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A Sideways Look at Film

The first time I saw "Sideways" was in the theater, shortly after it was released last year. I enjoyed it a lot, thinking it almost pitch-perfect.
However, there was one part I found fault with — an intimate backporch scene in which Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen discuss their love of wine. When Giamatti's character, the struggling Miles, explains his passion for pinot noir, an underdog grape, his speech seemed to act as a too obvious metaphor for his character's life. Friends of mine had a similar response.

Watching the movie a second time last night, I was a little apprehensive when that scene arrived. Aware of my previous reaction, I tried to stay with the characters as they spoke, entering the scene in a fashion, rather than analyzing it from the outside. On this occasion the scene turned out to be plausible instead of hackneyed.

It seems that when we watch a film we're simultaneously thinking about it, reacting one way or another. We form opinions that solidify — it was a good film, or a bad one — and we identify with them, though they may be shaped by expectation, mood, or who we're with. To one degree or another, when watching a movie we suspend disbelief, becoming involved in a world constructed at twenty-four frames per second. But perhaps now and again, we can take a step back, and observe the process of watching itself — investigating how the mind experiences and responds to the moving image.

April 14, 2005 | Culture | Permalink


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