Ben Shapiro and I had a fun little debate and exchanged some friendly emails last week about his controversial list of “most overrated” directors published last Sunday at John Nolte’s Big Hollywood. I was offended by Ben’s critical vengeance against my favorite director, Darren Aronofsky, and my favorite film, “Requiem for a Dream.”
For those who missed the discussion, check it out here:
1. Ben’s original Overrated Directors Article Here at Big Hollywood
2. My response here at NewsReal: When Ideology Destroys Cinema: Why Ben Shapiro Misses Out on My Favorite Film of the Decade
3. Ben’s Reply at NewsReal: Why Darren Aronofsky Makes My Top Ten Overrated List
Now Ben has returned at BH to reveal which filmmakers he actually likes.
And it’s basically the kind of list I expected from him: entirely traditional, predictable, and uncontroversial.Shapiro rightfully praises Spielberg, Bergman, Curtiz, Wilder, Chaplin, Capra, Kazan, Ford, Kurosawa, and Wyler — all some of the greatest and most important filmmakers of the 20th century.
(BTW, my colleague David Forsmark notes that Howard Hawks is strangely nowhere to be found. And where’s Buster Keaton? He’s better than Chaplin after all.)
Ultimately Ben’s list is boring and useless. It’s easy to explain why the people on his list are great. It requires no creativity or intellectual exertion — unlike his list from last week. Anyone could have written his list. On the other hand, it’s challenging for me to chart new territory in my arguments about Aronofsky and other avant garde filmmakers.
Ben is in his film tastes the same as he is in his social attitudes: a traditionalist aggressively opposed to radicalism and experimentation. This is made apparent in his dismissal of “2001: A Space Odyssey” as an “abomination.” The absence of any comments about French New Wave directors or Italian filmmakers (Fellini? Pasolini?) is also telling on this point. (Somehow I bet that as far as literature goes Ben doesn’t care for James Joyce’s Ulysses or Finnegans Wake either. The certainty of Victorian literature is probably more up his alley. I, on the other hand, consider Ulysses the greatest novel ever written.)
I shudder to think of the brutal things Ben would say about real avant garde directors near and dear to my heart like Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage. They make Aronofsky look like a traditionalist.
Ben’s like a food connoisseur who cannot handle spicy or exotic foods. He’s going to stick with the old standards and attack anything that challenges them.
My recommendation to Ben: next time you go to Buffalo Wild Wings try getting the blazing sauce on your wings. Next time you’re shopping for candy try getting some warheads. If you’re visiting a foreign country take the Andrew “Bizarre Foods” Zimmern approach to dining. Such experiences are different but still meaningful and often transcendent in their own way.
Then try applying that attitude toward how you understand cinema. (A celebration of new styles and approaches does not mean we must reject the old.) Once one understands this as it applies to cinema, then the discussion can be turned toward politics and the defense of the American Idea — and specifically how our generation is going take up the reins of the conservative intellectual tradition in the coming years. How will we integrate fresh approaches into conservatism while refusing to abandon that which continues to work so well? How will we create a permanent conservative majority and further marginalize the Left to the intellectual graveyard where it belongs?
That is the challenge and I look forward to engaging in this project with Ben and other Gen Y cons in the years to come.