The Corner

All Hail The Cinema Priesthood

A reader sent me a link to this snotty diatribe over at Libertas by Jason Apuzzo. He says he’s friends with Rick Brookhiser, which speaks well of him. His post doesn’t. An excerpt:

People are obviously free to like or dislike Lucas’ films, as they please. But it strains credulity when conservative pundits – who, so far as I know, have never picked-up a camera, focused a lens, mixed a soundtrack, or coached an actor – proclaim that, actually, they know better about the public’s taste, and what makes for good popular entertainment. I’m afraid that when Jonathan Last and Jonah Goldberg are no longer read by anyone (actually, I’m not sure who reads them now), a lot of young AND old people will still be watching the Star Wars films – even the new ones. [I exempt my friend Rick Brookhiser from such criticism – Rick’s books, particularly his book on Washington, will continue to be read for years to come …] This is because Lucas hews to stories that are old, and basically cross-cultural, and then takes the risk of re-formulating them in ways that are consistent with a contemporary sensibility. And actually, anyone can do this, but most people don’t because they’re told that this sort of thing will make you ‘out-of-touch,’ un-hip, un-cool, maybe Jon Stewart will make fun of you, etc.

So when my conservative friends know or care to know more about film , or when they know more about the arts in general, then I’ll accept their opining about Star Wars more than I do now. When my conservative friends can tell me who Tyrone Power is, or something about Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival , or Wagner’s Ring-cycle, or maybe what the difference is between motion-control and motion-capture … then maybe I’ll be more patient when they fulminate about Jar Jar Binks. When they know that Yoda is giving Luke re-cycled gnosticism in the swamps of Dagobah (“Luminous beings are we … not this crude matter”), or that Palpatine’s ‘Grand Army of the Republic’ is really just Napoleon’s Grand Armée – or when they know who John Knoll is and why he’s important – then maybe I’ll be more receptive to complaints about Hayden Christensen, Ewoks, etc.

Until then, my conservative friends, please stick to writing about tax reform … or anything else you actually understand.

I think this is embarrassing snobbery — and I normally don’t really mind snobbery that much. Writers are supposed to know the difference between motion-control and motion-capture before they can have an opinion on Ewoks? Put down the crack pipe Apuzzo (or is it a glass of absinthe given his pretentions?). I know a bit about the Ring Cycle and I know who Tyrone Power “is” (technically it’s “was”). But I’m a bit fuzzy on my Wolfram von Eschenbach, though I do know who he was too. Does that mean I can comment on the stupidity of the pod race but since I can’t quote Parzival I should stop short of mocking Jar-Jar Binks’ Creole-pidgin English?

Movies are great things and I love them, but the notion that we must always defer to folks who build castles of dropped names and moats of technical jargon is nonsense on stilts. Some of the most fascinating comments and insights into film come to me via email from stockbrokers, accountants, soldiers and grad students — none of whom have ever “picked up a camera.”

Indeed, this is a very strange kind of elitism Apuzzo is practicing. His claim is that by knowing all sorts of film arcana members of the Cognoscenti — i.e. him — are better suited at guessing what the public will like and if the public likes it, it’s a good film by conservative standards. Since when do snooty conservative(!) critics judge a film’s worth by how much money it makes?

As for his cheap debating point that people will be watching Star Wars movies long after my writing and Last’s are forgotten let me ask, What critic is that not true of? It is most obviously true of Mr. Apuzzo himself (and I leave it to others to venture a guess as to whether his writing will have a greater shelflife than mine). All critics tend to be forgotten, even the great ones. Edmund Wilson is, even as we speak, fading away like an astral projection of Obi Wan Kenobi after he tells Luke to go to the Dagoba system to study under Yoda.

And, by the way, I agree with Apuzzo on much of what he has to say about Lucas and Star Wars. I just don’t think that his opinion is worth that much more than my own because he thinks movie criticism is a priesthood which bars the likes of me. And, by the way, I was a television producer for many years and I do understand quite a bit about editing and camera work. Maybe now that Mr. Apuzzo knows this, he’ll value my opinion of why I thought the dialogue in Attack of the Clones was so bad. Why it should change his opinion is beyond me though.

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