21st century auteur fanboys
Nick Brigati | Monday, February 22, 2021
When I saw Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in theaters last fall, the first time I had stepped in a cinema since the pandemic began, I was disappointed. The dialogue was inaudible, there was a tiresome amount of exposition (surprise, surprise) and of course, as is the biggest problem with many of Nolan’s films, it lacked any trace of pathos. While I can’t deny that the film’s visuals provided brief flurries of entertainment, I couldn’t help but regret having risked my health to see the film.
So, given these blatant flaws and more, I was surprised to still see scores of people doting over the film and Nolan’s “genius.” To these fans, the nonsensical plot, superfluous exposition and lack of emotional weight were somehow all pros of the film. And with each social media post I saw or conversation I had about the film, I found myself increasingly frustrated with the particular type of fan praising the film. My issue was not with people who merely liked the film — everyone has different tastes — but with a certain type of moviegoer I believe has become problematic in general discussions about film. I like to call them “21st century auteur fanboys.”
These “fanboys” are primarily male, millennial/Gen-Z 20-somethings who are obsessed with the quasi-art films of the current century. The “auteur fanboys” were born with the advent of the internet — on discussion boards, YouTube and social media. To them, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino are basically the holy trinity; names Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Jean-Luc Godard are unknown. Take a look at the top-100 rated movies on IMDB (“fanboys” love IMDB): “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Fight Club” all hold spots in the top 10. I love these movies besides “Fight Club,” but come on. Six of Christopher Nolan’s films and 4 of Tarantino’s are in the top 100 alone, and “Citizen Kane” isn’t even in the top 100 — it’s ranked 117th, 97 spots behind “Interstellar.”
This rather skewed list can largely be accredited to how a “fanboy” watches and criticizes films. One way is by viewing films not as an art form but as a puzzle — the more convoluted the movie’s plot, the better. This is evident on YouTube, where one can find hundreds of videos deconstructing movie plots, theorizing about these directors’ films and explaining why they are the greatest directors of all time — I found five videos all basically titled, “Why Christopher Nolan is the best director.”
The complexity of a film’s plot is not the only way “fanboys” judge a film; they also value style over substance. Whether it’s the aestheticization of violence in a Tarantino film, Wes Anderson’s use of symmetry or Guy Ritchie’s aggressive camera style, “fanboys” are easily swayed by a film’s appearance rather than its characterization or themes. On Instagram, you will see countless accounts devoted to Tarantino and the visual styles of him and his contemporaries — the cringe-worthy named “cinemamonamour,” “goosebumpscinema” and f—inggoodmovies are just a few. What is even harder to find than a focus on substance on these accounts is a discussion of films that speak to the experiences beyond those of the “fanboy’s” experiences of overwhelmingly white, American, males. A film such as “Moonlight,” which focuses on Black identity and sexuality, is of little interest to the “fanboys;” neither is a foreign language film, which in their eyes is universally inferior to American films.
Now, you would think from my writing that I dislike these films. On the contrary, I enjoy watching many of them, and I don’t have a problem with people who like to watch films for merely entertainment, but that is not what the “fanboys” do. They are problematic because they delude general audiences on what cinema is as a medium. It isn’t a narrative puzzle for solving or aesthetically pleasing cinematography, but an art form (I’m aware that may sound pretentious) which has the ability to reveal truths of the human experience to audiences through emotion (the very thing Nolan struggles with). The close-minded, at-times condescending views of the “fanboys” ultimately take away from valuable discourse to be had over films and their artistic merit.