I have complete and utter respect, bordering on reverence, for filmmakers. The detailed process that goes into making a single film, even a single scene, is unfathomable. With modern technology, filmmakers have more control over what the viewer sees in a shot than ever. I love watching, absorbing, interpreting, predicting, and being surprised. And I love talking about it. I am fascinated by the process and I love onscreen entertainment, so I want to learn all that I can. But I don’t think that lacking technical knowledge of filmmaking makes me less qualified to assess a film.
I see two different ways that films are discussed: formally and informally. As far as I can tell, formal analysis largely has to do with studying what the filmmakers attempted in a film and a discussion of whether or not it was successful. Informal analysis, in my experience, is much more focused on impressions that the film gives and its plot. Although these manners of analysis attempt to accomplish similar goals in interpreting and discussing films, they go about it in very different ways.
Every viewer sees a film with a different perspective. When I walk out of a movie theater, I’m not thinking about the technical backend of it all; instead, I’m entirely focused on character arcs and plotlines. I can barely recall many of the movies that I’ve seen (the bad ones are particularly fuzzy), but the discussion afterwards usually sticks with me. When talking about a movie with my friends or family, we don’t discuss camera angles, shot composition, color scheme, or soundtrack (with some notable exceptions; who can talk about “Star Wars” without commenting on the epic score?). We talk about the story. For example, “The Lobster” disappointed me, not due to its strange style of comedy (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but because I spent half the movie fascinated by the hotel and the film’s premise, only to be ripped away when the characters went off into the forest. I wanted more of the fantastical world that David initially inhabited. However, I still enjoyed the movie due to its nuanced perspective on romance and excellent acting.
With that said, being an informal critic doesn’t mean that I’m entirely unaware of what good storytelling looks like or the components of films that support it. Informal critics like myself spend a fair amount of time watching movies or TV shows and have gathered some knowledge of what good acting looks like. We may comment on extreme acting (i.e. an actor who is entirely convincing or unconvincing in a role), but that’s not usually the main topic of the conversation. The audience’s differing opinions on an actor’s performance are usually an entry point for a larger discussion of the film.
The difficulty with this generalization is that the intentions of every film are different. Many action movies exist purely to entertain. Most documentaries seek to educate or inspire. Dramas tend to encourage the audience to relate to the characters and sympathize with their struggles. So, in my biased-toward-narrative opinion, the everyday viewer is the best assessor as to whether or not a film is effective and affective. Filmmakers have done their best work when I have nothing technical to comment on at all. With the exceptions of films that very obviously and intentionally challenge the traditional technical form, like “Hardcore Henry,” which was entirely filmed from the main character’s point of view, I don’t want to think about the acting or the transitions or the camera angles. I want these formal elements to have worked more quietly in my mind, creating a lasting impression at the end.
Maybe I’ll be looking back at this article and laughing in a few years’ time, but right now, I have no plans to go into filmmaking. I acknowledge the apparent hypocrisy in my points because it seems like I believe a filmmaker’s technical prowess doesn’t matter, but I believe the exact opposite. An education in classic films is critical for a director, producer, special effects artist (etc.) because I believe that one should first know the rules in a profession to break them. However, these films aren’t made for the personnel who created them. They’re made for casual movie-goers like me with low levels of technical awareness who are just looking to be entertained.