The Brevity of Enthusiasms, or, OMFG ‘Avatar’ FTW!
“’Get ready to get sick of hearing about this band’: it would be difficult to think of a more apt motto for indie rock-or any niche culture, for that matter-in the age of the Internet.” -Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This.
I have a confession to make. Voting closed in the LA Weekly/Village Voice Film Poll on December 9th, and so, because the screenings of Avatar took place in the few days that followed, there followed The Avatar Amendment. An email went out that said that revised ballots would be accepted on the 11th. I read this email immediately upon my return from the Avatar screening. And so: “Um, yeah…,” I wrote back. “Can you just bump all my ten ranked movies down one and put Avatar at number one? *Hangs head in shame*”
A couple of things.
1. Why, I wonder now, did I feel shame about my enthusiasm? (I reject the “guilty pleasure” and all the bullshit that such a bad idea carries with it. You like it? Own it. You enjoy it? ROLL AROUND IN IT.)
Of course I didn’t want to like Avatar. I don’t love this year’s crop of blow-’em-up movies, or really, even this year’s crop of movies. (When Kurt Andersen reported that there were “12 superb new American movies this year,” I had to sit down for half an hour and still I’d only came up with three.)
And as far as James Cameron goes, I hated Titanic, loved Aliens, will watch True Lies or any Terminator any time it crops up on cable and am resolutely neutral on the highly-controversial issue of The Abyss. And so I think that I felt bad, a little bit, even as I knew I shouldn’t, for loving a film that intends to be (AND WILL BE, OH BOY, AND HOW) a huge-money, super-pop blockbuster. Even though, really, Avatar has just a bit more in common with GI Joe: The Rise of Crap than it does with, hmm, I dunno, a nice Evelyn Waugh book.
Still, clearly I was concerned about myself, if I look at what I wrote in that email as if I were my own therapist. (The man who has himself as a therapist has a fool for a patient, obvs, etc.) What if, with my enthusiasm, I was being a very small part of something larger, and something bad? What if I was rewarding a movie that was not as good as I thought it was?
What if my sense of shame actually indicated that I didn’t trust myself? What if I had just been enthralled?
2. So, why did I just pop it in as apparently my #1 favorite movie of the year? There are a couple reasons. One is that the voting took place on some crazy online form so I have no idea how I actually voted. What did I have as the number one film before I saw Avatar? I cannot remember. Was it the spectacular Broken Embraces? All I know is that Drag Me To Hell was in the top five somewhere, which makes me giggle. And so, instead of saying “Put Avatar in at #4, and move x movie to y spot,” I lazily popped it up top.
But there was more to it than that.
The fresh take, unfortunately for these times, is actually not the most trustworthy. For one thing, there is the mammalian brain to consider (memory just isn’t as sexily-colored as the present. Memory is warm and sort of yellow-brown and comfortable; it’s not usually sharp and exciting and certainly its 3D isn’t very good). And, when confronted with spectacle-MASSIVE, RAGING SPECTACLE, in the case of Avatar-one is forced to go all in or not at all.
Leaving Avatar is like leaving a crazy relationship or one of the lesser cults-it’s pretty much all you can think about, or all you want to talk about, if you can handle talking about it at all. But then, so is being at almost anything that is considered “big” now, as you know if you have ever been on Twitter or Tumblr during a Giants game or an episode of that awful new MTV reality show. (Even Roger Ebert hops on his blog ASAP after a screening these days.) It’s all the best, or the most outrageous, or the craziest-but only for 30 minutes. Like you really care, the morning after, what that stranger said on the TV last night?
Five days later, do I really have a firm sense of how much, or how little, I liked Avatar?
Now we really do have a heaving world of mass culture analysis, long-predicted, that takes place so soon after, or even during, the fact, so that everything is always the most. And the most-defining as well. “Choice in respect to trivial matters… assumed an importance that no one could have thought to predict.” For a while now, the things-theproducts-that you love are the things you are. And you will tell us (and I will tell you) all about them, as soon as humanly possible. I also wonder, though, do we find that our thoughts from last week are holding up so well this week?
N.B. The Awl’s Chief Film Critic, Mary HK Choi, will be reviewing Avatar on Friday. Like, maybe all day on Friday.