There aren’t many points throughout the short history of this site where we’ve feasted on quite the diet of double standards we’re about to. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we’ve engaged in some fairly hefty arguments about films in the past, and not always with the high degree of maturity that walks hand in hand with a successful debate.
In a pub? Personally, I’m even worse. Cornered on a topic, I’ll come out fighting, throwing all manner of arguments out to further my point. Again, not all of them withstand close scrutiny.
However, while a good, healthy film debate is something that remains one of the joys about being a human being, right next to sex and folk dancing, there are lines that it’s best not to cross.
Many of us have been accused of being film snobs at some point in the past. But have you committed any of the ten cardinal sins here…?
With thanks to our Twitter chums for many of their suggestions!
The over-analysis of enjoyment, and pouring scorn on people who enjoy things they don’t
Let’s start with something simple: being looked down on by a film snob because you really enjoyed something they didn’t.
This one boils down to this: there’s a list of films you’re allowed to like and a list of films you aren’t (although I’m not quite sure who holds this list. It’s just the kind of MacGuffin that Indiana Jones should be hunting for, in my book).
Should you warm to a title on the latter, then quite simply, there’s clearly something wrong with you. As such, rather than open up the film to debate, and what makes a film enjoyable to some and not to others, the conversation switches to a personal level.
Last year, Xan Brookes in The Guardian gave Clash Of The Titans three stars. He put forward an argument, made his case, and made his recommendation. Not many agreed, but then, that’s part of the reason why we all chunter about films in the first place.
However, in the comments below his review, one commenter wrote, “If you think this film merits three stars there’s something wrong with you.”
Only there isn’t, is there? There’s nothing wrong with you, you just happened to like a film that somebody else didn’t. It’s a turn of phrase, granted, but there’s some degree of warped mentality behind it, too.
We’re seeing a lot of the “there’s something wrong with you” thinking surrounding Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. I’ve not seen the film, so can’t defend it or otherwise, but surely someone has the right to like a certain film, for simply enjoying it, without that being regarded as a personal fault?
Worse still, should someone deem to enjoy something that’s considered ‘low brow’, then that very enjoyment is open to dissection and criticism. The very things that are enjoyable about a film are so deeply explored so as to suck any joy out of the end product. It’s as if the worst kind of film snob is out to not only make sure they don’t enjoy a film, but that nobody else is allowed to, either.
Why is it so bad that cinema can sometimes just be entertaining, without any greater ambition than that? Surely that’s allowed from time to time?
Still, that leads us neatly onto…
An apparent hatred of blockbuster cinema
Blockbuster movies are the poison of the world to some. Never mind that they keep cinemas in business, or that there are some compelling filmmakers hard at work in the sector. If a film’s budget is over $100m, then it stands to reason that the movie in question is going to be rubbish. Hitchcock? He’d be spinning in his grave at the prevalence of blockbusters. A grave, lest we forget, paid for by the proceeds of films that were hardly art house back when they were released.
Here’s the thing. I get that someone might not like blockbuster movies, but surely a true film lover would concede that there’s something of merit at least worth discussing in the films of Christopher Nolan, Paul Greengrass, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and such like?
These are people who are using the larger budget afforded to blockbuster filmmaking, and are trying to do something interesting with it. Inception, like it or not, was packed full of ideas. Arguably more than ninety percent of last year’s films. Yet, I, as I suspect you do too, know at least one person who didn’t see it because it was ‘Hollywood dross’. Sigh.
By all means, watch and don’t the films of some of the people I’ve mentioned above. But dismissing any merit in them is ludicrous.
It all harks back to the Shakespeare argument. In his time, Shakespeare was utterly mainstream. But there’s a legion of people now who, you can’t help but feel, only really like his writing because it’s deemed high art.
Blockbuster cinema? It’s facing the same unfair prudishness.
Making certain filmmakers bulletproof
There’s a turn of phrase that gets pulled out from time to time, which certainly has some legitimacy to it. And it’s roughly that ‘even so-and-so on an off-day is better than most people on top form’.
Often, I’d buy that. But what it strikes me as is a diluting of the bulletproofing effect that a select band of film snobs employ, which doesn’t let them accept that their favourite filmmaker of choice can take a wrong step. And even if they do, it’s a “fascinating” one. Even if the film is awful.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting jumping up and down on filmmakers because they take a wrong turn and make something bad. Very few actually set out to make a poor film, after all. But still, a dose of reality wouldn’t hurt.
Most recently, I’ve seen this argument used in relation to Pixar by a couple of different people. Their argument is that Pixar, even at half-gas, is better than most of its current competitors.
But it’s not, is it? Because its competitors have massively improved. DreamWorks is capable of How To Train Your Dragon, ILM is capable of Rango, Studio Ghibli is regularly capable of brilliance, and the likes of Universal (Despicable Me), Sony (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs) and Fox (Horton Hears A Who) have all proven that they can close the gap on Pixar. And just wait until you see what Aardman has got coming up.
That’s a mainstream example, certainly, but it’s not alone. There’s the odd Scorsese film I really don’t like that I’ve seen defended to within an inch of its existence. The problem? I’m not utterly convinced that the person arguing with me liked the films in question, either. They just felt compelled to defend them, come what may. It’s admirable, certainly. But still strikes me as a little bit odd.
Pitying you for not seeing certain films
A nice suggestion this, which came from @Taniwha over on Twitter. The argument is there’s a breed of film snob who looks down on you, simply for not seeing a certain film. Particularly if it’s a major work.
This is done regardless of your film taste, or interest in a particular genre. Never mind if you know 1930s Austrian cinema like the back of your hand. If you’ve overlooked Birth Of A Nation, then you’re off to the naughty corner.
We’re back to that hit list of films you have to have seen, else you’re a cinematic heathen.
Tell anyone, therefore, that you’ve seen the remake of Arthur, but not Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, and you can expect scorn, and no small amount of it. And woe betide you if you say you enjoyed something like Steven Soderbergh’s take on Solaris, rather than seeing the Tarkovskiy version. That’s a stoning offence in some quarters of the Internet.
Using at least two of the following phrases or words in a single sentence (one is allowed)
Mise en scène. Tropes. Ennui. Paradigm. Nihilistic. Quixotic.
We’re sure you can add plenty more in the comments.Bringing irrelevant examples into a film debate just to show off
There can sometimes be genuine humour to, in the middle of a deep film debate, pulling in a completely irrelevant example. But the film snob doesn’t do this. No, the film snob likes you to know what films they’ve seen and like, whether you happen to be talking about them or not.
Picture the scene, then. A pub talk after a visit to see X-Men: First Class at the movies. General chunter, happy appreciation. And then the snob in the corner pipes up, declaring it “not a patch on Apocalypse Now“. Or “lacking the style and panache of Carol Reed’s The Third Man“.
It’s an attempt to shift the conversation onto a preachy plain, and it’s usually accompanied by a mass rolling of eyebrows. Rightly so, too.
Eh? What next? Someone saying that Police Academy 3 pales next to the majesty of Lawrence Of Arabia, or A Short Film About Killing? Not every film needs to be compared to the entire back catalogue of cinema.
And there’s a sad side effect to this, too: it puts people off the films that film snobs often advocate, and this is the real damage that snobbery does. Because few things put you off watching something more than having something preaching to you about it. You can just ask anyone who hasn’t watched The Wire about that.
Referring to non-English language films by their non-English title exclusively
I got into a debate on an online forum once about Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother. I kind of swing in the opposite direction on Almodovar movies, because it tends to be his earlier films that I really like, rather than the more acclaimed later ones. And I was making this point, admittedly badly.
Thing is, one of the people I was arguing with kept talking about Todo Sobre Mi Madre. That, as you could probably work out (and I quickly did) is the Spanish title of the film. And, given that it’s a Spanish film, it’s its official title, too. I get that.
In the US and UK, though, the film was released as All About My Mother. And here I was, on an American film site, debating the movie with someone who refused to use the film’s English name. They just couldn’t do it, and they deemed it incorrect to do so.
I, however, deemed it snobbery, and I accept that many of you won’t agree with this. But surely it’s just a tactic, ultimately, designed to either exclude people from a debate, or simply to show off that the person in question knew the film’s original name? Is the title really worth using as some kind of argument firewall? Isn’t it the films themselves we’re supposed to be talking about?
What’s more, is it really so bad that a title gets translated when the film travels to other countries? And is it really so bad to then use that translated title, knowing damn well that others won’t be aware of the film’s original name? A debate online, or in the pub, is hardly a film studies course.
What next? Everyone learning Swedish to read Stieg Larsson novels?
Re-evaluating a filmmaker’s back catalogue because of a film that they didn’t like.
I absolutely hate this, and fortunately, this is a very rare occurence.
I wish I could remember the name of the critic in question, but this is something that’s stuck with me for a good decade or two.
Hark back to the start of the 1990s. The late, great Robert Altman released The Player and Short Cuts in fairly quick succession, both to massive acclaim. He then followed them up with the, er, less successful Pret A Porter (a pretty crappy film), which got roundly torn apart by the critics.
That’s fair enough, to a point. But I distinctly remember one critic going on the radio and declaring that he didn’t like The Player and Short Cuts as much, now that he had seen Pret A Porter. Altman was sullied for him, apparently, as it was impossible to see the previous films in any kind of isolation. Never mind that Altman had a fair few stinkers before he made The Player and Short Cuts. Both were now damaged because of one movie he made immediately afterwards.
That’s snobbishness of the worst kind, and I’d argue, the words of someone who doesn’t actually like films at all.
Taking a more mainstream example, do The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable suddenly become bad films because M Night Shyamalan’s barely been able to bang out a decent flick since? Of course not. If ever you meet a film snob who declares otherwise, disavow them at speed.
Refusing to admit they enjoyed something
I hate this, too, given that it’s arguably the worst of the school playground mentality, just transposed into film snobbishness.
Back at school, there were umpteen programmes, films and bands that were supposed to like, else you faced ridicule from everyone else. And if you admitted you liked something that the crowd didn’t? It never ended well. Sadly, that continues into adult life.
So, what if your DVD collection has little in it that wasn’t published by the terrific Criterion Collection (and I remember the furore when Criterion put out two Michael Bay films)? That, surely, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly not allowed to like Fast & Furious 5, does it?
However, most of us have seen someone do this, either trying hard not to like a certain film, or blatantly covering the fact that they do. They might have found Justin Bieber: Never Say Never a hoot, but they’re certainly not going to tell you that’s the case.
Be particularly wary of the modern day cop-out for this, when you’re allowed to like anything, as long as you call it a ‘guilty pleasure’. As Dara Ó Briain pointed out in a recent stand-up tour, there’s nothing guilty about it. If you enjoy it, you enjoy it.
Just adding the word ‘guilty’ surely just lets the bullying mentality win?
Being ashamed of what you like (er, assuming it falls within the parameters of the law) sets us back decades. It must stop. And with that in mind, anyone up for a Mamma Mia party at my place?
Not watching the films they’re slagging off
Finally, the big one.
The basic rule of criticising a film is that the least you should do is see it. That’s it. The only basic requirement. Once you’ve seen a film? Help yourself. Criticise away, and feel free to tear any holes in it you see fit. Just base it on the material before your eyes, and not your preconceptions and assumptions.
However, there’s a breed of film snob that simply doesn’t do this. They’ve decided long ago that they’re going to hate the next Twilight film, and chances are, they’ll be right. They’re not going to like it, and if they see it in a double bill with Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, their hatred may turn pathological.
But I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion an outright film snob arguing the toss about why Twilight is the worst film franchise in the world, citing a collection of arguments that skirted around specifics. And their argument failed as a result, simply because they were in a debate with somebody who had seen at least one of the films.
I’ve never seen the Twilight movies, and thus can’t comment on them in any critical way. I’m not playing holier than thou. I figure the abundance of official pictures showing Robert Pattinson staring dreamily into Kristen Stewart’s eyes are absolutely fair game, and ripe for leg pulling. But I’m still curious about the first film, because I think Catherine Hardwicke can crack out a decent movie.
On the day I finally get around to seeing Twilight, that’s the day this site may end up with a 10,000 word essay punching holes through every frame of it. But I couldn’t tell you for definite that’d be the end result. because, whisper it, I might like it.
The golden rule is this, though: if you want to pour a vat of critical hate on Rush Hour 3, Wild Wild West, Transformers, Pirates 4, or any big, disastrous looking film, you have to watch the movie in question. I’ve watched all of those, and can comfortably assure you they’re all shit. But at least I made it to the end credits (just) before doing so.
Your further suggestions:
“The worst thing about film snobs is they say Battleship Potemkin is the best movie ever when clearly the re-make of The Wicker Man is.” – @CarleyTauchert
“Film snobs: they have their opinions, like everyone, but they are massive dicks about it, unlike most.” – Bigbossfan
“Making you get the special edition of every film you get them. I should know. I live with one.” – @legorockman
“They look down upon the classic sitcom to film flicks of the 70s, like Mutiny on the Buses.” – @goosenman
Add your own suggestions, and accusations of our double standards, in the comments below…