Back in the days when I was a teenager, before I was a hipster and before I had a website, I used to divide movies by their goodness into two basic categories.
This was simple and accurate, and served me well for many years. But then I went off to college, where I contracted that most pervasive and untreatable of viral infections: irony. (And also plantar warts. Kids! Wear flip-flops in the shower every time!) Hardly a week went by in college where I didn’t get together with one group of friends or another to watch a terrible movie for the sole purpose of mocking it. This confounded my system: these movies were terrible, obviously, and yet they made me feel good. Clearly I needed a new category: the good-bad movie. (I am not the first one to think of this, although I probably thought that I was at the time. College students are like that.) And having just taken Psych 101, I made up a new table which divided the movies that made me feel good into three crudely Freudian categories.
Some movies are simply good because they make you feel good, thus appealing to the Ego, the part of you that you conceive as you. Then there are art movies – movies that you feel virtuous for enjoying. Let me be clear: I’m not for a second suggesting, as some bitter souls have done, that the people who watch art movies are only enjoying the little thrill of snobbery that comes from liking something you’re “supposed” to like. But I’m also not denying that I do feel a snobbish thrill when I enjoy a certified classic, in addition to whatever enjoyment I’m already getting out of it. Finally, there are movies for the id: movies that appeal to your baser instincts, that you honestly enjoy, but sort of feel bad about enjoying. They tend to have explosions, or beautiful scantily clad actors and actresses, or really, REALLY stupid jokes. And all of these forms of enjoyment – id driven, ego driven, and superego driven – are worth pursuing. Especially since there tends to be some overlap.
So goes the theory. And this scheme did hold up admirably for several years. Sure, it doesn’t even account for movies that I don’t enjoy, but I had pretty much stopped watching those. Once out of college, though, a few things happened that shook the foundations of the system.
1) I started trying to fill in the gaps of my filmic education by working my way through the Criterion collection on Netflix. Most of these I enjoyed… but what about the ones I disliked? 2) In my experience, working a nine to five job makes you much more likely to come home and watch a crappy movie just because it happens to be on TV and you’re too tired to even channel surf. As a result, I started watching movies I disliked again, and I noticed that there seemed to be sever distinct flavors of crap that my system could not account for. 3) I had my first serious encounter with the cinema of Paul Verhoeven.