A couple of weeks ago, Andy Horbal ran a Film Criticism blog-a-thon, basically encouraging other film bloggers to post their thoughts on film criticism and then posting all the links in his blog. I haven’t had time to read all the posts yet, but this one caught my eye. These are Matt Riviera’s Thoughts on Watching and Appreciation Film.
1. Every film is a masterpiece.
I try to give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt until the end credits roll, or at least as long as his or her film can withstand it. If I assume the film is a masterpiece, then I am forced to find out why as I’m watching it, meaning I can’t be complacent or dismissive. If it’s not clever, then I’m not getting the reference. If it’s not funny, then I’m not getting the joke. If it’s not thought-provoking, then I’m not getting the point. Etc, etc.
If I assume the film is a masterpiece and my first impressions while watching it is that it isn’t, then that’s the impetus I need to think harder about what I’m watching, to work harder at identifying and understanding the filmmaker’s intentions and methods.
Of course some films are duds, and sometimes you might even know they’re duds from the first minutes. But there’s something fascinating about pretending you’re wrong and the filmmaker is a genius, about the process of questioning all preconceived notions of what makes a good film and why. I may not change my mind about the film, but I perhaps won’t feel like I’ve wasted two hours of my life watching it.
I like this. It’s sort of the opposite of my usual “go in with low expectations so I’ll be pleasantly surprised” stance, but it’s also a good way to think about film or books, or anything, especially the part about working harder to see what we might be missing. It’s so easy to be negative on purpose–it’s more fun in a perverse way to tear down than to praise, it’s satisfying to nitpick, and we have a tendency to think a negative review is more “honest.” I consciously try to avoid this (which isn’t difficult, because I really do enjoy the vast amount of films I watch, even if I end up deciding they aren’t very good), but it is fun to denigrate and mock, I have to admit.
I often have two critical appreciations of every film co-existing in my mind, a cold critical judgement which is what’s left when I’ve removed my emotional self from the equation, and a fuller, more holistic appraisal which takes into account what I’ve brought to the viewing experience.
This is true, as well. “I liked it” does not necessarily mean “it was good”–critical judgment does not always coincide with emotional response. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. Sometimes I don’t think they need to be completely separated…there are so many film critics out there now that perhaps we can afford to be more subjective. In the aggregate, a more objective view appears.