If we ever have a MUBI wiki/glossary, this thread would cover the pretentious entry.
Gotta go shovel a path for the mailperson so I can get my netflix goodies….
-Would that be true for any negative assessment? I mean if I don’t like Biodome in part because it is painfully unfunny, that suggests I would have to think it intended to be funny in order to react negatively. If I instead just said it was annoying would that remove the secondary concept or merely sublimate it since I couldn’t help but notice the intent?-
No, I don’t think so. I think funny is more like profound in that it stays local to the work rather than trying to commute back and forth between the artist and the work. It doesn’t matter if something is intended to be funny or not (we’ve all been to screenings where audiences have laughed at things the filmmakers probably didn’t intended as comedy I’m sure), but in order to be pretentious, there has to be an element of affectation. Now, this is complicated by the fact that generally we know from various signifiers whether or not a film is intended to be a comedy. Is there such things as a pretentious comedy? I don’t think comedy suffers from the same sort of criticisms because I think we don’t generally make the same assumptions about comedy that we do about drama.
Now, this is complicated by the fact that generally we know from various signifiers whether or not a film is intended to be a comedy.
So how is an audience capable of knowing from various signals that a film is attempting to be funny, but not capable of knowing from various signals that a film is attempting depth or importance? From where I’m sitting, the distinction seems very blurry.
Doesn’t it matter? I think it does to a lot of people. If they watch a film they infer to be a comedy but it fails to amuse them I think many people will hold that against the film in the same way they might hold it against a drama if they are laughing when they believe it isn’t intended. To me, two of the biggest areas of complaint or contention surrounding a movie are if it is viewed as a failure or if it is seem to be overtly manipulative and both of those go towards a notion of pretentiousness in that a film viewed as pretentious goes beyond failure and manipulation to something more akin to betrayal which is about as bad as it gets for most people. It is almost as if a compact has been broken between the viewer and the film in what is seen as promised. I’m leery of the idea that it need go back to a filmmaker in order to think of intent, or even that intent is exactly what is being noticed when one feels one has seen something pretentious or manipulative or a failure. I think it is true that there is some awareness of intent, but I’m less sure about it being a conscious measurement instead of something just felt as it would be when someone was talking down to you in more normal interactions. In that case one may have some expectation of how an interaction or conversation should proceed and realize this one violates that expectation, but that seems too conscious a process for what actually happens in that you are mostly going on tone or attitude and not measuring against some ideal. For me, I “know” when something or someone is pretentious by feel, and only after the fact do I analyze what caused that feeling. So in effect, I’m not sure it is that different than thinking something is profound since that too requires some after the fact thinking to fully appreciate it. At the time you just hear something that sounds “right” in a surprising way.
-So how is an audience capable of knowing from various signals that a film is attempting to be funny, but not capable of knowing from various signals that a film is attempting depth or importance?-
Comedy is nearly always attempting to be funny. Depth isn’t a definitional feature of any genre. I can make a shallow comedy that’s still entertaining, a shallow drama that’s still entertaining, a shallow action film that’s still entertaining, etc. What would be an example of something that signals oncoming depth?
this film captures pretension:
The theme or subject matter of a film matched with tone can suggest if not outright signal an attempt at depth. I mean that was part of the problem people had with Crash wasn’t it? That it took on a “big” subject and then mishandled it in some way, the reverse would be taking on a big subject successfully, something like Nashville might work even if the “what” of the subject isn’t entirely clear, it still suggests depth just by its manner, form and tone.
Comedy is nearly always attempting to be funny.
So an audience can judge the intentions of a film based on the rhetoric surrounding it? If that’s the case you’re making, then it would seem very easy to discern whether or not a film is meant to be taken as profound.
What would be an example of something that signals oncoming depth?
What would be an example of something that signals oncoming humor? I would in argue that in both cases it’s very soft, near impossible to define with anything resembling precision. It can’t be pinned down to particular narrative arcs or events, aesthetics, visual or aural cues, or anything, because in my experience any film can employ any technique with the intention to affect the audience in any particular way.
-So an audience can judge the intentions of a film based on the rhetoric surrounding it?-
Comedies are funny, dramas are dramatic, musicals have music, action films have action. Profound is not a genre—that’s what I mean.
In Greg’s example above, Pauly Shore. The presentation of a film as a comedy. Conventional comic set-ups. Laughter among the audience, perhaps. I can’t think of an actor who specializes in profundity. It’s not a genre. I’m not sure what a convention of profundity would look like, or how I would recognize an audience reaction to profundity.
-it’s very soft, near impossible to define with anything resembling precision. It can’t be pinned down to particular narrative arcs or events, aesthetics, visual or aural cues, or anything, because in my experience any film can employ any technique with the intention to affect the audience in any particular way.-
Yes, in principal I agree with that, I’m only saying that whether or not something is attempting to be “funny” is easier to immediately identify from context than if something is attempting to be “deep.”
-something like Nashville might work even if the “what” of the subject isn’t entirely clear, it still suggests depth just by its manner, form and tone.-
Altman’s films suggest to me the tracing of contours rather than the plumbing of depth . . . at times almost to the point of denying that there is any depth to be plumbed.
(untitled) is definitely .about pretentiousness.
Biodome is a Pauley Shore movie with Alec Baldwin’s Fundie brother in it.
The “Untitled” trailer has presented me with a conundrum:
Which do I dislike more…
pretentious urban sophisticates…
or cute, sitcom-style one-liners?…
Movies prime their audience to give the desired response before they deliver the stimulus. Comedies set their tone early as a comedy, dramas set their tone early as a drama. Films that want to outrage you show you something emotionally charged early on. With the exception of certain directors, many of which are from the French new wave, audiences always know how the film wants them to react. (I’m one hour into Celine and Julie Go Boating.)
As much as I hate sitcoms, that style is less revolting than the style of, say, Sex And The City.
Altman’s films to me give a tone of cynicism and condescension to the characters.
“Perhaps someone could pull a scene and say it was a pretentious use of a dramatic device to support the aboutness of the film” – Robert
Haggis’ Crash is entirely focused on social and racial conflicts – this is what drives the film. Every scene is played about like a “fable,” wherein there are extremes of human nature presented. However, in its bloodthirsty quest for “realism,” it’s completely unaware (or uncaring) of the stereotypes its presenting. The Persian shopkeeper is an obvious example – paranoid, fanatical devotion to spiritual things, vengeful, bewildered, violent – hey Haggis, leave your manual of stereotypes at home, thanks. Farhad (the Persian shopkeeper) is only a plot device – his struggle is never resolved and there’s no hint that his story is perhaps the most tragic of all … he wanders off, confused, after nearly killing a child – where is the psychology? Why isn’t his awkward journey home depicted? His story does not deserve further exploration apparently, he has served his cinematic purpose and can be discarded with only a perfunctory and wholly Hollywood/unrealistic conclusion.
And of course the Asian guy is smuggling slaves! Haggis presents these things as if they were common, everyday things for these “foreigners.” Haggis really goes out of his way to say, “Look at this character, they’re foreign! Get it? Get it!?” I mean this is obvious stuff that anyone would be able to pick up on; it plays like a soap opera, entirely convinced of its own importance. And it’s such a “white guy” script, it ‘criticizes’ whites but safely – of course, Matt Dillon will play the proverbial ‘controversial’ role to make it more palatable. Haggis gives the impression that what he’s doing is risky, but its the antithesis of such a thing. There’s no danger in what he’s doing, only the facade of it – this is my main reason for disliking it, it doesn’t consist of what it purports to consist of.
He’s telling us that this is what real life is like – he prides himself in his depiction of “realism” – that every aspect of our lives concerns racial and social tensions … but this is exaggerated and excessive. Haggis assumes that he is bringing enlightenment through his Gibson-esque cinematic sermon, that he sees this contagion for what it is and feels compelled to inform the rest of us (listen to the commentary on the DVD if you dare, ha), but, through either a misguided sense of justice/moral compass/what-have-you or simply inept writing ability, has constructed a cautionary tale (or series of tales) which reinforces the stereotypes he’s attempting to criticize.
“exaggerated sense of self-importance making usually unjustified or excessive claims – characterized by assumption of dignity or importance”
Ironic and pretentious: Haggis wins.
I’ve been planning to start a thread on Haggis’ Crash, but I’m probably not going to so, I’ll respond here (although this might derail the thread.) OK, let me just say that I think Crash is contrived and melodramatic, but it’s not necessarily pretentious—although I guess, one could make a case for that.
Here are some things I liked about the film:
-it got “under the hood” of some racial stereotypes/archetypes-i.e. “angry black man,” “the white racist,” “the Uncle Tom” and showed that often these individuals are more complex than we think.
—I like the way the film deals with perception from the outside (general public) versus the actual facts and details of specific “racial” incidents. The corrupt black cop that was shot by the undercover white cop, for example.
—I liked the way the film dealt with dilemmas like the one Sandra Bullock’s character faced. When approached by two young black males, her instincts tell her to lock the doors, but if she does that she’s a racist, but if she ignores her instincts, she’s might be putting herself in danger. This is a real tough problem, particularly for those who are of the liberal/progressive persuasion. (Conservatives might have less qualms with following their instincts, even if that makes them a “racist.”)
No, Crash is not perfect. It’s contrived, heavy handed at times and melodramatic, but it does deal with racism in a complex way, and it has some good dialogue and Haggis displays considerable weaving all the stories together. Actually, a ten hour mini-series would have been a much better format for the film.
“(untitled) is definitely .about pretentiousness.”
but does that type of “pretentiousness” really exist. I mean really
I think you may have answered my question of the disconnect between the awards and MUBI.
extremes of human nature completely unaware (or uncaring) of the stereotypes its presenting
The stereotypes are partly what the film is about: no stereotypes = no film.
its bloodthirsty quest for “realism,”…. where is the psychology
The film is about ideas, not realism and not individual psychology; there is a larger psychology to the film.
mean this is obvious stuff that anyone would be able to pick up on; it plays like a soap opera, entirely convinced of its own importance
You are saying soap operas are pretentious?
He’s telling us that this is what real life is likethrough either a misguided sense of justice/moral compass/what-have-you or simply inept writing ability, has constructed a cautionary tale (or series of tales) which reinforces the stereotypes he’s attempting to criticize.
This is not ‘real life’ and something happens regarding the stereotypes – they are there to deliver an idea, which is………?
“o, Crash is not perfect. It’s contrived, heavy handed at times and melodramatic, but it does deal with racism in a complex way,”
How can that be the case though when racism in the modern world is more subtle? it’s a silent killer. People don’t just come out and express their feelings openly anymore.
That’s right Joks: racism in the modern world is more subtle.
In a film, about the idea of racism, it can be depicted as overt. The film is not intended to be “real” or reflect the “real world”.
This is where people are getting tripped up, worrying about “real” in film.
“In a film, about the idea of racism, it can be depicted as overt. The film is not intended to be “real” or reflect the “real world”.
This is where people are getting tripped up, worrying about “real” in film.”
I must respectfully disagree here Robert. The film is not meant to be seen as a play, and even if it was, it’s old fashioned. A film’s take on an important social issue must necessarily reflect the values and mores of its time to be relevant imo. So in that sense, Crash’s take on racism is outdated. so why praise it as being relevant, which so many critics do? It would be liking making a film about sexual mores in 2011 that uses a movie from the late 60’s/early 70’s as its main guide.
“The stereotypes are partly what the film is about.”
But why is it necessary for him to reinforce such negative stereotypes? Is that productive? Jumping on the proverbial band wagon of ignorance? I realize that he may have intended to dispel such stereotypes by including them in the film, but then he doesn’t dispel them, he allows them to play off predictably and essentially becomes part of the problem he seems to be trying to parody or criticize or whatever he meant to do.
Yes, the film is about ideas, but that doesn’t mean one has to descend into stereotypes to provide an idea. Why couldn’t he just have put a little more effort into it (OK, a lot more effort, ha) and made those caricatures characters? Isn’t that a writer’s job? Lazy writers rely on stereotypes, innovative writers work with stereotypes and then comment upon them.
I’m not gonna quote his commentary on the DVD simply because I don’t own the DVD of Crash nor do I wish to sit through the film again, but seriously, it’s at least more informative (and entertaining – though I realize that it was perhaps not Haggis’ intention to entertain with such a film) than watching the film by itself.
If Haggis’ intention was to dispel various stereotypes perhaps he could’ve been, oh, what’s the word I’m looking for … subtle? It’s all well and good to mean well (and I’m sure Haggis had the greatest of humanitarian intentions whilst filming/writing it), but like Gibson (sorry, I just regard Haggis as a “more secular Gibson” – sue me), he bludgeons his audience to death without a poetic hint of … well, depth. I don’t know, just my opinion. I wouldn’t call it “non-art” because I’m a generous guy, but let’s just say it defies everything that defines worthwhile art to me.
“You are saying soap operas are pretentious?”
Yes! There’s a whole lot of assumptive posturing in soap operas I’m afraid.
But I’m contradicting myself too, I believe all art has some degree of pretentiousness (because artists must be self-indulgent, that’s the nature of art), however, there’s a point where the ‘final draft’ of an artist’s work becomes so far removed from his/her intentions (for whatever reason, by whatever means) that it loses track of its original objective.
A film like The Room is another example. It’s a film that completely loses trajectory and spirals out of the filmmaker’s control, tossing ability and intention to the wind. It’s a special brand of film I’ll admit, perhaps deserving recognition as a massive failure of a filmmaker’s sensibility.
@ deckard croix But why is it necessary for him to reinforce such negative stereotypes? Is that productive? Jumping on the proverbial band wagon of ignorance?
I guess what I am saying is that^ is only a dramatic device to get at something else.
I can’t remember exactly what that is and even with a gun to my head I wouldn’t watch this film over, but what Matt said seems close to what I remember:
The metaphor, of course, is the accident, the literal crash. The film, as I recall it, is basically characters who are all isolated by interpersonal conflicts, but also it’s really going after “the big picture”—how people’s actions and attitudes accidentally effect other people. To me the connectedness worked better as a structuring principal than as a description of what actually happens.
If Haggis’ intention was to dispel various stereotypes perhaps he could’ve been…
Haggis isn’t trying to dispel them, he wants to use them – film stereotypes are merely a shortcut.
so why praise it as being relevant, which so many critics do?
Dunno. Obviously some of those awards are for the social content.I wouldn’t say it was knee-jerk liberalism because of the vast number of awards.
I think the film resides somewhere between those awards and MUBI hate.
Anyway, I am not defending the film,
just trying to show something about the use of the word pretentious.
because artists must be self-indulgent
Whoa…. you think artists are self-indulgent?
Not sure I agree,
I think there is a tremendous amount of risk taking and sacrifice.
Self-reflexiveness is something different.
Haggis talks about Crash in terms of a deliberate attempt to indulge audience preconceptions in the first part of the film (“we prejudge everyone”), then flip the characters and show another side to them (“I like to mess with people”).