Art vs. entertainment

The other day I was contemplating writing a review of Criterion's superb new 2-disc release of Fritz Lang's M, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I'm up against a brick wall. You see, despite the fact that I can see M as a monumentally important work in terms of the history of film, it's not a film that I particularly "enjoy" (if that's the right word) watching. I could name dozens of films with similar plots that engaged me far more and that I would prize more highly, and therein lies the problem.

I think there's a real dilemma when rating landmark films like M, or Citizen Kane, or Night of the Living Dead. To what extent does the film's historical importance overshadow its value as entertainment, and which of these two aspects, which don't always work in harmony, should be the defining factor when assigning a rating? It's impossible to debate the importance of these films in terms of cinematic history, but I feel that it would be unwise to automatically give them perfect ratings based on these terms. Frequently I feel that, somewhere down the line, another director (or indeed the same director) takes the same formula and improves on it. Videodrome, for instance, could be described as the ultimate in Cronenbergian body horror, but so shoot me, I prefer Crash. Does that mean that Crash is as important a film as Videodrome? No, it doesn't, but I think you can probably see the dilemma this brings up. The same goes for Halloween. Its importance in cinematic history is assured, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying Scream more (which, for many people, must be tantamount to blasphemy).

I'm curious as to how other people feel about this issue. As it is I've abandoned any thought of reviewing M, because I don't consider myself able to do it justice, but I think that this is a very potent topic and one that could spark an interesting debate. I think that ultimately it comes down to a stand-off between two extremes: (1) the high-brow viewers whose soul purpose is to pick apart movies and discuss them in terms of culture and history rather than enjoying them as entertainment, and (2) the popcorn crowd who simply want loud explosions and a reasonable way to pass the time for two hours. That's not to say that the two can't work in harmony, of course, but ultimately I think it necessary to sway either in one direction or the other.

Any thoughts?

Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:39:29

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