects in powerful ways. It speaks to the human condition, both fallen and redeemed. It speaks in deep ways -- ways us philosophers often fail to or are simply not capable -- about the falleness of the world, the brokenness of humanity, and the nobility and beauty of God's creation as well.

Good art stays with you. That's one of the surest signs of it.

I'm afraid you cannot pin this one on your standard American-pop-culture-is-so-bad fare. I am a bit surprised by how, well, as you put it "sensitized" to such a thing as mild as this... I suppose the people so aghast at the sculpture revealed so long ago were in a similar spot. I recommend you take deep powerful doses of art... often... and, yes, it won't always go down easy. But, that's sorta the point.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I listen to jazz that would make many people cringe or run for cover. It is intense, moving art. I watched a Coltrane DVD recently that moved me to tears. It's not the first time Trane has done that to me--or to others.

So, I'm not afraid of intense aesthetic emotions. But not all intense reactions are good. I don't think you have seen that scene that I wrote about. It used multiple effects to emphasize the horror of a death. It was overdone, overblown. That is the point. It was not good art in that sense, to my mind, but over the top. The residual feelings were not profound, but merely disturbing to an unnecessary level. Several others who saw "Bella" felt the same way.

Granted, my post was minimal, but you seem to have taken my comment the wrong way.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

More for Tornato:

Good art will "stay with you," but not all that stays with you is good art. In other words, staying with you is not a sufficient condition for good art. I'm not sure it is even a necessary condition.

Michael Glawson said...

I agree, at least some, with BJ. Though I haven't seen the movie, I think that abandoning contemporary film would probably be a pretty substantial loss for anyone serious about growing as a person within the culture that produces that art. Though a lot of the film being put out is bad art, much of it is pretty good art. On top of that, it's hard for me to think that we should never willingly expose ourselves to bad art - it still teaches us something.

I am sorry you witnessed something terrible though. People weren't meant to see horrific things, but we see them daily now. I recently watched Zodiac (overall a good film), and it had in it the worst killing scene I've ever seen, presented in a really minimalist sort of way - and it made me weak in the knees to watch.

BJS said...

Fair enough: I haven't seen the film, so I shouldn't rush to judgment on your judgment of the scene in question. It was just particularly surprising a response when you yourself said the film was otherwise well done ("a redeeming message" "well acted and touching in many ways" -- these are strong compliments coming from you). All you said of the scene was that it was NOT gratuitous and that it was probably mild compared to other film on the market. You said it could have been done less emotionally and less devastatingly... Again, not having seen the scene, my immediate reaction is: Isn't death emotionally difficult and devastating? So any good representation of it would want to convey that... yes?

I understand if the particular scene was particularly disturbing. And, from your follow on comments, it sounds like it may not have been good art.
And, of course, you are right:
The conditional on "staying with you" is certainly not a bi-conditional (lots of bad stuff stays with us -- and I wish it wouldn't).

I agree with all this. I guess my initial response to your post was like my response to hearing that some folks fainted at the unveiling of a sculpture. "... really?" I wanted to say.

Forever writing off "all new films"??? That seems a bit extreme. No, not a bit extreme, extreme.

You don't think so?

BJS said...

Follow on to Michael on your point about a disturbing scene from the film "Zodiac.":

I agree. I haven't seen that film, but I've seen similar violent/death scenes like you describe and they literally make me shudder and make me want to throw up. I hate such things. In fact, if you know me, I am particularly averse to seeing violence portrayals. They are very hard for me to watch. To be clear: I am not saying that just "intense" things are good things. I'm not saying let's go desensitize ourselves to violence. NO! In fact, having a strong negative reaction to such a thing is, well, it's critically important and a very good thing. I would hate it if I ever DIDN'T have a strong negative reaction to the portrayal of violence.
But... all that being said... violence is an awful reality of this fallen world. And, if done right, taking in, wrestling over, and dealing with such horrific evil can actually be a good thing. Recognizing, facing, and working through this evil is what we are called to do in our life (I believe). And good art can do that -- even in such a thing as violence. And FILM is certainly a critical genre in art (I contend). So to write off the entire genre (because of a bad scene done badly, it sounds -- which, BTW, is itself one more reflection of the falleness of the world) seems, frankly, ridiculous.
Thus... my response to Dr. G.
I hope this clarifies.

Gary said...

Before you give up on modern film entirely, could I suggest that you take a look at some of the work of the Dardenne brothers? I recall that someone recommended their film "The Son" (aka "Le Fils") to you on this board before, and I would like to second that. For what it's worth, here's part of a review I posted about the film on a friend's blog:

The Son is one of the profoundest films that you will ever see, and yet, paradoxically, also one of the simplest. In this way, it resembles a biblical parable.

Adding to its simplicity is the fact that it is photographed entirely with a hand-held camera, so don't expect any breathtaking vistas of heartbreaking sunsets. In fact, for a considerable chunk of its running time we are offered little more to look at than the back of a man's head; but after we have been doing this for a while, something extraordinary begins to happen: we find that we can see directly into his soul.

The man is a carpenter named Olivier (played by the wonderful Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet). He isn't pretty to look at, he isn't particularly heroic, he has little sense of humour and his manner is frequently terse, but just watch what he does in the quiet moments! Watch how he tells you everything you need to know with just his body language and his eyes.

In one of the film's many quiet moments, his ex-wife studies him with tangible tenderness, and we can't help but be moved by their fragile intimacy. But she is ultimately unable to empathize with him. Can you? Will you? For my own part, I found Olivier to be the most inspirational character in all of cinema, and I wish - oh, how I wish! - that I could be just like him.

Olivier's story, which is essentially about loneliness and forgiveness, develops s-l-o-w-l-y in order to help us better make sense of the carpenter and his world. The dialogue is as banal and as functional as it would be in everyday life, and, to add to the sense of reality, the soundtrack contains no music at all, so the dramatic moments aren't heightened or emphasized with soaring strings or a hard rock beat. We are asked merely to observe, to listen and learn, and we end up thinking for ourselves in the process.

The Son is a transcendental experience and one of my very favourite films. It is in French with English subtitles, but please don't let that put you off from seeing it. If you only sit through one DVD this year, then I urge you to make it this one. This is one for the ages and one from the heart.

jcubsdad said...

I refuse to go to films that specifically market themselves to evangelicals like we are a marketing segment. I can not stand it. This movie is no exception.

Ever since The Passion of the Christ people have done everything they can to make a dollar off the evangelical crowd. I am sorry, but I do not get bought so cheaply.

Rick said...
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Rick said...

applaud you Dr. Groothuis.

The great god entertainment has seduced and stupefied the masses in our culture. We cannot even buy groceries without being assaulted with displays of the most recent films vying for our attention.

I, for one, am weary with having my emotions manipulated by music and acting. The THX sound is part of this, as well as the camera work. The special effects have become so real that it is in a way erasing the distinction between reality and unreality.

With every 2-hour viewing experience, mind and soul are plunged into virtual realities while the body vegetates. I think it has a numbing effect on the spirit, making it harder to experience real communion with Christ.

Diversions are profitable now and then, but film viewing seems to be more of a mania with many.

Paul D. Adams said...

"Opting out of most of hyperactive, hyperbolic American culture has sensitized me to this kind of thing."

It's unlikely that most are even aware of the level of "de"sensitization we've become accustomed to.

Last few nights I've been reading with no TV (going back and forth two new books, 1) a classic on Christian contentment and 2) Oxford Univ Press new Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine).

Wow!! What a difference ;-/

Andrew said...

Although you seem to have (hastily) made up your mind I would urge you (and all who read this) to see Philip Groning's recent Into Great Silence.

There are also plenty of American films that would suit your sensibilities as well, but many are difficult to catch in the theater - Nathaniel Dorsky just had a screening in Boulder, Phil Solomon will be showing at this year's Denver Festival, both are transcendent filmmakers.

I've apologized for contemporary film here before, and will continue to do so - I think that film (like jazz) requires discernment and connoisseurship, so one can avoid Kenny G and embrace Coltrane (or John Zorn).