“As soon as you finish a film, people want you to talk about it. And it’s, um, the film is the talking.” – David Lynch
Let’s get one thing clear from the get go: I love dumb fun. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows that I watch a wide range of films. Most people do actually. If you quiz people on the type of films they watch they’ll usually respond by naming a certain genre they enjoy. But if you investigate a little further, you’ll begin to discover their tastes are not nearly as singular as advertised.
This is all a roundabout way of me saying we’re looking at film far too narrowly nowadays. Part of this is the studios with their hyper aware publicity marketing campaigns. Directors are forced to talk about, explain, or defend the last ninety days or so of their lives. As a result, we are told of the great many visual homages and given detailed specs of the instruments used in the production. We’re so used to it by now that we forget that the advent of the director talking ad nauseum about the film he just did is actually rather new.
Oh, there have always been publicity machines in Hollywood and directors have always had to go out and sell their movie. Nowadays though, it feels like directors are forced to talk a movie to death before you even have a chance to see it. We go in already knowing what the director intended, what he was going for, and just enjoy the ride.
The argument could be made that I, as a critic, am guilty as well. But I’m just giving you my interpretation of what I saw. If I’m aware of the director’s intentions beforehand, then I measure it up against what I’m seeing and the sum is whether they succeed or not.
But what about the stuff they said by accident? Directing a movie it has been said, is akin, to staging a battle or fighting a war. A director has to make many decisions every hour of every day until the movie is in the can. At all times they must be sure to keep the goal, message, purpose, they have for the movie is kept within clear and present eyesight.
The exciting thing about storytelling is all the little stuff that happens when you’re not paying attention. Most directors abhor having to explain their films to you. It means they didn’t do their job or worse you just want to know something objective about something that is meant to be subjective.
When Christopher Nolan’s Inception came out, the internet erupted in a fierce cyclonic frenzy to try and figure out what the ending meant. When Nolan finally admitted it was meant to be ambiguous, the fans were stunned. But Tarantino would never do that! Scorsese always has an answer for why he did something.
Ambiguity is okay. It’s vital to sometimes not understand everything in a film. This is not to be confused with a movie that requires you to understand the plot and then only gives you murky exposition. But it’s perfectly fine not to be able to explain every scene of the movie.
So many times in discussing a movie nowadays people are more likely to be discussing what ‘the filmmaker intended’ as opposed to what they thought the filmmaker was going for. In essence, there’s nothing really wrong with this you are merely arguing for ‘the correct’ interpretation. Yet therein lies the problem. A perception of a ‘correct interpretation’ deadens the conversation.
Personally, I don’t think there’s any reasonable or rational argument that says when Stanley Kubrick made The Shining he was really commenting on the violence of colonialism and the erasure, rape, and destruction of the Native American culture. Those people are wrong, but at least they’re engaging with the material in their own way.
The movie talked to them. This is what it said. Now it may be that maybe they misunderstood some things or made some moment or line into a verb when in actuality it’s meant to just be a prepositional phrase. Still, again, they’re engaging with the material.
Film is so big, it’s massive really, that when we talk about it in these narrow terms and in this pitifully limited scope, we close ourselves off to the ecstatic beauty of film. I saw the Amazon’s refusal to enter the fray in Patti Jenkins Wonder Woman as a comment on isolationism. While I was watching Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are I was struck by how much the movie seemed to be dramatizing the strained relationship between the Democratic Party and President Obama.
Part of the magic of film is how it affects us each individually as a person. The way images sneak into the crevices of our subconscious and bury themselves as a reminder of that particular moment. For good or bad they act as signposts of ideas, dreams, and fears we’ve had throughout our daily lives.
Movies are complicated, much like the artists who make them. This gets lost in the viral marketing, Youtube movie punditry, ‘how much did it make opening weekend’ culture. Sometimes, it feels like we’re listening more to what we’re saying than what the movie is saying.