Friday, September 21, 2012

Different modes of watching films at TIFF

I actually found out that I can survive on little sleep, if what I get in return is an early movie screening, the very first morning after the midnight show of Levinson's The Bay, leaving an exhibition on X-Men makeup artist Gordon Smith at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to attend a screening of Hannah Arendt. Since this is nothing that I usually experience, I enjoyed my different engagement with the films that I watched while very tired, the heightened emotionality, the focus on aesthetics and formalist elements, rather than the payoff of a plot that comes together, or the frustration if it does not, and I took it as part of the festival experience. Watching Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux in this state, a film that has been criticized in Cannes for not offering a cohesive story and overburdening the viewer with visual stimuli, turned out to be one of the most rewarding visits to King Street during our entire stay at Toronto. The questions to the present actress at the Q&A betrayed both the frustration of those that were in search of its overall meaning, trying to make sense of the elements of this message ("so what does the rugby sequence contribute to the narrative, if anything?"), as well as the enthrallment of those that were mainly interested in the visuals and the affects with which they responded to them. It makes me wonder whether a lowered state of attention can in fact contribute to the enjoyment of certain films or film genres/styles systematically, and what the political implications of producing such films, or rather encouraging such modes of engagement would be.

The other major way in which my viewing of film was altered as part of the festival experience were the midnight shows that Nathan has already described so vividly in his post. For me personally, it was the last midnight screening at the Ryerson Theatre that most significantly merged the experiences of me as part of a community of festival attendees and of me as a film spectator. The communal rituals that had been part of the "pre-show", which consists of ads of several of the festival's sponsors, stopped being a running commentary to the events on screen and developed an energy and noise unlike that the nights before. The ironic rhythmic clapping to the house beat of the L'OrĂ©al ad ("You're a reel beauty") became so loud that the music was hardly audible any more, and the clapping became faster and faster independent of it- no longer a commentary, but a communal activity celebrating the midnight screening crowd as a community for a last time, almost entirely disconnected from the original subversive act of mocking the high gloss ad campaign. The way we all reacted to the film screened- John Dies at the End, with director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep) present, was very much influenced by this atmosphere, the construction of a feeling of counter-culture inside of the festival (first by protesting the sponsorship as a communal practice, then by finally turning that protest into a ritual independent from its original purpose) left us feeling in charge of our common viewing experience, and grateful to the people around us that helped us constructing it.

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