Pretension and Pleasure in Watching Cinema

Written by cvan on

Watching an episode of the hilarious Modern Family, I was reminded of that warm feeling I used to get from watching movies, films, cinema. Specifically, from the French New Wave, La Nouvelle Vague.

Just the other day, I opened MUBI, a streaming movie service I use (think Netflix for cinephiles aka film snobs). This black-and-white American “indie” dramedy film from 1953 caught my eye: Little Fugitive. There was even a testimonial by French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut:

Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way with his fine movie Little Fugitive.

Watching French New Wave cinema — especially the works of Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda — has been a deeply emotional and satisfying experience for me. For the same reasons I adore Wes Anderson’s films (which were unsurprisingly inspired by the New Wave), these films were subtly funny, intentionally unpolished, nuanced, and — above all — pretentious. One summer in particular, I fell in love with Godard films, watching one after another lying in bed in corporate housing during a summer internship. My roommate thought I was totally normal.

What attracted me to these films? The pretension? The gritty aesthetic? The high-brow dialogue? The subtitles? The cult following? The “sophisticated” humour? The self-reflexive style? The existential themes? The attention to detail? The mise en scène? The historical significance? Romanticisation with the culture and the time period? The fact that I noticed the voiceovers, the jump cuts, the overhead shots, the tracking shots? Was I deeply invested and moved by the films because of my attachment to or loyalty to Godard as an auteur? Was this art that only I appreciated? Were there details only I noticed? Were these moments of self inquiry and introspection only things I experienced?

I ask myself why I have never felt this level of intimacy with a television program, no matter how polished or original it may be.

Is it because television is culturally positioned as a lower art form — a cheap and accessible entertainment vehicle for the uninspired masses? Is there a simple explanation for my deep identification with French New Wave cinema — or cinema in general, for that matter? Is it the duration, the absence of a laugh track, the visual space, the very deliberate capture and framing of items in a moving picture?

With the exception of Seinfeld, I’ve realised that most of my favourite television programs feel very cinematic (Bored to Death, The Mindy Project, Party Down) or are presented in a mockumentary/fly-on-the-wall format (Arrested Development, The Office circa seasons 1–3).

Perhaps television should mimic cinema (or just cut those darn laugh tracks).

Perhaps we should all just watch cinema (or just Godard).

Perhaps I’m just pretentious (or you just don’t get it).