Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Write Today, Review Tomorrow

I think everyone has a process they go through when evaluating a film and organizing their review. And I think it says a lot about the person - or at least about how the person perceives the medium of film - in how they structure such an event. While I won't speak as to the quality of any particular approach, I do find it fun understanding how different bloggers formulate their printed opinion.

After all that printed opinion is what we ultimately put out there for debate (or just straight up agreement) with our peers. For my own part, reviewing is a time consuming thing. Considering the high density of typos and grammatical mistakes laden throughout my posts, you might find that surprising. Granted, I'd contend much of that is a byproduct of my lurching writing style. That and I possess grammatical skills equivalent to that of a nine year old (a calculation I based on years of watching Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and determining that I was not).

Never the less, I do find my writing style has been molded over the years, beginning with my days of writing a journal at Rotten Tomatoes (back when users writing meaningful content meant something over there). It started out rather simple. See a movie, write a paragraph, and move along. No in depth analysis, no personal association, just the broad strokes of my viewpoint and a quick move. Of course back then I'd watch three to four movies a day. These days that style has lost much of its luster. All the zip and speed that accompanied it faded to frustration and a collection of half remembered plots and characters.

So, like many before me, my style of viewing began to evolve. I began reflecting on movies, allowing their different components to soak in and be internalized. Just watching a film wasn't enough for me anymore. I couldn't turn off the second the credits rolled. Films started to mean something more to me than mindless entertainment. As such my want for them to be experiences increased all the more. I wanted films to be something that would resonate. Something I could carry along like a puzzle, to pick apart and put back together on my whim. I started championing movies with resounding characters, long and encompassing plots, and the potential for longevity.

As such my review process also evolved. I started waiting longer intervals before the printed review and the initial viewing. What was once an immediate paragraph turned into a three day multi-paragraph editorial. Which of course would be deleted the moment it was finished and rewritten. You know, because I'm skilled like that.

9 better thoughts:

Will said...

My review style has changed a ridiculous number of times over the last 18 months of my site. For the last month or so, I've settled into a good pattern though: watching and then immediately blasting out as many formulated thoughts into a solid rough draft. Then I come back to it a couple days later and polish it up. Sometimes that's all it takes, others are harder and take multiple passes. But I generally try and leave a solid amount of days between viewing and posting because during that reflection period my ideas solidify and become much stronger.

But like you say, it is all about your changing viewpoint on film and what it means to you. I think it's the inevitable path of a critic. When film becomes something special in your heart and mind, and you're watching increasingly challenging films, you're naturally going to start thinking more deeply about movies and consequently asking more from them. This in turn reflects itself in the review process. It's a double-edged blade, but I think it's worth it.

Great post!

Mette said...

Writing my review on "The Tree of Life" was the hardest one I'd ever done, and it has affected my style of writing a lot - even though it had been changing for a long time, I guess. There was so much I thought about after seeing the film, it never left me, I could spend hours doing stuff and thinking about the film at the same time, always discovering new themes, ideas, meanings.
My first reviews were very, very shallow, and I know there's still so much room for improvement, but it's funny to see how your skills improve all the time.

There are days when I watch three films, but that's mostly because I've spent a few days not seeing any films and try to... catch up, somehow.

Anonymous said...

My process involves a frightening flurry of post-it notes with barely legible chicken scratch on them.

NeverTooEarlyMP said...

This is a great article. I'm also beginning to take a few days between viewing and writing. I was thinking that this might mean I'm getting lazy, but I like your interpretation must better!

Andy Buckle said...

If I can, and this is usually following a film at the cinema, I'll sit down for about an hour and plough out as much as I can about the film. Maybe 700-1000 words - every initial thought. Then I come back to it a few hours later, and edit it down, tighten it up and give it structure.

This doesn't apply to every film I see. Sometimes I have to work after a film, or can't start writing until the following day, which involves a different approach. Some films are just tough to write about and require some extra reading about the director, another film by the same director, or a re-watch.

Great post!

Castor said...

You may have noticed I don't write nearly as many reviews as I used to on AM. That's because it's such a painstaking process.

On average, it will take 6-8 hours to write a single review. Mette mentions the review for the Tree of Life, that one took me about twice as long (probably why I'm proudest of it).

And all that doesn't includes the time I use tinkering with the reviews for days after it's published.

Univarn said...

@Will I wish I had the skill to polish it up, unfortunately nothing I write ever sounds good to me on a second go of it.

@Mette I dread the day I end up writing a Tree of Life review. Mostly because I'm not that big of a Malick fan and posting a lukewarm review of any of his films inspires quite a wrath.

@Tdylf That explains why all your reviews are just pictures of desk tops with barely visible yellow slabs across them. I just thought you were being artistic...

@MP There you go, whenever in doubt find someone else whose opinion makes you feel better about your action and just take their advice.

@Andy I've tried that a few times but what I tend to find is that none of it makes the final cut. So what I'll normally do is just log a few general notes or witty lines - if I come up with them - and move from there.

@Castor I would say if you factor in sitting around and thinking about a review but not actually writing anything I'm in the same region.

Mike Lippert said...

My writing process has changed as well but not intentionally and not, I feel, for the better. I used to work out the movie in my head as it was playing, maybe think about it for a day in some cases but write almost instantly what came to mind in one sitting. I'm a one sitting kind of guy, always have been and always will be. I think a review that is written over the course of several days can be wodden and unstructured. I do my best writing out of pure momentum.

However, now with a full time job I find myself waiting weeks before sitting down to write the review, by which time, unless it wasa great movie, I've lost my initial care and the reviews come out kind of so-so.

I wish I once again had that opportunity take sit, think, plan and then block off an hour or so to get a review out. Now, I get home from the theatre and just want to go to be.

Simon said...

It's always a culture shock to go on other people's blogs and find insightful, thoughtful, well-organized reviews that they took time to draft and finalize. It's like going to another country with a logical metric system and bear that doesn't taste like ass.

As always, contributing nothing. Sigh.

Stop making awesome posts, you son of a bitch.

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