Movie art is not the opposite of what we have always enjoyed in movies, it is not to be found in a return to that official high culture, it is what we have always found good in movies only more so. It’s the subversive gesture carried further, the moments of excitement sustained longer and extended into new meanings. At best, the movie is totally informed by the kind of pleasure we have been taking from bits and pieces of movies. But we are so used to reaching out to the few good bits in a movie that we don’t need formal perfection to be dazzled. There are so many arts and crafts that go into movies and there are so many things that can go wrong that they’re not an art for purists. We want to experience that elation we feel when a movie (or even a performer in a movie) goes farther than we had expected and makes the leap successfully. Even a film like Godard’s “Les Carabiniers,” hell to watch for the first hour, is exciting to think about after because its one good sequence, the long picture postcard sequence near the end, is so incredible and so brilliantly prolonged. The picture has been crawling and stumbling along and then it climbs a high wire and walks it and keeps wanting it until we’re almost dizzy from admiration. The tight rope is rarely stretched so high in movies, but there must be a sense of tension somewhere in the movie, if only in a bit player’s face, not just mechanical suspense, or the movie is just more hours down the drain. It’s the rare movie we really go with, the movie that keeps us tense and attentive. We learn to dread Hollywood “realism” and all that it implies. When, in the dark, we concentrate our attention, we are driven frantic by events on the level of ordinary life that pass at the rhythm of ordinary life. That’s the self-conscious striving for integrity of humorless, untalented people. When we go to a play we expect a heightened, stylized language; the dull realism of the streets is unendurably boring, though we may escape from the play to the nearest bar to listen to the same language with relief. Better life than art imitating life.
“2001” is a movie that might have been made by the hero of “Blow-Up,” and it’s fun to think about Kubrick really doing every dumb thing he wanted to do, building enormous science fiction sets and equipment, never even bothering to figure out what he was going to do with them. Fellini, too, had gotten carried away with the Erector Set approach to movie-making, but his big science-fiction construction, exposed to view at the end of “8½,” was abandoned. Kubrick never really made his movie either but he doesn’t seem to know it. Some people like the American International Pictures stuff because it’s rather idiotic and maybe some people love “2001” just because Kubrick did all that stupid stuff, acted out a kind of super sci-fi nut’s fantasy. In some ways it’s the biggest amateur movie of them all, complete even to the amateur-movie obligatory scene—the director’s little daughter (in curls) telling daddy what kind of present she wants.
Part of the fun of movies is in seeing “what everybody’s talking about,” and if people are flocking to a movie, or if the press can con us into thinking that they are, then ironically, there is a sense in which we want to see it, even if we suspect we won’t enjoy it, because we want to know what’s going on. Even if it’s the worst inflated pompous trash that is the most talked about (and it usually is) and even if that talk is manufactured, we want to see the movies because so many people fall for whatever is talked about that they make the advertisers’ lies true. Movies absorb material from the culture and the other arts so fast that some films that have been widely sold become culturally and sociologically important whether they are good movies or not. Movies like “Morgan!” or “Georgy Girl” or “The Graduate”—aesthetically trivial movies which, however, because of the ways some people react to them, enter into the national bloodstream—become cultural and psychological equivalents of watching a political convention—to observe what’s going on. And though this has little to do with the art of movies, it has a great deal to do with the appeal of movies.