Despite watching and writing about movies for a living, there are so many widely beloved movies that I haven’t seen. Yep, there are films the guy who saw The Only Living Boy In New York in its theatrical run hasn’t seen, tons of them in fact! Midnight Cowboy, The Sound of Music, All About Eve, that’s just to name a few American classics I haven’t seen and lemme tell you, when I told a couple of people in my age range recently that I had never seen The Sandlot, their eyes just about bugged out of their head, they couldn’t believe it! Hell, I had never even heard of prolific West German filmmaker Ranier Werner Fassbinder until this past weekend (he sounds like such a fascinating fellow!)
Yep, lots and lots of high-profile movies I have never seen. Does that make me a bad film fan? Not at all. I mean, first off, there are hundreds of thousands of movies out there, nobody can see everything! Secondly, and more importantly, circumstances outside of one’s control can limit what movies you see and don’t see. For instance, I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated films for a good chunk of my childhood and teenage years, that’s why it took me until I was 19 to see Alien for the first time. Others may have far more distressing elements preventing their exposure to certain pieces of cinema such as financial hardships or even living in areas where easy access to Criterion Collection films is near impossible. Still others may also just not have time to delve into classic cinema in an expansive manner, day-to-day life is chock full of daunting responsibilities y’know, while one can totally be, like I was of the mere existence of Ranier Werner Fassbinder, totally unaware certain movies exist. Again, there are so many movies out there, there’s bound to be some that slip through the cracks of one’s attention.
There are all kinds of reasons for someone not having seen this or that widely proclaimed “important” movie isn’t really a comment on whether or not someone really loves movies “properly” or not but rather is more often than not a side-effect of elements (sometimes major in scale, sometimes mundane) beyond one’s control. You’d think this would be an easy concept to grasp, but it really isn’t for a far too large swath of primarily male Internet-based film geeks which sees viewing certain motion pictures or works by specific filmmakers as the only way to be known as a true fan of film. It’s a narrow-minded idea of what it means to be a passionate lover of cinema that diminishes the chance for more individualized cinematic tastes and makes those who haven’t seen certain films feel lesser than rather than people who simply haven’t seen one particular movie out of thousands.
This practice been a problem for quite some time, with its newest manifestation coming in the form of a new advertising campaign by streaming service Mubi. Like FilmStruck, Mubi is a streaming service home to all kinds of arthouse fare that aren’t carried by Netflix or Amazon, thus making classic films of all genres from the U.S. and abroad accessible to the masses. You’d think that’d be a good thing but their reputation took a major dent recently as a new advertising campaign was rightfully scorned across the board. Mubi banner ads adorned in phrases like “If you think Tarkovsky composed Swan Lake, don’t try Mubi” seemed to be designed to turn off anyone who hadn’t been exposed to Tarkovsky before but was eager for the chance to sign on for a streaming service that might offer his works. That peasant will just have to make do with Netflix, we can’t encourage that fellow to expand their artistic horizons!
It’s a terrible marketing campaign for so many reasons, namely in that it seems to suggest the service is an echo chamber of sorts designed only for a select few and these ads just reek of an aggressive sense of arrogance that’s really not gonna lure in new customers. On top of all that, the ads continue the egregious practice of gatekeeping that has infested film discussion for so long. Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to try out new films instead of shaming them for their current artistic blindspots? We’re all always growing as people in every aspect of our lives and that extends to our artistic pursuits. Stuff like these Mubi ads or the far too widespread practice in film discussions to see only one way to be a lover of movies go against the very nature of cinema itself. Films are a vast medium full of unique visions and ideas so why should discussions about film be limited to everyone having the same tastes and experiences?
At least some good came out of the Mubi campaign in the heart-warming viral hashtag #EveryonesWelcomeAtFilmStruck that was started up by fellow classic movie streaming service FilmStruck. The hashtag says it all doesn’t it? This was a hashtag designed to make everyone and their own cinematic sensibilities feel welcome. It didn’t matter how many movies you watched or that you watched the “correct” movies, it simply mattered that you had a passion for movies. Going through this hashtag brought out some hearty laughs, some utterances of “Awwwww” and a cavalcade of heartwarming emotions. For future film discussions, let’s be more like #EveryonesWelcomeAtFilmStruck and less like those disastrous Mubi ads and be welcoming to all different perspectives and experiences with films. We’ve all got cinematic blind spots, sure, but more importantly, we’ve all got a love for the world of cinema and that should be more important than whether or not you qualify under a narrowly-defined metric for what constitutes “a real fan of film”.