By Mark W. Travis
There are films that do everything right: powerful story, great characters, exciting events, cinematography, sound, setting, the works… and yet… yet… something is missing because I don’t feel it. I’m not moved. Why?
I remember the times when I’ve lost myself in the characters, their hopes and hungers, the twists and fearful turns of their journey, feeling my muscles tense and my heart skip with their failures and victories.
This film should have done it, should have taken me on a powerful ride. Instead, I notice the technical excellence and the expert staging, the quirky dialogue, the unusual rhythms. But I’m not feeling it, whatever “it” is.
What keeps me at such a distance? Do I know too much? Is it age? Am I losing my edge? Am I in the early stages… Stop! Don’t go there!
After the screening I listen to the impassioned discussion with the writer and director and actors as they recount their journey for us. Lots of enthusiastic applause. Other people express their appreciation and admiration. But I’m sitting in the back, waiting for someone to speak up and say, “I’m confused,” and point out a black hole in the story that the director will have to explain and that will justify my non-engagement. But that does not happen.
As I give my friend Nelson a ride home, I blurt out, “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t get it. Great movie but it didn’t do a thing for me.”
“Me neither.” He says. “Another piece of shit. Total waste of time.”
Coming from Nelson, that should not surprise me. Nelson is a champion curmudgeon. But to call the film a piece of shit is not right either. I didn’t think it was that bad. Still, I feel relieved and brilliantly vindicated. See, nothing wrong with me. I still got what it takes. But wait, Nelson thinks every movie is shit except Hitchcock’s, so why am I relieved that he thinks it’s a piece of shit?
We, who consider ourselves knowledgeable about films, think our opinions are right and reasonable, when really, who knows what’s going on inside and around us that keeps us from being intimately affected by certain films? Who knows if it’s timing, or what you’ve had for lunch, or remnants of last month’s nightmare, or your pesky hangnail, or the aroma of the person sitting next to you, or Mercury retrograde, or whatever. As William Goldman so astutely observed, “No one knows anything.” So, good – bad – indifferent, no one’s opinion matters, right?
So, why is it that whenever there is the slightest gap in my experience and understanding, I immediately default to “There’s something wrong with me. It’s my fault. I don’t know anything. I’m an imposter.” But as soon as one person, just one person, agrees with me, I’m Mark W. Travis and my opinions are indisputably right. Now why is that?
Mark W. Travis
April 21, 2021
Los Angeles, CA, USA