Monday, 28 February 2011

More than just good films

I am, I suppose, pleased that The King’s Speech did well in the Oscars last night. It is not, for example, Titanic. It seemed, when I saw it a few weeks ago, a well crafted film with good performances and emotionally engaging. Discussing it with Ian Lyne a week ago (who suggested a ‘resolute reading’ of There Will Be Blood a year ago), having just seen True Grit, he took that last aspect to be good enough. A film might be well crafted but that would not make it a good film. Add in emotional connection and that, he argued, was what made it a properly good film. That is what one hopes for. But I disagree. A film can have that as well as good crafting and yet still leave me wanting something more.

The word I seem to reach for is ‘transformatory’. I want films not just to get things right but also to have something like a further aspect. The problem, though, is working out what that might mean. I don’t just mean: changing my state. Two Tarantino films did that. Many years ago, after seeing Reservoir Dogs, I realised that I’d need more than just polite post-film chat to recover my sang-froid (pints of strong beer). More recently I felt that watching Inglourious Basterds somehow left me a worse person than I’d been a couple of hours before. Merely watching it made me implicated and culpable.

The sense of ‘transformatory’ I’m reaching for includes some sort of interpretative demand made on the viewer by the film. Not just the decoding of complexity but something more affective. But not just affective (that way leads to Reservoir Dogs which I admire but it’s not great). A really good film demands a response in which the affective and cognitive co-mingle.

I don’t think that I’ve seen any such film recently. The King’s Speech was perfectly formed but small scale. True Grit wasn’t great either but there at least, and much to my surprise, I have not been able quite to forget, to put to one side, the arresting interplay of the formality of the language with primitive nature of the moral story.