I never thought I would ever have to write anything about this particular topic but more and more everyday i realize it has to be done. To set up this post I will refer to a conversation I had a few years back with a dear friend of mine. She is an incredible bookworm that reads an insane amount of books. Literature to her is the highest form of art and simply cannot be beaten. I agree that literature is awesome and I don’t do anywhere near the amount of reading she does but I enjoy it very much. I can totally dig her love for lit but what pissed me off is that she not only doesnt have an appreciation for cinema (I hope I changed this somewhat) but she often downgraded it as an art form and even said it was “a waste of time” at one point. This of course sparked an argument between us, which many topics do. She said that watching films doesnt stimulate the mind as much as reading does. This let me point out is a huge falsehood on a very basic scientific level for the reason that there are more senses involved. Reading involves only one sense, sight. Cinema involves both sight, and hearing and sometimes smell if you remember watching movies at the old Roseville 4 like I do. (You know what I’m talking about. That place was smelly and rundown but we loved it. A great blow was dealt to the poor of St. Paul that can’t afford to see first run films when that place closed. Fuck you Rainbow in Roseville!) As the argument progressed I explained how watching film is something that requires just as much mental excercise as reading. They both require intense comprehension and mental processing. When she realized she was being beat she said something that kinda resounded, “Very few People actually watch movies like you do.” I realized over the years that people, especially in this day and age are horrible film watchers. I think part of the reason my dear friend doesnt appreciate cinema the way she should is because she has absolutely horrible, yes horrible movie watching habits. Everyone thinks that watching a film is something everyone can do. Well that’s just not the case. Most people think it’s just sitting in the dark watching a bunch of pretty colors move on a screen. This post is for my bookworm friend and all those others that don’t know how to appreciate a film. I’ll never forget one time she asked me why I thought cinema was such a great thing, I responded that cinema is the perfect marriage of the two greatest accomplishments of the human species, art and science. That shut her up for a while. Anyway, to the list!
1. Pay Attention
I know it sounds like it’s a fairly obvious thing but its the number one thing people don’t do. The 21st century shows attention span being at an all time low. I don’t think people do any one thing for more than an hour nowadays except sleep. Distractions are a huge problem when trying to watch a film. Film speeds by at 24 frames per second you better be watching you might miss something. For seeing films in theatres here is a few helpful tips. Keep talking to a minimum. I know its kinda awkward if you are hanging out with someone and you don’t say a word to them but it really takes away from you being able to pay full attention to the film. I once saw a film with the aforementioned friend and she talked through the whole film which was actually nice because the movie was Twilight 2 which is just fucking awful. Joe and I will go see movies and rarely utter a word to each other during the film. Afterward however we usually stand outside the theatre and have a few cigarettes and discuss the film for usually at least 30 minutes depending on what the weather is like. Give it a try sometime, discussion not smoking which is very bad for you but your decision nonetheless. If you can resist talking during the film try doing something that a lot of people have never done before, go see a movie alone. Even though it’s a little lonely because in American Culture cinema is a group event. Going alone is usually great fun and you get the full impact of the film.
Another helpful tip is to do the adult thing and pee and or shit before the movie starts. Leaving a theater is the worst possible thing you can do especially for a dumb reason like taking a piss. I had to pee an hour into The Return of the King but I held it till the end Goddamnit. I may have damaged my bladder but I wasnt about to miss out on pure magic for even a minute. Another thing, If you are like many Americans and cannot sit through a movie without eating popcorn and having pop, plan accordingly. Get the big size you cheap bastard. That way you wont need a refill, Or just ration the amount of food you have so you don’t have to leave. LEAVING THE THEATER IS THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO.
I think the home movie/dvd revolution is one of he greatest things ever. It allows you to bring the magic of cinema right into your house. Although it have revolutionized cinema it present a lot of other problems for the art. When you are in you own home there are plenty of distractions you have to avoid. With the advent of the pause button it makes it possible for you to stop the film and do other things while watching a movie. Some people think this is great but i think it sucks. If you don’t think it suck try watching a movie with my family who are a bunch of Philistines. They will stretch an hour and a half film to well over two hours with the amount of pausing they do. Films build tension and they have what is called pacing. Very intelligent and dedicated people work for months on getting the pacing right in a film, by you pausing the goddamned movie all the time you threw off the pacing of the film and in the case of Drama and Horror films you can completely derail the momentum of the movie rendering much less effective than it is intended to be. Films work on the human mind at a conscience and subcontious level they are meant to be a continuous flow of sensory information leading you to a predetermined emotional response. Sergei Eisenstein figured that out in the 1920’s. If you stop the film you stop the flow of sensory information therefore distorting or stopping all together the path of predetermined emotional responses. People work very hard to get you to have certain responses when watching a film please don’t fuck it up by pausing it all of the time. Another huge distraction that people have absolutely drives me up a fuckin wall. Laptops. Some people think that browsing the internet on their laptop while having a movie play on their T.V. constitutes watching a movie. If you are on your laptop you’re not watching the movie. I have some friends that will say “lets watch a movie” and then they put one in and pull out their fucking laptop. If you ever invite me over to watch a movie and you take out a laptop I am going to kick you in the balls and leave.
2. Be culturally/Socially relative.
When watching a film, especially and older film, you need to kind of approach it from a sociological point of view. When watching a film you need to do your best to put yourself in the mindset of the time and place that the film was made for, and at the same time determine its significance to your place and time. If you put yourself in the mentality of the people the film was originally intended for you will have a much easier time relating to the characters, getting the humor, admiring the special effects, and in the case of horror films, enjoying the scares. I hate when people complain that they can’t watch old movies because the effects are dated or that they can’t relate because it’s in a different time. As we have already established films play on human emotions. Humans have had the same type of hopes fears and dreams since the beginning of time. This is in part why we are one of the few species on the planet that have art to express these things. IF YOU ARE A HUMAN YOU CAN RELATE TO ANY MOVIE EVER MADE ON SOME LEVEL. It also helps to have some historical context to the film. For example one of my favorite films Dr. Strangelove is a parody of the cold war and mutual destruction mentality of the superpowers during the 1960’s. You could make a movie like that today with no problem but they released their film in 1964. It would take some real balls to release a movie lampooning such a serious matter in the midst of it. Having a little historical context can really help you further appreciate the film.
3. Watch Actively
Contrary to common belief in this country when you watch a movie sometimes you have to do some of the work. Film is not a medium by which information is blasted into your brain whether you like it or not, there is some assembly required. You need to think while watching a film, yes think. While you are watching a movie your mind should constantly be working. You should be thinking about scenes you just saw, what you think is going to happen in the next scene, what type of information are you being given, what can you infer from this information, who are the character and how do they all fit into the story. You should always be thinking when watching a film is pay attention is how the film is made. If you pay attention the cinematography, editing and even the score. Filmmakers use all these tools to convey different ideas. They can be used to convey a whole host of things. When watching how a scene is set up the question you should always be asking yourself is, “what is the director trying to convey to me?”
Another thing you can do is what I call emotionally invest in a film. I know you dudes out there don’t like to do any of this “emotional” crap, but it’s always a much more enjoyable experience if you try to empathize with the characters on-screen. You have to imagine what you would feel like in that situation. You also just have to me open to the emotions the film is trying to convey. Art is all about making people have an emotional response. If you emotionally invest in a film you will have more to lose if the film is not well done. People like myself who emotionally invest in a film tend to have a greater response to the film in either direction. There are films out there that I love so much I can’t even describe it to you, it’s almost like they are my good friends or family members. On the other hand sometimes you emotionally invest and you get screwed and this can cause intense hatred for a film. Example Funny Games is probably the movie I hate most in the world. It basically calls you an asshole for the entirety of the film its suck so hard. For more about Funny Games I refer you to Joe’s amazing review here https://offtheedgeproductions.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/movies-you-dont-need-to-see-funny-games-2007-haneke/
Another thing that goes alone with emotionally investing is what they refer to is Suspension of Disbelief. This is a term that they use in the industry to say that the viewer actually buys what is going on in the film. Suspension of Disbelief occurs involuntarily in your mind but the thing is just don’t be such a prick about it. You can sit there and not believe a goddamn thing that is trying to be conveyed to you but if that’s how you watch films you will never have a good time. You need to let your guard down and just buy into it for a little bit. If the film is super shitty this may be impossible but you should always try.
4. Follow up
Another thing you can do whether or not you like a movie is actually go on the internet and read about the film. The internet is full of great sites where you can learn about what other people thought of the movie and clues to its symbolism and countless other things you can learn about the film. Going on the web afterward can really increase your appreciation for a film. Also just thinking about a movie after you watch it can make you like it more or less. For example when I first watched what is now my favorite film The Godfather I thought it was really good, but over the next few days I kept thinking about all the great scenes and the unforgettable lines and characters that made me like it more and more with each passing day. Another helpful thing is not to do too much reading before you see the film. Sometime it can really sway your opinion of the movie. Going in blind is the best way to go. All you should know is the title of the film, what country it’s from and what year it was made. Another thing to do is just discuss it with someone who has also seen it. If you’re on a date its a great way to start a conversation. There is always plenty to talk about when it comes to film. Just remember a picture is worth a thousand words and in a film you get 24 of em every second.
5. Re Watch
One of the most valuable things you can do is rewatching a film. You don’t have to do it right away but give it some time to sink in and then revisit it. You should do this especially if you really like the film. There are 24 photographs for every second of film you watch you’re bound to have missed something somewhere along the line. Beware there is a danger to rewatching films. Sometimes when you revisit a film you hate it the second, third, fourth ect. time around. We call that rewatch value. I learned this the hard way with Zack Snyder’s 300 when I was in Highschool. We snuck in to see this movie (we were only 16 at the time) 3 times and thought it was so awesome. So naturally when the DVD dropped I bought the expensive 2 disc special edition and when I re watched it I hated it. I know there are some of you out there saying “what?!! That movie is awesome!”. It’s really not. I thought that way once. Go ahead feel free to rewatch it, that movie sucks some serious dick. Anyway the key to whether a movie is good or not is in the Rewatch. That being said sometimes there are films that draw a particular emotional response, (or in the case of some of the horror films I have seen a specific gastrointestinal response) that you don’t really wanna revisit anytime soon. That is completely understandable. There is no need to be a masochist.
Well I hope that this list will help you learn to do what you thought you already knew what to do. I hope it will help people more fully appreciate the art of cinema. I hope that my dear bookworm friend read this and trys to apply these 5 things while watching her next piece of cinema. Thanks for reading you guys. Feel free to comment. Tell your friends about our blog, we cherish every reader.