What is it… Filmwatching 101

One of my goals as a critic for Garde Magazine is to present people with films that will challenge them by taking them outside of their comfort zone. Limiting ourselves to one or two types of films most certainly isn’t healthy, but many people do, as we do not want to waste time on something that might not be worth our time. This article isn’t an attempt to get you to dislike or like certain types of films, but is a beginner’s guide to how you can get more invested in the film medium instead of treating it like comfort food.

 

  1. DON’T USE IMDB’s TOP 250 MOVIE LIST AS A REFERENCE POINT

I cannot stress this enough, because almost everyone I know and their mothers use this list when they want to decide whether a film is worth watching or not. Look, the top 250 movie list is fine, there are plenty of great films on there, but like so many parts of the internet, it is a very reactionary list, reacting to what is popular right now and if not that, what is considered dead pan classics.

So yeah, Seven Samurais is on there, but so is Interstellar, because it’s new, it’s exciting and like all of Christopher Nolan’s films, it’s everyone’s favourite movie until his next film. My point is, these films are all well known by the general public, which is why they’re on the list in the first place. So while expanding your film catalogue, by having this list as a reference point, you’ll just be going down the path everyone else has already trotted because it’s the safest one, instead of finding your own. And that’s no fun.

 

  1. ENJOY FILMS BECAUSE OF THEIR ARTISTIC MERITS, NOT THEIR TECHNICAL QUALITIES

One of the great pleasures of cinema is that there’s more than a century worth of cinema readily available to the general public. However, few people take advantage of this because they feel that older films, naturally, feel dated and become unwatchable with age. This sort of arbitrary restriction on what you want to watch and more importantly what you don’t want to watch isn’t really constructive as it often comes from a place of focusing on a film’s technical qualities rather than its artistic merits. A film’s characters, themes, dialogue and plot doesn’t become dated just because the film is in black and white, isn’t in IMAX or doesn’t have the story arc of a modern Hollywood film.

 

  1. DON’T HATE A FILM BECAUSE OF ITS INHERENT GENRE

Plenty of people don’t like certain films inherently because they’re part of a directors’ back catalogue who they don’t like or a genre they haven’t enjoyed in the past. This is in concept a great way to avoid films you know you won’t enjoy at the outset, but in reality it just narrows your film taste down to a ridiculously small point of reference. I’m guilty of this myself. In the past, I saw modern chick flicks as exploitative trash, objectifying women, playing up terrible stereotypes and following the same cookie cutter formula time and time again.

The irony of this is that the reason I saw the entire genre this way is that I didn’t pay any attention to it, so the only films I would watch was the occasional late night, cheaply-made, trashy representation of it. Once I actually gave the genre a chance, I discovered fantastic, warm and funny films such as Mean Girls and Easy A, films I would have completely missed out on if I hadn’t opened up to the genre.

 

  1. DEEP DIVE ON SPECIFIC GENRES, ACTORS AND DIRECTORS

Watching films in genres you don’t initially enjoy is probably the best way at expanding your film repertoire. However the by far most entertaining way to expand your knowledge of films is deep diving on a specific director, genre or actor. You can choose any, but having an initial interest in the given subject is key. Another important factor is that the subject at hand has a somewhat long filmography. Both Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan and the superhero genre are interesting and very popular at the moment, but none of them really have any history to uncover. If you like Nolan or Snyder, there’s a good chance you’ve seen all of their films and while there are certainly examples of superhero films before the 21st century, they are few and far between.

On the other hand, most people are probably familiar with Martin Scorscesse’s more modern work such as The Aviator and The Wolf of Wallstreet, though going back and discovering his earlier work puts these films in a great perspective that makes it easier and more fun to appreciate them. This sort of deep diving can also be a spring board for discovering new genres and films. For instance, Quentin Tarantino is at least by my generation wildly regarded as one of the best directors around, but I doubt many people have seen the films that his movies give homage to. Did you know that both Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds are named after Italian action films from the 1960 and 1970’s? If you like Tarantino’s specific style of genre fare, there’s a good chance you’ll like spaghetti western, grindhouse films and horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s. And just like that, just from one director, all of a sudden you have a whole new world of cinema right at your fingertips.

One of the great things about films is how accessible they are as a medium. With streaming, DVDs, Blu-rays, the internet and cinemas, there are plenty of ways and formats to experience films and unlike videogames, the medium isn’t an expensive hobby, especially after the advent of DVDs and the internet. It also doesn’t take any inherent skill or patience to watch a film either and finishing a satisfying story arc rarely takes a film more than three hours, unlike books, television series and, again, videogames. Because of this however, it also seems like most people treat films as comfort food.

When people watch a film they rarely want to be challenged, they just want to be entertained or to make time pass. We don’t want to feel like we just wasted our precious time by taking a change on a film we didn’t know anything about or even worse, is part of a genre of franchise that has burned us in the past. But exactly because film is such a long and storied medium and because it is so easy to access, we owe it to ourselves to take it more seriously. That doesn’t mean you have to take a course in filmmaking to understand the inner workings of films, know who Werner Herzog, Lars Von Trier and Sergei Eisenstein are or that you have to think that Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time. No, this is what it means: Take what you know about films, what you enjoy, what you love and what you hate. Use that. Not as a restriction, but as a jumping off point to something new.

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