Movie Sadism

A sure-fire way to get things into perspective when depressed is to hang out with a friend whose life is much worse than yours. I did that tonight, and was not disappointed. It helps if the friend also has a sense of humor, so that you both are brought nearly to tears with laughter at the so-horrible-and-unbelievable-it’s-like-a-movie things that happen to her.

Watching depressing movies often helps in the same way. I for one am addicted to Law & Order SVU–only SVU, because it’s the sickest and most depraved crimes–for this reason. There’s always a soothing undercurrent of “at least my life’s not that bad.” So with this in mind her movie choice for the evening was Born Into Brothels. How can you go wrong with a movie about depravity and despair of children living in Calcutta’s red light district? But when we walked out of the theater my friend was very disappointed. “Pfft, my childhood was worse than that!” she said. (And the scary thing is that she’s not kidding.) We become movie sadists, wanting to see pain inflicted so that we can at least commiserate, if not be moved to feel better about our own lives. Shame on us. But it’s more than just that–the film was truly not as upsetting as we assumed it would be, and I think it may be because the filmmaker held back out of some unconscious protective urge. Or it may be because she was there actively helping the children, which is not a luxury most of them are afforded, so they aren’t the worst, or even typical, cases. I’m no expert on Calcutta’s red light district, but having read the Tulasa Letters in an Indian Film class I T/A’d this semester, I went into this movie expecting the worst. But I suppose the film had different aims.

I personally had to cover my eyes while watching, but not because of anything disturbing onscreen. It was the shaky hand-held camera was making me nauseous. Not so good for a film with subtitles, because you have to see the screen to read subtitles, so I missed a good chunk of the last half quarter of the film. I’m really getting tired of seeing films with this kind of camerawork. I think this is a downside of the development of cheap and easy DV equipment–it’s so light and easy to use that filmmakers get careless, or novices brought in by the relatively low barrier to entry aren’t yet well-trained enough to know how to capture images on the fly without causing the audience to lose their lunch. There was plenty of hand-held cinema verite in the 60s and 70s and I never got nauseous watching any of those films. I think it’s because the cameras were heavier and much more expensive so the filmmakers took more care. And in so doing, their films are more artful. I just hope that DV camera operators eventually learn to get a steadier grip on their cameras, otherwise I’ll be skipping a lot of those films.


Also tonight I got a marriage proposal. From a homeless man. Yep, I’m popular with the homeless men.

4 Responses to “Movie Sadism”

  1. Matt
    May 16th, 2005 | 12:56 am

    “I think this is a downside of the development of cheap and easy DV equipment–it’s so light and easy to use that filmmakers get careless, or novices brought in by the relatively low barrier to entry aren’t yet well-trained enough to know how to capture images on the fly without causing the audience to lose their lunch.”

    Or, alternatively, looking at the problem from another angle, maybe the audiences’ way of looking hasn’t yet evolved to a point where such cinematography doesn’t mess with them…

  2. cynthia rockwell
    May 16th, 2005 | 10:19 am

    that’s one way to look at it i suppose. but i think if it’s a choice between a handful of filmmakers learning to hold their cameras steady or millions of audience members learning to overcome their vomit reflex, it seems the former is more reasonable.

  3. Matt
    May 16th, 2005 | 10:56 am

    Oh, I don’t know. Millions of audience members also go to watch a lot of crap…

  4. cynthia rockwell
    May 16th, 2005 | 1:51 pm

    yeah but it’s easily digestible crap. it doesn’t induce a physical nausea effect. at least not to most. only to the discriminating.