Two weeks ago, the guys at The Q-Filmcast released an episode on, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. They are clever guys and I’m always impressed with their insights about films. But their discussion of Baron Munchausen is an especially good example of how it is that all of us who write and talk about films are just a bunch of fakers.
Most of the guys were pretty down on the film. In contrast, I really liked it. But pretty much everything they complained about was valid. The scenes go on too long, for example. I think a half hour could easily have been cut from the film. But because the producers had spent so much money on shooting the film and because Terry Gilliam seems to think that every idea he ever had is a gem, the scenes weren’t cut. There were other problems as well: the script is weak; the characters are not well rendered; and it has little dramatic momentum.
In addition to this, Savage—the one person at The Q-Filmcast who really liked the film—was also in agreement about the problems in the film. And that raises a question, “What does it mean to like a film?” I’m convinced that it doesn’t mean much. I like Baron Munchausen the same way that I like my friends: I’m inclined to focus on what is good and ignore what is bad. And I do the opposite with people and films I don’t like.
This fact makes what the The Q-Filmcast does all the more useful. Because there does seem to be a culturally agreed upon critique of what works in art. It isn’t just anyone’s opinion. So listening to their analysis of the film, one gets a good idea of what’s happening in it. And that’s the kind of stuff that comes across better with the back-and-forth of their format.
What doesn’t work—coming from anyone most definitely including me—is the ultimate conclusion. It reminds me of a great scene from A Late Quartet. In it, Christopher Walken tells a story about Pablo Casals (which I believe is more or less true), and it is something that I think all of us who pontificate about any kind of art should remember: we should take whatever joy we can find.
That’s certainly not a complaint with The Q-Filmcast. They are explicitly ombudsmen. And people want guidance as to whether they should use their time watching a film. In the case of Baron Munchausen, all listeners should come away with a good idea if they are going to like the film. There is great value in that and I think people are infinitely better in their hands than the hands of even critics that I like.
It is more an issue for me. What is it I offer to the reader? I hope that no one comes to me for recommendations. I have the luxury of writing about film from three different perspectives. First, I write about the politics in film. Second, I write about film history. And third, I write about films I admire and why I admire them. Other than when I go to movies with my brother, I am spared having to write about films I hate. And even then, I usually take a political track with them, given that action films tend to extremely (but implicitly) political.
I’m still shocked just about every day regarding how irrational I am. I’m great at rationalizing it, of course. Most people are. But ultimately, I liked The Adventures of Baron Munchausen because when I watched it I liked it. I could give you lots of reasons to justify that. There is an enormous amount to like in the film. And there is a good deal to hate. In fact, it has enough of both to effectively be a cinematic Rorschach test. Our experience of it is much more about us than it.