When it comes to films there’s always one factor that can influence opinions on a major level, and I admit I do fall victim to this almost on a daily basis: the power of comparison. Or as I have labelled it ‘compowerson’.
What I mean by this is going to watch a film by a director or writer, or indeed both, that you have never seen before, and in your head you start comparing it to some of their previous works. This has happened to me just minutes before I started to write this post as I saw the closing minutes of the new Martin McDonagh film ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Now don’t get me wrong I love Martin McDonagh, I think his films are brilliant. But when I started watching ‘Seven Psychopaths’ my thoughts were instantly tracing back to ‘In Bruges’, and I started to reminisce about how much I laughed the first time I watched it. In my head I wanted the film to be as good as ‘In Bruges’ so my mind was being invaded with doubts that the film wouldn’t be as good. By the end of it I completely changed my mind. I really enjoyed the film, it made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. The characters were absolutely brilliant and played very well by the cast, in particular I liked Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. It wasn’t as funny or as entertaining as ‘In Bruges’, but then it hit me; it doesn’t matter. I didn’t have to compare them, because they were two completely different films.
I found myself in a situation where I was getting annoyed by my own behaviour. The two films are different on a number of levels, meaning that the idea of comparing them seems a little bit pointless. Obviously you can tell that they are by the same writer, the scripts are both very dark with a lot of expletives and jokes that make you question your own sense of humour, half way through laughing. And the subject matter for both of them is of the same nature, with a lot of black comedy which really makes you question how sympathetic you are towards characters in a truly horrific situation. Other than that I can’t find any other points that are similar. The stories are both complex in their own way, so they follow their own winding path that spins out of control (in a controlled and clever manner) but it means that you simply cannot compare them because the obscurities of both of them can’t be compared to films with simpler story lines, let alone each other. It really put me in a difficult position because it did make me question how cynical I can be when thinking about film.
It’s annoying because not only is this a situation where I have to admit that I am a victim of the very thing I’m complaining about, but also I have to admit that the thing I’m complaining about is something I think is important sometimes. Confusing right? But does make sense if you think about it. There are films you have to approach with a completely open mind and don’t let anything influence it. On the other hand there are also films that you have to compare, they were made for comparison. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense now, but after a quick example, hopefully it will.
Take Quentin Tarantino for example. His career starting off very well, making genius pieces of film such as ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ which soon became some of the best films ever made. But then the day we never saw coming was vast approaching the horizon, the day when that successes of the past that came from being quite ill disciplined and off the rails finally got to his head. In quite a bad move in to the ‘horror’ market of the film industry he presented to us ‘Death Proof’, the film we all wish we hadn’t seen, but unfortunately did. The trashy, ill disciplined horror that graced our screens was a real contrast to his previous work, it was made for us to compare! We all looked at ‘Death Proof’ in one hand and then looked at his previous work in another hand, and we all thought to ourselves “what happened?”. It was the sort of film where you not only compare to another film by Tarantino, but it’s the sort of film you start ticking boxes for. “Did it have a good story like Jackie Brown? Nope. Did it have character we all love and could quote to each other for hours on end like Pulp Fiction? Not at all. Did it require any form of thought to stay with the story like Reservoir Dogs? Not even in the slightest”. I know some critics say that you can’t compare it to his other films because it’s so different from all of them, but honestly, you can. It’s not difficult.
There are of course exceptions to the idea of not comparing in the form of sequels. Now this is an important bender of the rules, because without it we would have all had positive opinions of ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ or ‘Star Wars’ one to three. Sorry did it seem like I was having a dig at George Lucas there? Because I was. I laughed the other day when I saw a clip of him presenting an Oscar with Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola and he said “guys, I’ve never won an Academy Award”. It’s funny he never will. Spielberg knows it. Coppola knows it. I’m pretty sure even Lucas knows it, unless he’s so busy counting the money that he received for pointlessly re releasing ‘Star Wars I’ in 3D. However, rant over before it gets too far, without the rule we may have had different opinions on The Dark Knight Trilogy, or the new Star Trek film, all of which I have very little complaints about. Comparing in those cases made me realise what I loved so much about the first one, and then what I loved even more about the second film, like the development of character.
It just goes to show how much of an influence the power of comparison has on our opinion. In some cases it is useful because it points out the films that we really like and also separates the films we don’t like. But then it also has the power to make us dislike perfectly good films, which was very nearly the case with ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Thankfully I stopped myself and I did manage to enjoy the film a lot, but I very nearly ruined it for myself.
If there’s anything I want you to take away from this post other than reasons why I should be stopped from watching so many films, it’s just the advice to watch a new film with a completely open mind and focus on what’s happening on screen rather than what you remember happening on screen several months ago. Unless the film is terrible. In which case reserve your anger until you get home and get around to some serious in depth research about the director or writer’s history on IMDB.
Is it time for me to take up a hobby that isn’t based around films? I bloody hope not.