Monday, November 06, 2006

Walking Out On The Movies

I leave the cinema before the end of films on quite a regular basis. There are some that frown on such a habit but too often the annoyance at having wasted two hours or so of your life on utter rubbish is too sharp. Those dissenters claim that it is impossible to judge a film properly on such a truncated viewing but the contrary is true: most films, particularly mainstream fare are so formulaic as to betray their ineptitude within the first fifteen minutes. When you realise that you are more interested in reading the book that is sitting in your pocket, it is usually time to throw your coat on and make for the exit, under the gaze of the entire audience who usually either disapprove of your dismissiveness or secretly admire your nerve or ability to leave, because they are with other people. There have been times though when my impatience with a bad film has been perfectly in tandem with that of my companion, Mike Nichols' adaptation of Patrick Marber's Closer and Thomas Vinterberg's embarrassingly bad Dear Wendy being two such films.

Movies should be difficult, so I feel a bit of admiration for even those folks that leave films I quite like, such as the work of Bruno Dumont and Lars von Trier. Indeed von Trier has said that 'cinema should be like a stone in your shoe', a maxim that has informed his cinema over the past ten years. When I saw Gus Van Sant's superb Gerry, featuring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck silently struggling through Death Valley, about half of the audience walked out, including a previous director of the Dublin Film Festival. Recent films I have lost patience with, and which I can in no way call good, include the excruciatingly bad Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, which I stuck with until near the end because the Folsom Prison scenes in the opening credit sequence had a verve that was missing from the rest of the film and I was hoping that their return later in the film would be worth the wait. There was also Jean-Marc Vallée's Quebecois hit C.R.A.Z.Y., which many loved but was a bit flashy and derivative of commercial clips for my tastes. Julie Taymor's Frida I stayed watching for almost its entire length despite its wretchedness because I couldn't wait to see Geoffrey Rush as Trotsky, having been told he was hilariously bad. To my disappointment he was merely mediocre and I left about fifteen minutes from the end.

I walked out of a film yesterday that was in no way terrible and which I quite enjoyed in parts. It was Chantal Akerman's Là-bas (which translates as 'There'). The Belgian-born Akerman is notorious for her difficult cinema that strains the patience of even the most hardcore cinéphiles. Here she moves into documentary filmmaking, not for the first time, and her subject matter is the neighbours of her apartment in Tel-Aviv, whom she films clandestinely through the blinds of her windows on digital video, while she talks in the background on the phone, makes coffee, types on her computer, or recites entries from her diary written while Tel-Aviv is undergoing a wave of suicide bombings. The takes are all long and static, all the more long-seeming for the lack of consciousness of their subjects that they are being filmed. Boredom and the extreme mundane is the film's matter and it captures the paranoia and anguish of being housebound because of the unpredictability of the bomb attacks. But the film is boring nonetheless, which is OK, as time is something that is not quantifiable for Akerman, being merely a medium through which the recorded reality of her film is channelled; if there be longueurs, so be it. And thus after fifty minutes, I felt I had sat through enough, though being interested enough to delay my departure for a couple of minutes to listen to the director recount a letter written to her by her mother. I feel tempted to say that the film would be better suited to an installation environment though Akerman herself might contest that too. It may well be intended for consumption in a theatre, forcing its audience to watch, to bear witness, to wait. I waited long enough though it was still better than Walk the Line.


Anonymous said...

"most films, particularly mainstream fare are so formulaic as to betray their ineptitude within the first fifteen minutes."
...yeah, or from the ads slapped on the metro walls etc, avoid the limelight of leaving early and just don't go.
when is gig?