We watch movies, but movies act on us.
They are also multi-dimensional. One could liken or compare The Artist to a portrait, a novel or a symphony. Maybe all rolled up into one huge art and cultural alloy.
Movies carry so many dimensions that it is natural to ask: how does one really watch a movie?
Like say, The Lord of the Rings, or Baahubali?
That might sound kiddish. You simply watch a movie like you read a novel, or look at a painting, or listen to a song. You simply watch it.
Or if you have in mind serious reflections, you can check out film analysis and cinema studies, and find out about signs, codes, metaphors and symbols. The language of cinema.
But that sort of spoils the actual experience. You wouldn’t want to suddenly begin your cinema studies dissecting symbols and miss out on Black Widow in action.
In the past year or two I watched many movies. From Hollywood, Bollywood, and even Tollywood.
And the two-hour plus, belief-suspended, intense emotional experiences often left me giddy and thoughtless.
Surely it was easy to understand movies. They had three or four parts. And there was a story, a script and dialogues. The actors were on the screen playing it out. What could be so baffling? Heck, I had attended a script writing workshop, written short plays, and even directed one inside a workshop.
I was not on terms with movies. There was something amiss. Was there a way to watch them that could give a more complete sense of the on goings on screen.
I had once tried to watch the visuals on screen and describe them in verbal language. So I would watch a smoke filled night patrol scene unfold, or a car chase sequence, and mentally describe it in my own words. But this was tiresome.
I tried it another way. I could watch actions and scenes and match them to corresponding parts of the script. Like a visual format converted to its ‘novel’ form. This one was easier, and allowed me to focus on many things in the scene and what actors did, which earlier might have gone unnoticed. I was in essence reading the ‘novel’ by watching the movie. But doing this left me feeling dry after a while.The mind needs to be shut off while watching.
So I turned my gaze on another dimension: meaningful, substantive, real action. That everyone paid for and went to watch.
Making a fuller sense of movies: the action perspective
A movie by its very nature is a sequence of actions that unfold in a story defined space and time. There can’t be anything in it, but some action that propels the story forward.
We also consider movies as a visual medium. The visual language (derived from settings, camera angles, lights, colors and so on) comes into play and needs attention. Imagine placing actors and sets at random and using ill placed camera angles. The scenes would lose their highlights and power. But in my method of viewing, it is secondary.
I tried this method on some movies, and it gave me a better experience with interpreting and reading movies on the go.
Let’s check out the following clips, where I have placed comments using the above method. The comments are meant to draw attention to the action, and are really a bare minimum suggestion. While watching, observe the action as a whole.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The simplest way to use this method is in real action sequences. The initial fight scene between Hawkeye and the ‘enhanced’. The setting among trees is important – allows hide-seek and rapid turn around.
The bedroom scene. Hope has just defended his title, and is heavily bruised. The use of wall mirror is surprising. This element doesn’t appear again. I wonder if it was used to invoke some symbolic connection with the fact that the wife was to die later.
The poor girl is now a princess-to-be, and is all set to attend the castle party.
You might observe many other aspects in the above clips. Every pair of eyes is different. The main thing is to stay focused on action. Good editors and directors will try and present only the most important and meaningful bits, and the scenes will be edited and tailor-made to form a complete story.
Finally, there will be higher and more abstract things to contend with – metaphors, symbols, repeated patterns, connections… These should begin to make sense as you continue and finish watching. More importantly, you will be able to make out good actors from bad ones, and well made movies from the mediocre.
Have a happy movie watching weekend!