Aaron’s ramblings on film part 1: Why we watch films…..

Posted: May 18, 2014 in random thoughts on film and stuff
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I’ve decided that I will dedicate some time to discuss my thoughts (which may come across as confused ramblings) on certain aspects of film.

For the first part I thought it could be interesting to look at why we watch films and what makes a good film. This is going to be an overview, as at a later date I want to look at individual genres of film. (remember that all of these views are just my own opinion so feel free to disagree and post comments about your thoughts on the subject.)

So. Why do we, as viewers watch films?

I personally watch a film to get something out of it and for me this only happens if I get some kind of entertainment out of it. That’s not to say that you have to enjoy the film but that it has to draw you in and stir some sort of emotion inside you. It could be happiness, sadness, anger, love, it could be anything. It’s why when one person says a film is amazing, you’ll always have someone who disagrees. everything is subjective, especially when it comes to the arts and film is one of the prime examples of this.

How many times have you been to the cinema with someone, only to find you both have very different opinions on the film at the end? I’m not saying all the time, but as everyone sees everything differently it’s only natural. It’s why reading reviews can never give you a 100% answer to whether or not you will enjoy a film. They can give you a good indication and if you follow a certain writer you can kind of understand their taste after a while. But even then they may throw a curve ball and like something out of their comfort zone. This is something I’ve tried to do over the years. Personally I will watch any film, no matter what I expect to get from it. You never know…. You may enjoy it. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to get people to stop reading reviews because I do think that it is always interesting to hear another person’s opinion of a film (It’s why I especially like reading reviews for films that I’ve already seen).

We all have our favourites, which all vary, even if it is only a very small variation. There are certain films that are considered masterpieces; Citizen Kane, Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather etc….. But that doesn’t mean that they are films that people watch every single day (some might but I expect most don’t). I can see these films for the great bits of art they are but I generally won’t go out of my way to see them over and over. for example I’ve only ever seen’ Citizen Kane’ twice (I love it but what I get out of it isn’t the kind of entertainment that i want all of the time.) On the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve seen the film ‘Hackers’ hundreds of times. I wouldn’t say it was a better film but it’s a film that i can simply enjoy for what it is.

Some films such as documentaries are slightly different as they are (generally) showing fact. As such it isn’t the director’s imagination we are seeing (although we are seeing their interpretation of what they are filming) but what is there. The enjoyment factor for some documentaries rely on how the stories are told (like fiction). A good example is something like ‘Bowling for Columbine’. It focuses on a hard subject but tells it in such a way that the audience get a form of enjoyment out of it making them pay more attention. By presenting the subject in this way the film is opened up to a much larger audience, an audience who may subconsciously be against the subject matter but for the presentation.

You could say that this means that a film is only as good as its audience. This is Kind of true, If your audience hates it then what’s the point? It is when the whole question of ‘Is it made to be enjoyed’ or ‘is it made to make money’? All films are made to make money, It’s the way the film industry keeps going.  Without income, as with any industry, it would collapse. But is that to say that all films are made to just make money?

NO!

Some films are made out of love and for an audience to experience a story they may not have seen before. We as viewers are traditionally meant to place ourselves in to the characters shoes. We are Jack or Rose when watching Titanic, Dutch in Predator, Danny or Sandy in Grease. If we are to fully enjoy a film we have to be able to relate in some way to what the Characters are feeling. This is why films featuring the subject of ‘love’ are so popular. Most people can relate in one way or another to love (be it love for a partner, love for a friend or even love for a family member.) It doesn’t have to be a romantic form of love but just that feeling of ‘love’ (I’m not going to spend hours trying to define Love as it is the most confusing of all emotion). The fact we can all relate, means that it is far easier to manipulate that feeling through film. If you can get that feeling involved you can trick a person into enjoying a film more than they might otherwise enjoy it. This ‘tricking’ is not a bad thing, it’s what all forms of media does. You can manipulate all emotions. (Love just seems to be the easiest.)

You could argue that people go to the cinema and watch films to purposely have their emotion manipulated as it is a safe place to have it done. It’s why people watch ‘scary’ films. People as a whole don’t like being scared, but you do get a form of adrenaline and a feeling you don’t get anywhere else. experiencing the same feeling in a safe environment allows us to get the feeling without the risk. But this only works if the film can draw you into itself and make you forget that you are in a safe place.

I guess you could say a ‘good’ film is one that makes you feel what it wants you to feel. But you can’t because what you feel will be different from what others feel.

An example of this from my own experience is ‘The Deer Hunter’ directed by Michael Cimino. I can accept that it is an amazingly well made film. The acting is amazing, the script is great, the direction is brilliant, yet I don’t think it’s a great film in my own mind.  I want to like it much more than I do but I find it difficult. My problem is the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. I hadn’t experienced anything they had been through and in turn found it hard to relate to them and the film. (not that I can always relate to all characters in film. that would be silly.) I can accept and see why people love the film, but for me it just doesn’t do it. I’ve watched the film, probably around 5 times in my life, but I jut don’t get much from it. ( I have decided to leave this segment in even though i no longer truly agree with it. I have since watched ‘The Deer Hunter’ agaian and truly believe it to be a masterpiece of filmmaking – even if it does have a pointlessly long wedding sequence)

I can watch a film like ‘Karate Kid’ which his nowhere near as epic in scope or as stunningly made, and enjoy it far more because I find it easier to relate to some of the things that ‘Daniel’ is going through. Things such as trying to be accepted when your young and striving to be all you can. I can endlessly watch that film and never get bored, I will always get a rush of adrenaline at the end when he rises up onto one foot to take that final kick.

A successful film will make you forget you are watching a film. Time no longer matters, neither does your growing hunger or need for the toilet. You are drawn into the world presented to you on the screen and you are there with the characters. You are standing beside Arnie as he wields the minigun in ‘Terminator 2’, You are riding side by side with Brad Pitt about to rob a train in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford’. As soon as you start looking at your watch wondering how much more of the film there is. It’s failed…

ultimately you can never label a film as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Well at least in the general sense. It can be good or bad for you but not necessarily for someone else. There are a few films i truly despise as pieces of art but I know people who love them. so it all comes down to what you want from a film and whether or not you get it.

I realise I have rambled on in a big pointless circle but I hope you get something out of it. It’s been in my mind for a while and this is only touching the surface….. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and whether or not you found this to be an entirely pointless exercise in writing. (although we could then argue that with everything being subjective, so is this piece of text)

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