Friday, February 3, 2023

Notes on Film: Gatekeeping and More of That Guy

 by Anthony King

Ownership of art leads to toxic cults.

As always, I've got something on my mind. We've all experienced being the outsider looking in; our noses pressed against the window, yearning to “be a part of it all.” You're lying through your teeth if you say you haven't. Our goal in life is to be our true, authentic selves, and being forcefully immersed (submerged would be a better word) in pop culture for our entire lives, attaining that Zen moment of authenticity is, well, unattainable. More in a bit, but first here's what I've been watching.
Since I was on this week's podcast I only have one feature to recommend. Narvik (2022) aka Kampen Om Narvik is a Norwegian historical fiction film about Hitler's first defeat in WWII. The story splits its time between a husband and wife in the small Norwegian town of Narvik that is home to a massive iron ore mine. The German's plan is to take the city so they can take the mine for resources to build Hitler's war machine. A small platoon, comprised of residents of Narvik guard the city and its port. Kristine Cornelie M. Hartgen plays Ingrid, an employee and interpreter at the town's hotel who is hosting diplomats from all over the world. Carl Martin Eggesbo is Gunnar, Ingrid's husband, and part of the platoon guarding the town. As the Germans move in, the British diplomats (one played by the Rocketeer himself, Billy Campbell) go into hiding and enlist the help of Ingrid to spy on the German's so the diplomats can then relay that information to their military. Narvik is at once a “war is hell” movie, an espionage thriller, and a heart-wrenching family drama. These characters are beautifully portrayed, squeezing every last tear out of me during the final moments. The battle sequences are stressful and exciting, including a major set piece taken straight from Roger Corman's Ski Troop Attack (1960) where the local military tries to destroy a train bridge to prevent the German's from moving in. It's a brilliant film that is already lost in the Netflix flotsam and jetsam, but definitely worth seeking out.
A few short films I've watched recently on the Criterion Channel have really struck a chord with me. Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy (2016) from directors Lewie and Noah Kloster is a funny little animated film about a woman who loves smoking so much and discovered it would be cheaper to buy a plane ticket to Canada and purchase her cigs at the duty free store in the airport than to buy them at a bodega in New York City. The four minute story tells how Christine was able to skirt the TSA and get her precious cigs back home. Windowbreaker (2006) from director Tze Chun opens with a single Vietnamese mother purchasing a security system because of a string of recent burglaries. We then follow the salesman and his wife home where they see a group of Asian American boys playing basketball in front of their house. All the while the white people are acting suspicious of every AAPI person they come across. We go back to the single mother who has to go to work and leave her small children alone. In the middle of the night, someone breaks into the house, the little boy breaks the robber's arm, and the next day it's revealed who the robbers are. Eye-opening, heartbreaking, infuriating. Finally, Wren Boys (2017) follows a Catholic priest taking his nephew up to visit someone in prison. That's all I'm saying because the who, what, and why of it all took me by pleasant surprise. Its 11 perfect minutes have put it on the early shortlist of favorite short films of the year.

Now to the topic at hand. The term “gatekeeping” gets thrown around A LOT these days. Sometimes for good reason. Sometimes for bad. And sometimes it's just an excuse. Being an outsider looking in is a normal part of life. In my experience, though, when I've felt like an outsider, 90% of the time it's because I have put myself in that position. It's a pity party, really. I feel sad for myself because I'm not included when, in fact, “the thing” isn't even a thing to begin with. Take, for instance, any of the dreaded online “communities.” The “Horror Community,” “Action Twitter,” “Film Twitter,” “Bookstagram,” etc. Or even F This Movie! For many years I felt like an outsider looking in. I'll even admit that this includes the first year I was writing for this very site. “Oh poor me. I'm not included in FTM Fest or Junesploitation or Scary Movie Month.” First of all, these are not the exclusive clubs I made them out to be. The whole point of these awesome things Patrick has created is to celebrate movies. Plain and simple. So often we're waiting for an invitation because (gulp) we think so highly of ourselves that we deserve something as performative as an invitation. Of course, I'm only speaking of myself. I don't know how others feel. But I'd like to think I'm not alone in this.
We build these things up so much in our heads, placing these events and “communities” on pedestals so high they become god-like. This leads to very dangerous territory where we begin to take ownership of things. Taking ownership of art will, inevitably, lead to the creation of toxic cults. These communities, as inclusive as they claim to be, online or off, are all in danger of becoming cults. From an outsider's perspective, the Twitters of horror and film seem to do more damage than not. I've heard “action Twitter” is a safe place, but I have no first-hand knowledge one way or the other. But the one community that seems to be most in danger of becoming an all out cesspool is the collector's community. Again, I'm on the outside looking in (where I want to be) so for all I know the collector's community is already a festering wound of anger and resentment. It seems to me, for many people, collecting material objects such as movies quickly turns into an unhealthy obsession where our jealousy or feelings of FOMO take control of our wallet. I like it when someone tells me they ONLY purchase movies they love and they'll watch over and over and then show me an entire room full of movies. And lest you think I'm over here judging, I too have a wall full of movies, many of which still remain in plastic and unwatched.

These thoughts that have been rattling around my brain and are now puked up on screen come from a couple things that happened this week. First, James Gunn's announcement of what they have planned for DC got a lot of people talking. I'm not a comic book guy and know next to nothing about such things, but his announcement even got me excited. Marvel, DC, and Star Wars are the obvious go-to's when it comes to gatekeeping and toxic communities. I don't care for Marvel movies, but my son does, and I think that's cool. I don't feel the need to disparage Marvel movies just because I don't like them. DC, for some reason, I do enjoy. (Batman v Superman fan here.) I'm a recent convert to Star Wars and have discovered I love everything SW. I love the movies. I love the shows. I love the animation. I love the books. Again, I know there's a very toxic cult revolving around SW, and that's a real bummer. I love it all and I'd like people to know I love it all.

This all ties into last week's column about being a “that guy” guy. I wasn't very clear (hard to be clear when I write a stream of consciousness-type of column), so allow me to clarify. My friend James is the Tony Scott guy, and everyone knows him as such. Right now he's the Spielberg guy. He's the guy that loves Tony Scott and Steven Spielberg and constantly professes his love for their work. It's inspiring. That's not the “that guy” to which I was referring. There's the Star Wars, DC, and Marvel guys who have taken ownership of those intellectual properties, and when something doesn't go their way, they get loud and angry and childlike. There's the collector guy that uses his collecting habits as a sort of status symbol. “Boutique” labels prey on these people. The great Kevin Maher had a brilliant thread earlier this week where he said, “I don't want my online identity to be CONSUMER.” For a long time my identity was “consumer,” and I'm trying to break free of that. Then there's the “perpetual outsider guy,” the guy who chooses to be the outsider and throws pity parties for himself whilst begging others to join him. I appreciate the weird taste of certain people, but when I say I like Garden State or Lethal Weapon and your first response is “I hate those things,” you are choosing to put yourself in that outsider perspective. You don't have to like those movies, and you don't even have to respond, but just because I like them doesn't mean I want to hear that you don't. I'm glad you like weird (sometimes bad) movies, but just because I like some populist faire doesn't mean you're better than me or have better taste.
If we were able to be our authentic selves (or as close as possible), there wouldn't be any room for anger towards art. Being our authentic selves means we can have thoughtful conversations about the things we love, and even the things we don't. Like I mentioned on the podcast, Patrick and I usually talk about movies one of us likes and the other doesn't, and that creates great conversation. We don't get angry about stuff we don't like, and we don't spend time shitting on it. We love what we love, and don't love what we don't. But there's no need to be protective of art. Art can and will stand on its own.


  1. A few years ago I had some students want to start and "Anime Club" where the could talk anime, draw. All that. It lasted 2 months as it quickly devolved from a group of 40 kids who liked anime to a group of about 8 toxic kids who decided what was "cool" and if you hadn't heard of something you were mocked.

  2. I think a long time ago my movie interests became so broad that any gatekeeper (of this or that genre) was not worth taking too seriously. They are just a gateway in my mind into whatever specific genre they have somehow corralled themselves into; their opinions, if they seem reasonable and to lead me to good movies in that genre, I respect. But I won't just take their word that this or that is especially good just because they say it's so. Rather, I will go have a look for myself.

    A movie recommend:
    - Highway Patrolman. (1991) I don't think I've heard anyone mention this outside the Pure Cinema podcast. But this is a film in a lived-in world with captivating characters. It played out unpredictably and, by the end of it, probably ranked as Alex Cox's best film in my humble subjective opinion. It's incredible that a single director has both this and Repo Man in their filmography - what range and 'amen' to that.

    1. Great recommendation, Reuben! I’ll check it out.

  3. Great column. You articulated a lot of feelings I have too. The internet is great in that it's made us build communities where we can talk about things we love but I think that freedom leads some people to want to create boundaries in an attempt to define themselves. They feel good about identifying things they hate. They feel good about identifying people that they disagree with.

  4. Sometimes I wonder if the people who like to angry, loud tweet about movies that way don't have anyone to "talk it out" with. It's hard to find someone who will flesh out and talk through a movie with you, for an hour or hours. When I angry/loud tweet about movies, I think I'm actually looking for connection. "Doesn't anybody else understand? How 2 plus 2 does (or does not) not equal 5!? How can this BE?" It's not a good way, and I also like to be liked, so I DON'T angry/loud tweet, and I can't defend it, but I feel like I get it.

    1. This is an excellent point, Meredith! And the longer I think about the loud ones the more I agree with you.

    2. Yeah. I lost my movie-talking buddy years ago :( When he moved to LA to design video games and got married. He was my neighbor. We'd lie on the driveway and talk about movies for like 5 hours, looking at the stars. Miss that. And it's hard to find again.