March 24, 2008

Watching Bad Movies

Category: Literature,Movies :: Permalink

In the same interview I mentioned in my previous entry, Ray Bradbury mentions that when he was young, he saw every movie that came out: “When I was seventeen,” he says, “I was seeing as many as twelve to fourteen movies a week.”  That’s a lot of movies, including a lot that weren’t good, that is, that had weak plots, poor acting, flat characters, and so forth.  “But that’s good,” Bradbury says.

It’s a way of learning.  You’ve got to learn how not to do things.  Just seeing excellent films doesn’t educate you at all, because they’re mysterious.  A great film is mysterious.  There’s no way of solving it.  Why does Citizen Kane work?  Well, it just does.  It’s brilliant on every level, and there’s no way of putting your finger on any one thing that’s right.  It’s just all right.  But a bad film is immediately evident, and it can teach you more: “I’ll never do that, and I’ll never do that, and I’ll never do that” (Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 128).

I read this paragraph a week ago, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind from time to time ever since.  There’s a lot of truth to what Bradbury says here, I think.  Bad art (by which he and I mean poorly crafted art, not wicked art) can help you learn things that great art can’t, namely, what not to do.  But I suspect that it teaches that lesson only to those who love great art; the rest don’t recognize the mistakes in bad art as mistakes and end up emulating them.  Bad art teaches, it seems to me, only if you approach it in the right way.

Still, I think there’s more to be said, and so I invite you to interact with Bradbury on this point and to sharpen my own thinking.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:50 am | Discuss (7)

7 Responses to “Watching Bad Movies”

  1. Jeremy Bunch Says:

    Very true, is my response to Bradbury’s quote. In this age of modern film it is quite easy to be the critic of pop culture. That is, if you can separate yourself from it for a time.

    As I have struggled through the meaning and purpose of film as art, I’ve found that I’m left with a lot of questions about the direction film should go, what it should be. No doubt negative reinforcement works to illumine in this case, but it is unfortunate that more positive examples don’t exist. Some do, but sifting through the field to find a handful of good films each year is difficult.

    F. Schaeffer taught us how to look at the visual arts, good and bad, and recognize its expression of the society from which it was born, or on how it influenced the society around it. I think we need to learn from his approach, and apply it to the relatively new art of film making. That would be a start.

  2. Dad B Says:

    When I was in seminary, I had a prof who was not a good teacher. At first I struggled with the course and then I asked myself, “What is it that makes him a bad teacher?” So that led me to a list of things that I should avoid if I wanted to be a good teacher. In fact, I now credit my good teaching experience to this lousy prof.

    In the same sense watching poorly crafted movies or reading poorly crafted novels or poetry, etc. helps in developing good (or at least better) products.

    Most “artists” (of every genre) are rarely creators of something new; but are those who copy with improvement the work of others. This is also true, I think, of physical objects (camera, computer, cars, etc.) as well.

  3. Jeremy Bunch Says:

    Also, it seems important to emphasize your point, Dad B., along with Bradbury’s first sentence in the quote. “It is a way of learning.” Watching bad movies has a purpose with an end in sight, and indulgence isn’t it.

    If I enrolled in 20 courses with bad teachers to learn how to become a good one, I fear I’d become quite depressed. If I were to watch every new pop culture candy pop coming down the pipe, I’d feel the same.

    Christians have a penchant for finding excuses to indulge too much in worthless stuff, even in the name of “engaging art.” But film is too powerful to take lightly. Sitting in a theater, with all facing the front, identical to a classroom or a church sanctuary (and those are about the only two I can think of), the screen at the front is teaching and preaching. It is most definitely a religious experience.

  4. Dad B Says:

    I just heard a quote by Picasso:
    “Bad artists copy; good artists steal.” 🙂

  5. Callie Says:

    I would agree with the principle. I would have to add that most people don’t watch movies with the intention of learning anything and are therefore in the position of being influenced by them.

    I think that this principle can be applied to other areas. The one that comes to mind is parenting. I look at families that are really strong and have great kids and it is hard to put your finger on exactly what makes them that way. On the other hand if you look at families with lots of problems and rotten kids the things that they are doing wrong almost shout out at you.

  6. Callie Says:

    I was thinking more about this while doing the dishes last night and came to the conclusion that seeing poor art will only teach about how to do good art if you already have a deep love and appreciation for the good. One has to be taught what is lovely and good before he will actually recognize and PEFER it. I don’t read poor literature to my children to teach them what is good. I read good literature to help them love and know what is good. They can then identify the poor and learn from the mistakes to be found.
    ( I think that I am just repeating what you have already stated.)
    I would like to add that I think that this is true of many things. I was considering worship last night in this light and thought about how we often are content to have poor worship because we haven’t been taught to know and appreciate the good.

  7. John Barach Says:

    I think you’re exactly right, Callie. Only people who love great art or who aspire to produce great art can learn from bad art, and the same is true for teaching (as in my dad’s example), liturgy (as in your example), and a host of other matters.

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