Michelle Williams and Shirley Henderson in Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff.”
On June 3, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, chief film critics for The New York Times co-wrote a piece titled “In Defense of the Slow and Boring,” in which they argue that not all film need be escapist entertainment, that there is room for movies in which not much happens but in which much is meant.
I found it provocative for a couple of reasons. For one, it takes me back a few decades when I was in charge of picking the video (it was the 80s) a group of us was going to watch. At the store, I deliberated long and hard between a film I’d seen recently and thought was great and a “sure-thing” blockbuster. I couldn’t decide, so I rented both, figuring if they hated my first choice, I had a back-up. Ten minutes into Babette’s Feast, my friend Mick turned to me and said, “Is anybody going to do anything other than make soup from dried fish?” I knew I’d lost them and popped in Die Hard.
Dargis and Scott’s column also reminds me of a conversation I once had with my dad, who came in the room when I was home on break from college and asked what I was reading. I think it was Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. If you’re familiar with it, you know it’s a novel in what what happens is not nearly as important as what the central character thinks about what is happening to her. After trying in vain to make it sound “interesting” to him, I added that I was reading it for the second time. “Why would you read a book twice? Don’t you remember what happened the first time?” The conversation went downhill from there.
Truth be told, not every art film appeals to me, and I do enjoy movies where things blow up on ten-minute intervals. But the films that have stayed in my memory the longest have always been those that attempted something fresh, either in a narrative or in a visual sense. So I find I have an odd assortment of favorite movies: Blade Runner, Star Wars, Adam’s Rib, The Dead, Rear Window, Little Miss Sunshine, and, yes, Die Hard (a thinking man’s action movie), just to name a few.
All of them entertained me and made me think.