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Stuck in the Moment: The Mood for a (Particular) Movie…

I’ve been thinking a bit, lately, about how I form an opinion about a particular film. Of course, it should be somewhat objective. I should be able to take out any possibly subjective influences and divorce a movie from any of those countless outside factors, to judge it entirely on its own merits. (Or, as the case might be, its lack of merits.) However, I am honest enough to admit that this isn’t always the case. There are any number of reasons I might feel a particular way about the movie. I find J. Edgar interesting to place in the context of Clint Eastwood’s body of work. I approached Cabin of the Woods with an admitted fondness for cheesy horror. I’ll admit that these facets colour my opinions somewhat – I am more likely to respond to a film that resonates with me on something I feel strongly about.

However, sometimes that influence factor isn’t anything to do with the movie in question at all. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, whether my opinion is down to something as arbitrary as the mood I was in when I watched the film.

I will not have my tastes subjected to this sort of double-guessing!

Now, being honest, one makes a conscious effort to cancel out any influence like that. You try to judge a film on its own merits rather than on an arbitrary set of circumstances that surround it. After all, we all have movies that we associate with deeply personal memories and moments. I fondly remember a lot of the cheesy and terrible horrors that I watched with my grandfather, for example. Casino Royale was the first film that I saw with my better half, so it holds a special place in my heart.

Still, acknowledging these important connections, I think that reviewers do make a conscious effort to divorce movies from those contexts. I love those old horror movies like The Devil Rides Out or Prince of Darkness, but I will freely concede that they are flawed. I’d like to believe that the reasons I like Casino Royaleare based on its own merits, rather than the important place it holds in my relationship history.

Taking a gamble on whether I like this film…

I’m thinking about this because I saw The Silver Linings Playbook last week, and I really liked it. It’s a feel-good film, executed with incredible tact and skill by director David O. Russell with a great ensemble. It comes very highly recommended. At least, I’m fairly certain it does. I really don’t want to turn this into a personal blog, if only because you came here to read about films – and because I’m terrible at personal stuff. However, I did get some personal news last week that probably meant I was really in the market of a feel-good film. I can’t help but wonder if, on some level, my ecstatic response to the film was rooted in that decidedly personal issue.

It’s not really fair to mention The Silver Linings Playbook in this context, because I am pretty certain that I was genuinely impressed with it. After all, I’d seen a similar drama, People Like Us, the day before and I really disliked it because it lacked pretty much all the virtues that made The Silver Linings Playbook so good. I’m certain that The Silver Linings Playbook is a great film, I just worry that perhaps I’m exaggerating howgood it was.

Talk about being tough to like…

Of course, there are ways that this arbitrariness (if it even exists) can be countered. Unlike Pauline Kael, I am a big fan of repeat viewing – of films I love and also films that I did not like that much. There’s lot’s of reasons I like to return to a film. The most obvious is the simple fact that I probably didn’t get everything the first time – and it would be arrogant to assume that I did. Also, though, it allows me to determine whether my initial response to a film accurately measured the quality of the film, or if I was just caught up in the moment.

I feel somewhat vindicated that – a lot of the time – my original opinion stands quite firm. It means that I’m generally a bit more comfortable voicing my opinion coming out of a film. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule – although perhaps they come from acknowledging that a film is what it is and trying to appreciate it on its own terms. I’ve grown slightly fonder of Alien³ every time I have seen it, perhaps because I can at least admire what David Fincher was attempting. (Curiously, I grow colder towards Alien Resurrection on every re-watch.)

An alien sensation…

Every time I watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I get a clearer picture of what Peter Hunt was attempting, but the film’s problems coming together become more frustrating as I can see what it should be. I have no problems admitting when I am wrong on a film – I’ll freely concede that time has changed my opinion on Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation. (In my defence, I weakly offer, I was only a young teenager when I first saw it.) When my twelve-year-old self say Blade Runner, I couldn’t quite process it. I now consider it one of the best films ever made.

Still, despite all that, I think it has been quite some time since a re-watch of a film completely reversed my opinion of a particular film. Perhaps that’s a good thing – an indication that my gut instinct is generally relatively accurate. Of course, I could just be sticking to (and attempting to vindicate) my original opinion of the film, so I’m not sure.

What can I say, I’m not a robot…

For the sake of my own sanity, I tend to adopt a rather laissez-faire attitude to such things. Perhaps it’s part of the reason I’ll never be a great film critic, but it does at least give me some peace of mind. I can only accept that – despite my best efforts – sometimes outside factors might creep in and influence my opinion of a film. However, I can only hope that I have the self-awareness to recognise such contamination and perhaps even to counter it if necessary.

We live in hope.

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6 Responses

  1. You make a very valid point , mood, timeperiod, location and watching it alone or with others are all more influencial on ones opinion than one might think or even want. I do not care if people let their own mood or circumstances of even personality shine trough in thier opinions or even reviews. I love reading how personal affairs color their view of a movie or vice versa their own life. Makes it more interesting and in the end it is all subjective anyway.
    I thought alien3 was great the first time and after reading a lot of bad reviews it started to color my own opinion, but upon revisiting it was just as good as I originally thought.
    Reading reviews can seriously influence my opinion(or at least the way I experience the movie) and I stopped reading them upfront even if they are without spoilers.
    When I first saw Blade Runner I did not really get it and now I get it but to be honest I still don’t see the greatness in it that so many others do.
    I loved OHMSS the first time around, but when watching in the same week after the first 5 Connery’s I almost loathed it and I was actively talking to the screen out of pure frustration.

    • It is something, isn’t it. Although it is great to watch something, hear terrible reviews, and return to it to find it holds up… in your opinion, of course. For me, that happened with Demolition Man. I love that film. It’s cheesy and corny, but I think it’s fun and quite clever in its own way.

  2. Films definitely act as a sort of timeline of a person’s life. Today, I decided to watch a DVD (not sure which one yet…possibly another period drama…) instead of going to the cinema. After reading your post, I wonder what cinematic experience I have altered through this decision…! I would either have gone to see James Bond or…..Twilight. Yes, Twilight. Terrible films but gosh, they’re enjoyable. Apart from the second last one, which was just strange.

    The above extremely insightful comment is the reason I’m not going to the cinema today – lack of concentration. At least when you have the pause button, you can customise your viewing experience. Plus the weather and afternoon darkness outside would make Tim Burton proud.

    • I actually really love the viewing at home experience, which I think makes me a bad cinephile. I love the family film. (In fact my two jobs for the packed Christmas extended family vist are – 1.) make ice; and 2.) pick a shortlist for the Christmas movie.) Pausing the film might be something David Lynch objects to, but it allows you to stop and digest, but also for a bit of natter during the film over confusing or troubling points. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t pause every five minute, but it allows us to pick up on things that might get overlooked if we left it. (That’s why I like to take notes watching a film as well.)

      Then again, it’s also easier to take a bathroom break. That is also a factor.

      • Do you takes notes for most films? Do you watch most films with in review mode?

        Writing a paper on a film can be difficult work when you are not used to watching the film with your academic hat on. In the past, I have had to force myself to sit with a notebook and pen and to be more perceptive – it’s hard work! Or to watch it twice with two different approaches – a viewer and then a critic, Well, not a critic…but with a more analytical purpose in mind. Depending on how much time has been spent pondering the film-making aspect, do you ever find that you sometimes have to consciously ignore (which means you probably aren’t ignoring it at all…) the fact that its a film. Then again, if the film as a whole (particularly the main actor(s)) is good enough, then it doesn’t require much effort. It’s like going to the theatre really, it’ll all be fine if you just give in to your imagination!

        I watched Abduction last week. I do highly recommend it. It’s really terrible. At the beginning, the actors have their back to the camera for a significant period of time. And there’s a moment where Taylor Lautner has a tear on his face which has clearly been place there a few seconds before the scene. He sort of shakes his head to make sure that it falls at the right moment. Oh my, it’s priceless.

      • So bad it’s good?

        I am totally there.

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