Super 8: The critical take in defense of nostalgia

Categories: Film and TV

Browsing through the reviews of Super 8, it seems like a lot of fans and critics are giving the film -- a pastiche of late '70s/early '80s Spielberg -- a soft critical pass based on their nostalgic reactions to the time period in which it's set and their love of the films it homages (sorry guys, but a feature-length exploration of the idealized memories of the geeks of my generation sounds like my purgatory). Being a film aficionado, a writer (sometimes about film) and an attempted critic/academic myself (my treatise on assholess in movie theaters is up for many prestigious awards), I obviously agree that going easy on a film because it reminds nerds of when they were kids is problematic, to say the least. But it's not necessarily stupid.

I recently found myself in a 140-character debate with Badass Digest's Devin Faraci, who took to Twitter to deem that any discussion relating to nostalgia in a film review automatically invalidates that author's opinion, saying, "I quit reading any SUPER 8 review that talks about fond memories of being a 12-year-old geek," and following up with, "Nostalgia has no place in intelligent reviewing. Nostalgia has no place in intelligent people, actually."

I've been reading Devin since 2004, and the man's opinions can be divisive, to say the least (another bias disclaimer: he's one of my writing heroes, and I can probably count on one hand the amount of instances in which I've disagreed with his stance. In fact, I am scared to death to be writing anything about his writing. Luckily I'm sure he has no idea who I am and no time to read this). But while I disagree with him in this situation, I understand his hardline stance; watching critics review a movie's perceived sense of nostalgia while seemingly ignoring its flaws is frustrating, but listening to the routine Internet troll attack your valid and well-reasoned review of a film with "OMG SHUT UP IT'S SO MUCH LIKE THE EE TEE," while expected, is infuriating.

"Nostalgia," by its classical definition (Greek roots and shit), is a strong longing or yearning for a usually idealized past era. Like everything, language evolves, and "nostalgia" has come to define a more abstract feeling of general fondness for the past. This, however, is a definition Devin has rejected in the context of this discussion, so like envy or hatred, nostalgia is defined as an emotion without redeeming qualities -- "Nostalgia is the sad condition of disliking yourself and your life right now," Faraci posits.

That said, I think it's possible to hold conflicting opinions about my trip to Disneyland when I was 9 (fondness for the Magical Kingdom), and my attitude last month while I was standing in line for three fucking hours in the heat for the new Pirates of the Caribbean (fuck this place). There was an animatronic Johnny Depp standing within earshot that repeated four phrases over and over again. That doesn't mean I'm unhappy with myself or how my life turned out -- in the time that's passed since I was nine, I've been able to see a girl naked.

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tim davids
tim davids

Someone just pointed out to me that I use a specific phrasing referring to "terror and wonder" in ET, a phrase Devin has used to describe Spielberg, without attributing the quote to him. I wasn't trying to consciously call back to his writing there, though I'm sure the phrase slipped in through me re-reading a lot of stuff before writing this rebuttal. So, FYI- "terror and wonder" is something Mr. Faraci has said, in reference to Spielberg, a few times before I did.Thanks for noticing that, reader!

Phil Wrede
Phil Wrede

 If anything, the ridiculous (random?) personal connections we make with art are what make them last for us. I love 'To Kill A Mockingbird' because Atticus Finch reminds me of my dad first, and because it's an amazing movie second (and a distant second, at that). 'Dick Tracy' because my mom took me to see it a half a dozen times when it came out and I was small. Sure, my DVD collection contains plenty of important, well-made, significant films (as well as ones I think are awesome), but when I want to feel like I'm back at home with my parents, there are only two movies I reach for. Movies like this serve an important role, and while that might not necessarily make them significant or even decent, it does make them valuable.

tim davids
tim davids


"Terror and wonder. There are no other emotions that so succinctly recall childhood, and they’re the two emotions that Steven Spielberg masterfully manipulates in Jurassic Park. " 


""I don't think 'adventure' is an emotion, but if it were it would rest in exactly the midpoint between terror and wonder."

those're both Devin.

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