“‘To each his own,” said the old lady as she kissed the cow.’” Or, if you prefer: “That’s what makes horse races;” or “Chacun à son gout.” (“To each his own,” is also the title of a 1945, post war movie and a dreamy 1946 ballad. On occasion, we’ve probably all invoked one of these pithy phrases to counter someone’s proclamation that theirs is the preemptive judgment on a matter that falls within the confines of taste. We use these adages when we want to say, in a tactful way, “Sorry, pal! Yours just isn't the final word.” Like it or not, no one, professional reviewers notwithstanding, is entitled to claim autonomy when it comes to issues of taste, though many of us feel that we are the de facto final arbitrator. (I have been known to be guilty of this conceit. Often.) I don’t think you will disagree that it is human nature to want others to see thing our way. And admit it. When you feel very strongly about something -- a book, a play, or a movie -- isn’t it hard to accept that a dissenting opinion can possibly have validity?
But, hold on there! What is taste -- anyway? What are the ingredients that produce our highly individualized and unique sense of taste? The list of factors and influence must be endless. In addition to the standard demographics -- age, sex, ethnicity, income, etc. -- we must also take into account our DNA, IQ, background and life experiences. Allegiances. Personality type. Right or left brained? Empathetic, rigid, intuitive, analytical, outgoing? Sense of tempo: Like things fast? Slow? It goes on and on. I doubt that no matter how extensive the list, the question will still go begging, because the issues are elusive and complex.
The conundrum about taste was brought home to me one evening, about a week ago, when TV-surfing, and came across the movie, "The Vantage Point,” a 2008 release. Vantage Point is an action-suspense thriller with Dennis Quaid, William Hurt and Forest Whitaker. I thought it was terrific. Afterwards, I found some old reviews, curious to see how it had been received. Did the agree with me. No way. The movie was either dismissed, or soundly scorned. Credible reviewers characterized it as “gimmicky…a repellent conceit…herky jerkey…forgettable dialogue.” I, on the other hand, who’ve been known to dislike highly esteemed films, was enthralled. I found the film’s cinematic structure -- an updating of the Rashomon effect using an ingenious series of flashbacks centering on the pivotal opening scene -- gripping. I forgave the movie its flaws, or more accurately, they didn’t seem to matter. And what I find so very curious is, that even though I’ve always put the action-adventures-with-car-chases genre on my to-be-avoided list, nontheless, this shoot-and chase somehow managed to find its way into my gut.
Conundrums are everywhere. Recently, I went to see “I Am Love (2010),” the award winning Italian art film starring Tilda Swinton. Unlike The Vantage Point where, except for my admiration of the Rashomon effect, I can’t tell you why I was so swept away, I can easily tell you what made me love, pardon the repetition, "I Am Love." I Am Love teems with an abundance of earthly delights. The sounds and scents. Dinner parties. Sumptuous Food. Interiors. Style. Yearnings. Family intrigue. Great landscape. The Milan cityscape. I did, however, have several reservations. I thought the ending didn’t live up to the rest of the film. Some of the final scenes dissolve into simpering melodrama. And worse, the director played a mean and gratuitous trick on the audience that wouldn't be fair to divulge. And I would recast Tilda Swinton’s love interest. I can’t imagine anyone, much less edgy her, falling madly in love with actor, Edoardo Gabbriellini, though she made the viewer believe that she did. I hope in her next film she gets someone really divine. So, until then – Black Angus or Charolais? Moooooooo!
See related posts: “Greenberg” and “My Dentist and I.”