According to David Andrews, “Personal taste isn’t the province of the film scholar. It is the province of the mainstream film critic” (Theorizing Art Cinema, 33). In other words, instead of constructing elaborate theories of or rationales about why the movies we love are the best ones and the most worthy of watching — that is, the movies that we think should be the most canonical — scholars should ward off the temptation to “articulate or defend that very personal form of connoisseurship” in favor of being “more detached, telling us what is going on and how that relates to what has gone on in the past” (33).
Well, sure. But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.
My (academic) career traveled an old-school (ahem) route from the English Department to Film Studies to Media Studies, and many of my (aged) colleagues followed a similar route (kids today, they seem to jump right into “media studies” or something comparable). The chief reason for people to spend a decade in grad school studying literature, as I recall, was that these folks loved to read the stuff; further, they (that is, the PhDs I left behind when I jumped into the Media Industry proper) specialized in the books they liked to read most. Nobody suggested that the Dryden scholar, for instance, should be more “detached” and shouldn’t like and advocate the (unreadable, imo) works of the Restoration; in fact, text-based “taste hierarchies” were sort of expected of ’em (and part of how profs would compete and attract grad student followers). For film/tv acads that trickled into the electronic disciplines from literature, then, the whole point of being in film and tv is to study (and champion and pontificate about) things they love most (full confession: in my own case, I preferred watching Hitchcock to reading William Dean Howells). Yes, Andrews is right: it is “better” to step aside from the tangentially related discipline of “film (and tv) criticism” to be more critically removed — well, better if you’ve got an agenda grounded in Cultural Studies, Marxism, Political Economy or some other discipline that treats creative works as means to an end, texts to prove larger socio-political-cultural points (and Andrews’s unspoken assumption is that one should). But didn’t “aca-fandom” make the (ivory tower) world safe for personal taste?
Interestingly enough, the “detached” perspective Andrews advocates seems to be more descriptive of my former colleagues in television: it is the hallmark of a good tv programmer, as an example, that his or her personal preferences do NOT get reflected in the acquisition or scheduling of anything on a network (and the reverse — that revealing one’s taste on-air via scheduling or acquisition is a sign of amateurishness — is also true). And for the record: I think Andrews might be a lot more believable on this “detached” score if he didn’t keep advocating the (crappy, at best) films of softcore “art-cult” filmmaker Tony Marsiglia — but to each his own, right?
Chantal (Marsiglia 2007)
Maybe you’ll love it? Even more than Showgirls?
And I hope my (middlebrow? nobrow?) roots aren’t showing, but my favorite film in this sorta genre is Coyote Ugly: