Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Liking movies

I have been watching a lot of movies lately that I feel I should have seen, or that people, on hearing I haven't seen them, react with surprise. Some of these I have liked some, some I have liked not much, and some I haven't liked at all. There hasn't been a single one yet to which my reaction was "that was great" or to wish I'd seen it sooner. But they're all ones that I really ought to be familiar with, as part of being aware of the pop culture in which I live, and for other reasons.

In the process of thinking about them, and why some people I know like them so much more than I did, I put my finger on a thought about the way I appreciate movies and how it differs from how other people do. It's not easy to explain so I'll use an analogy even though the analogy will only get us so far before proving to be flawed. But it'll frame the idea in the right tone.

Some of the music I like tells stories -- think of the works of Harry Chapin, for instance. Some music tells interesting stories, but a lot more music tells a story that, if you took it out of the song and just started telling it, it wouldn't be a very interesting story at all. And lots and lots of music doesn't even try to tell a story. When a song tells a story that's interesting that might be part of why I like it, but even if it tells a dull story or no story at all, I could very well like it. A song which told a really awful story might annoy me enough to not like the song, but that'd be fairly rare; if the song is good, the story won't be enough to make it bad, generally. In the end, I like the music itself, for itself. I like the medium of a song, the form, the way songs are put together.

Drawing an analogy between this and movies doesn't really work because the story is a much more central part of what a movie is than what a song is. Even so, I think the analogy helps me pin down the difference I'm looking to pin down.

If you took a story that I wasn't interested in, and made it into a movie that was really excellently well done, with great production, great acting, great effects, great cinematography, great direction, great costuming, and so on and so on, you'd have a movie that might be a great movie, but which I simply wouldn't like. If you took a story that I found really interesting and made a very bad movie out of it, I might not like it, but I would still probably like it better than the well-done movie about a story I found wholly uninteresting.

However, I think for some of my friends, while they certainly can love or hate the story of a movie, and that will certainly impact how much they like the movie, they have an appreciation for the movie itself -- for the form, the medium, the way it's put together, the experience of simply watching a movie -- that I don't generally have. They can enjoy the movieness of the movie even when the story isn't one that, if it were distilled away from the movie and retold in another form, wouldn't interest them, and I rarely can.

This is certainly not a cut-and-dried thing. I don't mean that they can like the cinematography of a terrible movie in which nothing happens, or like the story doesn't matter. And I don't mean that I will have no appreciation for the craftsmanship of a finely made movie about a dull story. But I think the difference helps me understand why sometimes I feel like I'm being too picky about movies compared to other people, and helps me feel better about the idea that I not only can, but very often do find myself saying (or at least thinking) "it's a great movie, I'm sure, I just don't like it" and knowing something about why. It's similar to how I feel when I talk about music to people who only like music that they can dance to, and don't know how I can appreciate music that doesn't lend itself to dancing (or if not dancing then any of many other possible things they need to take from music to appreciate it).

Quite a few of the movies I've been watching recently will fall into this category. I'm sure they're great movies. And when I say I didn't particularly enjoy watching them, I really, really mean that that doesn't take anything away from the craftsmanship of the movie or my appreciation for the people involved. It just means that the story itself didn't interest me. Hopefully that focus will help clarify the reviews I intend to write soon.

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