In the latest Mike Fleming-Peter Bart discussion riff on Deadline (posted today around noon), Bart puts down Birdman because it doesn’t play with Average Joes. “Critics don’t like to admit it, but the conditions under which you see a film strongly influence your opinion,” he says. “Birdman is a good example. If you see a film like this with a pack of cinephiles like at Telluride, everyone gets every inside joke, and you instinctively go along with the crowd. I made it a point to see Birdman with a paid civilian audience and it was like screening it in a mausoleum. No laughs, just occasional grunts and lots of walkouts.”
No shit, Peter? The average ticket-buyer has always been on the common side of the equation. He/she is simply less sensitive and attuned to wit and innovation and “da coolness” than movie-mad festivalgoers, and so a film that plays well at Telluride or Sundance is naturally going to have less of a heartbeat in front of a crowd of popcorn-munching Joes. Never judge a film by how it plays with those guys…please.
Does Bart imagine that Joe and Jane Popcorn were beaming and sitting up straight and nudging each in the ribs while they watched Vertigo in 1958? Did ticket-buyers in 1963 go apeshit for 8 and 1/2? As far as I’m concerned the ecstasy and religion of movies is entirely about those filmmakers and audiences who “get it”, and to hell with the party-poopers who don’t. To me the mass audience is an unfortunate element that movies have to engage or entertain or the business won’t survive, but God protect us from them otherwise. Never, ever consider the opinions of the rabble in matters of art and enlightenment and creating timeless cinema.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve paid to see a groundbreaker that I was knocked out by in Cannes or Sundance or Toronto, only to discover it plays flatter than hell at the Monrovia 6. And yet the same audience that grunted at Birdman during Bart’s screening was probably delighted with Peter Jackson‘s latest Hobbit flick or Big Hero 6 or some other slob attraction. In Planet of the Apes terms, the best movies are made by and for orangutans and the more intelligent chimps. You can’t worry about the gorillas. Okay, you have to consider their likely reactions to this or that kind of film, but trying to please them or, God forbid, deliberately making a movie for them makes for bad karma.