Saturday, February 04, 2006

Writing About Film

Yesterday, I talked about how the simultaneous release pattern pioneered with Bubble could effect the way that the industry does business, and how people view films. So, the basic concept there was the idea that the simultaneous release could create an increased cultural dialogue around art films, because it would mean that anyone who wanted to see it would be able to see it when it came out.

The current film climate is currently entirely based around the opening weekend, a film opens and then fades, both in terms of box office and in terms of cultural prevalence. The vast majority of writing on a film occurs before it comes out, and this means that the writers of the article have to walk the line of talking about the film without spoiling the plot points. There are two primary types of articles on films right now, one is the behind the scenes piece, talking with the actors or director about the upcoming film and the process of making it. Then there's the review.

If you look on the internet, there's tons of film reviews, but I usually find it tough to find really meaningful, interesting writing on films. The reason for this is that most reviews are still targetted at whether or not you should see the film. This means that half of the review is spent going over plot stuff. As a reader, if I'm actually interested in seeing the film, I'm not going to read this part of the review, because I want to preserve the surprise of seeing the film for the first time. I don't need a summary of the plot, just a brief teaser of what happens is enough.

Before I see a film, I'll usually skim the reviews, to get the basic idea of whether it's positive or negative. Other than who the director is, the critical consesus is the primary thing that determines whether or not I see a film. I know a lot of people actively disdain the idea that you should follow the critics, but I think it's a good guideline. There's some films where I disagree with the critics, but most of the time, it's a good guideline for whether or not to check a film out. Of course, a personal reccomendation from someone whose taste I respect trumps the critics, but with new films, most of the time no one I know has seen the film.

So, as a person who hasn't seen the film, I'm really only interested in the person's opinion of the film, not in specific observations on scenes or directorial decisions. The reason for this is that I like to go in with as much of a blank slate as possible with a film. Usually all I want to know is that some people think this is a great movie.

But once I have seen the film, then I love to read discussion and analysis of it. The problem is that because almost all the writing on a film is in the "thumbs up, thumbs down" catergory, you wind up with people skirting around deep discussion of what occurs to avoid spoiling it for someone. And at this point, any summary of the plot is pretty much pointless. It's great to refer to specific scenes and plot details, but I don't need to know the basics.

I guess what I want is reviews that are more about analyzing the film than just giving an opinion. You can definitely intertwine the two, but I'm much more interested in watching people uncover layers and themes within the film, provide their interpretation, than just say it was good or bad. Now, obviously this is easier with some films than others. There are a ton of articles about Mulholland Drive, because it's a film that demands to be analyzed. The narrative content is so ambiguous, connecting the pieces is almost like a Rorshach test for the viewer.

However, it's not only "puzzle" films that can benefit from analysis of the kind given to Mulholland. I'm much more interested in articles targetted at people who've already seen the films and even if it is a review, it's much more effective to discuss the film assuming that your audience has already seen it.

When I write stuff for this site, I usually write the reviews assuming you've seen the film, hence there's always a lot of "spoilers." It differs from film to film, but usually, the more I like a film, the more I'm going to analyze it rather than just state an opinion. And a lot of times, the very act of writing about a film can reveal a lot of depth that I didn't realize was there. This happened with Star 80, a film that turned out to have a lot more layers than I would originally have thought, once I started digging through it.

So, writing an in depth analysis of the film is actually an important step in the critical evaluation process. If a film gets better the more you think about it, that's a sign that it really is a great film, whereas a film that dazzles, but has little to talk about might not be as strong.

Obviously there's certain films that don't really lend themselves to analysis, but are still great. However, on the whole, it's always going to more interesting to hear an in depth discussion of what worked and what didn't in a film than to just hear, "It's pretty good." Plus, as a writer, I'm much more interested in really engaging with the film than just letting you know if it's worth seeing.

Anyway, what the simultaneous release pattern could do is make it easier to have really in depth discussion of art films because it would let everyone see them. You can write an article that engages with a film like Revenge of the Sith a week after it comes out because it's so widely available that anyone who wants to see it can. And now, anyone who wanted to see Bubble can, so you can write a very deep article examining the film.

Ultimately, I think it's a lot more interesting to read about a film after you've seen it than to try to avoid the spoilers and discern an opinion before you've watched it. There's certainly validity to writing a traditional review, but I'd like to see some more people doing analysis rather than just giving an opinion.

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