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How to Watch A Movie

Back in 1974 – and I was still a high school senior – I remember having decided against good sense to ask my frugal Mom for a few pesos so I could watch this blockbuster movie called “Magnum Force.” The movie starred a young Clint Eastwood in the role of the by-now legendary Dirty Harry. It was released in 1973; but this was Lipa, and Hollywood movies took time to arrive.

I knew I was taking a gamble by asking Mom; but she must have been in good humour because she surprisingly agreed right away. So I went to what was then Lipa’s first-ever airconditioned surot-free twin cinema, the Diamond/Jubilee Theatre.

If you asked me for the plot of the movie, I will either give you a totally blank stare or ask you to visit IMDB’s web site. What I will always remember the movie for is a .45 magnum – methinks – gun that the movie opened with that was aimed – and fired – at the audience.

I knew that the gun was not real. I also knew that the gun was being projected onto a white screen from a celluloid film somewhere above where I sat.

Yet, just the fact that it was aimed at all of us in the audience made me feel strangely queasy; and I thought that the feeling was exactly what I would be experiencing if it was a real gun that was being pointed at me.

When the gun fired, my heart skipped a beat. And I was sure my face was ashen...

Of course, I shook my head and I realized that I got totally caught in the moment. There was something almost hypnotic about that large gun on the screen. For a few moments, reality for me ceased to be my being inside the moviehouse enjoying a movie that I dared to ask my Mom for some money for; and became my being the target of a fearsome gun that was irrationally aimed at me.

It was years later that I fully understood what had happened. I was watching a movie; and I allowed myself to be drawn into it.

In college, we were taught that the proper way to watch a movie was to step back away from it and gain appreciation from critiquing rather than being immersed in it. You enjoy the movie more if you are immersed in it; but you appreciate it less.

Go figure.

In that Magnum Force movie, at least for a moment I became part of it. Because I was totally immersed in it, it became impossible for me to appreciate it for quality because I had become part of it.

So – or at least we were taught – to gain appreciation one has to take in the parts that make the entire movie and examine each for quality.

For instance, is the story believable? Most movie stories are fictitious, anyway. Even then, one always asks if what happens in a fictitious story can happen in real life; else, the story loses credibility.

Is the acting any good? Ironically, the acting is supposed to be best if the actor does not appear to be acting at all. In other words, if the actor is performing as though he is in a real life situation.

We were taught that you can always tell a novice actor if he keeps still while waiting for his line or if he frequently crosses his hands in front of him or puts these on his waist. The more seasoned actors will find other things to occupy themselves with, even if the lines are being delivered by other actors.

We were also taught to critique the technical aspects of the movie. Does a scene that is supposed to have taken place at twilight have too much sunlight? Do you hear somebody coughing in the background while the leading man is passionately kissing his leading lady? Do you see a car driving in the horizon of what is supposed to be a fifteenth century movie? Do you see actors with long hair in a movie that is set in World War II? Is the background music for a poignant scene heavy metal?

And so on and so forth...

In the late seventies, I saw a movie entitled MacArthur starring Gregory Peck, then one of my favourite actors. It was a big budgeted movie of the era and condensed the career of the famous general into a two and a half hour movie. Naturally, the movie included MacArthur’s by-now legendary return to the Philippines.

There was one moment in the movie when the generals were planning a beach landing. Peck’s line had something to do about landing on a beach in Leyte. Lo and behold, he raised a finger and pointed to a place on the Philippine map that I immediately recognized as the Lingayen Gulf.

Non-Filipinos and anyone not observant would have missed it. But I did not; and that brief scene made me lose all respect for the entire movie for all eternity. I guess, based on what we were taught in Humanities class, that I lost appreciation for it.

But does one really have to step back from a movie at all? We used to have a 13-year old poultry boy who came to us from the boondocks of Mindoro. The first time that he ever saw a movie in his life was when Mom gave him a few pesos for a day off to do exactly that.

By evening, he was finally home and could not stop laughing and telling us over and over about the movie. One particular story I will never forget: that when there was a train on the screen and it was moving towards the audience, he did the most sensible thing and hid under the chairs. This really happened, I swear! He could not stop telling that story over and over again!

When I was a small kid back in the sixties, it became habitual for us to watch afternoon black and white movies along with the kasambahays. Yes, even if Mom specifically gave instructions for all of us to take siestas.

When Carmen Rosales or Charito Solis were acting out particularly painful dramatic scenes, the kasambahays started crying along with them; and we all started crying along with the kasambahays. Whatever the villains were doing to the leading ladies, they were doing to all of us – caught up as we were in the movies.

When I recall those days, I wonder if the best way to watch a movie is to simply abandon oneself to it, become among the cast and live the story at least in my mind. I cannot deny that the movies I enjoy most are those that make me forget reality and take me into a totally different dimension for a couple of hours.

Sometimes, a movie can be so good to get lost in that you simply dread ever seeing those two hideous words: THE END.

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