Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Staying power in film watching. Turn on, tune in, turn off again.

For some reason, once a film has started I feel bound to sit to the end. Often it doesn’t really matter about the quality of the film in question, its run time or even the subject matter. Once I’ve started a film from the beginning, I am loath to do anything but sit through to the finale.
This is mostly driven from an outright curiosity to find out how the plot resolves and to what degree of satisfaction. Partly its out of a kind of respect to the film maker to allow them the opportunity to express the fullness of their vision, it might even be a kind of latent optimism that even the worst film can find some redemption in a dramatic denouement that adds a new dimension to an otherwise pretty average effort (see the collected works of M Night Shyamalan for examples).
Until relatively recently I’ve felt the same about books, once I’ve got past the first few chapters, its quite a wrench to abandon even the most turgid read. My patience on this was tested beyond its limit finally by Ulysses by James Joyce. A book I found so thoroughly un-engaging I didn’t even make it half way through. Like the lifting of a bad sign, putting down this first unfinished text removed the barricade, and the realisation that life is too short to waste on tedious books set in, and now I have little patience for a novel that offers little enjoyment back.
A similar awakening has now prompted me to reconsider my grim determination to see out a film once started. The offending piece was David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. At an alarmingly impatient 18 minutes in to this film, tolerance for its disjointed verbal masturbation was entirely spent, the disc was ejected and I hope never to see the like again.
Big deal.
Those 18 wasted minutes were filled with increasing anger that Robert Pattinson’s disconnected rambling had been confused at any point with a proper film script. It’s an obvious attempt at ‘higher level’ film making, but a point seems to have been missed in that in order to be as didactic as it so obviously intends to be, some level of coherence is required.
This is where I find the art house wing of cinema so deeply frustrating. A film can carry a message, be gloriously creative, play with timelines, characterisation, perceptions of reality and other cinematic conventions to push the boundaries of originality, but when it does so with both a transparent self-awareness and such a wilful lack of class and grace as Cosmopolis it becomes repugnant in its on conceited narcissism.
You all know one of those.

Clapping a more cerebral film in the cinema is just self-congratulatory, it’s that knowing nod to your fellow beard strokers that you ‘got it’ too. In the same way making an art house film for the sake of being art house is just as insular and inward looking, it saps the joy out of cinema for the sake giving those most pretentious of viewers the satisfaction of their own smugness. I highly suspect they get as little enjoyment from the actual film as anyone else, but they are so busy enjoying the afterglow of superiority from merely attending a showing they can barely contain their excitement at the opportunity to look down on the proletariat, queuing to watch something that isn’t even in a foreign language.
I hope that Cosmopolis was an exception, both in the nature of its presentation and the ease and complete lack of guilt with which I switched it off. Watching a challenging film should be a rewarding experience, just as a well-made challenging film should be rewarded with audience, otherwise all films would look as lacking in substance as Michael Bay carefully juggling his ratio of explosions to female nudity. I hope that I will, in future, listen to that nagging inner voice and both offer films the time they deserve and, so much more importantly, learn that vital lesson and never watch a film starring Robert Pattinson again.

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