Critical Impotence

As good as I am at analyzing books, I’m utterly impotent at analyzing movies. We did Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the book club today, and I sucked. . . bottom.

Everybody had great insights. I loved what people were saying. It all made sense. But I saw none of it while I watched. Nothing. I feel like I need a booklet to accompany any movie I see to explain what happened. If I had read the play that the movie is based on, I would have seen all of it. But once it’s on a screen, I go stupid.

I’m being visited by a terrible suspicion. Do some people feel as impotent with books as I do with movies? And that’s why they don’t like to read?

Hah.

11 thoughts on “Critical Impotence”

  1. (Obviously, not a shrink, the following is just my 2 cents.) It might have to do with your autism. So much in movies (if there’s any serious acting involved) relies on body language and other social cues, which I assume you have difficulty with IRL. I saw some documentaries , and apparently people with autism don’t watch movies the same as neurotypicals (for whom the movies are made) because they focus on different things. I remember the example of high-functioning autistic young man who worked as a tech at a hospital. They had him watch a black-and-white detective noir, a scene with a femme fatale delivering a brief soliloquy. Apparently, what the young man remembered from that scene were the woman’s teeth (which were not remarkable, but he thought they were big) and not what she said (important for story) or how she acted (important for characterization, story).

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    1. It’s true, and it’s worse than that. I have a hard time processing any visual imagery. I don’t remember faces, for instance. Sometimes I think that it’s all one actor, and the movie makes no sense. And then I realize – these are different people!

      It’s so weird that my kid is into painting and prefers visual images to the written word.

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        1. Do you notice inanimate objects like flower pots or books moving around on a coffee table, or the water level in a glass mysteriously rising and falling during a scene?

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        2. “Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.”

          What the hell did I do now — put a typo in my “Email” or “Name”?

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      1. ” I have a hard time processing any visual imagery”

        But (accessing journalist memory file) didn’t you once say that you process the written word through mental images (or something like that- reading triggers mental imagery for you?)

        What if you saw a film from the USSR that you had never seen before, does that make sense? Cultures that make a lot of movies tend to develop highly structured storytelling conventions often built around visual cues that the audience processes without conscious knowledge…

        And yeah the body language thing – I remember an Almodovar movie with two women (we’ll call them Ana and Maria)
        Ana is in the background about to make a phone call
        Maria is attending to her makeup in the foreground.
        As soon as Maria realizes Ana is talking to her (Ana’s) husband (away in another country) she stops in mid-eyelash for a few moments and her eyes shift toward Ana (without moving her head).

        This lets the audience know that Maria in the foreground had been having an affair with Ana’s husband… (though most audience members might not realize that consciously but when Maria confesses, it doesn’t come as a surprise).

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  2. “I feel like I need a booklet to accompany any movie I see to explain what happened.”

    Allow me to put on my movie critic hat:

    Movies made from most written fictional works — at least from longer works like novels or plays — are stripped-down simplifications of the original pose story and dialogue. They have to be: If the movie tried to include all the subplots and minor characters from a typical novel, the movie would be six hours long, and the audience would be confused as hell about what was going on.

    “Gone with the Wind” is a good example of a very stripped-down story, and that movie still ran a boring 3 hours and 41 minutes. “Dr. Zhivago” is another example at a very draggy 3 hours and 21 minutes.

    Movies and prose fiction are entirely different media, and what works for one format often doesn’t translate very well into the other. If the movie has elements in it that the audience can’t understand unless they’ve read the book, the movie is a failure.

    So either read the book, or just watch the movie.

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  3. I think it’s just the amount of practice. It takes time to get attuned to the visual language and start recognizing the clues. Stick with it and you will see that you will get better.

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  4. Yes, they do, and yes, that is it, or at least, that is the conclusion to which I have come. They have been honing their movie watching skills since birth the way I honed my story listening and story reading skills. They’re comfortable and confident. But not with books.

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