The joy of going to the movies, or are the movies always a great experience?
I recently embarked on a trek to Walt Disney World in the sweltering hot state of Florida in my home country of the United States of America. While waiting for the first of many shuttles at the airport I was struck by an idea for this column. This happens sometimes, and usually I forget about the idea rather quickly because I want this column to be for film related topics that are worthy of deep exploration. As my vacation continued the idea stuck with me, and the more that I took in the experience of Walt Disney World the more I thought about the experience of watching movies. I went on a few movie based rides, and those got me thinking even further about the movie experience and how it relates to me. We all take what we will from the films we watch, but no matter what I don’t think there should ever be a movie that gives the viewer nothing to take away.
At this point I’ll stop and admit something, I have been guilty in the past of the crime in the last sentence of the opening paragraph. I’ll probably be guilty of said crime in the future, and I’m not sure why that is the case. Sometimes a movie leaves me so cold that my need to express my coldness finds me saying things like, “There’s absolutely nothing positive for me to say about this film,” or, “This film didn’t leave me with a single aspect to think about or mull over.” I’ve been wrong to make such declarative statements in the past, and I’ll be wrong when I make them again in the future. Sometimes a film brings out strong emotions in me as a viewer and I instinctively express myself as strongly as I can. I’m not about to hide from what I say, but I do feel that I owe my readers honesty, and in all honesty I’m doing a little of the pot calling the kettle black in this column.
The basic gist of the movie experience is that it is an experience. As a film viewer there should never be an experience that leaves us with absolutely nothing to think about, mull over, talk about, or write about. As cinephiles it’s only natural that we will love certain films, hate others, and feel apathetic towards a bunch more. However, no matter the film, or type of film, we watch there should always be something for us to take away from the films we add to our ever growing cinematic language. Because in reality that is what makes a smart film goer, the one who is willing to view every film he/she watches as a unique experience that can add to their cinematic language. I may not have enjoyed watching Kalevet, but it would be wrong to say that I didn’t come away from the film questioning the way it used common horror tropes. This, in turn, leads to me expanding my cinematic language as I can use the experience of watching Kalevet to better express my opinion on film in general and the horror genre specifically.
Cinematic language is a concept that I think about often. It is, in my humble opinion, the single biggest reason in why the film watching experience should always enrich us. One’s understanding of film should never be complete, we should never have all the answers nor should we always dare to claim we know the entirety of our own cinematic language. As film is subjective, so is cinematic language, a concept that is based on the individual cinephile. There isn’t a universal cinematic language, rather there is the cinematic language that an individual builds for his/herself. This is based on experience, individuality, and interpretation.
My cinematic language is different than that of my wife’s for instance. She has seen Lake Placid, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and Patch Adams and those have enriched her cinematic language from both positive and negative vantage points. (I want to stress that in this case positive and negative have no value connotation ascribed to them, as even a negative aspect of a film enhancing one’s cinematic language is a very good thing.) On the flip side I have seen and had my cinematic language enriched by Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans, Chun Gwong Cha Sit, and Shocker. All of us are enriched by the films we watch and since none of us watch exactly the same films we all end up with very distinct cinematic languages.
Sometimes we do see the same films, and yet we take away very different elements from the same film. Adam Palcher, from A Damn Movie Podcast, and I both watched Man Of Steel recently. We watched the same exact film, and yet we came away with very different feelings on the film. The subjectivity of film lends the form to interpretation, and we build our distinct cinematic languages based on the singular ways we interpret the films we watch. Those who know me, or at least those from the cinephile community who know me, know that this is something I have always held true. Yet, when looking at interpretation through the lens of cinematic language it becomes crystal clear how important interpretation is to the development of one’s cinematic language, and thusly how important interpretation is to cinema as a whole.
Finally, the mere act of watching a movie should enrich the viewer and add to their cinematic language. The quality of a film is not important, the mere act of watching a film should add to the way one can talk, think, and write about movies. The best film in the world and the worst film in the world should give each individual viewer a lot to think about. Quality doesn’t matter that much when it comes to adding to the cinematic language. The Animal is a terrible film, but that doesn’t mean I should come away from the film not having enriched myself as a cinephile. I may rag on the films of Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Robert Altman, but that doesn’t mean that their films don’t enrich me as a cinephile. Every film experience enriches me and adds to the volume and breadth of my cinematic language. It’s for that reason that I appreciate every movie I watch, and even when I hate a film I manage to take something away from the experience.
This column started off talking about the experience of watching a movie and ended with the idea of the importance of cinematic language to a cinephile. Both work hand in hand in my view, and the cinematic language we create and eventually engage in may be the most valuable part of being a cinephile. Watching movies enriches us, changes us, and allows us to become better members of the cinephile community and the world at large. It’s important to recognize that every movie enriches us, in some way, that we all have our own distinct cinematic languages, and that our interpretations truly help to define us as unique film goers. I’m not sure how much we tend to think about cinematic language, but the more I think about it the more important I believe it to be in the larger spectrum of the cinematic world. Cinematic language is important to me, as is the experience of watching a film. The next time you’ve finished watching a movie, before you say, or write, that it had nothing to offer stop and think about the silliness of that statement. That’s when you’ll truly realize the importance of cinematic language and how it’s something that all film buffs, including me, need to take into account more often.