An article in todays’ Guardian by Tim Lott seeks to question the quality of some of cinema’s sacred cows, dissing DEATH IN VENICE, JULES ET JIM, THE SEARCHERS, LA DOLCE VITA and SCHINDLER’S LIST, with secondary side-swipes at Kieslowski’s THREE COLOURS trilogy, SOLARIS, GREED (Lott appears to have seen a ten-hour cut of this, the lucky fellow), LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, LA REGLE DE JEU, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and ON THE WATERFRONT.
Making the highly original point that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, Lott basically fails in a potentially interesting task, maybe because he hasn’t enough space to consider even one of these films in the space it deserves, but partly because he squanders the space with profligate cheap shots and non-points. Saying “DEATH IN VENICE’s beautiful cinematography doesn’t make it a great film” does not really address the many ways in which it could still be a great film, and nobody to my knowledge ever claimed it was a great film just because it was well photographed anyway. Straw man argument, how are you?
It all gets to be pretty much like Leslie Halliwell’s reviews — a guide to the personal prejudices of Tim Lott that’s perhaps quite useful to the friends and family of Tim Lott, but perhaps less so to Guardian readers. So films are dismissed as “campy” (the Visconti) or “melodramatic” (the Laughton) or “French” (Carne), as if that were enough to stop them being great. If we can’t have camp, melodrama or Frenchness, one suspects we’re on the way to a rather dreary list of alternative great films. And so we are.
Lott champions THE PAWNBROKER, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, KOYAANISQATSI (“one of the most original movies of the last thirty years”), SOUTH PACIFIC and THE RAPTURE. I’m with him on some of his other choices, but these aren’t films I’m in a hurry to see again. They’re not terrible, you understand, but I’m not sure there’s even much you can say about them.
It’s an amusing and well enough written piece, but not only does it not demonstrate that any of these films might not deserve their reputation, which would be pretty hard to do, it doesn’t really address why they do have their reputations. Part of the problem is I can agree with many of Lott’s criticisms, without feeling that they particularly matter in the case of the films he’s on about. In the comments section you can read everyone else getting in on the act, and very unedifying it is too — opinion really is the least interesting aspect of criticism, and sadly it’s come to dominate. Pieces like this foster the entirely false belief that simply saying “THE GODFATHER? Overrated,” counts as a statement worthy of anybody’s attention.