Dan Kois writes for New York Times Magazine:
In college, a friend demanded to know what kind of idiot I was that I hadn’t yet watched Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” “It’s so boring,” he said with evident awe. “You have to watch it, but you won’t get it.”
Glenn Kenny responds:
He was right: I had to watch it, and I didn’t get it. I had to watch it — on a laserdisc in the university library — because the intimation that there was a film that connoisseurs knew that I’d never heard of was too much to bear. I didn’t get it because its mesmerizing pace was so far removed from my cinematic metabolism that several times during its 165 minutes, I awoke in a panic, only to find that the same thing was happening onscreen as was happening when I closed my eyes. (Seas roiling; Russians brooding.) After I left the library, my friend asked me what I thought. “That was amazing,” I said. When he asked me what part I liked the best, I picked the five-minute sequence of a car driving down a highway, because it seemed the most boring. He nodded his approval.
Forever after, rather than avoiding slow-moving films, I’ve viewed aridity as a sign of sophistication. Part of being a civilized watcher of films, I doggedly believe, is seeing movies that care little for my short attention span — movies that find ways to burrow underneath my boredom to create a lasting impression. I still remember watching Derek Jarman’s 1993 “Blue,” a movie that’s simply 79 minutes of narration over a screen colored an unwavering deep blue. (It’s available on DVD — “enhanced for wide-screen TVs,” thank goodness.)
Now, as a film critic, I find writing about stately, austere films difficult. Often, I scapegoat others for my own boredom via the reviewer’s best friend: the fabled “many viewers.” As in: “For many viewers” (as I wrote about one drama about the Kazakh steppes), “accidentally walking into a showing of ‘Tulpan’ would be a 10-minute nightmare of tractors and bad haircuts, followed by a 90-minute nap.”
[ . . . ]
Other critics, much smarter than me, write about these films with the kind of unfettered enthusiasm that I feel when writing about directors like Alfonso Cuarón or Lisa Cholodenko or Steven Soderbergh (except for his “Solaris” remake, obviously). They love the experience of watching movies that I find myself simply enduring in order to get to the good part — i.e., not the part where you’re watching the real-time birth of a Kazakh lamb, but the rest of your life, when you have watched it and you get to talk about it and write about it and remember it.
[ . . . ]
As I get older, I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me. I don’t fool myself that aspirational viewing no longer has anything left to offer, that I’ve somehow absorbed the lessons Tarkovsky couldn’t teach me all those years ago. Yes, there are films, like the 2000 Taiwanese drama “Yi Yi (A One and a Two),” that enrapture me with deliberate pacing, spare screenplays and static shooting styles. I’ve watched “Yi Yi” five times and never once dozed off over 15 cumulative hours of low-key Taiwanese domesticity.
I don't want to spend a lot of time kicking and screaming over Dan Kois' May 1 New York Times Magazine "Riff" entitled "Reaching for Culture That Remains Stubbornly Above My Grasp," as it's just another representation, complete with references to "cultural vegetables," of the Cheerful Fake Middlebrow Philistinism That Refuses To Die, and nothing I can say will ever change said refusal. Even though the piece does have some novelty value: it piles up its unexamined cultural assumptions in such a relaxed way that the net effect is like Stephen Metcalf on Xanax, and it also throws in a "Hey, there's a TELEVISION SHOW I don't 'get' either" confession (a failed attempt to make the weirdly inverted snobbery go down easier), and some love-me-love-my-kids bullshit to boot. What the fug ever. What does give me pause is: Why is it that it seems lately whenever a self-styled film critic wants to evoke boredom, he or she reaches for Tarkovsky's Solaris? Were a bunch of these yoyos traumatized by that Felicity episode when they were in their teens? Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris. And hey, if you want honest-to-goodness, actual bonafide art film doldrums, there are a few Angelopolous movies to which I can steer you. So why Solaris, which I recently showed to My Lovely Wife, hetetofore a Tarkovsky virgin (I know, I know; she'd never seen a Tarkovsky movie and I actually married her, what kind of self-respecting film snob am I anyway?), and which went down quite well with her; in fact she found it as moving and as disturbing as I'd imagine Tarkovsky wanted it to be. Now it so happens that My Lovely Wife, while incredibly brilliant (I can just hear her saying "Pshaw!" to that, but don't listen to her, she really is) would be the first to allow that her taste skews somewhat more to the mainstream than my own. And I realize that some might turn an accusing finger at me and say I'm indulging in love-me-love-my-wife bullshit (our union has yet to be blest with issue, so at least be glad you'll be spared the kid stuff for the foreseeable future), but hell, I'm making a point with what I have at hand, the point being that Solaris is only really difficult and inaccessible if you actually want it to be.
And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on The Searchers a few years ago: because it's revered, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—mostly—to the people doing the revering. My wife and tens of thousands of other may have thoroughly and genuinely enjoyed and been moved by Solaris, but they're not gonna get the chance to write two pages in the Times magazine about it; now, that space is this week reserved for Dan Kois and his resentment. We have truly entered the age Lester Bangs predicted in 1977, an age when "along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others' objects of reverence [...] whoever [...] seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation's many pains and few ecstasies." How nice to be reminded of this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Thanks, Dan, and thanks, The New York Times Magazine!
Edited by Ryan H., 01 May 2011 - 10:24 AM.