Tom Jolliffe on watching a film you have no prior knowledge of…
To a certain generation, who have grown up entirely with internet access, their movie going existence is likely to be 99% based on pre-ordained knowledge of what they’re going to the multiplex to see, or putting into the Blu-ray player/streaming. If you watch the latest blockbusters you’re normally lucky if there’s a single surprise left by the time you reach the cinema. That’s not merely because there’s a certain predictability with the majority of major blockbusters these days, but because the whole thing has been spoiled or laid out in great detail online before the film has even been released.
In my day (he said, groaning at the fact he just said ‘in my day’) I’d walk into a video shop, browse and occasionally pick something out based entirely on the cover, or the title. This was pre-internet. A time when (shivers with horror) you’d have to speak to someone on the phone if you wanted them to deliver you a pizza. It’s incredibly difficult these days to go into a film you’ve been looking forward to without knowing too much. By the time you’ve watched five trailers and 10 TV spots, you sort of know what you’re expecting. But what of those times when you’ve just decided to a watch a film without any pre-existing knowledge? Do people still do that? If so, much?
I’ll be honest, it’s become a rare occurrence for me (outside of reviewing for the site). Like everyone else, even if you wonder about a film that strikes your eye as a potential watch, you always tend to do an FBI level background check on said film before committing. Be that the Rotten Tomatoes score, checking the cast, director, best boy for credentials.
Of late I’ve found myself making up lost ground on cinematic milestones of under and overground which I’ve missed. Expanding my cinematic knowledge and appreciation. Trying to fix the fact I’ve not watched every Tarkovsky or Kurosawa film, or rectifying the fact that the only John Cassavetes film I’d seen was one of his most commercial (Gloria) and I’d only sort of half watched it years ago. The last film I watched as such, was The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Even with that being said, I’m only going in half-blind. I’ve known of the film, of the director and his stylistic legacy. I didn’t look at any spoiler laden pieces on the film itself, so to an extent it plays out fresh and new.
Whilst purchasing Bookie on Blu-ray, perusing my local HMV (one of the few places you can go in and browse physical film/music media) I succumbed, as I often do to the 3 for £20 deal (or other deals). Ordinarily it’ll be a film I’ve already seen/had (on DVD) or have an insatiable need to finally see (based on a very significant reputation). However, this time, as well as Bookie and picking up (finally) a sexy Blu-ray for Blood Simple (which with every re-appraise I begin to feel, is the best Coen film bar none) I had my eye caught by a cover. It was Good Time from the Safdie Brothers, starring Robert Pattinson. I knew R Patz of course and had something of a Twilight related aversion to seeing him on a cover (ordinarily). In this case the cover, the title, the little Curzon stamp just made the film intriguing. I didn’t even read the spiel on the back. I decided to take a punt on it.
So here’s the thing. For the first time in a while, reviewing aside (and in recent years I’ve leant more toward retrospective than reviewing for the site) I took a total gamble on a film I’d not heard anything about. I hadn’t heard of the Safdie brothers, though from the front and centre cover billing I assumed they must have had some kind of previous acclaim. I was taking a big chance on Pattinson too. I’ve always felt there was potential there, not yet fully utilised and no one came out of Twilight very well (yet it’s a cast brimming with talent).
The result? Well the film is very good. It surprised me. With a pulsating Tangerine Dream inspired score, to a relentless pace, it’s a brisk and lithe film that doesn’t stop moving. The one night, against the clock feel of the film and the energetic pacing brought to mind Run Lola Run. The cinematography is beautiful too. What surprised me more than anything else however, was Pattinson. It’s a fantastic performance. In cinema, when an actor injects an inherently flawed unsympathetic character with a degree of pathos, it’s an achievement. On paper you wouldn’t feel sympathy for Connie (Pattinson) but thanks to his performance, you can’t help feeling for a guy who perpetually digs his own hole.
I’ll admit, there was an element of cheating in this ‘gamble.’ The Curzon label helped in swaying me toward this gamble. That being said, their backing isn’t fool proof (the Curzon backed FilmStruck site includes American Psycho 2 among its listings). Still, the resultant feeling of experiencing a film almost completely blind was good. Granted had I hated the film, this article might not exist, nor might I feel as inspired to do the same again. Be that perusing a second-hand shop for dirt cheap DVD’s or taking one gamble within a multi-purchase offer, I’ll do it again. There is of course the option to do this through my Netflix account too. Something about perusing physical copies just gets my juices going though. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the lost era of video shops. Ironically, I perused Netflix later in the evening after watching my Good Time Blu-ray, only to find the film was already on Netflix!
I will certainly continue this, attempting to push it into cinema excursions too (more difficult as multiplexes play predominantly ‘big’ titles which everyone has known about for a year already). I recommend everyone tries it, particularly if most of your viewing is based on anticipation for films you’ve been actively seeking out. Just take a gamble. Go for a film you know nothing about and see what happens. I’ll still be doing this when reviewing every now and again, but will look at doing it more across other forms. If cinema lacks anything these days, it’s surprise. Even if you spot a film that intrigues you, within 2 minutes of phone fiddling, you’ll have it sussed, beat by beat before making the commitment to watching it. Forget that…just go for it! Just don’t blame me if it turns out horrible!
Let us know in the comments below about your last film gamble, and how it turned out.