Cinema Annoyances

Two for the “Cinema” category of “Pet Peeves”:

1) you know the thing where they show you a thing for a second, then fade to back real fast, then show you a thing, then fade to black real soon, over and over? Often times its a really interesting visual — you really want to see it, but they fade to black almost as soon as they show it to you. You know that effect? I hate that effect. Please make them stop doing that. If they think it makes you more curious, it doesn’t. It mainly makes me pissed off. It suggests to me that far from having anything interesting to show, they have nothing interesting to show, so they make uninteresting things seem important by taking them away from you. Sort of creating a scarcity of image, creating a demand by leaving you wanting more. I see it as cliched, uninspired, a trick to deceive you into believing there’s more where that came from, a tease. The more they do it, the more pissed off I become.

2) Really, really dark scenes. Perhaps it’s night time. Perhaps we’re in a dark room. Perhaps its some sort of dreamland or outerspace, but the filmmaker decides what’s really required is a really dimly lit scene. Newsflash: a dimly lit scene does not evoke darkness. It does not create or sustain an illusion of darkness. It diminishes any illusion at all — what I see in a dimly lit scene is my own living room, which is very far from being ominous or suspenseful. I see my own shape on the sofa, my own bowl of potato chips. I see a reminder to do some situps. I don’t care if you are David Lynch or Andrei Tarkovsky or Ingmar Bergman or the Coen brothers: dimly lit, dark scenes absolutely do not achieve the apparently desired effect.

3 Comments

  • Regarding annoyance #1, although I’ve never had it hit me as an issue, I follow the reasoning. I’m sure that if I saw that used too many times in a given period I would also sense a cliche. Trying to think of examples, I imagine it being used in ads (including film preview/ads) more than in films proper.

    Regarding #2, the retort that pops to mind is that you should be watching your David Lynch movie in a darkened theater! Not at home with potato chips! Of course I do it too, but film as film works best on the big screen, projected. Inland Empire had plenty of that ultra-darkness and it all worked on me like crazy in the theater. On a later occasion when we re-watched it at home on DVD, I have to say I was not cast out of the spell of the film then either, although I can see that it would be more possible. When we watched the DVD, another relevant experience was among the extras, wherein one can see and hear Lynch getting really angry and going off on the very idea that people see a film on their ipods or computers or whatever, not under proper conditions, and then actually think they’ve seen the movie and have a right to comment on it. The whole idea enrages him. His point of view really gives some responsibility on the part of the viewer/audience to work a little bit and engage with the thing. He’s certainly not about spoon feeding anyone. I think the best stuff, like his, is like that in many ways, not just in the sense of making you peer into literal darkness once in a while.

  • Phineas wrote:

    I meant to address the “best viewed in the cinema” objection in the original post. Yes, darkness works better in cinemas, but I still sense that the illusion diminishes — cinemas are never truly darkened. There are lights all over the place which become very noticable in dark scenes, so there I am seeing the backs of heads, the Exit sign, etc. Plus of course I watch tons more films at home that are even shown in cinemas. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the idea of darkness, but it never ever comes across as darkness to me, just the idea of darkness. Whereas a brightly lit scene allows me to pretty much forget the artifice and immerse into the world. Also, darkness works better when there’s really sharp contrast rather than really dull contrast: so a brightly lit object in a field of darkness makes the darkness seem dark. But a full dark screen with a bit of shadow and sound effects does not seem dark to me.

    A home theater might help — big screen, super dark living room, and HD — maybe then I could see it.

    I just talked myself into buying that big screen TV.

    I loved Inland Empire, BTW.

  • Hope I didn’t sound like I was trying to give you a lecture on how to be an and engaged viewer or something. I know you are one. I get your point about contrast and what can happen when what’s on screen ceases to override the visual stimulus in the room. I actually sometimes find the experience of intensity in watching something really strong almost too much, and in those cases, I’ve occasionally looked over at the “exit” sign or some such thing on purpose just to ground myself. Also interesting is the question about how much of a given film experience is about hallucinatory, dreamlike or illusionistic immersion, vs. something experienced with some distance. Can thinking about what is happening while it happens, stepping outside of it during the film be a part of a good experience, or do we want to always think it’s “real”? I think about about illusionism and the idea of verisimilitude as opposed to abstraction and art that acknowledges its own artifice, construction, etc. Underlying all of my comments here is the fact that I finished a painting in the last few days, and am procrastinating my own engagement with the anxieties of starting something new. Sometimes dialogue is easier than making stuff.

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