Have you ever heard someone comment, “My, that’s a bad chair!”? I doubt it, for there really is no such thing as a ‘bad’ chair or a ‘good’ chair. There are simply different levels of craftsmanship involved in making a chair, and, of course, a variety of finishing techniques and overall aesthetics. Some chairs are spit out on an assembly line by the thousands, while other chairs are made by hand. Some chairs have cushions, some have armrests, and others even have accessories (i.e. little cup holders, rocking abilities, foot rests, etc.). In any case, it remains a chair. The purpose of which is to be sat upon.
The people who sit on chairs all share the same activity. They sit. Sure, some people have poor posture, but in general, I can’t see how someone could be a ‘good’ sitter or a ‘bad’ sitter. Never do people go to a dinner party and loudly complain, “Francis, look at the way you’re sitting in that chair! It’s bad! Just awful!” In fact, it makes me wonder, how, exactly, could Francis be sitting badly? His rear end is fixated on the seat! Both feet are on the floor! Sure, he’s got a bad back, which makes him lean a little to the left, but nevertheless, Francis *is* sitting in the chair. The only way, from my point of view, Francis could fail in his sitting, is if he weren’t sitting at all! It would seem to me that only when one stands is it appropriate to attack their ability or talent to sit. “Francis, you’re NOT sitting!” Perhaps those few people who, in their attempt to sit, miss the chair completely and plummet to the floor, are guilty of poor sitting, but the indignity of missing the chair would seem to be punishment enough, without adding insult to injury by bringing their failure to their attention.
Like the people who fail to sit in chairs, I believe it’s only acceptable to attack an actor when he or she has failed to appear in a film. Michelle Pfieffer, for instance, is bad for failing to appear in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Likewise, so are Whoopie Goldberg, Demi Moore, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and all the other actresses who didn’t appear in that film. Shame on them.
Don’t get me wrong – some actors look great in any movie, while others do not. Jodie Foster, for instance, looks equally as great sitting in a plush sofa from Eddie Bauer as she does swiveling on an Eames with black leather ottoman. Other people, like Ned Beatty, for instance, aren’t necessarily the best looking sitters. There are some people, without a doubt, that should avoid sitting on certain chairs. But that is all about looks, not general sitting ability.
Movies, it can be argued, like chairs, are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – they simply have different levels of craftsmanship. What’s the difference in how Thomasville, Broyhill, or Ethan Allen chairs are made? Very little that I can see. Sure, the shapes and textures differ, but they seem to be built in the same fashion. Much like films made by committee, they seem safely appealing to most, and, I agree, manufactured with skill (read: they aren’t going to fall apart). Ron Howard’s movies are like these. So are Martin Scorsese’s for that matter. There is nothing more or less exceptional about either.
Some chairs, like those sold at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, are constructed with equal skill, but have aesthetics (and prices) that appeal to a different buyer. Alexander Payne makes this kind of work. Clint Eastwood reminds me of Eddie Bauer. And don’t get me started on Robert Redford and his overpriced Sundance clothing line!
Marketing and selling a motion picture is just like marketing and selling furniture. Pottery Barn needs to sell thousands, if not millions, whereas Eames is happy to sell a few hundred. BLAIR WITCH, while poorly made, still sold millions. That movie in particular is just like furniture sold at Wal-mart. And in retrospect, the people who buy furniture at Wal-mart are, probably, not going to buy an Eames. And, like an Eames, EYES WIDE SHUT, while one of the best-crafted motion pictures ever made, didn’t appeal to the masses.
Within all of these examples lies genre. The genre of Pier 1 furniture is a very different genre than that of Broyhill. Quentin Tarantino films, which resemble Pier 1 (read: often made with cheap components), tend to fall apart a lot sooner than, say, a Broyhill nightstand, which has the solid construction of a Francis Ford Coppola film.
You can tell what kinds of films people like by taking a look around their living room. What kinds of furniture do they have? Do they prefer to sit upon a chair made of plastic, mesh, wood or steel? Do they sleep on an air bed or a top of the line Sealy? Where do they eat dinner – on the floor, on the sofa, or at a solid oak dining table?
On my street we understand movies are like pieces of furniture. We know what separates a Horchow from an IKEA. We acknowledge there are similarities and differences. But whether it’s manufactured by the thousands or made one at a time, the bottom line is – it’s only a movie.
(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)