If a film isn’t working for you, go ahead and do what I can’t.
If you don’t like a film, turn it off. Or change channels. Or walk out.
It’s something I can’t do, shackled to a seat despite absolutely no possibility of things getting better. It’s like The Ludovico Technique, except with Vishal-Shekhar playing instead of good ol’ Ludvig Von. I am, however, paid to bite that bullet, and because I have made a career out of giving movies of questionable quality a fighting chance, I steadfastly refuse to offer similar generosity to books or music. No unheard of indie band playing in Juhu for me, thankyouverymuch, and no debutant novelist’s scribbles about a sprawling clan. But movies? I’m around right till the end credits. And you don’t need to be.
It begins in school, this conditioning that we must not abandon a book midway. That we must see it through despite the first few chapters being dense, or boring or just not specifically interesting to each of us. We’re told it’ll only really reward us in it’s entirety, a strategic truism partly to expand our horizons beyond what we already like, and partly to serve as training grounds to help us master the rote, the ratta that gets us through other subjects, even lowlier ones that do not involve the reading of novels.
As a result, we finish bad novels (‘what’s another 180 pages?’) and bad movies (‘only 40 more minutes to go, surely Philip Seymour Hoffman will do something?’) but these questions are more submissively masochistic than they are rhetorical. 180 pages is a helluva lot of your time, and if he hasn’t dazzled in the first two hours, Hoffman’s waiting for the end even more impatiently than you are. And he, like me, is paid to stick around.
There are hundreds of thousands of better films –masterpieces and sideshow attractions, little gems and wild cinematic carnival rides, classics and underrated indies — and the more time you devote to a film that isn’t satisfying you, the more you’re missing out on something that could. Screenwriters are told to engage the reader in the first few pages of a script, else it’s curtains as the producer snoozes. And yet we, the audience, are much kinder to films that fail to grab us after twenty listless opening minutes.
But if a film, the most sensory offering in all of popular art, fails to arrest you 40 minutes into the proceedings — through neither narrative nor character nor backdrop nor music nor performance nor light and shadow — then you are decidedly better off walking out. Do it guiltlessly and with head held high, because the truly great films will always have, at the very least, some little thing that’ll reel you in and make you want to keep watching. And what if the climax is spectacular and, as some say, ‘worth the price of admission?’ Well then, watch that bit on YouTube. So scram, and celebrate your moment of justified truancy, as if you got to skip a midday meeting or a drab lecture.
Go ahead, make me jealous.
First published Mumbai Mirror, January 11, 2012