So why is it that I don't seem to be able to write about films then?
Thinking hard about this, I've reached the conclusion that a big problem is:
- If the film is really good, and it stays with me, I never feel I've got the writing skills to do justice to it.
- If the film is really bad, I feel embarrassed for having watched it, and just want to forget about it.
- If the film is somewhere in the middle, I find it hard to get motivated to write about it.
Another problem is what to write about. Let me explain.
I've mentioned previously that I hate having my enjoyment of a film spoiled by reviews that destroy elements of surprise or that tell me what's good or bad about the film in advance, thus shaping how I see the film. At the same time, how can I tell what films to watch? And once I've seen a film, where do I go to read interesting thoughts about it?
What I need doesn't seem to be available in the mainstream media. Typically we are provided with clever-clever reviews that show off the reviewers' knowledge, give away half the plot, and set up filters for my viewing that I don't want. I need sufficient information to help me decide whether I'm likely to find this worth seeing, and absolutely no more. I don't need the reviewers' know-it-all gloss on exactly why the film is good or bad, or exactly how it resonated with their personal experience and aesthetic (or didn't), or how it taps into the Zeitgeist, or what it says about the personalities or careers of the director and the actors, or whatever.
Once I've seen a film, though, all that kind of thing is grist to the mill. Except... after I've seen the film, these kinds of reviews are intrinsically inadequate: they inevitably contain as much chaff as grain because they have to avoid giving away too much of what happens to the characters. So before the film these reviews contain too much information, and after the film they fail to engage properly with the film as a whole, because of the need to be coy about giving away the ending.
So I think I'm wanting there to be short previews for those who haven't seen the film, and reviews for those who have. And those are the things that I would like to be able to write.
But again my skills are lacking.
Firstly, I find writing previews a challenge because I never feel very confident about delineating the kind of audience attributes that determine whether or not they might like the film. Good film critics are able to do this entertainingly and (for most people) accurately.
Secondly, I find writing reviews a challenge because I have a problem with exploring the mechanics of film-making. Anything that diminishes the suspension of disbelief seems to somehow reduce the film for me. That's clearly not true of very many people. The private lives of the actors; the quality of the plot, characters and dialogue; the intentions of the director; the skills of the cinematographer, the editor, the composer, the designers, etc. are often clearly fascinating, and for me too. But while many people's enjoyment is firmly enhanced by the "behind-the-scenes" story, by "the making of", by the rumours, triumphs, failures and career trajectories, I seem to get less pleasure from the film itself the more I know about the film-making.
This is in no way a criticism of film-makers. I love what they do, and I am fascinated about the choices and skills involved. But I am saying there is a failing in me: I should be able to maintain my enthusiasm for a film while also pursuing my interest in how it was made. But I don't seem to be able to do that.
Knowing how the Hurt Locker was made, for example, increases my admiration for the film-makers, and for the film too; but it decreases my engagement with the film. I have to pay attention to actors not people, dialogue not what I'm hearing, camera angles not what I'm seeing. Some people can pay attention to both process and product. I can't.
So this is why last year I resolved to avoid reading or hearing interviews with actors, directors or writers, and to refuse to watch behind-the-scenes clips. And this is also why I've been trying to steer away from discussing the film-making of films that I really like.
However, even with these strictures, I have found it difficult to finish reviews. I was strongly motivated to review Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin because I wanted to try to capture exactly how a film that had everything going for it turned out to be so unsatisfying for me. And with The Prestige I wanted to solve a tricky puzzle about the plot. But beyond that, I've not managed to click "submit" on any other film reviews.
And yet I do want to try to provide the kinds of reviews that I would like to read.
Maybe it's time to take a different tack. Perhaps a Twitter-style restriction - no more than five sentences, for example - might help me to preview and review.
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