Monday, November 26, 2012

Slow Viewing

When I lived in Brooklyn, my roommate and I watched The Maltese Falcon over the course of about five evenings, about 20 minutes at a time, mostly because he was so busy. Breaking it up into chapters allowed me to actually understand the story. We would have brief discussions about what we'd seen so far, the major events, a map of the characters, and what was motivating each person and what they'd probably try to do next. Although I'd already seen the film several times, this was the viewing when I mastered it.

Somehow, I forgot how much fun that was until recently. Jamie and I watched The Seven Samurai over three nights. I'd never had trouble with the plot, but I realized something else about parceling a movie: it makes the experience more like reading a book. One of the greatest aspects of the experience of a novel is when you put the book down and go about your day while the characters continue to live and operate in the background of your consciousness. The anticipation of returning keeps you suspended between the book's universe and your own. Television shows have a similar effect, but their indefinite nature can be a diluent; their stories march not to a denouement but to an ever-receding horizon, and instead of the intense anticipation of a great book's climax and the heartbreak of its last page, we are most often simply cajoled until our interest fizzles.

The experience of a movie in chapters, therefore, is a unique thing, with the same opportunities to think and discuss as what a tv show gives you, but with more of a novel's structure. I see now that I haven't done this with nearly enough movies. Some would work much better than others, I suspect. It worked to great effect with Seven Samurai.

P.S. Mifune forever!

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