Reeling: On Acquired Taste

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A film will never mean to you now what it will in another year, month, day. We're ever-evolving, and our tastes grow more discerning as we get older, too - and that makes us pretty special, right?

Ask anyone: We all went through that "Titanic" obsession, the one I've been so loath to reiterate since my first column. While I consider that big, bloated, stinking ship to be the dawn of my movie fandom, I've absolutely outgrown it. There's no question: I will never look back and I will let go, Jack.

If I skip about five years of movie-watching, I arrive at my Woody Allen phase, an idolatry I've invoked here time and again. Re-watching Allen classics from the '70s and '80s, I found that while some of his films remain close to my heart, they don't do much for my head. If you look at Allen's favorites from his own catalogue - "Match Point" is one - it seems even he has outgrown his old self because these films are quite unlike ageless gems like "Love and Death" or "Hannah and Her Sisters." Sometimes I wonder if I've outgrown him, too.

But I've got to give that nebbish little man, the poster-boy of all nebbish little men out there, some credit. He was like a teacher in the formative years of my cinematic education - and aren't they always formative? All the references, diegetic or not, in films like "Manhattan" or "Stardust Memories," led me to Bergman, Fellini, the list goes on. Name any director from an annual Sight and Sound poll and I probably found them because of Woody Allen.

Like many college-ass kids, I too was swallowed up by the indie monster of the '00s: I thought "Garden State" was the greatest thing ever. I bought my first (and last) Sartre book after seeing "I Heart Huckabees." I waited desperately for every Wes Anderson film like Cash waits for Margot in "The Royal Tenenbaums." People stick their nose up at these "quirky," "indie" films, but I think they're a good start for cultivating taste since each is, however conspicuously, cinema-obsessed. Though I no longer feel as close to Anderson, a film like Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" - which I love more each time I see it - wouldn't exist without the Wes aesthetic. And thanks to him, I found out about the other, better Anderson.

Part of me sees my bygone movie taste the same way I see unseemly pictures of myself from a year ago, or sometimes even a week ago: with disgust. But the other part, the less superficial voice in my head, thinks maybe I was pretty cool (or another flattering euphemism for "pretentious").

This week in class, I watched Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" for the first time since I was about 14 and saw it on TCM on a Friday night. Clearly, I didn't have a social life then: I had the movies.

At the time, I probably said I liked the film, but in retrospect it couldn't have meant much to me. I think you have to live a little first. You have to go out on those Friday nights, even if you'll never find a party quite like the ones Marcello attends.

Now, I realize "Vita" will be a favorite of mine for the rest of my life. I had to grow into it - it just took half a decade for me to get there.

So finally we come to the last shot, where I look into the camera and turn my eyes to the audience before the fade-to-black: If there's a movie you thought you didn't get the first time, try it in a few years. You might be surprised. Or you might feel the same way, the same disappointment, and that's saying something, too. I'll get back to you later, when I know what that is.


Contact Ryan at [email protected]

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