Top 5 phases of movie watching
By Bret Dorman
Fact: Everyone at every point in their life always thinks they know everything all the time.Okay, well, maybe not to that extreme, but the basic premise is pretty much true. It is hard to imagine your way of thinking or what you like/dislike will change drastically anytime soon. How do our habits/personalities form? Why do they change? I don’t know. All I can do is explain these changes in the point of view I know best, a cinematic one.
I moved to Chicago at age 23. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on things. I still do. Nothing has changed that much, but I have changed on the inside, just a little bit.
This list isn’t so much a Top list in the sense that #1 is the best (although I would argue it is), but instead it’s sort of a chronological list. I broke down my movie watching phases and happened to have five. So why not put them in a Top 5 so to speak.
Here they are:
5) Hollywood or BustOkay, as a kid I was into kid movies. Obviously certain boy-ish elements in action movies I would like. So let’s start this list at around age 13-15. When I started looking at movies just a tad bit more seriously, I was told “Hollywood/Action Movies are just dumb fun so basically you can like them but you shouldn’t take them seriously.” What? NO! I spent my entire boyhood idolizing these movies! I genuinely liked them. You mean I can ONLY have fun with them? NOOOOOOO!
So being a natural contrarian of sorts, my reaction to this was to immerse myself in the action realm. To watch as many action movies as I could. Good or bad. And I found that yes, there are a lot of bad action movies. Even worse, there are a lot of lazy action movies. But there are good ones. This phase is where I became an Action Movie Snob. I am very picky. Because I learned that when most of your favorite genre is lame, people will severely overlook the good stuff and more specifically, what makes it so good.
Flagship Movie: PREDATOR/DIE HARD, the John McTiernan one-two punch that forever changed the Action Genre. Here, we have a group of Muscle Men Commandos who all start firing into the jungle. They don’t bother asking questions, like who killed Blain or where they are. Hell, even their original ‘rescue’ mission was poorly planned, if at all. But it worked. Why? Because they have bigger guns, bigger muscles, and no time to bleed. Speaking of bleeding, my favorite action movie quote of ALL TIME, comes shortly after this clip. “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Hoo-rah.
4) Indie Spirit My first experience with an independent movie in an independent theater was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, at The Little in Rochester, NY. I wasn’t too happy, but I was starting to get full on the Hollywood crap. So I thought I’d give it a try. Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan. But what really made me mad was the drink sizes! An indie theater large was smaller than a cineplex small! And DURING THE MOVIE they STOPPED selling concessions! I went out to PAY for a refill and they told me the drink machine was turned off. Unbelievable.
So a couple years later I decided to give indie movies/theaters another shot. I went back and watched The Royal Tenenbaums. I didn’t immediately love it, but it felt good. It felt refreshing. It felt different. (Side note: I love The Little now and don’t blame them for not selling GIANT buckets of soda. I was young, what can I say?) Now, The Royal Tenenbaums is both an independent film and an ‘indie movie.’ Indie movies have a certain connotation and vibe. For instance, El Mariachi is an independent film, but it doesn’t feel like an ‘indie movie.’ I’m talking about movies that don’t involve guns or high concept action plots. I’m talking movies that are a bit quirky but always about something. I had turned on my action genre (not completely) and gone for the artsy-farsty stuff. I was beginning to appreciate the value of filmmaking on a quieter level.
Flagship Movie: Broken Flowers. Just an old man out to talk to some ex-flings and figure out if he’s got a kid. The movie is almost unbearably dead pan, but Jim Jarmusch manages to get everyone performing at just the right level. He also does this with Coffee and Cigarettes (of which Bill “Ghostbustin’ Ass” Murray has a great conversation with The RZA and The GZA). Here though, at some point in the visit down below, Christopher McDonald says “You can’t take a swig of oil!” to which Bill Murray responds “Well… you’re certainly right about that.” Love it.
3) Best of Both Worlds After awhile of seeking out the more artsier movies, I started to miss the days when I would passionately defend Hard Boiled/The Killer or The Transporter as genuinely good movies. But I didn’t want to turn my back on the indies. So I thought the greatest thought I thought I could ever think. Why not like BOTH! Holy Shit! This was revolutionary! Till now, I was so set on having to pick one or the other, why couldn’t I like BOTH!?!?! I… am a genius.
And I’m not talking I can learn from indies and ‘dumb myself down’ to appreciate action. I mean both genres have their great movies, both have the lazy, and both have the bad. And the good ones should be treated as such, no matter what. Good indie isn’t better than good action or vice versa. Good is good. I thought this was going to be what I thought forever and ever. Amen.
Flagship Movie: Freddy Vs Jason. I guess technically I would pick two movies, but Freddy Vs Jason so well encapsulates everything that I love about what makes a movie good within its genre. FVJ is a horror-slasher flick. So I expect swearing, drug use, nudity, sex, and massive amount of gore and killing. The movie delivers on the first four, then OVER delivers on the last part. This is how you make a movie. If you’re going to go for something, go for it. Don’t half ass it. Sure the story is silly, but it WORKS at bringing these two Horror Gods together and giving us this brutally epic showdown (note: I couldn’t find the end dock fight on youtube so here is a mash up featuring parts of this insanely thorough beatdown).
2) Everything and Anything After I thought I would never ever change my way of thinking, I did. When I moved to Chicago, my movie hopping became more serious. I became obsessed with trying to see EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING that came out in theaters. My reasoning was research. If I plan to make movies, I have to see everything. I want to make art as much as the next filmmaker, but I also know you have to make money too. So I wanted to see what would be expected of me. In doing so, for awhile, I tried grading every movie as objectively as possible.
This is important. It’s like Phase #3 only removing my own preconceived notions of what I found enjoyable. In that sense, when you go into every movie with a blank slate, you start finding things you wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed to begin with. I had an improv teacher here who compared doing improv to being a rubber band. By practicing and going to classes you were stretching the rubber band out. In shows, you’d hope to really pull on it all you could. But even if you had a ‘bad’ show, because you practice, your rubber band has been stretched out. Your minimum show can only be so bad because you are so good. An off night still results in your instincts doing the right thing and helping your teammates. (Basically, the more you stretch the rubber band the bigger its ‘at rest’ state gets.) This was my way of stretching my movie rubber band.
Flagship Movie: Martha Marcy May Marlene. I love it when I go into a movie and know almost nothing about it (I would have picked Hanna for this, but I’ve talked about it too much). MMMM was a perfect example. I went knowing something about an Olsen sister and cults and psychological thriller. That’s it. Hadn’t seen a trailer or anything. I don’t even think I knew John Hawkes was in it. And by the end of the movie I knew this would be a Top 10 of the year (indeed it made #4). Absolutely mesmerizing…
1) Being Myself
In a way this is like a combo of all four.1- I still defend great actioners as great films. Yes, a lot of action movies dumb themselves down and I do not like that, but there is a way to make exciting and good movies with explosions.
2- It’s not about the subject material. Making a movie about grand ideas doesn’t necessarily make your movie grand. You still have to execute it well.
3- I have that Quentin Tarantino Syndrome. I love a lot of movies. And I see the good stuff as genius, even if others see it as laughably silly.
4- I will always try to judge a movie on what it promises and what its going for. I will try to see the movie for what it is rather than judging every movie I see on my own personal criteria.
Having said that about #4, I’ve reached a point of such over-saturation, I don’t feel the need to see every single movie. I still see a lot, yes, but that’s because its part of my blood. It’s who I am. But in Chicago, the greatest thing that ever happened to me, was the Midnight Movie at Music Box. I’ll probably be writing a separate Top 5 about this soon.
Midnight Movies have cemented what I LOVE about movies. Its all about artistic vision that results in ever lasting fan appreciation. The movies love pleasing the fans and the fans are grateful the filmmakers didn’t compromise their vision just for them. Its completely symbiotic. Its why I have written over 30 Midnight Movie reviews specifically designed to highlight the fan fare aspects of these movies as well as what makes them so great.
Flagship Movie: Dead Alive. The quintessential Midnight Movie. Peter Jackson and Gang go completely off the map. This movie exists for the fans. You can either laugh at the scene below, or join in on the fun. Mainstream Movies do not have the kind of Mayhem this movie exponentially builds. Just when you think it can’t get any more absurd, it does.
I’m not sure what’s next. Obviously I think where I am at now is pretty good. I’ve got a good idea of what I like (which is a lot) and what specific elements from movies I love I’d want to replicate. I think the next phase I could go through is the anti-“its-so-bad-its-good” phase. Upon a recent visit to Chicago by Cinemapocalypse, I found myself surrounded with people who think like me. Who don’t think they are better than ‘bad movies’ or watch them ironically, but instead get transported into that movie’s world and appreciate the good stuff.
How about you? Have you gone through “Movie Watching Phases” or do you just like the stuff you like and leave it at that?
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