Monday, September 27, 2010

Out of Movie Experiences

As I watch horror movies this month, and most of next month, in an effort to make sure I have plenty to write about for October, I find Cinema Styles sitting idle while it waits for October to arrive. I don't like it sitting idle but there it is. Of course, I'm rarely not thinking of movies so there's always something to write about, and yesterday, while watching Bob Roberts, I started thinking about things that take me out of a movie. Bob Roberts is a Tim Robbins mockumentary from 1992 about a populist candidate running for the senate in Pennsylvania who spouts the same nonsense populists always have and always will. That might make for an interesting discussion somewhere in the blogosphere but it doesn't really interest me. No, what really struck me was this: Every time Giancarlo Esposito was onscreen I was officially taken out of the movie. You see, Esposito does the impossible; he overacts in a mockumentary (or overacts in a way that's not as entertaining as Fred Willard). Everyone else in the movie talks and acts like a real person in front of a documentary crew but Esposito takes his Character Ticks and Mannerisms Machine and amps it up to around a million. I mean, it's off the fucking scale. As such, every time he showed up my suspension of disbelief ended and I started thinking things like, "I wonder if Robbins was pleased with this performance or hated it and kept struggling with Esposito to tone it down."

All of this then led me to wonder what else takes me out of movie. Not all, or possibly any of these, would take someone else out of a movie but for me, it happens every time.

1. The price of anything being stated. The exception to this is a period film where the price being stated is there to flesh out the place and time. Now, understand that, for whatever reason, I can watch a movie with 1950's cars and suits and designs and will nonetheless convince myself that it takes place in the present. So when I'm watching North by Northwest and Cary Grant's character is disputing a drunk driving charge and his mother, sick of him arguing about it, says, "Oh pay the two dollar fine," I'm like, "What?! Two dollars!!" Suddenly, the movie feels dated even though I already knew it took place in the "present" of 1959.

2. The year being stated. Again, the exception being a period piece where the exact year being stated is done so to set the scene. But again, for me, all other movies take place in the present, the present of that particular movie. A movie made in 1972 takes place in the present. A movie made now that takes place in 1972 is a period piece. Confused? So am I. So anyway, when I'm watching Vertigo (more Hitchcock) and I hear Kim Novak say she got her license in 1955 I'm surprised, momentarily. "That's like, 55 years ago!"

3. Mentioning another movie in your movie. Especially if I'm watching a crappy or average film and they start talking about a better film I just think how much better it would be to watch that other movie instead. Exceptions to this rule are Woody Allen mentioning the cast of The Godfather to Diane Keaton, a member of the cast of The Godfather, in Annie Hall, a great movie anyway so it doesn't matter. Also, Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley doubled over in laughter as they exit Platoon in The Naked Gun.

4. Celebrity Cameos, especially sports stars. They're usually so bad (see Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris in That Touch of Mink) that it serves as a tonic to the wrongheaded notion that actors who "just play themselves" aren't really acting. Oh, yes they are!

5. Saying the title of the movie in big, bold letters. I understand if the title of the movie is someone's name, like Patton or Gloria but when the title's more elaborate I just know it's going to pop up at a poignant moment. It's why, for all its great qualities, They Shoot Horses, Don't They loses me right at the end, just when they really need me to stay connected. But I can't, you see, because I know and you know and everyone ever seeing the movie knows that when they ask Michael Sarrazin why he shot Jane Fonda, he's going to say... oh, you know what he's going to say, and that's the point. Had they titled the film, "Marathon" or "Dance, Dance, Dance" or anything else, then Sarrazin's final line would have immeasurable power but it doesn't because it's right there in the title (Actually, I just watched another movie that does both this and mentions another far superior film but I'm discussing it for a roundtable so I can't bring it up here just yet).

Well, that's it for now. I have plenty more little nit-picky things but won't waste your time listing them all. I'm sure you have several too, things that bother you but no one else. Obviously continuity problems take everyone out of a movie, or anachronisms, but I'm not talking about mistakes (like a plane being spotted in a movie set in 1743) I'm talking about a normal technique, like saying the date or having a cameo or saying the title, that in and of itself isn't wrong or intended to take you out of the movie but does. If you have any, let me know, but don't mention any other, better posts from other blogs that would take you out of this one, because that would just be rude. And all too easy.