And How Does That Make You Feel

Been thinking a lot about La La Land and the merit of how a movie makes you feel. Putting aside theory and craft to focus on the collision between creator and audience, the moment of impact in a dark room.

Like was it a good ride? Did it stir up feelings that reality can’t muster? Did it illuminate something about human nature (although my experimental side wonders if we could center a movie about anything other than people)? I’m talking about the emotional aspect of film, the oft-cited catharsis of theater. There’s a quote from Herzog, “Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.”

I watched Arrival and La La Land in one night. And while Arrival was the more intellectual of the two, La La Land is the one I can’t stop thinking about. There’s something to that that transcends technicalities and cerebral showmanship. I finished the movie feeling like I’d run a mile and also lived a whole other life.

I’d be content if I could get someone to feel the same way about one of my stories, because that’s what we’re ultimately chasing as filmmakers. We’re just poking people and watching them jump. Yes, even the ones who are pushing the boundaries of the craft. If we didn’t care how people felt during our movies, there’d be no boundaries. And there’d be no point.

Then I saw the new musical Amélie at the Ahmanson. The suspension of disbelief required is high. The most grounded part of it were the relationships between characters. Some will say it wasn’t whimsical enough, others too much so, but I wasn’t bothered. As Amélie gave into her attraction to Nino, I remember making a conscious decision not to resist their earnest love story. Like La La Land, Amélie was about all the feels. And there is a simple power to that when the audience surrenders to it.

Because for me there is a right way to consume stories. It’s sitting down and giving yourself over to the journey. I see a movie like a wave – you have to do some work to stay on it, but you can’t redirect its path. You can only surf along, trusting the tide to bring it to shore.

I want to earn that trust from my audience. More and more I don’t think I’ll find it through dazzling intelligence or flashy techniques or the ~aesthetic~. I’m still searching for the answer, knowing full well there isn’t one. And therein lies the catnip.

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