Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Safe Movie Watching

Cricket McRae
Step by careful step, the figure on the screen trudges up the icy mountain. The howling wind blows snow around him. A heavy parka, gloves and balaclava protect him from the frigid cold.

Morgan Freeman's mellifluous voice begins narrating the story.

I point to the television. "That's not who we think it is."

The picture freezes. The room falls silent. On the sofa next to me my guy holds up one finger and gives me a stern look. Smiles.

We are watching The Bucket List starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, and I have already broken a cardinal rule in our household: Safe Movie Watching.

This rule, of course, applies mostly to me. I'm the one who predicts plot, wonders how that little unsung but odd detail will come up later in a meaningful way, rants when characters act inconsistently or the emotion is wrung from cheap pathos rather than effective story. I'm the one who raves at wonderful characters, twisty reversals and well executed gaps between audience expectation and what actually happens.

I am, in short, not that much fun to watch a movie with unless I shut my yap about all this stuff that's second nature to me as a writer. Hence, the Safe Movie Watching Rule.

To be fair, we also have a Safe Live Show Rule that applies to my guy, who's a musician and sound engineer. It requires that he limit his verbal explanation of every aspect of a venue's sound, how well the sound mixer knows his job, the quality of the equipment, etc.

Now, there are some of writers who read entirely for pleasure, getting lost in the story and not examining the writing. Many of us can't, though. Writing has altered our ability to just sit down and read a book. I'm better at losing myself in nonfiction, but there are a few authors who suck me into a story far enough that the how and what of they're doing goes out the window as I read.

When I stumble on one of these gems, being able to lose myself in another world is wonderful. However, when the writing is noticeable, then it's still wonderful (unless it's terrible writing, which I will usually just stop reading). There's an added layer of appreciation, even if that objective part of me is droning on in the background.

What about you? Can you compartmentalize reading and writing, editing and reading, writing and editing? Do you even find time to read, or is it a guilty pleasure because you're supposed to be writing, writing, writing all the time?

Oh, and that figure trudging up the mountain? Well ... I wouldn't want to spoil the movie for you.


Keith Raffel said...

I;m with you, Cricket. There's always a part of me, the internal critic, who is watching the craft and not the plot.

G.M. Malliet said...

I'm not going to confess to this. Instead, I am going to "out" my husband, who should get a job in Hollywood as "Mr. Continuity." If the sun is at 27 degrees in one frame of a movie, and at 37 degrees in the next frame, he can tell the difference. The shadows have shifted, he will inform me. I have no reason to doubt this. Also, if the layout of a city has been altered to fit the needs of the narrative (hero enters metro system on one line but exits from another) he's all over that. I tell him he is meant to pay attention to the *story* but clearly these little details distract him from doing that.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, I really wish I could go back to the days when I was completely absorbed in a book without thinking about all the backstage stuff! My analyses really put a damper on my fun.


Alan Orloff said...

I have a much tougher time now reading for pleasure--sometimes I'll get distracted thinking about what I'd do if I wrote the book, rather than what the writer is actually doing.

And Gin, my wife is married to a Mr. Continuity, too. I'm always stopping and rewinding, pointing out how someone's upturned collar got fixed by magic, from one shot to the next. (There was a good one in last week's Raising the Bar. You could see the DA in the back of the courtroom in one shot, then in the next shot, you saw the same DA entering the courtroom in close-up. Gotcha, TNT!)

G.M. Malliet said...

Alan, this is why my husband is not allowed access to the remote when we watch DVDs. It's bad enough he talks over the dialogue, pointing out the changing skyline or whatever.

The one thing I do notice in movies is when an actor's hair changes from one frame to the next. Someone from makeup has gone after her with a comb, you can just tell, and the waves and curls are all different. Superficial, yes, I know.

Cricket McRae said...

Ah, fellow sufferers. I'm glad I'm not alone in finding it difficult to read a book just for fun. Still I don't wish this occupational hazard on anyone else, either.

And now I'm going to be thinking more about continuity when I watch movies. Like I didn't already have enough to distract me. Thanks a lot.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Cricket, I've seen the Bucket List about 4 times, so you won't spoil it for me. And I cry every time you-know-who dies:)

Fortunately, most of my movie/tv show watching is done alone at home, because I've been known to boo and groan over bad plotting, writing, acting, etc., as well as openly applaud the good stuff. I'm not above yelling comments at the TV, even though I know my neighbors can hear me if the patio door is open. I don't care. I consider watching anything an interactive sport. You should see me during political debates and Survivor espisodes. And I love nothing more than rewinding and reviewing scenes with sharp dialogue and deliverance (thank goodness for On Demand!).

As for reading, sadly I don't read as much as I want to, but when I do, my own writing knowledge definitely interferes.

Cricket McRae said...

Sue Ann, you're a woman after my own heart. Interactive sport indeed! Bring on the rants and raves.

Yes, The Bucket List was quite good -- and I was really prepared to dislike it. Turned out to have some real twists and turns, and though I took issue with a couple things, I cried at the end, too.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! Your post made me laugh, Cricket! And I love balaclava. Yum.

So what are these books that totally immerse you and suspend your internal author (i.e., writing critic?

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, in regard to changing hairstyles between scenes, that's one more reason bald actors should get more parts.

Kerrie said...

I would enjoy watching movies with you. I too love to predict, ponder and...I can't think of another "p" word.
However with reading, I am able to shut off the writing critic as long as I don't notice the writing. A good book can take me away and allow me time to just enjoy a good story.

Cricket McRae said...

Ha! Sticky sweet balaclava. Now I have a craving for Greek food. Mmmm.

The last book that thoroughly sucked me in was Touchstone by Laurie R. King. Her other books do that, too.

Kerrie, I wish I'd made it to the outside movie night at the Northern Colorado Writers studio -- were all the writers there commenting left and right?

Pieces said...

OMG. You have just described what watching a movie with my husband is like. I never really realized why he was such a pain until now.

It actually makes me feel better about wanting him to just GO AWAY when I am watching some movies.