Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Stream of Consciousness No. 3

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - One of the things that I might start asking moviegoing or moviewatching companions to do from now on is to try not to ask me what I thought of a particular film immediately after it's over.

While surfing the internet today, I came across a recent post on a blog maintained by a web-based film writer, Jim Emerson. This passage stood out for me:

"As for the 'pack mentality' among critics---that can only develop if there are multiple critics' screenings over a period of time. In most cases, a commercial thriller like Running Scared would be screened only once---at an 'all media' screening, with an invited audience (targeted radio station giveaway passes). It might screen up to a week in advance of the opening, and critics go off and write their reviews. In most cases, they sure don't stand around and talk about it first. I don't know a decent critic who would try to sway other critics one way or another about a film. That kind of thing shows a lack of professional integrity....And, besides, why tip your hand and give away your take on a movie before you've fully formulated it, written it and published it? I don't want anybody to know how I felt about a movie until my review is published---especially publicists! In LA, I specifically asked them not to pounce on me the moment after the screening, while I was still absorbing the movie. In fact, a lot of times I don't know precisely how I feel about a certain movie (and why) until I start writing about it and feel my way back into it, do some exploring of the experience."

This interested me because, as a writer having written a whole bunch of film reviews for the Daily Targum and elsewhere, I know I've come across instances where I've thought something about a particular movie only to realize, as I write a review for it, that I might actually like or dislike a movie more than I thought initially. The point is, as a person who at least professes to thinking more deeply about films I see than most people, I've come to feel that I need time after a film screening to digest what I've just seen and reflect on it. When people who immediately ask me after a movie "So what did you think?" I risk giving a snap response that I may regret later, if I decide, upon reflection, that maybe a particular film was more problematic than I initially thought.

Besides...frankly, I suck at giving verbal opinions! I stutter and stumble, especially if I'm trying to give an intelligent verbal opinion right after seeing a movie. So if anyone still wants to ask me what I thought of a movie right after seeing it, one probably shouldn't expect more than a one-word "good" or "eh" response. That would probably be more honest than me trying to come up with something more thoughtful on the spot.

You know what I've realized, as I've written this post, though? That some of the previous film review posts on this blog have been the result of snap responses, often written on the same night I've seen that particular film. My review of United 93, for instance, was based almost entirely on the visceral feelings I experienced as I left the theater.

The problem with this snap approach is: sometimes I have a tendency to publish things about a film that I might regret publishing later. My United 93 post on this blog is an example: in hindsight, I think that perhaps I didn't go far enough in seriously questioning the use of a film that basically tries to pass itself off as an objective account of what happened during two fateful hours on 9/11 without providing much insight into why this atrocity occurred. Perhaps I should have pursued that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion---and thus perhaps should have given it less than a three-star rating because maybe I should have logically concluded that, as terrific a piece of filmmaking it is, it might not be all that useful to thinking audiences. (In addition, perhaps I should have been even harder on X-Men: The Last Stand than I was, because it really was a disappointment compared to the first two films of the series.)

When you publish something, it's as if you're putting final (not absolute, but relative, I guess) thoughts on paper. So you better make sure that they're really your final thoughts, and that you mean it, and won't regret it later. As an aspiring film critic, I think I'm still working on having enough confidence to take strong stands, to not be mixed all the time, and, above all, to think carefully about a film I've seen and take trains of thought to logical conclusions.

But of course I should not totally deny what I felt as I watched something. Maybe that's the struggle of all film critics: to reconcile both thoughts and feelings, allied with a reasonable understanding of how film perhaps inspires those thoughts and feelings.

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