Thursday, 30 April 2009

Accounting for taste (or ‘You like what??!’)

We were getting on famously, this girl and I. Our tastes in music, books, comedians, pet peeves – all were lining up nicely. We got on to classic musicals.

‘Easter Parade?’ I ventured.

‘Crikey yes,’ she returned. ‘Singin’ in the Rain?’

‘Absolutely,’ I murmured appreciatively. ‘Singin’ in the Rain. Still, if push came to shove, I’d have to go with Astaire rather than Kelly.’

The lengthening pause told me that something was awry.

‘No,’ she said finally. ‘Mine would be Gene.’ She sighed, crestfallen. This wasn’t going to work out.

Everyone loves a good barney about movie favourites. But we can't help finding significance in people’s cultural preferences; we scan each other's bookshelves and DVD collections for clues to their character. The complete works of Leni Riefenstahl? Yikes. Especially if the CD shelf includes Wagner's Ring Cycle.

I always preferred Astaire’s gangly introspection to Kelly’s compact, muscular eagerness. The climax of the ‘Broadway Melody’ sequence in Singin’ in the Rain always makes me tense up – we seem to be about to collide with Kelly’s gleaming all-American gnashers. And don’t even get me started on that 'aw shucks' thing he does when he pushes his hat askew mid-routine. But can you divide the world into Astaire fans and Kelly fans, like some Myers-Briggs personality test? Are those in the Fred camp more prone to dark fits of brooding? Do the Gene contingent show more of a tendency to break out in twinkly grins? Unlikely - they're not sufficiently different to polarise opinion.

The Chaplin-Keaton dichotomy, on the other hand, can divide a room pretty neatly: do you go for the ambitious all-rounder obsessed with his own legend or the melancholy underdog with a self-destructive streak? Buster is easier to love, probably because he went easier on the sentiment and because his own life was fairly crammed with pathos and misfortune; Chaplin's plucky little guy always on his uppers seems a little too self-serving for a man who became immensely wealthy by playing a tramp. Who in their right minds would prefer Chaplin? Who am I to pass judgement on their judgement?

Sean Connery’s 007 v Roger Moore’s 007 is less contentious, although there are doubtless a few individuals who disdain Connery's ever-so-slightly feral charisma in favour of Roger Moore’s smirky Yacht Club lothario. How narrow-minded of me to consider this an indication of some kind of dysfunctional personality. But surely, you'd have to be round the bend...

By the same token, people unfortunate enough to have witnessed me ranting about the crass stupidity of Kevin Smith's Dogma, or the appallingly misjudged mawkishness of Life is Beautiful, have most likely come to their own conclusions about the ranter. We should all, of course, exercise some latitude in judging the taste of others, and overlook the odd penchant for - let's say - Cheech and Chong or Adam Sandler. Then again, spying a box set of Fassbinder in someone's collection should still give one pause. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Nick Riddle

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