"The tale of royal triumph through a commoner's efforts expurgates the story in order to render its characters more sympathetic, whereas the depiction of as a lonely and friendless genius (when, in fact, he has long been in a relationship with one woman) serves the opposite purpose: to render him more ambiguous, to challenge the audience to overcome antipathy for a character , by reasonable women, as an 'asshole.'" — Richard Brody, The New Yorker*
He thinks I’m complaining about pleasantness, and about viewers who enjoy “The King’s Speech”; not at all. (He also writes that my post is “exactly symptomatic of what is wrong with the indie sector and the aesthetic consensus that supports it”; it’s true that there are some films that sell grimness as others sell cheer, but they’re not the distinctive province of any one industry sector, whether independent, studio, or foreign.) “The King’s Speech” is pap, but I have no argument with the people who enjoy it. I’m not against the film’s existence or the audience’s pleasure, I’m against giving it awards for any supposed artistic merit. Because, as it turns out, my point of view regarding character in art is one that has some precedent. It is, in fact, the core of what we call Western art: inducing the audience to overcome feelings of repugnance or derision (i.e., prejudices or settled moral values) and enter into sympathy with people who, despite (or even because of) their virtues, make themselves into monsters (in tragedy) or asses (in comedy)... In any case, an overemphasis on characters is one of the abiding pathologies of film criticism, since much of the power of the medium comes from images, ideas, and the abiding presence, just beyond the edge of the screen, of the director, whose character is the one that counts most.It's true, I did think he was complaining about pleasantness. (He totally was!) There's less to disagree with here, although I would still shiver slightly at the prospect of artistic merit so cleanly expunged of "the audience's pleasure." I guess I put more store by that. If it's pleasing an audience, it has some artistic merit in my book. And the whole "challenging" thing — films being better because they "challenge" their audiences — still fails to grab me as much as I know it should. Why is it that the people who talk of films "challenging" audiences are never the same bunch of people actually being challenged. (They couldn't be, because they are expecting the challenge, and thus not challenged at all. It is part of their smoothly-grooved set of expectations about what will happen to them in the presence of a work of art.) It's always some other sod, or bunch of sods, the speaker has in mind as targets to be challenged, preferably the ones who don't know that art is supposed to be challenging, so the idea can hit them square between the eyes just seconds after they've parted with their hard earnt cash to see a pleasant piece of nonsense about a stuttering king. The shock is always supposed to be good for them, or jolt them out of doltish false consciousness or some such, although I've never heard a single person exit a movie theatre going "well.... that was challenging" and mean it in a good way. I've never heard it said in a bad way. I can imagine it said in a sardonic way, though, and will use it myself the next time I sense a filmmaker trying to impress me with the exact breadth, depth and width of their dark side.