July 15, 2020
WELCOME TO THE END OF OPINIONBy BENJAMIN SHEARN
This moment, the moment you’re reading these words, right now, whenever that may be, is – and yes, this is quite official – the End of Opinion.
The commonplace qualitative model of judgement, that tedious vertical Good-Bad binary, is now as unimportant as your vague reasoning for why The Lobster just “didn’t work for you.”
Hot takes are now hot trash. And yes, I completely understand how adrift you must feel.
Because without your arbitrary art rules, your peer-tested conjecture, your mountain of prop books and performative merch, without the abstract wreckage you refer to as your “taste”… why even watch a film anymore?
It’s an age old conundrum really: If a dude tees off on how Malick’s never been quite “grounded enough” and no one’s around to hear him, did he even ever see The Thin Red Line three times in theaters?
I remember in 2011 the New York Film Critics Circle hastily moved their awards date up to November, before many of the films in (supposed) contention had even been released.
Some film journalists saw this as typical east coast elitism, New York writers flexing intellectual precedence by forcing their way into the inaugural awards position.
That, to me, was not the issue.
The rosiest, most benevolent view of a film writer is one of pop-cultural archaeology. There’s an altruistic sense of responsibility to unearth and champion the work you believe in to your readership.
And by ranking, by saying “this is the best film of the year,” you boldly pronounce strongly held aesthetic values. You compel readers and peers to debate, to examine, to ponder the nature of what makes film a true and vital artform.
If this is the level of artistic zeal the New York Film Critics Circle felt for the cinema of 2011, well then, I thought to myself, have at it. Flood the digital tributaries with your simmering passion which could not possibly have waited another two weeks to boil over into public view…
… the day came. And the NYFCC proudly announced their pantheon of cinematic prestige:
Best Film… The Artist
Best Actor… Brad Pitt
Best Actress… Meryl Streep
Ooookay, so let me stop ya’ right there if I may.
And just allow me to pose a simple question: Why... did you even... bother?
Every year the top ten lists come out and every year they’re just a deck-shuffle of the same 25 films.
Film criticism, in the classic Kael-ian model, has become little more than a social media-damaged conformity.
And this has had a significant trickle-down effect on the amateur dialectic. My generation and younger are so addicted to bandwagon-ism that when they’re confronted with dissenting perspectives the result is akin to LIGHTS ON at the rave.
Opinion is the new religion.
Its institution is corporate interest. Its church is Twitter. Every service is an all-night open mic. And yet every guest preacher really just wants to prosthelytize that “Yep… Get Out ruled!”
‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are suppressant words. And like Huxley’s soma the words are pills to anesthetize conversation to the transactional complexity of giving out doggie treats.
Rotten Tomatoes is our Golem, and it’s trampled our brains into a barren landscape of Netflix thumbnails. Existential obedience to the algorithmic order of Silicon Valley.
Consider this Luther’s parchment nailed to the Church door.
Consider this a liberation.
Consider the question “Hey, is Zardoz actually any good?” as a FULL ON ASSAULT on your philosophical freedoms!
And together we will usher in a messianic age of opinion-less analysis.
Think of yourself as an alien, or post-apocalyptic future human, and consider films not as fuel for simplistic assertions of identity but as odd, potentially profound artifacts. Each one holding an insight into both the intricacies of the medium and the humanity of the message.
Some initial steps in this glorious new freedom:
- Watch What Lies Beneath and resist the urge to rage on its contrivances, its chintzy Hitchockian cheap shots, its huffy celebrity performances. Instead meditate quietly on its prophecy of cell phone technology ruining the classic suspense film.
Watch every single James Spader movie in a row up to Crash and realize that it is a detailed chronology of the rise and fall of Yuppie Culture.
Watch Body Horror films not just for their goopy gory payoffs but as subconscious statements of Man’s irrational fear of the Female anatomy.
Watch Field of Dreams not as an uplifting balm of magical Americana, but as Baby Boomer apologist propaganda with Baseball nostalgia as its MAGA Trojan horse.
Look beyond the vanity of auteurs, the vagaries and vulgarities of corporate marketing, the academic tyranny of the so-called canon, and crucially understand that all hype is hypnosis.
See the forest through the trees, don’t just see The Tree of Wooden Clogs and proclaim how much you “dug” all the tree shots.
Films are complex documents of unintended spiritual, political, societal, and institutional significance, and the century-plus reign of Opinion has suppressed these hidden meanings.
This column is an act of anthropological radicalism, of ideological detective work. An attempt to re-contextualize all of cinema, freeing films as feeble fodder for your feed, and lifting them up as profound reflections of your humanity.
Welcome, friends, to the future. Where should we begin?
Benjamin Shearn is a film editor and writer. His last feature, Ladyworld, premiered at BFI London, Fantastic Fest, TIFF: Next Wave and was presented as part of the Frontieres Showcase at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Shearn’s work in narrative and documentary films has also been exhibited at ComicCon San Diego, the Louisiana Museum of Art in Copenhagen, la Gaîté lyrique in Paris, as well as official selections of the CPH:DOX, Melbourne International, Planete+Doc, TIFF After Dark, Court Metrage du Clermont, Chicago and Boston Underground Film Festivals, amongst others. For more of his work, go to benjaminshearn.com and/or follow his absurd Instagram account @actorsupset.