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Farber vs. Olsen: Middlebrow vs. Highbrow

Farber vs. Olsen: Middlebrow vs. Highbrow

I sometimes find myself defending accessible mainstream movies vs. more inaccessible, arcane fare. I often get mad at pretentious or indulgent airborne movies that never touch the ground, that don’t make sense. (I embraced Miranda July’s The Future but rejected The Limits of Control, from a filmmaker I usually admire, Jim Jarmusch. I couldn’t believe that anyone took Southland Tales seriously.) I believe in communication between moviemaker and audience. But you will never find me arguing in defense of the middlebrow vs. the highbrow. I seek smart, sharp, innovative, authentic movies, not ones that pander to some perceived middle ground. With many studio movies, I often wish I was watching the leaner art-film version that didn’t try to appeal to everyone. But I dove headlong into the IMAX 3-D of Avatar and Transformers: Dark of the Moon–both were worth every penny.

I was appalled by Stephen Farber’s essay defending the middlebrow in the LAT last week, which argued in favor of old-fashioned movies such as The Help. Clearly, so was LAT contributor Mark Olsen, who responds here. Olsen argues:

The retort to Farber’s position is simply and obviously this: Today is not 50 years ago… and the best films should aim to reflect that with a clear-eyed awareness in their context and perspective and a strong reach for more…The problem is not with the middlebrow in itself — and really, a film such as “Bridesmaids” likely represents the true New Middle more than “The Help” — the problem lies with opting for the obvious and becoming complicit with the incurious. Aiming for the middle is too often an excuse to aim too low.”

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