Simon Columb on whether critics should watch films twice…
Initially, many were surprised at Inherent Vice’s lack of nominations during the awards season. Its directing pedigree of Paul Thomas Anderson, combined with an outstanding cast (Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, etc) seemed like it would be a shoe-in for the big-guns. Instead, not only was it met with a muted response, but additionally, it gained mixed reviews. Many argued the necessity of a second viewing to truly understand the dense plotting and heavy, detailed narrative that dominated the two-hour plus film. A question therefore arises regarding if this expectation, unto itself, loses the film a little shine. Surely the greatest films have that initial buzz and appreciation from the outset to justify its credibility?
There is a sense that you either believe that the “best” films have to be watched on multiple occasions to be considered an outstanding achievement or, instead, you pick up on its magnificence in the first viewing and it doesn’t let go, like a cinematic bear-trap. I’d like to assume a third option is available. There are films you can watch once, and dismiss immediately from the outset. No offence to Kingsman: The Secret Service, unless I’ve missed something, it’ll either float your boat or sink it with the force of a thousand missiles. Alternatively, there are films that you’ll have watched once and don’t know where to stand. You know there is something deep within the film that claws to get out, desperately scraping the inside of your head, but you simply can’t get a clear, concise opinion out. This year, Interstellar and Inherent Vice both achieved this position in my mind. I know there is something to be recommended; something to appreciate; something to love about the films – but, after only one viewing, I can’t put my finger on it.
On a smaller scale, when watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I initially felt unsure. I enjoyed Ralph Fienne’s clipped, Monsieur Gustave and whole-heartedly enjoyed the absurd set-design and deft plotting, but knowing Wes Anderson, there was a sense I’d seen it before. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I couldn’t forget the tongue-in-cheek comedy and playful structure of the story, leading me to conclude that it was my favourite film of 2014, despite what felt like reservations. Re-watching the film again, my entire mind, body and soul understood. I laughed harder than the first watch and held a deeper respect for the broad range of characters within the exquisite origami-folded film. This isn’t to say I had a change of opinion, but more a slow realisation of my growing-appreciation. This was confirmed on my second watch.
Another example crept up last week, when watching the BAFTAs. As Interstellar won awards for the special effects, they used Hans Zimmer sprawling score as the team walked to stage. My mind floated back to my cinematic experience, revisiting the scale, scope and depth of Nolan’s sci-fi dream. I loved the film. I didn’t know it when I first left the cinema screen but I knew it was within me and there was a clear sense that I had seen something wonderful – but it couldn’t be placed. This minor musical memory cue brought the experience back again and helplessly, I was dragged back seeking more.
Did I doubt Christopher Nolan? Do I doubt Paul Thomas Anderson? Does their lack of awards prove that they have dropped the ball? I think not. Without placing my stake in the ground, I am content in reserving my full judgement until a second watch (but I’m happy to give a fair comment at this stage). This is the alternative third option. An awareness that, though you can understand the intelligent acting, intriguing story and perfectly framed shots of a film, you trust the film-makers more than yourself. There is no necessity to sing the praises to the high heavens, or alternatively leap to a negative stance that dismisses something that perhaps you simply “weren’t in the mood” for. There is pride in patience and respect in a cinematic endeavour that lets its tentacles creep into your mind over time.
Why can’t we resist in arguing our position? Instead, we can reflect our thoughts, emotions and feelings with an argument. Isn’t there an obligation to be thankful for the creation of the art unto itself? That we can watch it again (or not) if we want? We can reflect and consider where we stand. Rushing to a finite judgement may be the problem, not the first viewing itself. That’s the confusion. We should be grateful for the first viewing. Countries sometimes edit a film and refuse to screen it. Filmmakers can be forced to change their original intention too. We should be so lucky that the movie makes the screen at all! The least we can do is give the film a fair crack of the whip and perhaps pass an honest review that appreciates what may have been missed the first-time round – whether or not the reader will watch it at all. The review-reader will either follow your writing, and see through the lines, or they won’t. And that’s OK.
Simon Columb – Follow me on Twitter