Despite room changes and time clashes and the lingering existential confusion caused by seeing Crank 2, another podcast was produced.
However, I feel this one needs a bit of explanation from me, if only because the argument that crept into the discussion about ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ is likely to come up again. Also, I feel I could have presented my viewpoint both more coherently and less-dickishly.
So what I have here are a few of my own ground rules, which I apply to talking about films specifically and culture in general. Sometimes I accidentally break these rules, and should be called on that. I may also change these rules in future if I feel sufficient evidence refutes them. If I do, I’ll make sure to spell out my reasoning, so the disconnect doesn’t undermine future opinions. But, for the now, I present The Foundations of Brodie Movie-Thought:
1) All films are made with an artistic purpose.
Yes: even Transformers. The construction of visual spectacle is an artistic purpose. Also it is impossible to avoid Bay’s neoconservative political leanings in Transformers 3, what with the 9/11-inflected spectacle and the fact that the movie begins with the Transformers destroying nuclear sites in Iran.
2) All films contain a base level of storytelling.
Films are stories. All of them, from documentaries to blockbusters to the weirdest of experimental flicks. These stories take many different forms and abide by many different rules, but there are always two absolutes. Firstly, characters are incomplete. This may be caused by anything, from the characters not having something they need, to the audience believing they don’t have something they need when in fact they do. The characters may get what they need, the characters may not. The characters may start incomplete and become complete, or vice versa. Yet, secondly, there is another consistency. The character’s incompleteness causes conflict. Again this conflict can basically be anything: exterior, interior, thematic, whatever. The point is that the only thing that is not a story would be a succession of images, wherein a perfectly fulfilled and happy person exists unchanging and un-impacted by anything, watched by an audience that does not expect any misery to befall the character. If there is a real world example of this, I have never heard tell of it.
3) Therefore, all films can be justifiably criticised for their failures as art, and their failures as stories.
With every hair on my head, every bone in my body, every fibre of my muscle and every nucleotide in my genome, I loathe the idea that a film cannot be criticised because it is too ‘low-brow’. It just seems senseless to me. All films reflect ambitions and attempts by a creative team to achieve an artistic ambition and tell some form of story. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has ambitions to a unique visual beauty (ambitions which succeed, though it is annoyingly unsubtle about drawing attention to the beauty), and attempts to tell a basic story about the importance of family and friends (an attempt which fails, because Flint only starts to lose faith in his family halfway through the film, leading to a conflict with weak foundations and a correspondingly mild resolution). This means is that I was wrong when I said that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a bad film, because it does succeed in its main ambition to be visually wondrous. However, the failures of its story (which I often assume is the most important part of any film, an attitude I must make more effort to rectify) keep me from declaring it a complete success.
This then is how I think about films. It’s not all I think, and the foundations are not eternal, but the beliefs above shape do my thought for now. You may disagree with these foundations, and I am totally open to any challenges from readers, but I am not trying to convert others to the way I think. What I want is for you to know the reasoning that lies behind the things I say about film. That way you can understand my opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. That way, we can keep the conversation on the films rather than on the inner workings of my reason.
Which, to be honest, is far more interesting.