Friday, November 9, 2018

Not for everyone

In my continuing trend of watching movies that should have more appropriately been viewed in October …

There’s a common critical phrase I’ve used plenty of times that I’ve just realized I hate:

“Not for everyone.”

The realization that this phrase bothered me came as a result of seeing it used in relation to Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, which I just saw last night. Eager to get a sense of the critical consensus before I wrote my own review – which will be mixed leaning negative – I took a glance at Wikipedia’s “Critical Response” section on the Suspiria page. The Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus reads “Suspiria attacks heady themes with garish vigor, offering a viewing experience that’s daringly confrontational – and definitely not for everyone.”

What I don’t like is that if you don’t like this film, it implies you are part of “everyone.”

I don’t want to be a part of “everyone.”

I’m no snob – in fact, I proudly trumpet my affection for certain low culture. But I suppose I have something else regrettably in common with the MAGA crowd: I don’t want to be told that I’m not sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate someone’s artistic intentions. Put more plainly, I don’t want to be told I’m not smart enough to get something.

The phrase “not for everyone” seems to suggest that. You could expand it to “It’s not for everyone – only the people who like cool things done well.”

Hey, I like cool things done well! I just don’t think Suspiria was done particularly well, for reasons I will try to explain when I do write my review.

“It’s not for everyone” seems always to be said or written by someone who does think it’s for them. If they didn’t think it was for them, they might not think it was for anybody, and they’d just say it was bad. It’s a way for a critic to hedge his or her bets while engaging in the politics of exclusion. “Because I’m smart and savvy, I really love this, but you with your tiny little brain probably won’t.”

Of course, “not for everyone” can also be a useful way of intentionally excluding people based on their tolerance for things like graphic sex, violence or gore. Some of that could apply to Suspiria, as there is plenty of violence, some of which is combined with a kind of grotesque nudity. But that’s not what the “not for everyone” above implies. It implies that not everyone can handle a “daringly confrontational viewing experience.”

There are some out there who willingly acknowledge that they are squeamish or that they like their entertainment to hew closer to the mainstream. Most of us, though, do not. Most of us, especially if we classify ourselves as cinephiles, believe that we can stomach anything, and that any variety of artistic expression is palatable to us. Even if the only movies you have genuinely loved in 2018 are superhero movies – even Venom – you still don’t want to be told that a movie is “not for you.”

The thing is, as critics, we do have to think of “everyone” when we write reviews. “Everyone” is, in fact, our core audience. Joe the Plumber (wow, that’s a dated reference) may not know anything about Suspiria, but he does like those Blumhouse horror movies. He needs to know that, in fact, Suspiria may not be “for him,” and we need to find a way of saying that. “Not for everyone” is a way of saying “don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

So I guess as I grapple with my feelings about “not for everyone,” I need to remember that “not for everyone” is not for me. I’m only a part of “everyone” in that universal sense that all critics should strive for, which means divorcing yourself from your own particular preferences and biases and inserting yourself in the shoes of the person for whom a particular film may be intended.

I can have legitimate critical complaints about Suspiria that can’t be reduced to me not understanding what Luca Guadagnino was trying to do. Or even if it is that I don’t understand what Guadagnino was trying to do, that could be a fault of his as an artist and not of mine as the recipient of his art. It doesn’t have anything to do with my capacity for appreciating his art.

Suspiria was for me. The original is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. But Guadagnino did not deliver it to me, or at least not in the way I wanted.

No comments: