Films: Evaluation & Value
Here’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately: How stable (or unstable) is our personal evaluation of a film over time?
Let me share three recent anecdotal examples:
(1) No Country for Old Men. This much-loved film didn’t really work for me; I resonated with Andrew Tracy, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman’s reservations about it. I’ve read widely on the film but honestly, I doubt that seeing it again will change my mind.
(2) Zodiac. I watched it late one night on DVD and found it a worthy film, no more. But in the months since, I’ve become convinced that I underrated it. I need to see it again, preferably on the big screen.
(3) I’m Not There. Despite my initial positive response, I suspected the film of being a bit ‘academic’; what it seemed to need was some evidence of inadvertence, some mystery that emerged despite Haynes’ (strong) intentionality and knowingness. (On the other hand, his masterpiece, Safe, is designed with no less care and control but I didn’t have these reservations about it.)
But as time passed, I read Larry Gross’s persuasive, ‘Deleuzian’ essay on it in Film Comment, and also the many other attempts by bloggers and critics to come to grips with the film. I steadily warmed to it, and now consider it a strong film. I also suspect I’ll get more out of it when I see it a second time.
Thus, three different evaluation outcomes resulted: (1) Accepting that due to taste differences, my evaluation of the Coens film is likely not to change; (2) Guessing that alternate viewing conditions will upgrade my evaluation of the Fincher film; and (3) Gaining a deeper and more nuanced appreciation of the Haynes film thanks to a good amount of thoughtful, persuasive reading (to which I was favorably inclined to begin with).
I find that the ‘value’ of a film (and by this I mean not some ‘objective value’ but a subjective determination of the value to a particular viewer) is a complex, mutating entity. Let’s say that on a given day, I watch a film, think about it, and arrive at a determination of its ‘value’. As time passes, my thoughts of this film don’t stay fixed but are instead joined with all the discourse (watching, talking, writing), both about this film and cinema in general, that I encounter from then on.
Especially when one takes this longitudinal view, a film is not a stable, static entity that stands apart from the flow of discourse but instead something that becomes enmeshed in this discourse, fused with it. What results is a sort of dynamic film-field, a mobile conglomeration of accumulating events revolving around this film (and, for an auteurist, its filmmaker). How could this constantly shifting, building, elaborating mass of film watching/writing/talking/thought not influence our evaluation of a film as time passes?
I’m wondering: Does your evaluation of a film change over time? Are there examples of ‘revisionist evaluation’ of films or filmmakers in your viewing history? And what might’ve caused or catalyzed these revisions? I think our stories might make for interesting sharing and reading.
-- There's a new issue of Cinema Scope.
-- The Contemplatve Blogathon 2008.
-- Brian Darr invites a number of Bay Area bloggers and cinephiles to weigh in on their favorite repertory/revival screenings of the year.
-- Matt Zoller Seitz on Paul Thomas Anderson in the NYT.
-- Ed Halter on "The Year in Experimental Cinema" in the Voice.
-- 'Quiet Bubble' Walter on his favorite comics of 2007.
-- Ben, formerly of Whine-Colored Sea, has a new blog, 2.35:1.
-- Thom Ryan on WW II films and didactic cinema at Film of the Year.
-- David Bordwell has posted a new essay on his site called "The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema".
-- There's a new issue of Film Quarterly with four of its pieces online.
pic: part of Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai.