Ten years and 17 days ago I wrote a nice little piece for my Mr. Showbiz column about the nutritious upside of faintly boring movies. I’m asking if anyone thinks it applies in the present and if so, concerning which 2009 films? Here it is:
Anyone interested in higher-quality films these days knows the truth of it. Some of the better ones are unique, special, X-factor — Go, The Matrix, Election, Rushmore, There’s Something About Mary, Run Lola Run, Saving Private Ryan, etc. The rest of the quality movies flirt with being boring from time to time. A good kind of boring, I mean. Nutritional, Brussels-sprouts, good-for-your-soul boring.
It’s important to understand the degree of boring I’ve speaking of here. I don’t mean sinking-into-a-coma boring. Or regular boring. Or even mildly boring. But a little bit boring.
All John Sayles movies are pretty good — some have been excellent — but they’re all a wee bit boring. David Cronenberg‘s eXistenZ was a smart, mostly cool movie, but a bit boring at times. The Red Violin is a teensy bit boring. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is slightly boring. The scent of boredom can be detected, like the aroma of wet paint, in the margins of Cookie’s Fortune. Lovers of the Arctic Circle — liked it, thought about dozing off once or twice. Bernardo Bertolucci‘s Besieged was sensual, delectable, and a bit of a nod.
My point is, it’s often a mark of quality if something is a little bit boring. But I do mean a little bit. Too much of it and you’ll go to sleep. There are dozens of films released every year that are wonderful sleeping aids. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about films that are laced with boredom. Like a couple pinches of salt in a bowl of egg salad. Just the right amount of it is usually an indication that a film is doing something right.
Atom Egoyan‘s The Sweet Hereafter did a lot of things right — it was mesmerizing, quietly powerful — but it was ever so slightly boring. The English Patient was a bit boring. So were The Wings of the Dove, Seven Years in Tibet, Kundun, Washington Square. All of those fine Merchant-Ivory films, all those Jane Austen adaptations. I mean no disrespect to Carol Reed‘s The Third Man (1949) when I say, good as it is, that it’s a teensy bit boring. Same for some of the great silent classics like Way Down East, Greed, and Sunrise, etc., which I respect and admire.
But I’m always glad after seeing a high-quality, slightly boring film, because I can then say to myself or someone I happen to meet that I’ve just seen one, and because of this my soul is richer and my horizons have been broadened. I never feel this way after seeing a big-studio, high-velocity idiot movie. Does anyone?
Face it — most of us are peons when it comes to upscale, slightly boring movies. We don’t want to know from complex or sophisticated. We just want to sit there and get stroked.
This is probably our fault, to some extent. Maybe movies just seem a bit boring at times because we’ve lost the ability (or the willingness) to stay with movies that require a little patience or concentration. The cliché about today’s kids not having the attention span of a flea is reaching out to the older age brackets. Even the over-40s seem to be losing interest in movies with even a minute meditative edge. It’s not just the kids who play video games — it’s all of us.
So clearly, in the backwash of all this cultural deprivation, “a little bit boring” is a serious compliment these days. You just have to mean it (or hear it) the right way.