How to watch movies

Fergus asks:

Having enjoyed your posts on how to read canonical Western literature and how to get started with opera, I’d like the same thing but for film, and perhaps for architecture.

Today let’s do movies!  I am hardly an expert, but here are my tips:

1. Yes there are some movies made for the television, but for first-rate movies you really do need the big screen.  Do whatever you must, and no your home studio arrangement is not a good substitute.  Good cities for seeing movies on a large screen are NYC, LA, Paris, London, and the DC area (Silver Spring, MD in particular, AFI).

2. Choosing with whom to go is very important.  And you should see a fair share of movies alone, so you are not swayed by the views and reactions of the other parties.

3. The best prep for watching a particular movie is to have watched a lot of other movies already, and from a wide variety of sources and countries.  Knowledge of the Bible can be helpful too.

3b. If you don’t “get” a classic movie with good pedigree, 3/4 of the time the fault is yours.

4. I don’t like to read reviews before seeing a movie.  I might read just enough to see the evaluation, but then I stop.  I don’t want the movie “explained to me,” and furthermore very few critics have an adequate mix of travel, linguistic facility, knowledge of the classics, etc.  Critics can stop you from seeing what is there.  That said, after I’ve seen the movie I try to read as many reviews as possible.

5. If a movie is good, you should watch it again.  Then a smaller screen might be OK, or at the very least necessary.  You should have seen your favorite “deep” movies at least four times.

6. You want to have good peer groups to discuss movies with.  And get a movie mentor!

7. The classic movie critics — not always on-line! — are worth reading.  Buy a book of Pauline Kael essays, and then keep on buying books of essays by movie critics.  Don’t rely too heavily on Google.  My favorite movie critic used to be David Denby of The New Yorker.  Buy books on the history of movies too.

8. Now go watch more movies.

By the way, here is an interesting review of the best movies of 1931.

What else?


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