What Do We Expect When We Go to the Movies?

I have let this week fly by without a post. So here’s a quick one that deals with my beloved Oscars, just in time for Sunday evening’s festivities.

I adore watching the Academy Awards. In years gone by I regularly saw at least three quarters of the nominated films by the time the gala night rolled around.

Of course, I never accurately predicted who would win most of the awards. (That honor at my annual Oscar party usually went to the wonderful Charlotte Thwing, who didn’t see any of the films but read People magazine religiously.) I felt comfortable talking about the films and the awards, however.

This year I have seen only two of the nominated films, Hugo and The Artist.

Of course, this is an improvement over last year, when I had seen only one film, How to Train Your Dragon. Statistically, it’s a HUGE improvement.

Nevertheless, I can’t indulge in any Oscar picks. Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about my reaction to The Artist.

I’ve been a child of the movies for as long as I can remember. Going to see my first film is the only thing I can remember from the entire year in which I was four. And I drove my mother crazy in my youth staying indoors to watch vintage films on television when the sun was shining.

I was on the film committee in college and both of my graduate schools. So I learned to analyze film intellectually as well as react to it emotionally. Nevertheless, for me, emotion was and is always paramount.

So I was surprised to be a little disappointed at first during The Artist. I wasn’t as disappointed as the two elderly women who were the only other people at that particular screening. Both of them said they fell asleep during the film; apparently, dialogue is the only thing that keeps them going in the movies. And The Artist pays tribute to the era of silent film by eschewing dialogue.

(I’m always amazed at the expectations and reactions of my neighbors in movie theaters. I’ll never forget the teenage Leonardo DiCaprio fans directly behind my sister-in-law and me at our viewing of the film Titanic who exclaimed, “Why on earth is the band still playing?” I had a sinking–sorry!–feeling that they had had no idea going into the film that the ship was doomed.)

I was disappointed because The Artist didn’t fit the expectations I had brought to the film, expectations I didn’t even realize I had. I was careful not to read any reviews before going to the theater since I thought the reviews would shape my viewing of the film. I didn’t count on the short previews I saw over and over again on television.

Those previews indicated that the film was funny and lighthearted. And so despite my desire to watch The Artist unshaped, as it were, I entered the theater expecting a comedy.

The Artist has its comedic moments, but at heart it is a melodrama. Most of the film dwells on the downfall of silent-film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) rather than on his romance with perky soon-to-be talking-film star Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

Jean Dujardin's character in "The Artist" on the skids (with the adorable Uggie)

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE melodrama. Some of my best film friends are melodramas. And this one even had a cute dog. How could I not enjoy it? Tears streamed down my face frequently as I watched.

Nevertheless, I had been so conditioned by my expectations that it took me most of the film to realize that I WAS enjoying it, that it was giving me all the emotional catharsis that a film is supposed to.

Perhaps my confusion while watching the film was a function of my going to the movies so seldom. If I had not built up such a stash of capital in my moviegoing savings account, I might not have had such an enormous investment as a viewer of the film. And I probably would have relaxed and enjoyed it a lot sooner.

I will try to indulge in more frequent moviegoing and see whether that makes me more open to letting the movie, rather than the publicity surrounding it, shape my reaction.

And I will remember that melodrama is one of the things I expect, and enjoy, in film. In 1929, the first year in which Academy Awards were given out, the uber melodrama Sunrise (one of my favorite films of all time) won the award for “unique and artistic production,” a prize The Artist would win this year for sure if the category hadn’t been abolished in 1930.

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that I have decided that I would recommend The Artist to just about anyone. My only real criticism with the film is aesthetic: having made the smart decision to shoot on film, director Michel Hazanavicius shot the picture on color film stock, which was then translated into black and white.

As a result, the black-and-white images didn’t have the gorgeous, shimmering crispness one associates with the classic films Hazanavicius was trying to evoke.

I have a feeling he used color stock because no one supplies black-and-white stock anymore. I was sad, nevertheless.

I still enjoyed the film, not just for its superlative acting and charming homage to old Hollywood (I can’t recall seeing Mary Pickford’s bed in any other recent movies) but also for the ways in which it reminded me that not getting what you expect isn’t all bad.

What do YOU expect at the movies, readers? Do you want to be moved, stimulated, entertained? And does it worry you when a picture doesn’t precisely line up with your expectations?

I ended up looking back at "The Artist" with a smile ALMOST as big as Jean Dujardin's when he found himself in Mary Pickford's bed.

Coming next week: More on the cookbook conference, and a NAME for my kitten. (We are down to two names now so we ought to settle on one for sure by then!)

4 comments on “What Do We Expect When We Go to the Movies?

  1. Doris Matthews says:

    I enjoyed reading this Tinky. I am not a fan of the silent movies so much but I am intrigued by this one. Maybe I will go see it and judge for myself. I just like to be thoroughly entertained and laugh a lot when I do go to the movies which is not very often. Of course, I’m not opposed to a little romance along the way either. I can’t wait to hear what the kitten will be known as (now that Blue Ivey is going to be trademarked)?

  2. Buckey Grimm says:

    Great observation Tinky! For me I think this is one of the reasons I seldom if ever go to “The Movies” anymore. It also probably helps account for the fact that over the years I went from researching early Hollywood productions and moved my interest to Silents and to “Orphan Films (you knew I would get Orphans in there!) Things like actuality, Educational and Industrial Films provide me no preconceived notion of how the film should look. So it is all new and fascinating to me. As far as Silents, in many ways it is such a unique experience when you think about it. For the most parts, in a “sound” film you can miss a decent portion and still catch up. At some point the Dialogue will bring you back, but in a Silent there are 2 totally unique things, a) No Dialogue to tell you what happened, you actually have to pay attention, and b)because the experience is in many ways in your own mind, you get latitude to determine what the film means to you. It is truly a different experience.

  3. Anne says:

    There were people here who demanded their money back when they discovered that it was a silent film!! I haven’t been to the the movies since we moved here 5 years ago, as we only have a very small cinema here, which shows an odd collection of films, so I either watch films on DVD or on tv. I have very wide ranging tastes – I can quite happily cry my eyes out one day, then indulge in mindless violence the next. The only tie I am unsure of watching a film is when it is based on a book which I have read and loved …… will the film match my imagining of the characters? I had to give up watching The Horse Whisperer, as I just could not enjoy seeing a very miscast Robert Redford!!

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Doris, do try the movie; silence is a relative term! And we’re still working on a name for our little tsunami.

      Buckey, I can’t promise not to go to “The Movies,” but I do like your points. And I’d never thought about the catching up thing. Well put.

      And Anne, you’re right: the book thing is hard, but I do steel myself NOT to think of adapatations as being the same at all.

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