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September 08, 2004

The Art of Watching (pt.2)

In the last post, I stated that people see films they believe will be good in theatres, films they don’t have anything against on DVD, and all others on television. This is “when” on a scale of one year, or in some cases a few years. But what about “when” on both a smaller and larger scale?

2. When?

One of my favourite films is Fellini’s 8 ½. I’ve seen it on two occasions. I’ve loved it both times. But I haven’t seen the same film twice. What am I going on about?

It’s noon. Outside, it’s a beautiful spring day. The sun is shining. Inside, it’s warm. The blinds are open. There’s a slight breeze. It’s quiet.

That’s the first viewing. That’s what motivated my interpretation and experience of the film. It was a film of celebration. I remember specific scenes, like one of schoolboys watching a woman dance on the beach. And the film’s ending, in which the main character engages in a procession with clowns, acrobats, dancers, and everyone important in his life, was calm, playful and life affirming. I’m sure it was.

Past midnight. Although it’s not raining anymore, it was a few minutes ago. The moon is hidden by clouds. Darkness. A train faintly rattles by.

That’s the second viewing. And what a difference! Scenes that I was sure took place during the day, now seemed to take place at night. Damn it, most of the film seemed to take place at night. And the definite day scenes, such as the woman dancing on beach, seemed synthetic and unremarkable. Instead, I clearly remembered an audition sequence in a darkened theatre and lush shots of night time in the city. And the ending, it was tragic. There wasn’t any joy. This was depressing, like a funeral procession.

My perception and understanding of the film were coloured by the setting in which I watched it. I could have seen it only twelve hours apart and probably had the same reaction. So, which interpretation of the ending was right? Which scenes actually took place during the day and which during the night? And what time is the best time to watch the film?

For 8 ½ there isn’t an answer, as far as I’m concerned. It’s great at any time. But other films should perhaps come with a small instruction booklet. The Blair Witch Project for example, as laughable as it can be during the day, is a whole different experience when watched at night (in the forest!). Indiana Jones or Conan the Barbarian are fantastic day movies. The Flight of the Phoenix, which takes place in the desert under the scorching sun, is better if you’re sweating along with the characters. At night it’s decidedly more boring. But these are all my opinions which, if I think back a few sentences, means that an instruction booklet should come personalized for each and every one of us.

Unfortunately, there are very few actual hints to tell us when we should watch a film. For the most part, I like watching when it’s dark outside (which I think is the popular position, since theatres are dark even at noon). And the only time I’ll voluntarily watch a film when the sun’s still out is when I know that most of it takes place during the day. (In case you’re wondering what the hell I’m blabbing on about, I lost any reasonable linking thought a while ago. Now I’m just improvising.)

Applying “when” on a much larger scale comes down to the question of at what age a particular film should be viewed. And, just to be clear, I don’t mean in terms of “suitable” content or anything about a Ratings system. I mean the perfect age to fully understand and enjoy a work of cinema. Now, since I’m too young and confused to say anything wise and informative on the topic, I offer two passages from Roger Ebert:

“I saw 'Ikiru' first in 1960 or 1961. I went to the movie because it was playing in a campus film series and only cost a quarter. I sat enveloped in the story of Watanabe for 2 1/2 hours, and wrote about it in a class where the essay topic was Plato's statement, 'the unexamined life is not worth living.' Over the years I have seen 'Ikiru' every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us.”

“As Benjamin and Elaine escaped in that bus at the end of ‘The Graduate,’ I cheered, the first time I saw the movie.…Today, looking at 'The Graduate,' I see Benjamin not as an admirable rebel, but as a self-centered creep whose put-downs of adults are tiresome.”

So, in an attempt to bring some order back to this post, I’ll try my hand at a conclusion. Some films work better during the day. Some are better when viewed at night. There’s no rule. It’s all subjective. And our ideas and opinions about films, and everything else, change as we get older. As a result, was reading all this a waste of your concentration? Maybe. Or maybe you just read it at the wrong time.


Blogger stennie said...

8½ is different EVERY TIME I see it, I've seen it three or four times now, and I like it more on each viewing, but it means something totally different each time. Fellini's movies are like kaleidescopes -- what you see depends on how you're looking at it, and what direction you're facing.

I haven't ever thought to put it into words before, but there are definitely "Lazy Sunday morning" movies and "Friday Night" movies, and "Weeknight movies," too. You're on to something with this.

7:51 pm  

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