Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Watch a Movie

Too many of us watch movies as if we were proofreading them.  Not only does this lead to ridiculous--and fruitless--conversations about everything from what a decapitation really looks like to how it really looks when a train explodes, it also robs us of enjoyment.  Especially when this is the main focus.

This is even more ridiculous with the horror or sci-fi crowd.  Countless times I've been watching a movie about ghosts, a vampire, a zombie apocalypse, or some other such nonsense, only to have some Poindexter throw a fit about some pedantic detail like an unrealistic gunshot wound.  Now granted, that may not be what it would really look like if someone suffered a shotgun blast to the face, but come on; you're watching a movie about the dead coming to life.  Realism is relative.

Don't get me wrong; I am not out to justify or advocate sloppy filmmaking, or try to convince people that they should like the detestable.  It is a filmmaker's job to either get it right or see to it that you are so hypnotized that you don't see anything wrong.  Many times an absurdity or incongruity raises its ugly head in the most flagrant and unsatisfying way, but I think that this is over-diagnosed.  Too often, curmudgeonly viewers are on a scavenger hunt for flaws, as if they were practicing to be a script supervisor.  Even when it does happen we don't have to fixate on it.  There is often enjoyment to be salvaged from the experience even then.

Let's not be so left-brained.  Too much attention to factual or continuity errors robs us of enjoyment, and can contribute to a misunderstanding of satirical, ironical, farcical or mythic tones.  I have watched many movies that fell apart upon examination, but were still pleasurable to watch.  I may not recommend them to others, but I don't feel betrayed by them either.  In the netherworld between what we absolutely love and absolutely hate there is much that we can enjoy in the moment, even if it is ultimately nothing to write home about.

Fiction is all about the willing suspension of disbelief.  Movie viewing should consist of more than that passing clever feeling we get when we have outsmarted the movie.  Movie reviewing should be more about what you felt than what you thought.  Naivete breeds enjoyment.  Jadedness embitters everything.  This knowledge is sorely lacking, especially among internet reviewers.  It's almost as if they are justifying their guilty pleasure by showing how in-the-know they are.  I want to ask, "so professor assman420, what were you really expecting out of 'Zombie Train to Venus'?"  If we don't enjoy something it may in fact not be very enjoyable, but we should also consider how to increase our own capacity for enjoyment

So how do you watch a movie?  Make a sincere attempt to give yourself up to the experience.  Even if it is silly.  Especially if it is silly.  Suspend disbelief.  Be generous, at least until the movie is over.  Make your imagination and feelings available for it.  Analyze it and pronounce judgment afterward.  We may feel it necessary to mention factual or continuity errors, but only with respect to their effect on our enjoyment.  Making a list of them should not be an end in itself.  You may lose a chance to appear clever, but life will be much more pleasant.

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