The Importance of Aesthetics
A friend once looked over my DVD collection and questioned why someone who purports to be a film lover has a collection full of, how did he put it, “a bunch of shit”. He was perplexed that there were some obvious omissions, films commonly regarded as greats that weren’t there, in addition to some established cult classics any self-respective b-movie enthusiast should own. I didn’t have the energy to defend my collection and truth be told, I didn’t actually know how. Like all good responses, I thought of mine some time after the exchange. This is it.
Check out a little of the following two clips. One is from Starcrash (Luigi Cozzi, 1978):
The other is from Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005)
It is obvious that from a technical point of view the second clip is better. So then why is it I enjoy the technically inferior clip equally, if not more?
For some time I thought it was irony. I subscribed to the ‘so bad it’s good’ reasoning. I occasionally still do. Yet this is not only condescending but in most cases untrue. So many of the films I own I genuinely like.
Kim Newman has said that he tends not to form opinions on films based on whether they are good or bad, but whether they are interesting or not. It is a nice approach and one that works for me but it still doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
I generally appreciate imagination on screen, regardless of how well that has been realised. You can learn a lot about the unique way people interpret the world around them by seeing how they realise grand themes or how they give their nightmares corporeal presence in the form of, say, a rubber monster suit. Yet many of the films I like are kind of derivative which kind of blows pretensions of uniqueness out of the water.
Every rule I come up with just unearths a load of exceptions. Why? Because I’m assuming that whether I like a film or not is an intellectual choice.
Notions of good and bad require a clear set of agreed criteria - this list of things makes a film good whereas this list of things makes a film bad. So much film discussion centres around arguing whether a film is good or not. Entire books are written setting out the rules for writing an objectively good film while internet message boards are littered with playground level arguments over how the film you said you liked actually sucks and everyone knows it sucks and as such you suck.
Academics and critics try to articulate why things work and why things don’t. Of course they do, that is their job. I try to do that myself, it is one of the reasons this site exists. I can articulate many of the reasons why I like the things I like, but there are some things I just cannot. I can’t tell you why I like them, I just do.
Take someone in your life that you love and try verbalising why you love that person. My guess is you’ll come up with a number of things you love about that person but not be able to pinpoint why you love that person. That is because whether you like, love or hate something is an entirely emotional response. I like it because my body tells me I like it and regardless of how much my intellect informs me that the continuity is awful, or that I can clearly see the strings holding up that giant killer wasp-oid my body will keep on telling me I like it.
It is why I like genre film. It is why I get excited when Godzilla stamps on a model city. It is the only reason I can sit through a Chuck Norris film. It is just how I’m wired. It is emotion, not intellect.
Yes, there are trends. A lot people generally tend to agree that certain elements will lead to a satisfying cinematic experience. But these are neither guarantees nor measures of quality. So many films that adhere to the established rules fall on their arse and die. I’m not saying the rules don’t matter as a lot of the films I like work because of them. These are films I like both emotionally and intellectually. On the flip side I think 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) is one of the greatest films ever made, but I don’t love it. I don’t feel joy when I am watching it. I consider the meaning behind it all and appreciate the technical skill on show but it is an intellectual process, not an emotional one.
My collection is fucking awesome. Why? Because it is my collection and it is full of films that I love. If it were full of films that other people like, it would be a complete and utter waste of space and money. It would be a shit collection. It’s not complete, but right now it is the greatest collection I can afford, full to the brim with films I adore.
Emotion is not inferior to intellect. Do not be afraid to like something “just because”. Love a film because of how it makes you feel, rather than how objectively “good” it is. If you’re able to explain the way you feel to someone, and that person is actually interested in how you feel, you might get a great conversation going (and conversations are much more rewarding and productive than arguments) but if you can’t explain yourself it doesn’t matter. Why would it? You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.