03 June 2006

The Theory of Us

Clive James has a theory. It is that there is a group of people out there called "us" and they are ordinary, normal human beings without pretension, people who like to be entertained and yet who aren't afraid to think a little bit. He is of this us, just more so. That's why he and people like him are good movie critics. They watch movies the same way us do, and they like what us like, except they like it more eloquently.

Clive James says this is the difference between theorists and nontheorists. Theorists see stuff us don't see. But they're also blind. They like bad movies, because they don't know how to watch movies. Us know how to watch movies.

Movies are about first impressions, says us. "Or, to put it less drastically, in the movies there are no later impressions without a first impression, because you will have stopped watching." ("You" is one of us. Because you wouldn't read Clive James if you were not. You would have stopped reading.) Theorists, the non-us, watch movies they don't like. They're weirdos. Not normal. Not like us.

Us know that story is everything. "No story, no movie." This is a truth created by God, a fact: "A movie has to glue you to your seat even when it's pretending not to." Because otherwise us might do something like read Proust.

No, Proust wrote books, and books can do all sorts of things. There are good books that do not glue us to our seats, good books that do not seem good on a first impression. Us know this, just as us know that movies are not books. Movies must do one thing: adhere us with story glue. If a non-us you says a movie does anything else, that you is a theorist, because theorists like simple schemas. And they write badly, because a theorist is a critic with a "hulking voice [that] gets in the way of the projector beam", and us all know that good writing does not let sound interfere with light.

Hooray for us!


  1. As :"we" continue to take control, film critics will become an endangered bunch .. scratch that, they are already! great stuff

  2. I start to itch whenever anyone proclaims that a book, poem, movie should do X and only X, and all those folks who like it to do Y or Z are simply misguided. It seems to me that you have argued repeatedly on your site against the shortsightness of those who limit their fiction (in novels and short stories) to simplistic plot-driven models--how ironic that you should then take the opposite side of the argument where the medium of film is concerned! Is there really something inherent about movies that makes them unable to support anything other than "story?" Really? Or is it also a question of preference or focus, like so many of the arguments about art and craft that purport to be about "merit."

    It goes without saying, of course, that many movie critics are sadly misguided, but I don't see how that justifies crippling the form and arbitrarily limiting the range of what it can do and be.

  3. how ironic that you should then take the opposite side of the argument where the medium of film is concerned!

    I'm glad you got the irony. ;-)

  4. Not get your irony? I thought that's why there's 'iron' in the word!

  5. Bah, why do I feel like I've been punked? Grr...