Jenny Diski, whose work I have always admired, has begun a sort of memoir over on LRB, and this is the second or third installment of the story of her life with Doris Lessing, who took Jenny in as troubled teen, age 15 or so. Anyway, I love this:
“For weeks I listened intently to the table-talk, not daring to join the conversation, not having anything to say, and wondering where and how one acquired opinions, so many and that seemed to come so easily. We left cinemas and theatres, Doris and her friends and me tagging along, and before we were out in the street, they were sharing their judgments of what they’d seen. It was a matter of whether things ‘worked’, how exactly they had failed or succeeded. Nothing was expected to be perfect, so the conversation was about the way in which things worked and didn’t and a judgment was made on the balance. Details of mise-en-scène and dialogue were picked out and weighed. On the other hand, Brando was preposterous as Fletcher Christian and wrecked whatever chance there was of it being a good film. How did they know such things? How did they make so many different angles relevant to their final analysis? And how were they so expert and so sure?”
This notion of “taste” (as Diski goes on to explore it) did not come naturally to the young lady. In fact, I would wager that it does not come naturally to most people, who view films (and tv and books) as entertainment, first and last. This is a very revealing transformation, noticed by a 15 year old girl, moving in new circles.