must/mustn’t watch cinema

So as you might have surmised, I am a great lover of film. I’ve hardly met a movie where I didn’t find at least something enjoyable or redeeming about it. Even the really terrible films might have a so-bad-it’s-good kind of quality, or there might have been one standout performance, or maybe one set piece that was very well done in all the awfulness. But then there are films that have a subject matter that, even though I found myself really connecting with the movie, I have an incredibly hard time recommending them to other people. These are films that are obviously going to be hard for other people to watch, usually because of the violence.

It’s really weird to say you’re a fan (because that isn’t even really the right word) of movies like:

Cannibal Holocaust
Last House on the Left
The Woman*

And etc.

For the record, I don’t really make it a habit of seeking out the most disturbing films out there, and some of them walk a really fine line between having some bit of merit and being a hot load of crap. Of course this is all opinion-based. And these films that I “like,” I don’t enjoy them without leveling criticism against them. These films are not perfect (there are so few perfect films, and really I think Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is the only one?), they are far from perfect in most cases. At a certain point it becomes hard to extricate the film’s craft from the subject matter, because the material is so harsh that it overshadows any style.

pee-wee's big adventure 1985 other flags

the Citizen Kane of stolen bike films. fuck you, Vittorio de Sica.

But anyway. My twitter pal Scott Madin, who is about to get his own goddamn category here, mentioned that he felt okay with not seeing Martyrs after reading about it. My usual response to comments like this is “but you should really see it! you know, to give it a fair shake, bleep bloop blort,” but anymore I don’t really feel comfortable saying that because it seems like a troll. Also, I often talk like a robut. One time, I took my copy of Last House on the Left to my friend’s house, and I said, “oh, we should probably not watch this, even though I think it’s a really interesting film” but my other friend was all like “let’s watch this!” and I was like “noooooooooookay” and we watched it and everyone hated me for months.

So really, I should not recommend movies at all.

* re: The Woman — I’m still kind of processing this movie. I get it. But I also feel like the men in it are SO EVIL and the “civilized” women are so cowed by them that it didn’t feel like a real story. I suppose it’s a modern Grimm fairy tale? It’s been over a year since I first saw it and I still feel really conflicted about it.


2 thoughts on “must/mustn’t watch cinema

  1. I’m weird. It’s not usually the content of the film that puts me off, but whether I feel like I can trust the filmmakers with the material or not. Sometimes I make mistakes…Bloodsucking Freaks and Dead Girl reveled a bitch too much in the misogyny. But Martyrs, which is arguably harsher than either, is something I’m okay with…it doesn’t make me “happy” to watch it, but I’m okay with that, because I don’t get the feeling that Pascal Laugier was all that happy making it either.

    In my youth, I’d watch stuff just to test myself. I have all the Guinea Pig films on my shelf, for example. Nowadays I don’t feel that compulsion…I have no interest in, say, August Underground. And that’s got nothing to do with the film itself, but my perception of the people who made it.

    1. Yes. The content can go wildly into awfulness, but the way it’s handled makes all the difference. I felt “safe,” in a way, watching Martyrs, because of Laugier’s introduction/apology, although it also made me feel incredibly unsafe in a way because there was a sense of the director himself not feeling safe about the material. It’s not like a William Castle introduction, where there’s a sense of glee or giddiness to it, either.

      I briefly flirted with watching limit-pushing cinema, and that waned almost instantaneously after watching Marian Dora’s Cannibal. I still feel very conflicted about that particular film: it’s just an account of an actual incident, and there are no cinematic frills or “directing” within. It’s just…a guy who wants to be eaten, and that’s exactly what happens. I felt somehow less human watching it. So now every “extreme” piece of cinema that comes along gets a big side-eye and a lot of research beforehand.


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