[crosspost from the Siffblog]

This is the first year that I had the opportunity to take as full an advantage of my SIFF press pass as I have wanted to, and for the first two weeks of screenings, I was very diligent about seeing every film shown, about three a day for two weeks.

I had been warned by others that when one is viewing films for review in volume, it becomes crucial to take extensive notes, something that I try to avoid when viewing films one at a time for review. I’ve found that If I’m taking notes as the film screens, I’m much less likely to experience the film like a casual viewer and therefore may miss the quality of emotional involvement in the film which is part of he aim of many commercial films.

The reason it’s important to take good notes in viewing lots of films for review is that after a couple of days, your memory breaks down, and you’ll inadvertently find yourself mixing up characters, scenes, and situations. The notes help ensure that what you turn in represents what you saw.

Despite this, not only do the films blend together in one’s mind, to a certain extent the memories become dissociated: you may find yourself recalling how nice it was to sit by the river with James Garner, or what a pretty girl that French chick is that you met the other day, or how good that food looked in that Chinese family’s roadside lunch counter. The films’ depictions of experiences begin to occupy the places that are normally used to store personal experience.

This effect renders everything slightly dreamlike, because you learn to distrust your memory.

Adding to the strangeness is the emotional effect of being absorbed by the narratives that you’re being presented with. Generally, filmmakers aim for the maximum emotional and visual persuasiveness that they can accomplish. They’ll do anything to involve you in the emotional rhythm of the story, and that means there are certain tricks that are used over and over again. Over swelling strings, the actor’s eyes widen as her head tilts back, mouth opening, and a gentle rain spatters her face. The camera pulls back, swooping away, and the rain becomes a torrential downpour as brasses enter the soundtrack.

Despite the recognizable and mechanical nature of many of these tricks, they remain effective rhetorical tropes, even after sitting through many movies. It’s possible that they become even more effective over time through repetition. As audience members, we’re conditioned to respond to these gestures, slavering when the bell sounds.

This operant-conditioning effect (the reward is produced within our bodies as endorphins are released in response to the emotive cues) has a cumulative effect. After achieving that critical mass of film-viewing where one’s memories break down, the emotional pummeling has a stronger effect, rendering even hack films capable of carrying a wallop. It’s like being slightly drunk all the time, off balance and easily swayed.