Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Some Incomplete Thoughts on Incompleteness

From Dusk Till Dawn

In my last post, I touched briefly on the topic of the incompleteness of certain silent films, and the incompleteness of certain silent film viewing experiences. But a different kind of 'incompleteness' has been on my mind a lot recently too. More specifically, I've been thinking about it since I read Nick James' report from Berlin in the April 2013 issue of Sight & Sound. In his run-down of the festival, James lists Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess as his ninth best film of the festival, before openly admitting to having only seen the first 45-minutes of the film. 
For some reason, this bothered me. Perhaps it falls down to the more common walk-out, which usually occurs when someone doesn't like a film – something else which bothers me. I have never walked out of a film, and never will. You don't judge a joke without hearing the punch line. And so it is with films. For instance, I can think of two experiences recently in which I've found the first hour rather a slog, only to be totally won-over and enthralled in the last third or so of the film (with the result that I now think highly of those films as a whole). I can even think of one film I hate which, when watching, almost won me over – and became all the more interesting for it. Films are, even at their most crass, artistic statements. Somehow, therefore, judging them without knowledge of the whole seems…wrong. 
I know this won't be a popular statement, but surely if you're going to have an opinion on something you need to be properly informed. I'm a big fan of Bujalski's work (and James', for that matter), so it's great to see the film being spotlighted in a magazine like Sight & Sound. But the film is listed as 92 minutes on IMDb – which means that James saw only half the film. And surely a lot can happen in half a film? It could derail into a total mess, or turn into a totally different film (imagine the impression you'd have of From Dusk Till Dawn if you walked out halfway through). 
In a sense, I've always (rather harshly) thought that if you don't see the whole of a film, you lose the right to have an opinion on it. I'm aware that by saying that I've probably just alienated every film critic reading this, but hopefully people will respect my right to have an opinion, even if they don't agree with it. I'm also aware that this becomes problematic when you come back to the idea of judging incomplete films. For instance, I never much cared for Metropolis until I saw the restored version, which went on to become the best film I saw that year. Perhaps this is a separate issue, perhaps not. 
Let's try and take another example. Would it be fair to judge the architecture of a 10 storey house based only on the first and second floor? Probably not. So why is it fair to judge a film from the first 10 or 20 minutes? In some ways, giving time to let the audience grow accustomed to the pace, themes and characters of a story is as important as having good foundations on which to build your house.  
As the title of this post suggests, I'm not trying to wrap up this thorny issue in one short blog post. I know that not everyone shares my vehement belief in viewing the complete work before forming an opinion – and I'm also still not sure how to reconcile this with wanting to form judgments of incomplete films. I just know that this is something which is important to me, which I've been thinking about a lot recently, and which I thought was worth commenting on here.

1 comment:

unreceivedopinioin said...

I tend to agree, Alex. Your opinion of a film cannot be considered substantial unless you've watched to the end.

On the other hand, it's quite possible to appreciate whatever portion of a film you did see in interesting, profound, or useful ways.

But why sit in judgement at all?