Plebians and snobs

The New York Film Festival selections “aren’t so much programmed as curated,” observes N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott. The curators are led by program director Richard Pena, the festival’s program director, and otherwise made up of film critics — Film Comment editor Kent Jones, Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum, Vogue magazine critic John Powers , and Phillip Lopate, “editor of a recently published Library of America anthology of American movie criticism.
“These critics, like others in their profession, incline toward material that is sometimes described as difficult or challenging, but that requires a disciplined, active attention,” Scott writes. That’s a polite way of saying they’re film snobs. I don’t think Schwarzbaum is an elitist (she writes like a person who lives in a real world), but the others, I believe, probably are. There’s no avoiding this syndrome among Manhattan film congnoscenti. If you’re a serious film lover you’re going to feel the same way as the snobs do about this or that film, and that’s not such a bad thing.
But there’s something vaguely arid and ingrown about this culture also — a certain tendency to sidestep films with what an elitist would probably describe as plebian emotionalism.

  • JD

    This is complete BS. Jeff loves to wear the film snob hat every time a horror movie comes out that he doesn’t get, but he also reserves the right to call other critics film snobs if they appreciate high brow films he doesn’t get (anybody sense a trend here?). The fact is, Jeff represents the worst of all worlds: he’s middle brow. He’s always railing against the “film snobs” at Film Comment, but they also celebrated films like Land of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects, and The Descent. They review films based on individual merit — not genre, gossip or personal vendettas — and they should be praised for that. Since when is it a crime to be literate and receptive to international cinema? Among the cinephiles I know, those are good things.

  • jumpy

    Richard Peña has been known to love films from bollywood & the Hong Kong pop scene in all their plebian emotionalist glory. How snobbish!

  • THE HOST – a great, fun Korean monster movie – is playing the NYFF this year.

  • fnt

    They did turn down CITY OF GOD for being too violent. I can’t forget that shit.

  • Thrudvangar

    Schwarzbaum a snob? She gave Napoleon Dynamite a C-. Even Joe Morgenstern liked ND. It’ll be a classic.

  • Wells to JD, Jumpy, Thrudvangar and other bashers: I didn’t call for indictments, fines & possible prison terms for the NY Film Festival committee — in rewording what A.O. Scott said in more colloquial terms, I was merely calling a spade a spade.
    And then I added, “If you’re a serious film lover you’re going to feel the same way as the snobs do about this or that film, and that’s not such a bad thing.” I said this out of honesty — a good portion of film snob passions are shared by yours truly.
    Do you guys truly and honestly believe there is no such thing as The Church of Film Snobbery? Have you ever read/heard of “The Film Snob’s Dictionary”? Get with it, Jumpy — being a lover of Bollywood films, Hong Kong action films and horror schlock like “The Descent” and “The Devil’s Rejects” are three of the most fundamental tenets of film snobbery as it exists today.
    If you haven’t read the book, click on this for openers:
    Yes, my tastes tend toward middlebrow-dom, but I know my stuff and have peculiar side-passions like anyone else. And I made a point of saying that Schwarzbaum, to judge by her writing, probably isn’t a snob. Sorry to be a nag, but it helps if you actually read what I’ve written in these postings before responding.
    “Fnt” brought up the committee’s having turned down “City of God” because of violence — that’s a pretty middlebrow thing to do, no?
    I brought up the typical film snob’s loathing of “plebian emotionalism” because of two other NY Film Festival turn-downs I heard about — Jean Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” — apparently judged to be too arch and mannered in a calculated “cute” way, and therefore guilty of exuding French-plebian emotionalism — and Mike Binder’s “Reign O’er Me”, which I know for an unalterable fact is a way-above- average film — it’s a humane, honest & very well-crafted piece about one of the most widespread maladies affecting humans today — i.e, chronic emotional denial. It delves into feelings of sadness and grief, which, agreed, are a form of plebian emotionalism, but not in a way that any fair-minded person would call cheap or manipulative. But a couple of the current FYFF snobs saw it & turned it down two or three months ago, and I strongly suspect this was due to the well-known film snob aversion to plebian emotionalism of any kind.

  • JD

    I’m not saying the FIlm Comment is beyond criticism, I just disagree with yours, Jeff. It doesn’t make sense. They only play about 30 films at the New York Film Festival so they can’t play every film you have a passing enthusiasm for. For all you know, they enjoyed the BInder film, but not as much as the other films in their selection. Also, the festival is intended to serve a function similar to the Cannes competition, highlighting international cinema and semi-arty films that could use the attention. I really don’t see why Reign O’er Me would even be considered. In fact, I would have rejected it based on its title alone.
    The Film Snob’s Dictionary is a bunch of shallow nonsense, intended to place people into convenient categories so that the authors and their readers can feel good about thier own sheltered, cynical film ignorance. Didn’t this book stem from a Vanity Fair article? Sorry, but when I go looking for cogent film analysis, Vanity Fair is not one of the places I look. If I want to read about rich New Yorkers and Tom Cruise’s baby, on the other hand…
    And frankly Jeff, you are not educated or informed enough — no, you don’t know your stuff — to make intelligent observations about Asian cinema, horror cinema or any genre that doesn’t revolve around your bread-and-butter: movie stars. How can you dismiss The Descent and The Devil’s Rejects as schlock? Have you even seen them? In your rather limited grasp of horror movies, were you able to see anything in these films other than their narrative and surface characteristics. I don’t have a problem with critics who disagree with me about the content of movies, but I do have a problem with critics who fail to grasp a film’s content then proceed to dismiss that film as if comprehension isn’t even relevant. In any case, you should be ashamed of your lazy inability to grasp more than 20% of the cinema circulating these days, not proud.

  • Also, REIGN O’ER ME stars Adam Sandler. I think that’s disqualification enough.

  • Wells to JD: I don’t think we have much to talk about or say to each other, bro, and that’s okay. You are waaaay over on the other side of the canyon. The Film Snob book is a very smart & savvy take on people like you, JD. Naturally you’re going to dismiss the book and Vanity fair at the drop of a hat. I’ve seen The Descent, I tried to sit through a DVD of The Devil’s Rejects…and I am adamant in not wanting to live in their worlds of horrific flesh-puncturing, slime, blood and liquid-gooey pig guts, no matter how edgy or sensually they’re been rendered. And I loathe the aesthetic that praises/worships the operatic energy and visual vibrance of Asian war, crime & martial-arts films without addressing the fundamentally boring fact that watching guys twirl samurai swords and fly around as they chop-socky each other is so oppressively dull. I would rather drink slow-acting poison than sit through another one. Danny and Oxide Pang can blow me. Most critics pay attention only to mainstream mulch — my interests and awarenesses are broader than that. If I’m not hip enough for your tastes and those of, say, Robert Koehler, fine…I can totally live with that. I respect the refining process that filmmakers have to go through to make it in the bigger leagues. (You know…the realm of filmmaking in which something you create is deemed by vulgar exhibitors to be good enough to persuade movie-loving Average Joes to actually pay to see it?) I think it winnows out the pikers. But I am proud — proud and defiant and standing my ground and staring you right in the face when I say that I despise the elite-hipster mentality that praises films for visual pizazz alone without addressing various aesthetic crimes — a lack of particular focus, genre repetition, boredom, zero lack of engagement in terms of originality of character, etc.

  • Wells to Devin Faraci: YOu wrote, “REIGN O’ER ME stars Adam Sandler…I think that’s disqualification enough.” Exactly what I was referring to. Spoken like a total film snob.

  • Sadly, I have seen pretty much every single Adam Sandler film and the only one of any value is the one that addresses his creepy angry manboy schtick as part of the main conceit, PUNCHDRUNK LOVE. Now, granted, REIGN O’ER ME could be in that vein, as it’s about a guy dealing with losing people in the WTC attack, so Sandler’s “idiot becomes psychotically violent idiot” thing could be perfect for this film. But more likely this is going to be an even more morose version of his character in the crummy SPANGLISH, as Sandler is trying to be “serious.”
    But seriously, how is it film snobby to judge an actor based on his career to date? If someone mounted a new film of HAMLET with Paul Walker as the melancholy Dane, I think any reasonable person would find the whole thing suspect.

  • JD

    Why is everyone who disagrees with you an elitist, Jeff? If they like low brow horror films, they’re elitist. If they like Claire Denis art films, they’re elitist. Unless they sit around re-watching Crash all day and night, they’re elitist. I come from a place of loving films, all kinds of films. Some Asian films are terrible. Some horror films are terrible, but I’m open to quality filmmaking no matter what country or genre it comes from. I can’t see how that’s elitist. You, on the other hand, dismiss films and filmmakers you know nothing about because you’re too lazy to sit down and educate yourself. Danny and Oxide Pang don’t make war or martial arts films. Stop surfing the net and posting links to other people’s writing and watch some films. And hasn’t it already been determined that calling other people “hipsters” is just dishonest, manipulative way of saying you disagree with them. It doesn’t really mean anything.

  • Nate West

    Movies that offer “plebian emotionalism” (sic) sell themselves. Emotional plebeians love them right out of the gate. It’s those films that require “disciplined, active attention” that benefit most from film festivals and critical attention. What is wrong with that? Some art is easy to love; in other cases, it takes time, education, and an evolving sophistication to appreciate “the good.”

  • jumpy

    Jeffrey, I’m not versed in the vagaries and intricacies involved in the taxonomy of film critics. maybe I’m na√É∆í√ǬØve but when I think of a film snob, I’m reminded of a conformist w/ a superiority complex that’s largely unfounded. I’m not reminded of film scholars, but I admit that the ivory tower hardly shields them from or places them above snobbery as I understand it. in the reference that you provided, the criteria for the snob class is deliberately arbitrary, evidently to reflect the caprice of its constituency. the claim that “film snobs” tend to love bollywood contradicts your observation that film snobs tend to sneer at “plebian emotionalism” – surely, someone who admires the art of Guru Dutt is not shying away from, my new fav. phrase, “plebian emotionalism.” your baby, BABEL, is not showing at the nyff, so I understand your disappointment. but still I hope you can appreciate the festival for introducing and celebrating some wonderful films. thank you for the link & all the work that you do. good discussion!