Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If festival googles, then also rooftop goggles

For the third time now on this blog, I am publicly questioning whether my initial viewing of The Skeleton Twins -- which I ranked fourth for the year last week -- was positively influenced by seeing it at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Especially after the movie was criminally absent from top ten lists, I have been wondering if I saw it through "festival goggles" -- the cinematic equivalent of "beer goggles," where a person finds a potential mate more attractive because of being drunk.

I got an earlier than expected opportunity to test out this hypothesis on Tuesday night. The Skeleton Twins was playing at the Rooftop Cinema in Melbourne, a venue first discussed here, and my wife was all over it. She didn't attend the festival screening with me and was desperate to see it -- so desperate that we even paid a babysitter to go together. (An upscale Mexican dinner beforehand, at the restaurant one floor below the theater, was also a motivating factor.)

I can now say for certain: I love The Skeleton Twins. If I did see it through festival goggles, I exchanged those for rooftop goggles.

So ... have I really proven anything? Haven't I just exchanged one atypical viewing experience for another? I probably need to watch it on a slow internet connection on a really small screen to know for sure, right?

I may eventually watch The Skeleton Twins in that manner, but it will be purely for pleasure, not for scientific inquiry.

The scary thing was that it was such a pleasure on second viewing, I almost wished I had ranked it higher for the year ... and wondered if it was only my doubts about the circumstances of watching it that prevented me from doing so.

If you're skeptical about the validity of my results, the other possibility is that watching something through festival goggles imprints a permanent affection on the thing you're watching. Unlike beer goggles, where you are abundantly conscious of the mistake you made in the cold light of day, festival goggles do that all-important thing when it comes to watching movies: They create a first-impression experience. Even if you do watch a movie a second time and don't like it as much, you will still retain the glow of that experience, and it contributes to your overall feelings about the movie. I feel pretty certain that's why I have a lingering affection for Scooby Doo, which I watched when I went to the drive-in for the first time as an adult in 2002 (but have not watched again).

But there's ample evidence to suggest that goggles are not alone responsible for how you feel about a movie. The first movie I saw at last year's Melbourne Film Festival was the Hungarian movie White God. That should have been the one where the giddiness of the festival really affected my impression. Yet I ranked White God 84th on my year-end list. The next movie I saw at the festival -- China's Black Coal, Thin Ice -- was even lower, all the way down at #96. It wasn't until the festival's third movie (Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves, #21) and fourth movie (Japan's Why Don't You Play in Hell?, #28) that I started seeing movies that really connected with me. Even in the drive-in experience mentioned above, the second movie on the bill with Scooby Doo was Joel Schumacher's Bad Company ... which I ended up ranking last of all the movie I saw that year.

Then there's the evidence of my wife's reaction to the movie.

She was wearing rooftop goggles and beer goggles last night -- we'd each had at least three drinks, including two margaritas at dinner -- but her assessment was only that she liked it, not that she loved it.

So instead of looking for some kind of external explanation/ validation for my feelings about The Skeleton Twins, I must acknowledge that it's simply a movie that hits me in all the right ways. Its unique blend of ingredients -- in the way that every film has a unique blend of ingredients, I mean -- was just right in my wheelhouse. And even this is not something I can explain logically, because I have typically not been that excited about movies in which suicide is a main plot point, Exhibit A being Dead Poets Society. (This year being the exception, I guess, as you can find broadly defined instances of suicide in four of my top five films, if you include Tom Cruise resetting his day in Edge of Tomorrow.)

I guess The Skeleton Twins is just one of "my movies," and maybe I will always be one of the only ones who appreciates it the way I do.

Which kind of makes me love it all the more.

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