Dali vs Rembrandt: The match of the century.

10 October, 2008

I just read this ridiculous column about Burn After Reading that rehashed all the usual talking points about why the Coen brothers are supposedly bad filmmakers. Basically what it boiled down to is that it’s not No Country for Old Men 2 and therefore it sucks (Notice the praise he heaps on The Big Lebowski. Bet you weren’t saying that 10 years ago, were ya?) But it was the last paragraph that really ticked me off:

As David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh and Gus van Sant and a host of others have discovered, cynicism and irony will only carry a film-maker so far; at some point you have to open your heart just to show that you have one. Or, in the case of the Coen brothers, two. It’s great to make the audience laugh. But to enter the ranks of the Fellinis and the Truffauts and the Fords and even the Scorseses, at some point you have to make the audience cry. Everything the Coen brothers do is clever, eye-opening, and stylish. That puts them in a class with Salvador Dalí. It doesn’t put them in a class with Rembrandt.

First we have the half-assed comparisons to four filmmakers who have no relationship whatsoever with each other or with the Coens. Then we have this inane notion that filmmakers are only truly great if they can make you cry. But then you have a comparison to two brilliant but completely different painters and the suggestion that one is only better because he was emotionally driven.

Who is to say that great art has to move you in one way only? Of the many films I consider the great of all-time, the list includes emotionally-driven masterpieces like Raging Bull and intellectually-driven ones like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well so fucking what? See, unlike Mr. Queenan, I understand that there isn’t a gold standard for great art and I am capable of being moved by a wide variety of works. Moreover I also understand the difference between a deliberate masterwork like No Country for Old Men and a work that is just supposed to be a laugh like Burn After Reading. And finally — and perhaps this is the biggest point of all — I understand that one cannot compare two polar opposites like fucking Dali and fucking Rembrandt to make a cheap fucking pseudo-intellectual point to justify my fucking bullshit!!!!!!!

(Thanks to You Know, For Kids for the article.)

EDIT: This is Joe Queenan on an average day out at the movies.

Sometimes I find myself talking to my friends on movie lines and I cringe at the thought that I might be “that guy.”


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