How we (some of us) watch films

NOTE: The following was included in a comment by David Gilmour in response to my earlier posting about the film Babel.

Much of what David says is general, rather than specific to the film Babel, so I have used cut-and-paste to put this portion of his comment here as a separate new post that can generate additional comments and discussion.

For David’s complete posting about Babel, see—————————————————
As we watch films, each viewer records and assesses, at least partially, different elements of a film according to one’s interests as he/she filters the story, characters, images and sounds through the senses. Some threads of the fabric or shards of the mosaic that play before us elicit thoughts and considerations that may or may not pay off as necessary data in the final denouement of the narrative. The kind of reasoning that finds interesting details worth pursuing which may not be integral to a dominant theme I call lateral interpretation. Why the Japanese mother committed suicide? Why the Americans’ child died and why they acted irrationally following the death? These are questions tangential to the overall story. The possible tangents of interest are what can make a film enjoyable and lively in the process of viewing. The more complex a film in its techniques and story, the greater is the need to keep alert to potentially integral details, subtle or superficial.
Ron Boothe is a professor of psychology, and from his expertise in visual perception, he is likely to keep his mind alert to many subtle elements of behavior—words, gestures, or actions—and remain critical of sound and image as the movie rolls onward. Trouble is, we all make false detours watching a film the first time through. Many films need to be seen a second time to confirm one’s suspicions of underlying themes or motivations. Because of time and energy, in the past I have attempted to cultivate an attention to the illusionistic elements of film and to attend carefully, with a critical eye and ear, to the plot sequences and character development. With more leisure, I have come to realize the joy of watching films by first viewing them non-critically. I allow myself to fall into the illusion the director presented for my appreciation, letting the sound and images wash over me and flow through me. Mind you, I don’t just totally zone out; enough critical concern is working within me to detect the value and depth of an important film. At a later time, I enjoy viewing the film again with keener acumen, to notice and record critically details I missed in seeking enjoyment through pure entertainment. That’s why I went to see Babel a second time: I wanted to make a closer analysis, to notice filmic techniques I missed by slumping in my seat with my drink and candy bar, waiting to be mesmerized by pure cinema.
One element I notice on second viewing struck me as an ingenious technique that is directed towards pure film per se. Chieko, the deaf teenager, visits a techno-rock lounge, presented to us with its deafening decibel level and blinding stroboscopic ambience. She’s experiencing coming down from a day of drugged ecstasy with a gang of friends, and in the phantasmagoric atmosphere we experience the sensations from her point of view—blinding light and chaotic commotion without the accompanying music. Periodically, the musical rhythmic uproar returns to show us what’s missing in her interior world. Film, when the medium is at its purest, does not belong to the writer’s script, does not follow sound narrative (verbal telling), does not require suggestive mood music: it is merely a display of images. Chieko’s inner world was depicted as a soundless, expressionistic light show, a silent montage of abstract images flashing and disappearing, like the fantastic scene, Entry into Jupiter, the light show of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The disco scene in Trainspotting (1996, director Danny Boyle) also played with experimental expressionistic montages, though humorously adding subtitles to clue the hearing into what they were missing because of the wall of deafening sounds. Film once in a while, like Chieko’s view in Babel ‘s nightclub, steps out of the literary scripted and dramatic media to reveal glimpses of the mind’s own visual form.

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