Friday, March 31, 2006

The Rebirth of Cynicism

My first day of my first class in film school, the teacher told us, "Today, we begin the process of ruining movies for you."

What happened over the course of the next few years was something considerably different: movies stopped being simple. I stopped being entertained by them, and learned how to read them. I'll call it "reading" because it really was quite a bit like learning how to read words. In particular, once you've learned, there's no going back: you can't look at a word you know, and not read it. Now - well, film school + 10 years in the industry - I'm always aware when I'm watching a movie or a tv show of how things are being done. When the picture editor has been forced to do something a bitt odd, in order to fix a bad performance; how the script has obviously been rewritten, but not quite seamlessly... which explains, for instance, why a certain scene doesn't quite make sense (rats in the garbage can in the tragic romance that must have been a much darker story before they cast Julia Roberts); that the director probably forgot to shoot some vital piece of footage, so they had to cut around it; that the light is coming from the wrong direction, and why it had to be that way...

It's not pathological: I can still get carried away by a good movie; but even when I'm carried away, I'm always aware of what's going on. And... if I get bored - even a little bored - or if I get annoyed by something that doesn't work - then I'm right out of the story, and I start paying attention to the craft. To be honest, even if a movie's good and I'm engaged in the story, I'll notice things about it. And, being me, I'll often mention them. Out loud. While the movie's playing. (I don't do it in theaters, don't worry, and I don't wanna hear about it.) This is why most people who know me don't want to watch movies with me. It's like taking a ride with someone who insists on stopping every once in a while to tell you what's going on with your car. "Your tire pressure's low." "Four wheel drive would be better on this terrain." "You're out of gas."

I'm sorry if the movie you want to watch is out of gas, or if it badly needs a tuneup, or if it's burning oil. But I feel duty bound to report these things. Because what if you break down, miles from nowhere? It can happen, you know. I've been there.

SW and I both went to film school (it was where we met, but not where we started going out), and so we can stand to watch movies together, because we both enjoy analyzing them, even while they're going on. It's what makes an awful lot of movies enjoyable to us, including the awful lot of movies that wouldn't be very enjoyable otherwise. (Must Love Dogs? If you're alone in a hotel in a strange city and the bars are closed and you have some time to kill dead, with a stake through its heart, I guess you could do worse than to watch Must Love Dogs. But you should have brought a book, shouldn't you?)

We have discovered a new category of movies, worse even than "movies that are so bad you can't watch them." It's "movies that are so bad you have to watch them all the way through because you can't believe it."

Examples: Constantine was so bad we couldn't watch it - we turned it off after about half an hour. Kingdom of Heaven turned out to be even worse, so boring that we stopped watching about twenty minutes from the end. AI started all right, then got bad, then got steadily worse, eventually becoming so incredibly awful that we couldn't turn it off - because every time we thought it had finally bottomed out, it managed to find a new level of badness. And, finally A Beautiful Mind was so mind-bogglingly bad, so early on, that we kept watching and watching because we literally could not believe the filmmakers had been so inept. Because we understood all of the decisions that had been made, we could see them going past, being made exactly wrong - and while it's (more or less) true that it only takes one person to wreck your film, it's truly awesome to see what happens when there's a conspiracy among three people - and they happen to be the writer, the director, and the producer. Um... Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath was another such movie. Had to watch the whole. Dismal. Relentless. Thing. Wow.

It's like an engineer watching the movie of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster all the way through. You know what's going to happen, and you keep on watching, even though, really, you're not even going to learn anything from the experience.

So did film school ruin movies for me? If anything, it did the opposite. I know Dorothy was awfully let down to find the man behind the curtain, but honestly, don't you think she was just kind of... well... shallow?
"I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.

"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."
I think the opposite: he was a bad man, but a good Wizard. In fact, I wish someone (besides Gregory Maguire) would write an Oz book from the Wizard's point of view. Even a technical manual (heavily illustrated, please) would be interesting. To me, anyway.

Oh, go check out this page about the Wizard of Oz technique. Why not. Thanks, Google.


At 6:28 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

For me, my expertises at least partially spoil lots of products. They benefit my experiences of the products in that I enjoy the analysis and criticism and imagined substituting my mind ends up doing in lieu of submitting to the creators' intent(s), but it's in lieu and not on top of that submission. So I don't get the renowned "child-like" rapture or "wow" I probably would have gotten back as a real child. Maybe as a parent, as lots of parents claim their children enable them to do vicariously. So my sense is that expertise raises a bar. You childishly enjoy a smaller share of works, but from everything beneath the bar you get something else that you wouldn't have at sans sophistication. Incidentally, in the way I suppose film theory injures your ability to experience a film, I think law school will does something disturbing to the way you think.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger DuraLex said...

Thank you kindly for the link, but I think there's something wrong with the HTML. Thought I'd let you know.--DuraLex


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