2012 was a fine year for movies. With powerful films like “Lincoln,” “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and the imaginative, visually beautiful “Life of Pi,” there were good reasons to plunk down ten bucks for the price of a ticket.
If you’re anything like me, you might have noticed that your own reactions are influenced by reviews you read before you even see a particular film. You might disagree with those write-ups after seeing it, but you go in with certain expectations. Or you might feel that someone else’s opinion is just smarter than yours. I often fall into that habit even though I’ve been studying film, writing about it and talking about it for a long time.
After recently, intentionally seeing a slew of films without knowing anything about them beforehand, I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to talk about first run films with others who are subject to the same habit I have, and to give them a forum to express their opinions before they turn to the critics.
Not that there’s anything wrong with listening to the experts…they have a wealth of information, but defining one’s own thoughts first is a different kind of experience. That’s when I decided to teach “Be Your Own Film Critic.”
I have seen all the Oscar nominated films for Best Picture, except “Amour,” adding to those mentioned above: “Les Miserables,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and “Django Unchained.”
Before viewing them, I refrained from reading their reviews. I wanted to back off from being told in advance how to interpret them, how to respond to their story lines, the acting, if the plots made sense, and so on.
It isn’t that I’m dependent on what the critics have to say, but I am subtly influenced by their opinions while still appreciating their knowledge and enjoying the gossipy tidbits that are out of range for me. After spending years listening to gazillions of filmmakers being interviewed and interviewing some myself, I went into the theaters cold, on those and other current movies.
The result of my experiment is that totally ignoring information on those flicks, other than that word of mouth was good, gave me an opportunity to evaluate them, a lot of them, for myself. I waited for a day or two before reading about the films to keep my own reactions strong.
When I see a painting for the first time, I react to it on an emotional level, esthetically, and decide if it has some kind of meaning to me. Learning about the artist and his life, the period the painting represents, and the brush techniques used adds to my appreciation of the work but does not necessarily make me like it if I didn’t when I first saw it, or upon future viewings, although perhaps my impression will change if I see it at subsequent times.
It’s the same with film. After seeing each one, I picked up different points of view, got interesting factoids and comparisons to other films from reading what the critics had to say but certainly felt more confident about not wavering from my own gut responses as to whether or not a particular film was one that I cared about.
In “Be Your Own Film Critic,” students will be encouraged to discuss films with others who share their passion and to see the value in their own perspectives and opinions about the cinema.
“Be Your Own Film Critic” at South Orange Maplewood Adult School.
Eight Wednesdays: March 13- May 1, 7-8:30 p.m. Participants will be given an overview of the elements of film criticism and on alternate class weeks, go together to local theaters to view current films (or go on their own). Each week following film viewings, focused discussions will be held in an informal class setting
Joyce Kaffel, film/arts writer