“I Forgot Myself In All The Excitement.”

Posted June 6th, 2014 by Ben

In my last post about “Godzilla”, I tried to show how what we watch when we watch a movie is more layered than a simple question of theme and story. What’s also worth considering is how these different layers change where we watch a film’s story play out.

I don’t mean the choice between Art Deco cinema and your iPhone. The real drama of “Godzilla” is whether the director has screwed up, this happens not on the screen but in the box office and the online forums for now and evermore. The lack of an engaging fictional story makes this a nice example, but all films exist beyond the confines of a screen and a set number of frames.

The audience first meet a film as a title or a poster image or a garbled combination of the star and the genre (“it’s Brad Pitt in a thing about like, slavery”). The story of the film continues from then until the film is forgotten. In this way films are very like the people who make and watch them.

We often talk about all extra-screen stuff as “the life of the film” but it is a mistake to divide the two. All of this, the poster campaign, the awards campaign, the reviews, the homages, the piss-takes, the reappraisals, the director’s sad unveiling as a tax fraud or sex pest, all of this stuff that we think of as somehow external to “the film” is as intrinsic to audience’s experience of the work as the 160,000 individual photographs that ended up being the final cut.

Dirty Harry.

In terms of the understanding of the work that the audience carry away with them, those frames are often of almost passing significance. We all know people misquote Harry Callahan’s “Do ya feel lucky punk?” speech, but how many people remember that the first time he says it he’s wearing a brown suit, a red v-neck jumper and a shirt and tie and that he, in fact, looks mainly like a geography teacher? How many people remember the out of focus shots that litter all the Dirty Harry movies? The thing that is Dirty Harry is a conversation above and beyond the fabric of the films, most of which are fairly terrible in most of the basic ways.

In the same way that performing an autopsy is not the best way of getting to know someone, so it is that in order to really watch a film just being in a room whilst it flickers and dances on a screen isn’t enough, indeed with many films it isn’t even necessary. I have watched “Transformers 4” Yes, I know it’s not been released yet and when it does I am unlikely to actually see it, but have I watched it? Yes. As much as anyone ever needs to, yes I have.

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