Wednesday, 15 October 2008

RANT: The WTF movie

The WTF movie is the cinematic equivalent of an extremely eloquent speech about nothing. People in the audience may think it to be profound, but when asked they'll have no idea why. It just is. When watching films like Mulholland Drive or to a lesser degree Donnie Darko, we experience the same reaction. A bemused sense of awe. So much so that people often name these films amongst their favourites, better then many that may have impressed them in a more traditionally coherent way. Is it because their better or because they make us think that they are? Lets do a rational and entirely unbiased weighing of arguments, because we love those so.


1) They dare to be different. we know what we expect to see when we see a film. A beginning, middle and end mapped out as clear as day, the resolution to all conflicts tied in a bow etc. The genius of the WTF movie is it dares to not patronise us by making everything black and white. Leaving as much as it can to the interpretation of the viewer, and even making certain things indeciferable. So soul-crushingly talked down to are we by most movies, we revel in the confusion and the mystery that these movies provide. We don't know whats going on, but we love it.

2) Harder to do then you might think: There is a reason that there are only a handful. Because for every Picnic at Hanging Rock there are several The I Inside's. For every Don't Look now There's an infinate number of Gothika's. The point being that these movies are very, very hard to execute. It takes a large amount of cratsmanship both visually and on the page to leave an audience joyously mystified, and too much smugness or incoherency will lead to communal audience yawning. The trick, or so it seems, is too present it as a technically solvable puzzle. Something that seemingly can be figured out, but not by you.

3) Audience participation: The birth of the inter-active movie. In our eyes, the purpose of these movies is not to sympathise with characters or marvel at the photography, but to figure the things out. Thus we pay more attention then we otherwise would and start websites called . Its hard to care this much about Dances with wolves isn't it.


1) Smoke and mirror theory. A credible argument potentially pointing out what these movies actually are. A cheap magic trick. Wow your audience with enough rabbits pulled out of hats that they'll cease to give a crap about those small little things like characters or logical consistency. Cynical, but there most definately an element of truth to it.

2) Not as good as you originally think. First viewing of these films is usually great without exception, but watching these films repeatedly shows that without the pretence of the puzzle that maybe they don't do the simple things as well as other films. Like isn't the acting in Mulholland drive a teencey bit stilted, or the time-travel segment of Donnie Darko a teencey bit banal. Watching them again usually makes them weaker, whilst films without that WTF factor often get better on repeated viewings, coz sometimes the simple outlives the convoluted .

3) They're good because of something other then the Puzzle. Come for the puzzle, stay for the good storytelling. Or good acting, or some specific proficiancy in some other specific area. The point is made right. The greatest WTF movies do other stuff great also, like Memento's intelligence and attention to character, or Eraserhead's twisted look and sense of Darkness. A movie doesn't survive by simply being a interesting puzzle. It would simply go the way of a rubix cube. Thrown away in a mixture of frustration and disgust.


I feel I have to do the honourable thing and sit on the fence. Some people like these more then others, I personally love to watch a movie smarter then I am, but a lot of people don't and just find them frustrating and a chore. Great movies are great movies though, and this bizarre genre mutation has most definately produced some of those.

WTF Movie Checklist (to watch if you're not currently confused enough for you're liking) :
All David Lynch Films but The Elephant man or the Straight story
Donnie Darko
Picnic at hanging Rock
Don't Look Now
Brazil/12 Monkeys
The Fountain
Naked Lunch
Being John Malkovich
Spirited Away
Solaris (1972)
and more to be found out by you who has both more space and time.

1 comment:

Antonionioni said...

Casino Royale should be added to this list. But it has wit by the bucketful, unlike many of the pretentioys arty ones, man. Beware of 'art' anything. Something should be well-crafted, whether it's painting or film or music or literature, through hard work and skill. 'Art' per se is often, as you imply, a shortcut to greatness without the hard work or skill. It fools some of us but not all. If the point is not clear, that isn't be the audience's fault. Some say they shouldn't be a point, but that's the slippery slope towards meaninglessness and pretentiousness. At the end of the day, the point is not to make a point, but to entertain. That's how all things should be judged.