Friday, November 7, 2014

I'm Sick of These Common Movie Discussion Questions

Once a year I fill out a movie survey for fun. Past entries have included a Halloween horror movie quiz, the AICN Butt-Numb-a-Thon entry form, and a Movie Confessions questionnaire. This year I'm taking a different tack. I've spent the past few months collecting some of the common ice-breaker questions that commonly come up again and again in movie discussion groups and forums. Most of these are just asking "what's your favorite movie?" phrased in different ways. I figured it would be interesting to dissect the premises of some of these questions and then answer them with that in mind.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what [insert number] movies would you bring with you?

I've also seen the desert island substituted with apocalypse scenarios, where it would be more plausible to still be able to screen movies, space voyages, arctic treks, or just long hospital stays. This is the epitome of the kind of question that's just asking for a list of favorites with high rewatchability. The variation in scenarios usually wouldn't impact my choices, with the exception of the apocalypse. If the zombies were coming and I could only save a certain number of movies, those movies would be different from the ones I'd take along on a trip to Mars for my own amusement. In the case of the desert island, I'd bring along the films that I've already watched a million times and know I wouldn't get bored of: "Muppet Treasure Island," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Sound of Music," "The Princess Bride," and "Amadeus." These are not my favorite movies, but I would be able to watch any of them near infinitely without losing my marbles. For the specific case of zombies, however, I'd swap out "The Sound of Music" for "Zombieland" for the survival instructions.

What movie would you watch again for the first time?

This question has never made any sense to me, because my initial viewing of a movie often isn't the one I enjoy the most. Sometimes it takes two or three viewings to really get attached to a movie, and part of the fun for me is anticipating the good bits coming up, or the bad bits to be mocked. I've found this to be true even for many of the films with shocking twists or clever reveals that completely change the viewing experience upon subsequent rewatches. And if a movie like that isn't strong enough to hold up with its secrets spoiled, would I really want to watch it again anyway? However, there are exceptions. One that's always intrigued me is the case of "Dark City," which was originally released with studio-mandated opening narration that gives away several of the big reveals. Director Alex Proyas managed to get this narration removed for later releases, and I always wondered how my initial experience with the film would have changed if I'd seen the story play out as originally intended. "Dark City" is already one of my favorite films, and one I revisit frequently.

If you could show one film to someone who had never seen a film, what would it be?

Sometimes the question involves time travel, which completely ignores that this is a scenario that can and has happened in the modern day. There have been several examples of screenings set up for people in remote villages, far from the rest of civilization, who had never seen movies before. Evangelicals have done this with various Christian films as part of conversion efforts in Africa and Asia. Eli Roth showed Amazonian villagers "Cannibal Holocaust" a few years ago, which they thought was hilarious. However, a popular choice for these screenings is Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times," as captured in a Cuban documentary short, "For the First Time," about a screening of the movie that was set up for Cuban villagers in the '60s. Chaplin's comedy is universal, enduring, still relevant, and I can't think of a better title to start with.

What recent movie will be a classic 10/20/50 years from now?

I have some strong feelings about the misuse of the word "classic" which I've already gone into great detail about previously, so I won't rehash the whole thing here. Let's just assume a "classic" movie is a movie that is widely praised and remembered long after its release, like "The Godfather" or "Star Wars" or "The Wizard of Oz." These are movies that have withstood the test of time and often have become cultural touchstones. There are a lot of different factors that go into why a film becomes a classic, including quality, hype, nostalgia, accessibility, and social relevance. "It's a Wonderful Life" probably would have remained an obscure box office disappointment if it hadn't become public domain and then a staple of Christmas television programming for decades after. It's impossible to tell which recent films are going to become classics because it's impossible to predict how the audience will grow and change in the future, and what may help or hinder a specific film from getting more time in the spotlight. However, I think children's films like "The Lego Movie" and "Frozen" tend have a better shot at immortality because of the nostalgia factor. The movies we love when we're kids tend to stay with us, even if they're terrible in retrospect.

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