We all have certain types of films that we like more than others. That's a beautiful thing, one that's born out of our varied personalities and tastes. It's something to be celebrated, not ridiculed.
At the same time, as I've begun to dive even deeper into my cinephile status over the last two years, I've realized a parallel truth. There is so much to be learned and gained from experiencing films that are outside of our particular tastes. This is something I'm continuing to learn and probably always will be.
Part of this is some sense of personal growth, but that makes it sound like moviegoing is a kind of vegetable or homework (not that there's anything wrong with vegetables or homework, kids). At the heart of this journey is joy and the ability to find new likes and treasures. Sure, we will always have our favorite movies to revisit time and time again (side note: you can always see my favorites by heading over to my Favorite Movies tab). But we'll never find new favorites unless we set out to discover films that might not seem like a perfect fit at first.
Gain Insight into Others' Experiences
I think one of the core powers of movies as an art form are their ability to put us in the experience of another. Books can do that to a point, but our own mind is the entire playing field. With movies, the camera acts as another eye. We're one step removed from the action, which allows us to stand outside of it yet still experience what's happening in an immersive way.
Some of my personal favorite films use this power to get us to consider what the experience of someone in a completely different frame of reference might have been like. One of the most powerful examples of this would surely be 12 Years a Slave. There is a scene near the end of the film that always moves me to tears. As Solomon is finally leaving the plantation to go back to his life of freedom, he has to say goodbye to his friend Patsey. She stays behind, and we watch as Solomon rides away while she collapses in the background. Tears well in his eyes and we realize another of the many horrors he has faced. Even this moment - the moment of joy and freedom that he has been longing for - has been stolen from him. What joy he may feel has been swallowed in even more sorrow.
That is certainly a heavy example of how movies can do this. My personal tastes tend more towards the dramatic and the "heavy." I like films that make you think and that attempt to deal with the foundational questions of life. That's not to say I don't like comedies, but you'll notice that far more dramas find their way onto my list of favorite films.
But this is exactly what I'm getting at, I guess. If I only watched dramas, I'd have many films to watch that I absolutely adore. Yet I'd miss out on so many wonderful films that portray other experiences or bring about other emotions. And it's not only the experiences of the characters on screen that matters, but also the experience happening within us while watching them.
My wife loves comedies. Just the other day we watched Spaceballs together. It's a movie she watched growing up, but I had never seen before. We laughed and laughed. Was it silly and crude? Sure! That's the point. But now I have that experience with my wife, and I can understand her experience having seen that movie growing up. In the same way, I recently shared The Big Lebowski (one of my favorite comedies) with her. Now she understands all the quotes from that movie and we have another experience that we've shared together.
Life isn't all about heavy questions and deep thought. It's also not all fun and games. I've found that being able to enjoy and learn from both types of films can be extremely powerful. Can I still grow in this? Sure, and my wife would probably be the first to agree (Sorry that it takes us all night to pick a movie on Netflix, honey). But I think there's something to be said for seeking out the experiences of others through a broad spectrum of films.
Grow Your Visual Vocabulary
I'm a big fan of Masterclass. If you've never heard of it, they're a startup that offers video courses from some of the top experts across a broad range of fields. Shout out to my in-laws, because they got me a few courses for my birthday and for Christmas last year. I've taken the David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin writing courses, and I'm currently watching a course from Shonda Rhimes. But I also took the Martin Scorsese class, and I might have to say that's been my favorite so far, despite the fact that I'm not specifically interested in becoming a filmmaker. He discusses so many fascinating aspects of his creative process in the course, but one that I found especially interesting is this idea of growing your visual vocabulary.
Basically what Scorsese means by this is that the shots used in films are their own form of language. Just like you learned vocabulary in school growing up, the great filmmakers have passed down the language of moviemaking through specific shots and techniques.
Even though I am not a filmmaker myself, I find it fascinating to see how various shots and techniques get used and reused. Sometimes it's even fun to notice when a filmmaker is giving credit to one of their influences by using a particular shot. I noticed this when I watched A Quiet Place and there were clear shout outs to Jurassic Park.
But, again, if I'm only watching one or two genres, I'm missing out on so much that cinema has to offer. I especially learned this when I began watching more foreign films. Obviously, there is an actual language barrier there. But what I find fascinating is that the visual language speaks alongside the spoken word. I can notice the similarities in the visual vocabulary being used, because many of those foreign filmmakers were direct influences on the filmmakers I grew up with. At the same time, the fact that I cannot understand the spoken language makes me pay even closer attention to the movie itself. I have to be reading the subtitles while also paying attention to the visual cues at play. It's been a fantastic experience for me, and I'd encourage anyone to try it.
Find New Likes
As I said before, at the heart of this is really the joy of watching movies. We watch movies because we love being caught up in a story. We love the experience. There is so much joy awaiting us across a wide array of movies. If we only stay in our own little corners, there is so much that we'll miss out on.
I experienced this just the other day when I was looking for a movie on Netflix. I haven't seen Avengers: Infinity War yet (no spoilers, please), so I thought I might watch a preceding Marvel film to get me hyped up for it. I stopped scrolling when I found Captain America: Civil War. I'd heard great things about it, but I hadn't gotten around to watching it yet. I'd even seen Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming, which both play off of the plot of Civil War. Even though superhero films aren't really my favorite genre, I thought I'd give it a try. And you know what?
I absolutely loved it!
I'll have to do a full review of it sometime, but I thought it was one of the best superhero films I'd seen. Had I decided to stay in my dramatic box, I'd have completely missed out on that great experience.
So wherever you find yourself on the movie spectrum, I'd encourage you to branch out a bit. Love comedies? Give drama a chance. Can't stand superheros? Fire up Netflix and see what all the buzz is about. It's not about downgrading your favorites. You'll always have those. But you might just find a new favorite, and that is a beautiful thing.