Sunday, January 22, 2012

"But what's it about?"

My latest rentals/ borrowings. Thought the Great Gatsby is a mafia-film.

I often wonder how people decide which movie they're going to watch. It's much of a coincidence I think, considering what a vast amount of "must-sees", "classics" and blockbusters there already is - increasing each year.
So what we watch is more or less destiny - even though, of course, in the end we decide. But what do we decide from? 

The ways to get to see movies can be counted on one hand:
  • TV
  • library/ rental store/ borrowing from friends or acquaintances
  • shopping DVDs/ BluRay etc.
  • online-watching (legally or illegally)
There is an important difference between these four:

1) The range of films on TV is very limited (even when you have Pay-TV).

2) Also your friends or favorite rental store may not have every movie you'd like to watch.

3) Shopping vs. internet is a bit more complicated. Theoretically, you can buy any movie in a store. But some movies have never been converted to DVD, or have been destroyed over time etc. You can also find almost any movie on the internet. But some may not have been uploaded, and most offers are illegal.

Anyhow, even while zapping through your non-pay TV channels, you will find at least two feature films at prime time. Which one are you going to watch?
Say you're a fan of Woody Allen. If one of the films is from Woody Allen, you're probably going to watch it. But what if you don't know any of the actors or directors, or maybe just don't really care about them? Now this is the point I was trying to get to: the story.

Most people will take a look at their TV guide or the teletext and read the plot synopsis. They will also do this in a rental store. And in a DVD shop. And before going to cinema. 
Or, well, they will watch the trailer.
I'm not denying that I've ever done this before. In fact I love movie trailers, I just mostly forget to watch them before going to the cinema.

But what's it with the plot?

An example: SUPER 8 (2011)
Super 8 was one of my most anticipated films of 2011, and I was determined to watch it one the flight to Mexico. However, there were so many films to chose from, that I forgot this particular one.
When in Mexico, my sister and I had the opportunity to borrow some movies, including Super 8.
This is how our conversation went:

Me: „OH MY GOD! They've got Super 8!! Squeeeeak... have to borrow and watch!“
Sister: „Hm... don't know? What's it about?“
Me: „ ... Spielberg... the trailer looked good... everybody loves it... must-see...“
Sister: „Yeah, but what's it about?“
Me: „Ahm... aliens? Or just supernatural things... kids who make films... No idea. The trailer was mysterious.“
Sister: „But how do you know it's good?“
Me: „I just know. I might be wrong though.“
Sister: „But I don't think it looks interesting.“
Me: „SHUT UP AND LET'S WATCH THE TRAILER!“ (should've said that)

We ended up watching the trailer (which she thought looked interesting) and watching the film (which she loved).

Appetizer vs. plot summary
I recently read an article in a magazine about an experiment: two groups of people read a story. One group read a summary about it first, the other didn't. The group that read the summary ended up liking the story better.
The article implied that humans love predictability and therefore enjoy movies and books more, if they learn something about them before.

I kind of agree. But actually I don't. 
Let's take a look at my recent rentals, and why I borrowed them/ what I can predict about them.

Rio - Best example. I knew just about nothing about Rio, I hadn't read a review, nothing. What I could predict is that it would be "funny" and a bit childish. Rented because it's 2011.

Young Victoria - Period drama. Love. Rented because of... hm... I like Emily Blunt... don't know. Just out of curiosity I guess.

Psycho - There are certain films you have to watch. I think I read something about a shower scene one time...?

2001: A Space Odyssey & The Great Gatsby - Many people's favorites. One is sci-fi, the other is about... the 20s(?).

La Strada - The DVD-Box said "Arthouse classics". I'm a bit snobby, so... 

Verfolgt - Had read about it, and I felt I just had to see it. Black and white... one of my favorite young German actors in a SM-affair with a 52-year-old woman... = intriguing. 

My message
I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes, of course you will always know something about a film before you watch it, if not just by looking at its cover.
Pop culture is everywhere, and especially if you're a movie blogger or enthusiast, you will always hear about this and that film, watch some trailers, read some reviews. But I never read the plot summaries that some people write in their reviews. It just bores me.
Have you ever read the 1-3 liners on the IMDB page of a movie? I sometimes do. But they don't give me anything, they can't tell me whether I will like or dislike the film.

Actually, you will never know that. You never know if you'll like Citizen Kane, or if your best friends favorite rom-com is going to please you. I lied to my sister. I didn't know whether I would like Super 8.
But I knew I was likely to like it, because of the themes, the cast and credits, and the overall look that the trailer presented to me.

Maybe this is going nowhere, but the quintessence of this essay/ ramble is supposed to be: to hell with the plot. "X kills y, goes to jail and becomes another person" could be the plot summary of a B-movie, a blockbuster or an arthousy winner of the Palme d'Or.
Not even the genre is able to tell you if you'll like the movie, except you're a hardcore lover of rom-coms or horror films and are determined to like every film of the genre, no matter what.
Trailers can be misleading, too. Most of them are created after a very certain pattern, and it's hard to sense the right balance between what to show and what not to show.

And even though you're a film snob, you can't actually make yourself like Seven Samurai. I know that from personal experience.

The best thing is to listen to your instincts, watch what you feel like watching and don't waste your time reading plot summaries. No matter how hard you try - "you never know what you gonna get".

Do you agree with me, or are you of a complete different opinion? How do you choose your movies?


  1. I've been trying to avoid trailers for a long time now, not only because, like you said, they can be very misleading (for both better and worse), but also because they have way too many spoilers - or at least for me they do. I also try to know as little as possible in terms of plot, so no synopsis either.

    So that leaves actors/director, that's the kind of info I value a lot. If there's a Scorsese film out there, I don't care who stars in it or what it is about - I'll watch it. Another thing: posters or dvd covers. I know it may seem secondary, but I believe you can tell a lot about a film from its poster, so if it looks like right... it's a plus.

    Oh and lately, when it says "nominated for x academy awards" it can actually have the opposite effect on me, for I've grown to hate the academy's picks. sometimes. And I definitely don't read any reviews before watching a film, A. O. Scott has a strange power over me.

    1. Hi Maria :). What you say about the "Nominated for..." sign is interesting... personally, it neither turns me off nor on, I just think "Hey, this is a popular movie, kinda, so maybe I'll watch it and make my own opinion on it".
      I do read reviews about films sometimes, because of this whole blogging community where it's hard not to do it (or to resist) - even though my favorite posts are essays, ramblings, lists and similar.
      Normally I skip the reviews of popular and known films though, or films I think that I shouldn't know everything about. I also mostly don't read the whole review, often just the end and the beginning.

      I can also relate to your poster/ DVD cover thing. Of course, this is the producers' most biggest chance to attract our attention - so they should try to! I don't think it's secondary at all, even though one film can have both bad and good posters.
      Except for Black Swan.

  2. I usually do not go completely blind into the movie. I do avoid reading all the reviews(I just check the rating and close it) but usually I check it out on IMDb, see what it is about and who is in it? In most cases, some familiar names attached to it helps me form some opinion about it. I am usually not influenced by trailers - either way. So, don't really care.

    So, yeah, I like to know a little something before watching any movie. Maybe, I should try watching something blindly - just for a change.

    1. Hey SDG - I think most of us check out a movie on IMDB, just for the main facts.
      But I would definitely recommend watching a movie blindly and see how it goes. It can be very inspiring.

  3. I agree it is hard, no it's impossible to tell whether or not you will like a film by reading the synopsis, looking at the trailer, or reading your favorite blogger's reviews.

    From personal experience I tend to enjoy films a lot more when I know nothing or next to nothing about them before hand, I love going to random repertory screenings, or film festivals. But I also can't resist reading the verdicts from people who usually have similar tastes as myself. Being a film blogger, and following so many other peoples blogs it's a delicate balance to keep.

    1. Bonjour, BT - I would love to go to a film festival one time. We also have a repertory cinema in town, which is very inexpensive, so I go there often. That's also where I watched The Tree of Life, without knowing very much about it, except that it caused a lot of discussions.

      I agree that it's a hard balance; mostly I read a few reviews that sound interesting, and then I just don't feel like reading any more, so I read all the other non-review posts.
      It's hard to say for me, whether I enjoy a film more or less if I know a little about it. But mostly, the latter is a less forgettable experience, because it's a completely personal one.

  4. I choose mine on the trailer. Or a solid recommend from somebody I trust. That's it.

  5. I think The Great Gatsby the book is more admired than he 70s film with Robert Redford, but I'm looking forward to the remake directed by Baz Luhrmann.

    I try and avoid reading the plot summaries on IMDB, because sometimes they ruin the film by giving away the ending.

    If I like the director, or the themes of the story interest me, then I'll watch, and ditto what Maria Sofia said about the awards. Rottentomatoes score, or IMDB 1-10 rating also influence my decisions quite often.

    1. It is - I did think the film was more popular, but my research proved me wrong. Many cinegoers and readers don't like it. Have you read the book? I don't think I'll read it, at least not very soon - but maybe some day...

      The IMDB and Rottentomatoes score influences me too, I mostly don't watch anything below 6.0 (or 60%). However, sometimes, when the rating is bad but the trailer or whatever is interesting, I watch the film whatsoever - like In Time, for instance.

  6. @Mette: I haven't read Gatsby, I feel like its a classic I ought to read eventually.

    By the way, you like rap music, right? You might want to check the music I shared this week

    1. Me too :). Yes, I do - at least some of it. Depends on the artists. I'll read your post when I get the time.


Let the discussion begin!