The Sin In Cinema

Tom Shone defends sentimentality in film:

The Victorian disdain for sentimentality was, in part, a reaction against the rise of potboilers and romances written by, or for, women—and all too often, it came down to discomfort about emotional displays of any kind. A similar chauvinism prevails at the movies, a medium born halfway between the limbic system and the Kleenex box. When the New York Times praised Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”, an evocation of cinema’s early days, for keeping “the treacle at bay”, nothing would have struck the directors of that era as more heretical. Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Frank Capra and George Cukor prided themselves on the accuracy of their strike at the audience’s emotions. The problem with “Hugo” was not that it was too sentimental, but that it was not sentimental enough. Scorsese couldn’t summon the ease with emotions demanded by the material.

That is what makes him a modern artist, just as sentimentality is the modern sin. We thrill at the pitilessness of directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher, and we haze old-school empaths like Spielberg until they repent. The granddaddy of them all—the original cold haddock—is Kubrick, who made movies much the same way he played chess, to win before you’d even taken your seat, hence the nagging suspicion—happily embraced by his fans—that the best thing to do with a Kubrick movie is not so much watch it as submit to it, the way you submit to a superior argument.