Recently, a fairly innocuous comment posted to my scathing review of Traitor at The House Next Door made my blood boil. The commenter suggested that I was speaking from an elitist point of view, that the film’s important themes needed to be put across through the director’s decidedly non-highbrow means in order for the general public to be able to absorb the message. The reason I found this comment so offensive is that it assumes the “movie-going public” to be somehow “dumber” than those of us who publish our takes on the movies. That “they” somehow don’t deserve any better. And I consider this an absolutely condescending, elitist POV.
As fate would have it, I happened to read this comment within an hour of learning of the death of one of my mentors from a stroke. Hanon Reznikov was Judith Malina’s artistic and spiritual partner for over three decades at the Living Theatre, the legendary anarchist collective that uses plays as tools toward enlightenment. Acting with the company for several years in the early nineties changed my life in many ways, but perhaps most importantly, it’s where the notion that “high-minded” ideas don’t belong to any class but should be available to all on equal terms was seared into my being. In other words, we didn’t perform a smart and sophisticated production for the rich donors at fundraising benefits and a “dumber” piece for the low-income families and homeless people on the Lower East Side free of charge. All our audiences were addressed in the exact same fashion—and encouraged to speak up and be heard just as much as the performers in our participatory productions. We learned something from every audience (each of whom deserved nothing less than our utmost respect) and our message always came across loud and clear.
This idea of the general public as a mass of sheep who don’t deserve to be challenged is an insulting myth. I know this because I rarely talk film with film critics. For example, a few weeks back I had fantastic afternoon sex with a hot bodybuilder—the tryst ending badly afterwards when we got into a heated debate over John Barrymore and Marlene Dietrich (who he feels are both vastly overrated). This former stripper/current personal trainer is the movie-going public.
I also happen to work part-time in a house of domination where a client with a tickle fetish recently spent his entire session discussing movies with me, from Hitch to the latest French art films—and, of course, disclosing which flicks to watch for tickle scenes. (Hint—“The Three Stooges” are a goldmine.) This businessman is the movie-going public. And by the way, the Ukrainian woman who serves as the house’s evening manager spends her vacation time traveling the world attending film festivals. She also tutors me on Soviet cinema between answering phones and juggling clients. This professional dominatrix is the movie-going public.
And, more personally, as someone who cares passionately about cinema because it truly does transcend all these meaningless boxes we put ourselves into, but who’s never taken a film or writing—much less “film criticism”—class in my life, I am the movie-going public. And all of us deserve more for our eleven bucks.