31 May 2009

Opinions Are Like Cardiovascular Systems, Everybody Has One

I'm minding my own damn business reading the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle when I get to the entertainment section. I was delighted to come across an article about Jorma Taccone, who along with work partners Andy Samberg and Akiva Scahffer I posted about recently. However, the author of the piece, Ruthe Stein, said the three lads met at Berkeley High School when they in fact became friends at Willard Middle School where they all suffered from having me as a history teacher. I've since written Ms. Stein to straighten her out.

Then I came to the "Ask the Critic" section where readers can send in questions to film critic Mick LaSalle (friend of this blog). One local yokel submitted the following:

Dear Mick: Your reviews are usually on target, but you missed "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by a country mile. I loved it, and so did the vast majority of your peers. You must have felt embarrassed at panning a movie that got a zillion Oscar nominations and won in three categories. Are you so steadfast in your opinions that you never admit blowing it?
Larry Snyder

Seriously Larry, you're going to use the Oscars as a measuring stick for a movie? Have you no recollection of the travesties they've visited upon film fans in the past? You need a calculator to tally the Oscars won by such drivel as Titanic and Gone with the Wind. Meanwhile you need nothing, nada, zero to count the competitive Oscars won by Alfred Hithcock, Howard Hawks, Charlie Chaplin, King Vidor, Stanley Kubrick, William Wellman, Arthur Penn, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Lumet, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Altman, Orson Wells and Alan J. Pakula combined. Were you not aware that the Academy of Motion Pictures Sciences awarded best picture awards to How Green Was My Valley (1941) over Citizen Kane (1941) and Ordinary People (1980) over Raging Bull (1980)? I could go on and indeed I did in a post last Summer linked to this sentence. So don't ever try to convince someone of the worth or worthlessness of a film based on the Oscars.

But more to the point, you think a critic is going to change her or his mind about a film because of other people's opinion? "Gee, I hated it but a lot of people like it, I must be wrong!"

Finally I ask you this: why do you care if you and Mick disagree on a movie? Let it go, pal. I disagree with him and every other critic all the time. You know why? Because we all bring our own world view, tastes and feelings into our perception of a film or any other work of art. There is nothing that is universally loved because people are all different. How sad would the world be if we all liked the same exact things. Vive la difference. When it comes to political issues like torture or gay marriage, go ahead and get your panties in a bunch and try to prove the validity of your views to others. But movies? A losing proposition.

I next returned to front of the entertainment section where there are "Letters to the Pink" (referring to the section's color on Sundays). There I read this gem:

Mick LaSalle is a brilliant critic and analytical writer. But with his personal opinions, you have to realize that they are just his opinions and some of them are subject to question.

Last year he made the claim that Helen Forrest (who?), an obscure singer from the 1930s, was as great a singer as Frank Sinatra. I kid you not.
Now LaSalle has given us his top 15 movies of the 2000 decade. But he doesn't include "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (11 Academy Awards) or "No Country for Old Men," the best pictures of the past nine years and maybe the past 20 years. "The Return of the King" is the best action-adventure motion picture of all time, and "No Country" has to be the most complex and riveting murder mystery ever filmed.
Then we have LaSalle's pick for the most beautiful actress ever: Hedy Lamarr. I agree that Lamarr was stunning, but he doesn't even mention the most beautiful of all time: Elizabeth Taylor. Watching "Raintree County" or "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," one is hypnotized by her perfect features, black hair and purple eyes. No one in the history of film compares with this woman's jaw-dropping beauty.
So, Mick, thank you for your unparalleled insights and analysis of motion pictures, but your opinions are strictly your own.
Nicholas Duka

So let me see if I got this straight. You're saying that we need to realize that Mr. LaSalle's opinions are "are just his opinions and some of them are subject to question." Wow, are there really people who aren't aware of the fact that people's opinions are opinions and not the Oracle of Delphi? And aren't opinions by definition "subject to question"?

Now here's some of my opinions which are by the way "just my opinions" and are subject to question. If you don't know who Helen Forest is you're missing out. While I may not put her in Sinatra's league (I wouldn't rank anyone in his league) she was a helluva songstress.  Next you take LaSalle to task for not including Return of the King (2003) and No Country for Old Men in his preliminary list of top films of the decade. I can tell you with great certainty that No Country for Old Men (2007) will rank high on my list (look for the list in early January 2010) but one of those bloated Peter Jackson Lord of the Ring films? Gimme a break. See how people have such a wide variety of opinions?

Next he disparages LaSalle for calling Heddy Lamarr as the most beautiful actress ever. I gotta agree with you, the lovely Ms. Lamarr wouldn't even crack my top ten. But I've gotta ask the same question again: what the hell do you care? If someone named Moms Mabley (pictured above) the most beautiful entertainer of all time I can't see what it has to do with me. But the last line of the letter is the best: "your opinions are strictly your own." Evidently so are yours. And everyone else's. Here are the first two definitions of opinion from something called the dictionary: 1) A belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. 2) A personal view, attitude or appraisal.

Congratulations, Nick old boy, you nailed it.

So anytime that someone tries to tell you that a film critic's or historian's or carpenter's opinion is empirically verifiable fact, you just remind them what Nick said.
Anyway, that's my opinion.

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