On suspense and spoilers

A few weeeks ago I read about the upcoming 36th America’s Cup, with Luna Rossa winning the races up to the final match with Team New Zealand. Back in 2000 I had been watching the competition with great interest, I woke up at 4AM for almost a week to watch the event live (there was basically no other option to see the full event replayed in daytime, and I was not interested in five-minutes-summaries). My first thought was, quite naturally, to do the same, excited to get back to that state of mind. However, I’m not sleeping too well lately, and the time between 4AM and 7AM is usually the most sacred sleep phase. I noticed that when I get up in that interval of time, the body has to cancel some crucial routines and I feel as if I didn’t sleep at all. The event’s website offers the full replay of the races, so there was not so much pressure in getting up that early.

I thought whether I should check the result of the races before watching the replay. I finally decided against suspense and in favour of spoilers. I do that with movies and books – the tension that piles up in my head trying to follow the story, to pick up all relevant information, is acutely uncomfortable. I am sure that other people consider suspense and plot-following the best part of watching a movie, and I assume the authors/directors put in a significant effort in constructing the plot to maximise the quality of the first watching experience; I’m likely built differently, and I struggle a lot to follow stories based on standard social dynamics, especially crime series/novels. I actually prefer to watch a movie several times, to get familiar with the plot, and then put it aside to pay attention to other sides of the work (photography, secondary characters, music, scene changes, views of the writer about things that are not in focus). Same applies to books. But I’m drifting away! To come back to the America’s Cup, knowing who would win made my viewing experience much more enjoyable. Maybe when I’m watching a live event I identify so much with the competitors while being completely powerless to help, that it ruins the moment. Rewatching the event has more of an analytical purpose and I feel allowed to take breaks, rewatch an action to really understand it, spot some tiny detail, enjoy the movement in a purely visual way and then rewatch it to focus on another aspect of the action. Somehow, I get bored only after at least 10 rewatches for single-use content, and for some favorites of mine, never 🙂 I don’t always need new content, on the contrary: I use known content to get into a mood, or a speed of thought, and repetition is necessary instead of boring. What happens to many people only with pop music is touching many more areas of my experience.

Any thoughts about this? Feel free to leave a comment!

On welcoming inputs

Last night I thought about why I don’t feel entertained by novels and movies anymore, and have trouble listening to the news and sometimes even to everyday conversations. I guess there are many factors at play, and different combinations for each situation; still, there is a leitmotiv in my perception that connects them. I apologise for the somewhat vague title, but this is the best fit I could find.

I have realised at a way earlier point in life that I receive information from the outside world in form of a mix of events that can be explained with laws of nature (in the broadest sense) and the opinions about these events. This seeems so obvious that it’s odd to mention it at all. What I recently realised is that I used to give both of these categories the same attention, the same right to be heard; and that I was listening to any input with full focus, genuine intention to understand it well. Not surprisingly I was good at school and I was regarded as a good listener, but I regularly and increasingly got overwhelmed.

The solution that most have suggested to me is “well, focus on some specific topic, filter the inputs the you get, there will always be too many situations that would need your help anyway, think about yourself first”. I understand , but I manage only to half-heartedly agree with that. I recognise my finite resources and I’m working on acknowledging my own needs, but I have no usable logic for picking up a topic. I guess it has to do with my intention to work on a given issue that I met directly, not on what someone managed to convince me to. I would feel horribly guilty to have followed a good marketing feat and have disregarded a more urgent issue just because it was not as brilliantly presented. I think of many examples of great storytelling that made a legitimately good work in raising attention on some obscure yet important topics, but I have the uneasy thought that there is much more in the shadows that can’t sell itself as effectively, and it would be inhumane to expect it to.

Connected to that, I got the increasingly clear perception of that “listen to me, disregard the others, I’ll make you change how you think or confirm your views” in works of fiction. I started to read books in a different way. Until recently, I was reading to discover new topics and the views of the authors, and use them to build my inner world, changing them as little as possible. What happens now when I pick a novel is that my brain defiantly grabs a notepad and takes notes about what views the authors want to bring forward, tries to find out inconsistencies, reasons to stop reading. Same happens, with more success for the brain, when I watch a movie. I seem not to be able to get into suspension of disbelief, and I see the movie as if I were on the set: I can almost hear the director telling what he/she wants to see the actors doing (which brings its own pleasure, as a behind-the-scenes experience). I can only watch videos and read text where the self-irony or self-observation is so blatant that I’m not expected to approve the narrative or have empathy of any sort. The focus moves to the acting ability, the photography, the use of narrative devices for fun. I can watch the Monty Python’s Flying Circus or the IT Crowd over and over, and I am very wary in watching anything new, even when I get suggestions from friends.

I think there is a lot behind this change in my perception and I’m trying to understand it better. I would be curious if anyone has similar experiences or has hints for further exploration on the topic.

Film recommendation: “Paris, Texas”

Two days ago I watched this film at the cinema. A friend told me that it is widely available online, but I preferred to go to the cinema, for its setting and rituals: comfortable seats, great audio and video, planned timing and breaks. It is a situation where I have to decide very little and I can concentrate fully on the film.

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I have been enchanted by the colours, all along the film. Camera angles were a treat in practically every scene (I thought that the film could be stopped almost anytime and printed out on a large canvas, with wonderful results). But maybe I enjoyed the careful, slow unwinding of the characters’ stories even more than everything else. It seemed to me that some moments were not acted at all, they seemed so alive and real. I enjoyed the sensation of having enough time to understand what the characters thought, what they felt, instead of having to pick clues or devices put in place to signify an emotion, but in a way that saves film-time. I felt there was no plot, no planned outcome, and this made me feel relaxed – otherwise, when I know that the plot has to follow certain steps, I end up fixing my attention to it, afraid of missing a clue, but missing a whole bunch of other information.

It was great to watch the movie together with many other people. We chuckled, paid close attention, smiled, laughed and sighed together. It was precious to hear the buzz of conversations started right out of the doors, people flowing out in pairs or small groups, all starting a discussion about some particular scene or their impressions. There were people who didn’t like the film, and it didn’t bother me, even if I loved it a lot. There are many factors that need to be there to make you enjoy an artistic creation like a movie, not all under our control; maybe they were tired or worried about something and could not focus; maybe they didn’t like the story. Some films and books clicked for me only when I saw them again much later, with a different mindset.

For this movie, I liked the large space that the creators reserved to the spectator, to be filled with personal interpretations and empathy. There are very little hints of the opinion of the creators on the complex net of relationships among the characters, and their lives’ difficult turns. I felt that they offered that story to me, as it was, without trying to make sense of it themselves.

I’m curious to see more movies like this, and I am open to suggestions! Let me know in the comments.

“Robby Müller – Master of Light”: exhibition at Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin


Yesterday I visited Robby Müller’s exhibition and decide to take all the time I needed to savour it. As the exhibition is about cinematography, the movies were aired in short excerpts, and this helped me ask: “How did Müller convey the impression of a small room? Which angles did he choose? How did he work with light?” instead of the usual “What is happening in this scene? What’s the story?”. I loved the uncommon focus on what is usually considered backstage work, whose goal is to support the narrative. It made me feel at ease, and made me appreciate those film excerpts enormously. It felt like being more than a spectator, there was a connection with the cinematographer and the director rather than with the film characters. This is the role I feel closer to myself: the informed spectator. I don’t see myself as participating in the action, nor as the naive receiver of cinema tricks and devices. I am audience, who aims to feel close to who realised the film.

One film I want to watch in its entirety is Paris, Texas, with its silences, filled up with the landscapes and the human society that lives and walks around the protagonist like a storm of busy insects. Colors and lights are incredibly dense, like in an oil painting.

Image from film-grab.com

The exhibition also included a small selection of Polaroid photos taken by Müller on his travels. They were stunning. No surprise – but it urged me to learn more about picture composition and lights, because they are more important than the technology of your camera. I am struggling with photography books, which go either too little or too much in detail, and with my inability to see my mistakes in the pictures I take. Luckily I can ask advice to a few friends who are both great photographers and good teachers!

On Hayao Miyazaki’s movies

Today I wish to talk about what I love of Miyazaki’s work, and hopefully transmit some of his passion.

In 1985, Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli and produced animation movies who quickly became popular in Japan and abroad.

I must say that the first movie I saw (Ponyo) left me quite cold. I tried to follow the plot and was disappointed that it sort of lazily meandered around. I watched some other films from him and then re-watched Ponyo, and only then I was enchanted by the superb drawings, colors, movements, details, music and humour that pervaded the whole movie. I think that I truly appreciated Miyazaki’s movies when I stopped watching them to see what happens, and began to watch them to see how things happen. In this perspective, the movies look incredibly deep, rich, witty, attentive, meaningful and optimistic. I like Miyazaki’s decision to put a lot of details for you to decide which ones to follow, and that satisfies my joy in watching movies many times to spot something new every time.

I recently watched a video of Studio Ghibli’s backstage, when they were producing Spirited Away. I saw him and his team putting an insane amount of work behind every single drawing – but a meaningful work, an incessant exercise of observation and care, that is moreover visible in the final product, and makes these movies so valuable:

One important part of these movies is the music. Most soundtracks have been composed by Joe Hisaishi, who mixes elements of many genres and writes powerful, complex and rich music that perfectly matches the scenes.

Most comments to these videos and this article talk about strong positive emotions that this music evocates. There is a sense of peace, purification, even humanity in these notes, that I feel like a call to become a better person.

I hope I inspired you to watch Miyazaki’s movies, or at least sparked some joy 🙂