Impressions of …

Prompted by Alex Barrett’s (Night On Planet Earth) recent initiative, I’ve decided to publish my impressions of some of the films I watch, as notes, instead of developing them into formal reviews.

What appeals to me is the candour this note-writing ought to promote: the notes will reveal intemperate reactions, contradictory attitudes, prejudices, and plain misunderstandings …

Okay, so what really appeals to me is the idea that output will be increased for less input (work), but it’s the quality of candour that makes the output exciting. The work of writing a review is too often an effort to construct a coherent argument on foundations that are far from secure. We form an opinion and then we pump it up; we pre-emptively defend it. We want to prove ourselves. We want our views to have weight and value. We want to impress. And so we gloss over inconvenient or incongruent responses, we smooth out the personal and subjective in order to appear more definitive, or we amplify it with conspicuous rhetoric. In short, we fabricate.

Fabrication builds us something – not a home, more like an office; but we can gain as much, I think, by translating our thoughts into words as they roll through our mind. Lots of loose ends. Threads to pick at.

There is pleasure available in this too – if only during those moment the thoughts flow freely and uncensored, ignorant of that future when we are castigated, or ostracized, or worse, dismissed as incompetent.


The Audience The Market and The Viewer

In the film industry, everyone is always banging on about the audience. Studio bosses, pundits, distributors, script consultants, even writers. It’s the professional thing to do, because, in the end, it’s all about the audience, isn’t it?

First off, let’s distinguish between the ‘audience’ and the ‘market’. Writers sell their scripts to producers, not to the cinema-going public. This is the writer’s market. Producers, in turn, have to sell their projects to financiers, and distributors. This is their market. Financiers and distributors are typically very concerned with the potential audience for a film (not people, but figures: box office and ancillary returns). This is their market.

Why should a writer take a view on the potential ‘audience’ for a proposed film when it is the producer’s assessment that counts? Surely if the writer is to concern his or herself with anything beyond the subject and craft of their writing, it should be to know their market: the producers?

That’s business. The ‘audience’ also gets invoked in the development process. Script developers talk of what the audience expects, what the audience needs to know, how the audience will react, but there’s an equivocation here because these propositions refer to a notional subject and not a quantifiable number of people who have decided to watch a movie. The viewer has needs and expectations. If the viewer sees a gun early in the plot, the viewer will expect it to be used. So might the ‘audience’, you say. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. If you talk about the ‘audience,’ you can slide sideways into questions of box office potential; you can start making illegitimate connections between aesthetics and commerce. If you talk about the viewer, you can’t.

The writer should consider the viewer, not the audience. (Likewise, the script developer.)

To summarise:

  • the market refers to the potential buyers of a film project or a finished film (producers, private and public finance, distributors)
  • the audience refers to the public who may or may not want to see the film
  • the viewer refers to the notional subject (person) who experiences the film
Okay, now we’ve got that sorted, let’s move on.

The Exception Disrobes The Rule

In no circumstances does an exception prove a rule. None at all. Not one. Never. Ever. Except … … … .* (see footnote)

“Ah, well, you see, that’s the exception that proves the rule.”

I’ve heard these words many times over the years as people try to dodge a contradiction or counter-example. I recall my father serving it up at the dinner table with the roast potatoes. I confess I’ve pulled it out of my pocket on occasion – I didn’t even know it was there! You probably know the phrase too, and because you know it, it has a kind of legitimacy. However, this phrase is – as my father would also say – a nonsense.

Strictly speaking, if they do anything exceptions do exactly the opposite of proving a rule. If your hypothesis fails to account for all relevant phenomena, then that hypothesis is – patently – inadequate. If you encounter an exception, you modify the hypothesis, or you abandon it. That’s the deal.

In the ordinary world, most ‘rules’ are really no more than generalizations posing as something more impressive and though we may urgently wish our deductions could be exerted with the force of truth and knowledge, the truth is they cannot, as a rule.

We have to be flexible, I believe, and humble in the face of counter-evidence. (To those inclined to continue regardless, meet ‘dogma,’ your new friend.)

So, while I wouldn’t go as far as declaring that the exception disproves the rule, I would suggest its existence delimits the rule. An exception reveals a rule’s outline. It removes layers of its clothing, reduces it, strips it of its immediate authority.

The exception disrobes the rule.

And yet, standing there before us, naked and shivering, a rule can still prove to be pretty darned appealing.



* In a legal context it can be argued that the statement of exception indicates the existence of a rule. The textbook example is the street sign which says “PARKING FREE ON SUNDAYS”. This statement would be either incomplete or redundant if parking were permitted on any or all of the other days of the week. From this ‘exception,’ we may infer the ‘rule’ that parking is not free Monday through Saturday.