Friday, 3 October 2014

A film is a personal thing

Films are personal, not only in the sense that a person might tell her own story on film but also because our reactions to films are so personal, unfathomable for others. One film I often watch is Under the Tuscan Sun (Audrey Wells 2003). The main reason for this is because it is set in a place (Tuscany, Italy) where I would like to live and about a person, a frustrated writer who haphazardly comes across a property there, far from home, and buys it on the spot, so she, Frances, is fulfilling a dream of mine. Until I am able to do that myself this film will continue to serve as an inspiration and a warm blanket to snuggle under when it is raining outside and I am bored or sad. This is what matters, not the acting, the music, the camera work. But it matters only to me, because of who I am. You might very well think the film is contrived and insufferable, and that is fine too. We are not the same person, and we are not really seeing the same film. (Although, if I had felt that the acting, the music and the camera work were atrocious I would probably not have been able to enjoy the film. Fortunately they are good enough.)

Since I love books, words and writing, films that are about those things, and films about writers, have a special appeal to me, they get a preferential treatment. This is unfair for all those films that have none of this, but there it is. The Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson 2000) is such a film and yet another film I could watch repeatedly. Not because it is special in the formal aspects or the acting, but because what it is about and the milieu which it depicts.

There is something called "guilty pleasures", but that is a term I disapprove of, wholeheartedly. You might think that it was used to refer to films that you like even though you think that they are offensive or the politics are appalling but instead it is used about films that people like but that they believe is not considered a quality film. But what kind of nonsense is this? To me it usually sounds like nervousness and insecurity to call something a guilty pleasure. It has also gotten to the point where it has been used about Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder 1950), Annie Hall (Woody Allen 1977) and films by Ingmar Bergman. Apparently any film can these days be considered a guilty pleasure, adding to the meaninglessness of it. So that is not what I am talking about here. I am just talking about the personal aspect of viewing and appreciating films.

This is why it is difficult to recommend a film to a person you do not know. It is after all pointless to just tell them to watch the films you like since there is no reason to assume that what you like, they will also like. That is not how it works. All through my adult life (because of what I do and where I have worked) strangers have asked me to recommend films. What shall I see? Which film should I buy? This is a delicate matter, and I nowadays make suggestions after asking them a number of questions to get a feel for who they are and what they like. Sometimes that can of course mean that I recommend a film I myself do not like, because I am not them and our tastes are not the same. This is the challenge for film critics as well.

Since films are so personal it is not surprising that people can get very emotional and upset when somebody dislikes a film they themselves like, or vice-versa. It is not surprising but it is just the same unfortunate. I have been in rather uncomfortable situations when people have been very angry and intense only because they found out that I felt differently about a film they had strong feelings about. So while I can see how it could happen I do wish that people were less narcissistic and acknowledged the simple fact that we all have different tastes, and different experiences, and that this does not make other people bad or stupid. This can also happen when filmmakers are asked about which of their films they like best and people are disappointed by their answers. (See for example the peculiar case with Woody Allen a few years ago.)

So it is with films, and so it is with much else. I have a very emotional bond to Coldplay's first album Parachutes, not primarily because of the music but because of a particular girl and a particular place which is connected with that album. That is just me. Not you. And we all have such special relationships. It is something beyond all theorising and intellectualising and it is one of the true wonders of art.

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