Roger L. Simon

The Cinema of Self-Congratulation

Thanks to Samizdata (via PJ), I know now the MacGuffin of “Death of a President,” a movie I never intended to see anyway. It’s hard enough as an Academy member keeping up with recommended films as voting season approaches. Why would I waste my waning eyes on clichéd tripe of this nature (the Bush assassin is the father of an African-American soldier killed in Iraq)?

But it does make me think of the growing trend of Cinema of Self-Congratulation. These movies are not so much about art or even entertainment as they are about the audience and filmmakers feeling good about themselves, in the sense that both are right-thinking or of the “correct” sort. Great art abhors this of course. It is all about wildness and complexity – from Medea to The Godfather, nothing is simple … or perhaps I should say “Nothing is written” (until, as Lawrence of Arabia tells us, it is).

Occasionally, this new genre of self-righteous films reaches larger audiences. Critics and we Academy members are complicit in this, placing ourselves inside that circle of self-congratulation and rewarding these right-thinking works with plaudits they don’t deserve. An example is last year’s Edward R. Murrow hagiography Good Night, and Good Luck – a thin enterprise with no discernible story line or character development. It depends entirely on the consent of the audience that Murrow was a godlike figure whose every action was to be applauded or coolly finger-snapped – like the hero and villain in vaudeville, only there aren’t any jokes. But then this genre is basically humorless anyway.