Sep. 12th, 2014

Movies

Sep. 12th, 2014 09:33 pm
This past year I took an English elective in high school whose focus was on film. One of the movies we watched was "Citizen Kane," a true classic, revered by many (according to my teacher, anyway) as "the greatest movie of all time." We spent a quarter of the school year evaluating the movie. We would watch about twenty minutes at a time in every class, and spend the rest of the period, as you might expect of an English class, discussing elements of the film, picking it apart almost as though it were a book. We went over cinematic techniques, symbolism of the things like individual actors' performances or scene composition -- "mise en scène" as I learned it's sometimes called. In keeping with the pattern of treating the movie like a book, everyone in the class ultimately went off and wrote essays on the film when we finally reached its end. Needless to say, the class was a lot of work. I respect "Citizen Kane" as a movie, and I understand that a lot of creative energy must have gone into its becoming the historic artistic composition that it is. But I must say -- and maybe this just stems from a vestigial association I've made between the movie and the sheer amount of effort that went into that class -- I feel like "Citizen Kane" misses one of the critical marks of a "good" film: watching it was simply not that much fun.

Call me crazy, but I think watching movies should be fun -- an enjoyable experience. Maybe you go out to the theater on the weekend with some friends, buy some pop corn and take your seats to enjoy an action-packed thriller or a comedy. Or maybe you dust off a personal copy of an old favorite, pop it in your laptop and don your headphones to lock out the rest of the world for a few hours. These are the kinds of things I most readily associate with movies. Not lots of work or stress, or the strain of meeting deadlines, but things that simply make you feel good.

But is the act of painstakingly analyzing a film necessarily exclusive of fun? Can't you derive fulfillment from reaching an intellectual conclusion on a movie? Speaking meaningfully about a movie can require some investment up front, even to the point of pain, but it pays off in the end. If you think hard about a movie, you can discover interesting things about it that you never noticed before, and there's substantial personal pride to be had in that. What's more, you can share these discoveries with your friends and help them learn something too. So I think it's not fair to say that watching movies should be a total pain, but it's also not true that it should be the easiest, most mindless thing in the world. I think the way to get the most out of watching a movie is to find a happy medium somewhere between mindless and torturous, to strike a balance between the two and see what you come up with.

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Jack Reece

December 2014

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