On Recommending Movies

When someone I don’t know tells me “I have to see it,” I can be almost positive I don’t. The reasoning behind this is simple: If they don’t know me, how can they know what I have to see, let alone what I’ll actually like?

Yet it happens all the time, and not just with me. People go around telling each other that they’re “Going to love it,” when so often what they really mean is, “I loved it.” The impulse to share enthusiasm is a good one, but when it’s misdirected, when the enthusiast confuses his taste with others, an unfelt frisson begins, one that could potentially discredit the recommender and leave the recipient wondering, “How well does x really know me?”

I’m not exaggerating. To recommend a movie is to know the person you’re recommending it to, to know a person is to understand them, and to understand them is, in a small way, to share a bond. Which is why I’m reluctant to go around telling certain people what they have to see. Only true rapport can convey that kind of emotional knowledge, the good gamble that there may be an equation sign between x person and y movie.

On the occasion – not as rare as you might expect – when a close friend recommends a movie I end up truly loving, I do in fact feel something like kinship. I feel the warm hand of understanding on my back, and I think, “Yes, thank you for seeing a part of me.” A part of me I might not even have seen myself.

What often ends up happening is that you learn something about the person who recommended the film to you. “Yes, I can see why x loves y! I would have never thought that he…or that we…” It’s a good feeling.

This is all to say that I can’t go ahead and recommend Deep End, Jerzy Skolimowski’s turbulent film of 1971, but a friend of mine did, and I sure liked it (I’ve posted a short clip above). But how did he know that this perverse, low-budget bit of kitchen-sink (sur)realism, poorly dubbed, and tonally fractured, would even remotely appeal to me, especially when, truth be told, I don’t have much patience for films in which fantasy (maybe) becomes reality?

Honestly, I don’t know my friend knew. That’s what makes recommending films – or books or music or anything – less a prerogative than a talent. To do it well, you have to see something others can’t. You have to see into people. And films. If you can do both, you can make a whole lot of good happen a whole lot of the time.

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7 responses to “On Recommending Movies

  1. Wow, you win major Obscuritas points on this one. Loved the movie when I was an impressionable teen – even wrote a song called “Deep End” in tribute (clearly I was crushing on… is it Jane Asher?!) – and always wondered why no one ever seemed to remember it.

    • Yes it is Jane Asher (former girlfriend of Paul McCartney, I believe)! I had never heard of the movie. Or the filmmaker, whose name I wouldn’t dare to type out on my own. If people don’t remember it, it isn’t because the movie isn’t any good, or because it’s too esoteric, it’s just because it’s unavailable. I’m sure if that thing came out on DVD, it would find a healthy niche. It has everything going for it, except populist appeal.

  2. ‘you have to see into people’. well said. it is a profound, rare and unselfish knack. allow me to go out on a limb and recommend two for the road. fingers crossed for an unfelt frisson, another lovely and rare occurrence.

  3. Skolimowski is generally best well-known for his ’60s prize-winner LE DEPART (never seen it) and MOONLIGHTING, with Jeremy Irons, which actually had a decent American run in the late ’80s; you might enjoy.

    And to Schmin, I say: TWO FOR THE ROAD!!! So sweet and sour and lovely and dark. A must for Hepburn fans, and for that matter, Albert Finney appreciators (I always think of TWO as a great pairing with his later SHOOT THE MOON)…

    • Two for the Road is a lasting favorite. With that movie, I’d say the Hollywood Romantic comedy took a great big step toward adulthood. But I wonder what mernitman would have to say about that…

  4. More symbolic than pragmatic, I’d say; some L.A. screenwriters took notice (Alexrod, perhaps? You might ask Mazursky), but it’s possible that the biggest influence was on Mr. Allen, who no doubt, in between bouts of Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut, et al, mused on the idea that things were awfully Adult over there in London… and maybe NYC (via Hollywood) might be ready to follow suit?

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