Friday, 6 June 2008

Re: views

The recent shenanigans with the now-on-hiatus DYM made me think about how I approach film reviews. Not in the sense of writing them, which I do poorly and infrequently, but in the sense of reading them. I was talking to a friend about it, and he said that he can't be bothered to read reviews of films he's already seen, and looks instead for reviews of films he hasn't. I have completely the opposite approach - I really don't like reading reviews of films I haven't seen yet.

Part of it is that I'm deathly afraid of spoilers. Not that I think people would intentionally put them into a review, but there's always the chance that they'll let some revelation slip, something that'll combine with something someone else says and something I see in an interview, and will end up lessening the impact of something in the film itself. Even if it's not a spoiler that gives away a plot twist, I don't like being told 'X gives a great performance', or 'there is an amazing FX shot' or even 'the score is great'. These are all things I care about (except the music - no one cares about the music), but they are things that I want to decide for myself.

When I was watching There Will Be Blood earlier this year, all I could think was "Wow, all those reviewers were right, Daniel Day Lewis is great", because I'd read a couple of reviews that said this. As such, it felt far less genuine an opinion than one I construct myself. I'm worried that because I was told it was a good performance, I was biased towards it while watching, and wanting to be someone who could appreciate good acting I subconsciously picked out the bits I felt were good in order to align my view with those of the critics. Now, I'm not saying that that's what happened - I genuinely felt Lewis gave a fantastic performance - but it's always a slight worry when I'm trying to judge something slightly less outstanding.

Some of my best memories are seeing films I knew nothing about beforehand - seeing The Matrix in the cinema on a friend's 15th birthday, watching Fight Club at a friend's house, watching Primer on my computer late at night, watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico or Equilibrium in the student cinema at uni - all amazing experiences because there was no build up and no expectation. These films now rank amongst my favourites of all time, and though I don't know how much of that is down to the memories of the first time I saw them, it certainly didn't hurt. With every single one of those films I can remember coming away feeling excited and as though I'd "discovered" an amazing unknown masterpiece. That's not the case of course, but the memory of the unexpected adreniline rush is very clear in my head.

I guess part of the difference in approach is based on what you want to get out of reviews. I can see that using reviews as a filtering system to ensure that you see the best movies you can when they come out could be useful, but I think I really tend to use them as a benchmark for my own opinions. I love reading reviews once I've seen a film, because I can match up what the reviewer says to my own experience, and prepare a response, even only internally. Without having seen the film, I think a lot of the review would be lost on me, since all I'm really looking for is a thumbs up or down as to whether I should pay money to see it.

So how about you guys? How do you like your reviews?


happylittlecynic said...

*spits blood and feathers*

I hope you were being deliberately controversial when you said no-one cares about the music...

Anyway, FWIW I tend to read film reviews even less frequently than I see films, but I usually prefer to read ones of films that I haven't and am not going to see. At least, not any time soon. That way, if I know I'm not going to see a film, then I can at least get a sense of it so I'm not completely lost when I inevitably end up in the midst of a group discussion about it.

TheTelf said...

I was indeed being deliberately controversial. Though I do tend to fight with people (*ahem* Joe *ahem*) over how important it actually is.

I accept that it can enhance a film, but I propose it is less important than script, acting and direction.

Also I don't understand it. Which helps to fuel my dismissive attitude...