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Filmology 101: Getting The Most Out Of Hollywood


I’m not into the bubbly, but I imagine wine connoisseurs and film connoisseurs are a lot alike. Judging by what I saw in Sideways, the art of wine tasting is learning to experience the full flavor of the wine by utilizing the five senses… How does it taste, what does it smell like, what do you see, what do you hear, and what does it feel like? Getting the most out of Hollywood, and the films it produces, is much the same.

For some, movies are merely mindless entertainment where thinking is an option. For others, if the movie is a blockbuster, it’s not worth seeing. What I suggest is that viewers find a happy medium between the two. Understanding and noticing all that Hollywood has to offer you may help you get the most out of Tinseltown, thus beginning lesson one of Filmology 101.

Finding Time for Movies

Don’t let your busy schedule or the fact that you have small children prevent you from watching films. Just because a baby sitter, two tickets to the multiplex, plus popcorn and drinks will cost you a crisp Benjamin doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy movies. One option is Netflix, an online video store that will send you unlimited DVDs to view and return via the mail for as little as $9.99 a month. If you have digital cable, you can check out recent movies on your home television through iN DEMAND, where you can ‘rent’ a movie for a 24 hour period for about four or five bucks, with the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward. If you want to shell out the money for a pay channel, HBO and Showtime both offer ON DEMAND services where you can watch movies at your convenience. Investing in a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) is the best thing to help you find the time to watch the movies whenever you want. TiVo offers a DVR service for a monthly fee, while most cable operators provide DVR boxes to customers for $5-$10 additional dollars a month. The DVR comes in especially handy if you have small children: you can record your favorite movies and watch them at night after the kids are in bed. Pulp Fiction has a lot of cool dialogue, but I don’t want my three year old telling me to bring out the gimp.

Keep a Log This may be for the obsessive type, but keeping a log of every movie you see may be something to try. Last year, I decided to do this (mainly because I wanted to see if HBO was worth the money and to see how many of our 100+ DVDs were actually viewed). In a year’s time, we watched 171 movies. Of that, 25 were DVDs and 7 were in the theater. For us, HBO was definitely worth it. My log was also used to rate the films viewed and to provide a brief description. It actually fueled my desire to see movies and is now used as a reference when choosing what movies to watch again; plus it is a lot of fun looking back at the films we watched over the course of a year.

Own at least One Foreign Film

Some people hate to watch foreign films because of the sub-titles. Do not let that be a reason to avoid non-American films. You may find you get more out of a foreign film because you are forced to concentrate more. One of the first foreign films I grew to appreciate was Burnt By the Sun, a Russian film about a revolutionary hero and his daughter spending a picturesque summer at their countryside cottage. The beauty of the playfulness in the summer sun juxtaposed with an inability to escape from military expectations under Stalin’s repressive regime made for a wonderful film. Other well known foreign language films worth owning include Amelie and Life is Beautiful among others. Seeking out foreign films may lead you to a deeper appreciation of the art of film making and may very well expand your horizons.

Watch Documentaries

A documentary film is a film based on facts and meant to be objective. Of course most documentary film makers would probably agree that truth is always in the eye of the beholder and ultimately in the hands of the editor. Regardless, there are some really good documentaries that are just as entertaining as the films that Hollywood produces and you should watch them. The success and acclaim for Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me and Michael Moore’s quasi-documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has opened up the eyes of the masses to documentary film. Sometimes non-fiction is better than any story written or adapted for the silver screen. If you are looking for overcoming the odds-intense-human drama, check out Murderball or Hoop Dreams, a film that took seven years to complete.

Finding a documentary about something you are interested in is a good way to go as well. Dogtown and Z-Boys (directed by skateboarding pioneer Stacy Peralta), about the rebellious Zephyr skating team of the 1970s, is one of my all time favorite docs because it reminds me of my teenage years trying to be the next Tony Hawk. Music documentaries will always be revered, if by no one else, by the fans of that artist, band or event. Woodstock, The Last Waltz (about The Band’s final performance) and U2’s Rattle & Hum are all terrific in their own rite.

The best documentary I have ever seen is titled Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. It details the strife and turmoil surrounding the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Before shooting began in the Philippines, Coppola had asked his wife Elanor to document the making of the movie on film, audio tape and paper. The intensity of Apocalypse Now can be attributed to the intensity of the filming conditions: being $20 million over budget, firing Harvey Keitel as Captain Willard after weeks of shooting and replacing him with Martin Sheen, Sheen suffering a heart attack on set, and a strenuous 238 day shoot in an unpredictable environment (all documented in Hearts of Darkness). Coppola’s wife notes how cast and crew, including Francis himself literally almost went insane as a result. Hearts of Darkness and many other documentaries are just as entertaining as, and sometimes more gut-wrenching than, anything that comes out of Tinseltown. They are definitely worth your time.

Give All Movies a Chance

Sometimes hype, rather positive or negative, will keep people away from a given movie. The difficulty with this is that you may miss out on a beautiful work of artistic creativity. Of course, use your judgement with this one. If the trailer to The Dukes of Hazzard looks really bad, then it probably is really is bad (it was, by the way). On the other hand, sometimes it’s worth it to take a risk, so to speak, taking the time to see something you wouldn’t normally be drawn to. This was the case with me the aforementioned Sideways. The original hype that surrounded the film left me disinterested. When it premiered on HBO months after last year’s Oscars, I was finally ready to give it a chance and really enjoyed the film.

Along the same line, I suggest that you routinely see the five movies nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Give them a chance and then you can judge to see if the Academy knows what they are doing. Unfortunately, hype sometimes out duels substance at the Oscars, but you can’t know unless you have seen the nominated films.

If you are a daring individual, seek out a local film festival and look for independent films that may be playing at a downtown theatre. Hopefully there’s an old fashioned movie house near you. You have never experienced a movie until you’ve viewed it in a ‘popcorn palace’. The sights, smells and sounds from these retro theatre’s are unforgettable. I promise you will never forget any movie you watch in an old-style theatre.

Remember that film making is an art; some artists set trends with their creative genius while others steal ideas and copy the latest trend. Regardless, at its heart, movies are about expression and originality, and one man’s creation can provide for the viewer entertainment or escape. In essence, movies can be all things to all people and whether art imitates life or life imitates art doesn’t really matter – attempting to get the most out of Hollywood will bring about a new level of satisfaction and appreciation. If you make the effort, I guarantee you will be rewarded.

by Tim Beck


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