Friday, January 16, 2009

More thoughts on how we watch movies...

As a follow-up to my last post (which was a follow-up to this post from Jim Emerson):

I went to see Let the Right One In last night. For most of the movie, I had a fair amount of distanced admiration for the filmmaking, but, as Sean Collins put it in this (excellent) post I really felt all those minutes. I wasn't pulled in and/or engaged like I was with movies as different as The Dark Knight, The Flight of the Red Balloon, Rambo, or In Bruges - movies that "had" me almost from the word go.

But the last twenty minutes of Let the Right One In put a whole new light on the entire experience: they retroactively made the entire movie cohere for me and I went from admiring the movie's pieces from a distance to fully embracing it as a whole.

I had the opposite experience with Happy-Go-Lucky: I was definitely "with" the movie from the beginning - thanks mainly to Sally Hawkins' performance - to the point where I was willing to forgive things that seemed like missteps/headscratchers (the scene with the homeless man). But the final scenes between Poppy and her driving instructor, where Mike Leigh's schematic message finally locks into place, struck me as being so heavy-handed and dishonest that they retroactively made earlier scenes seem more heavy-handed and dishonest than they had at first (especially the sequence where Poppy visits her married, settled sister). Once these final scenes made me certain of what Mike Leigh was trying to do with the whole, little problems that I had been willing to ignore became bigger problems that I didn't want to ignore and pieces that hadn't even looked like problems turned into problems because of the way they fit together within the bigger picture.

Another way to think of this is that movies are both a performance - those bits and pieces - and an object - the whole they add up to.

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