Starting this coming Thursday (April 1st), I’ll be participating in Blogging from A to Z. My theme, in honor of Halfway to Halloween, is horror movies. Therefore, in April, every day aside from Sundays, I ‘ll be blogging about a horror movie. On Sundays, I intend to post some reading notes and whatnot.
Last week, I finished up The Film Experience via MIT’s Open Courseware. I really like movies; I like talking and thinking about movies and needed more framework for those thoughts. This was primarily a history course, especially looking at the studio system that developed in the US, with some diversions into what was happening concurrently in world cinema.
The class didn’t cover what makes a “good” film, but it got me thinking about my personal criteria for what makes a film successful. In literature, I’ve kind of narrowed it down (broadly) to world, characters, and plot. Pretty much a book has to be strong in two of these categories for me to have enjoyed it.
“World” is maybe the hardest in literature and should be the easiest in film. But for me, “world” in film is setting, set design, costume design, music, cinematography… Pretty much everything that the characters are interacting with and the filmmakers are providing to create the feel of the movie. It should be cohesive. A fantastical example is Blade Runner (1982)—the world building is excellent and even the slightly antiquated technology works within this setting. A non-fantastical example is Drive (2011). The setting early 2000s Los Angeles, but the score, cinematography, color grading, etc. make this a different place than the “real” world.
In literature, I don’t exactly favor morally good characters, but I do require characters that I want to spend time with (because that’s what I’m doing), even if it’s just to watch them carry out nefarious plots. In movies, I don’t have to spend as much time with the characters, but I do have to know who the character is and how they are going to act. A filmmaker/screenwriter has a more limited time frame to establish this. My favorite example here would be Strange Days (1995). Wardrobe and dialogue, especially, establish who Lenny Nero and Lornette Mason are. Establishing a character doesn’t mean that the character can’t change, but the change shouldn’t be entirely unexpected.
Lastly, plot. Something should be happening. As an audience member, maybe I know what’s going on. Maybe I don’t. Maybe the plot gets resolved. Maybe it doesn’t. I’m not against a little ambiguity. I’m not even against a certain level of nonsense; sometimes you just have to accept the premise of the plot. But the things that happen should be consistent for the world and consistent for the characters. I love the movie Zodiac (2007), but it’s a plot conundrum: a duo of police and a duo of journalists investigate the Zodiac murders; bureaucracy is their major hurdle. Nothing is resolved for certain by the end of the movie. For me, that investigation is enough (especially since the other two facets of Zodiac are very strong).
Anyway, these are my musings on movies. I’m still in the conceptual testing/challenging phase. (I’m not sure I ever move out of that phase.) Which means, in the coming weeks as I watch a bunch of movies, I’m going to think about what works and doesn’t and how those things relate to my opinions.