After a discussion about some aspect of art, a classmate observed, “You think too much.” I don’t recall my actual response, but it was something like “Yes, I do.”
Perhaps, what he meant was that I talk too much about what I think. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my thoughts that confounded him. I’m pretty sure it was the expression of my thoughts that elicited the critique.
Thinking isn’t very popular these days. Not that it ever was. You can get through school, and life, without much thought. Memorize some stuff, follow the rules, do what you are told, and the likelihood is that you will get by. American society allows a certain amount of rebelliousness, but those that go too far are bound to come face to face with opposition.
I guess one reason that I think so much is that I spent a lot of time alone growing up. I spent seven of my teenage years living in a trailer in the back of a drive-in theater on fifteen acres of asphalt. I found plenty to think about during that time. I watched movies and TV. I listened to radio and records. I read books and magazines. I went to school, but I didn’t always do my homework or go to class. When I was called to the Vice Principal’s office once for cutting junior high classes, I told the poor fellow that school was getting in the way of my education. I was cutting classes, so I could spend more time in the library reading about things that interested me: theatre, art, music, and the movies. My favorite magazines were Graphis and The New Yorker. Graphis featured cutting edge graphic design and The New Yorker offered me sophisticated cartoons and movie reviews by Pauline Kael.
Another theater manager had left my father a copy of I Lost It at the Movies, Kael’s first book. I don’t know if my father ever cracked the cover, but I found the writing fascinating. I had been reading film reviews from an early age in Box Office and The Exhibitor, two trade publications, and I subscribed to a homegrown fanzine called Film Fan Monthly, published by a young film aficionado named Leonard Maltin, but I had never read anything quite as passionate as Kael until I came across the works of Parker Tyler, William K. Everson, Carlos Claren, Sergei Eisenstein, Rudolf Arnheim, and Arthur Knight. These writers managed to convince me that film was more than a medium of mass entertainment. Film was, and is, an art form.
To equate anything quite so commercial as “the movies” with art isn’t a popular idea, even when museums offer regular screening of the classics. Art House Cinema still exists in some form in most metropolitan areas, but the term “Art House” suggests to many conservative consumers pornography or morally objectionable content. A label like “Liberal Art House” might bode well for academics, but anything labeled “liberal” or “art” is likely to alienate the general public.
Art, even film art, should be entertaining and make you feel something. If a film elicits laughter or tear, it will be well received. Films that make you think are rare. I wish that there were more of them. Funny thing is, even bad movies make me think sometimes. Maybe, I think too much?