Cult Films, Linguistics and the Art of Appreciation

If you don’t want to be exposed to movies that challenge you, push the boundaries of society or just end up being more like a drug trip than a movie date, then you probably shouldn’t be friends with me because I will invariably end up doing just that. Try as you like, I will eventually make references to movies in order to discuss shoes with you. I’ll compare the weather to the cinema, analogize politics to directing styles and even lift recipes from the theatre. Everything I do is drenched in cinematic style, just dripping with subtext and sometimes plain old text that is enriched and highlighted with the flavour of film.

El Topo

Recently I watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and The Holy Mountain. I thought they were sublime and particularly enlightening on the subjects of symbolism and cinema as illusion. They are difficult, almost impossible to talk about though, unless you are familiar with cinema to the point that you can see behind the curtains. Most people are not, even film lovers. Even many of the people who actually make movies are not familiar with the nature of cinema, but rather are just consumers with the resources to grow their own crops. Entering Oscar season this year I’ve noticed a real lack of truly insightful filmmaking. Sure, the effects are there, the techniques are incredible, and the imagination is profound, but the tools are not being utilized. It’s like we’re building skyscrapers with nothing but hammers all over again.

I wonder if that has something to do with the way we talk about movies. The art of intellectual discussion is all but lost on the common person in the age of the internet, while we’ve stopped caring so much about finding the right word and begun using emoticons and little pandas to communicate instead. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it’s completely ineffective.
We invented language as a way of representing to other people our perceptions. When we found that we agreed on something, we could come up with a symbol to represent it. This, I think, we can all understand. A picture of a panda means a panda. The word, “panda” also means panda. Easy. But now we’re not using a picture of a panda to mean a panda, we’re using it to mean… does anybody know?

I have no problem with emoticons. None, but this seems to be pushing us into poor communication habits.


And in the same way, we’re getting lazy when we talk about movies. We want to feel important, so we try to validate our opinions by spurting out tangible things we noticed and deciding that we can accurately gauge the “quality” of the movie by them. I’ll give you a hint – if you think the movie was bad because the actor’s accent wasn’t very good, you’re wrong.

“But art is subjective.” You say.


Sorry, but it’s not. The enjoyment of art is subjective, yes. Whether or not you like something is your opinion and you can’t be right or wrong about it. Art itself, on the other hand, presents a standard by which it can be judged. There is no necessary objective stance we can use to come at the art – the best artists weren’t appreciated at their time because people tried to force an outside standard onto art that defied the imposition – but art carries its own measure to it. A painting that represents anger can be judged as a successful painting that represents anger, or one that fails to do so. It cannot be judged as a painting about how accurate the details are because that is not what it is or ever was about.

“Anger” by Gabi Dziok-Grubb

In the same way, a movie like, say, last year’s Gravity shouldn’t be deemed a bad movie because the story is predictable because it was never trying to be a shockingly original story at all. Rather, Gravity was about the experience of being in space, dealing with death and finding a new chance at life all while undertaking an enormous task just to survive. During all of that, it wasn’t even about being accurate, it simply tried to be as accurate as necessary so as to accomplish its goal, and boy did it ever achieve that. Yet, I don’t actually know anyone here who liked it, and their reasons? They’ll say something like, “It wasn’t realistic” or “I figured out how it was going to end” or “The character wasn’t interesting” none of which are the point of the movie by any measure.


We need to change the way we talk about the movies. We need to understand the history of cinema, the techniques, the unlimited variables that directors have to fine-tune just right to get the effect they want. We need to open up our language and realize why we use the words we use to refer to the movies. We need to stop falling for the same recycled crap and just try something new for once, or we’ll never grow. The movies have given me more chances to become a better person than I can even count. I’ve received most of my biggest life lessons from the theatre, and I constantly encounter new philosophies I had never even dreamed of by discovering a new gem. I’m just saying there’s way more out there than we realize, don’t be afraid to look.



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