Hitchcock wants you to encounter every detail.
“Hitchcock, and directors like him, keep certain pieces of information from the audience for specific artistic reasons.”
Wasn’t Hitchcock the guy that said if you shoot two people in an office and the table explodes you get a split-second surprise, but if you shoot the bomb under the desk ticking away you extend the suspense of the scene for its entirety?
Meaning it’s not the information he withholds that actually makes the film suspenseful, but the information he lets go. Following that logic the more one actually knows of Hitchock’s usage of information the more they actually experience in the film.
“I value my emotional reactions to a movie.”
So do I. That’s why I want to understand them.
“Hitchcock wants you to encounter every detail.”
I know it’s meant in jest, or I hope it is…
But please don’t tell me a promotional stunt is more important than what Hitchcock actually does in the film.
But if you know exactly what will happen with the bomb, it won’t matter whether it exploded or is ticking away – you will no longer experience the suspense.
Also, I want to bring my point about comedy onto this page:
If someone reveals the funniest jokes in a great comedy before you see it, you may still appreciate the humor, but I’d suggest you would not laugh as hard as if it took you by surprise.
Yes, definitely. Just like vegetables (that’s just for Matt Parks:))
Serious, yes if you think suspense is kind of silly. No if you take your suspense seriously. Then again, If Kevin Smith likes them…
This love for suspense has unfortunately infected the way many view non-suspense driven films. i’m thinking of people watching any film that offers characters outside of what they are used to such as What Happened Was. They will spend the whole film waiting for one character to go nuts and stab or strangle the other and in the end may say to themselves that nothing has happened, thereby missing everything.
“But if you know excatly what will happen with the bomb…,”
Okay, let’s figure it out.
You don’t know what’s going to happen.
The lead and the villain are in the room. We see the bomb. It’s the middle of the film, so we already know who is the lead and who is the villain. Are either of them going to die? Come on. You can figure that out even if you’re experiencing it in that moment.
If you knew beforehand all that’s changed is you know see exactly how what’s being achieved with the “suspense” is actually achieved.
I don’t think we’re disagreeing too much here, Falderal. Like you, I enjoy understanding my reactions and learning how a particular movie works. But with something like Hitchcock, I’ll take that one viewing to get acquainted with the material and then use subsequent viewings to take a closer look at the mechanics of it all. Of course, I don’t find it very difficult to look back after one viewing and contemplate how the whole thing worked on me.
Also, the example of the bomb under the table is pretty simplistic. I think there is a grand pleasure in discovering for yourself that Norman Bates kept his mother’s corpse around in the old house and dressed up like her on occasion. That, to me, is a little different than knowing whether or not a character will die.
And, yes, I jest above.
Plot points should never be discussed openly unless all parties have seen the film/TV show/book, or unless somebody who hasn’t experienced it is OK learning the spoilers. But at the same time, if a person wants to see a film, but hasn’t seen it yet (or even more common, are halfway through a TV series), DON"T GO TO THE IMDB MESSAGE BOARD!!!!!! I always thought it was ridiculous people on imdb complaining about spoilers in the title of threads on a TV show.
So nobody so far has mentioned anything they have seen that they absolutely would not have wanted spoiled for them. I could probably think of several (perhaps many), but the one that immediately pops into my head is Game of Thrones (I read the books first about 4 years ago; it would be interesting to be able to compare book readers reaction to a TV audience’s reaction). If that book had been spoiled for me, I might not have been upset about it, but I would have been robbed of what, to me, is an extremely vital important part of that series, a sense of “man, these books could go anywhere”). I won’t say anything else (as it is difficult to talk about without giving spoilers).
Another example (this one a little more “high art”), is Cache. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
@ Jazz: Haha, I’m not mad or anything, but I did get a Harry Potter spoiler from the NPR article. But perhaps I am the only person left under 40 that didn’t know that one ;)
Fight Club is one of my favorite examples. It’s one film if you don’t know the twist and a completely different film if you do. While I’ll continue to enjoy that second film with repeated viewings, I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience the first as initially intended.
“Also, the example of the bomb under the table is pretty simplistic.”
That wasn’t my point.
Hitchcock is maybe the single most obvious example we’ve yet come up with of a filmmaker that one should “go in cold” when viewing his work. But by his own admission his films work by what he tells you, not what he keeps from you.
That’s my point. If we understand what he is telling us, then we actually have a deeper experience, not a lesser one.
I’m interested by people’s reactions here. I thought most people would be against spoilers, especially since this site is usually really good about not giving them…
I am very averse to spoilers. The less I know about a film going in, the better. Nathan hit it spot on when he said “I’ll take that one viewing to get acquainted with the material and then use subsequent viewings to take a closer look at the mechanics of it all.” Which I think is reasonable enough.
Obviously, if the entire enjoyment of a film is predicated on a surprise at the end, it’s not that great of a film, but here are some examples of movies that I was really happy I was able to see without “spoilers:”
NOTE: There are no spoilers below (unless you consider knowing the nature of the spoiler a spoiler in and of itself), so you’re safe to read even if you haven’t seen these films.
Dogtooth: Even though the “spoiler” takes place less than halfway into the film, my favorite thing about it is how Lanthimos plays with the ultra-slow reveal throughout the entire first half. This slow reveal is a lot more effective if you don’t already know what’s being revealed, IMO. In Dogtooth, I think it’s easier to think about the mechanics of it when you’ve had an unspoiled first viewing of it. I’m really happy that I didn’t read any of the discussion here or even read the netflix synopsis before watching it.
Zorns Lemma: There’s really no “spoiler” in this film, since it’s non-narrative. But I think a large part of the enjoyment of it comes from figuring out the structure of it as you go along. And, again, this makes the rewatch more enjoyable when you’ve had an unspoiled initial experience.
Obviously, neither of these films are “ruined” if you know the “spoiler,” but I think they’re a lot more effective if you don’t.
“But by his own admission his films work by what he tells you, not what he keeps from you.”
When did he say that?
Also, I remember after The Sopranos ended, I had quite a few instances when I had to specifically ask people not to talk about it cause I was waiting for it to come on DVD. I would have been most unhappy had that ending been taken away from me.
batman dies at the end
I would say No to spoilers. Certain films you can get away with, but I find myself just waiting for the pieces to fall right where you know they will be. I find they get in the way of my viewing experience the first time, it’s obviously not a problem on repeat views.
There is just something so special to me about going into that large theater, or turning on the television, and just letting a movie take you for a ride. I know that there are always elements that are going to lack suspense, you know the main characters aren’t going to die in the the second act, maybe just one to prove the situation is serious, but the point is I want to just experience what the movie is conveying. You will obviously miss the subtle hints and foreshadowing that you pick up on rewatches, but it’s the journey that you take with the film that’s important.
However there are still films I can rewatch and still get worked up over. The best example is the final chase in Carlito’s Way. I know how it ends, every time, but I still find myself cheering for him, and slightly hoping things will turn out different this time. It’s powerful every time I watch it but nothing like the first time.
@ Brad S: You brought up comedy. I suppose it would be better to experience firsthand, but I can’t think of any comedies that hinge on plot points the way dramas do. Did you have something particular in mind?
In high school, while reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, my then girlfriend told me that Tom Joad committed suicide at the end of the book. Yeah…spoilers.
Captain, I’m actually referring to the laughs themselves in comedies, not plot points. But I think the same logic applies. How do our visceral reactions differ from our considered reactions? If we’re asking whether a scene can still be suspensful when its details are known, I consider that akin to whether a gag is still funny when the moment of reveal is denied.
But by his own admission his films work by what he tells you, not what he keeps from you.
Well, yeah, he tells us certain things and doesn’t tell us other things. The mechanics of the film hinge on both. So knowing things he doesn’t want us to know would be equivalent to cutting a section of the movie, thus depriving the viewer of information that he does want us to know.
Okay, so “equivalent” might be strong, but you get the drift.
@ Brad S: Hmm. Maybe it’s just that I can’t remember anyone ever trying to tell me a joke from a film. Sometimes I hear people repeating funny moments with somebody else from a film I haven’t seen (or, more often, from a TV show), but it’s usually so out of context that I don’t get the joke. Has someone spoiled comedy for you before?
But in general, compared to a dramatic film, personally I don’t think it would be that big a deal. Perhaps it’s just a personal thing though.
Just thought of a comedy example. The musical number that ends The Producers would not be as funny if you already knew its content.
Michael said, But if the study only included reactions to one story than it might no be accurate.Some books/movies are probably more enhanced or hurt by spoilers than others.
I agree, and I think this is an important point. Can we agree that from spoilers have different effects on different movies/books? Sometimes they’re relatively benign, and at other times they can significantly diminish the experience. So, citing answering the question based on one or two examples is probably not a sound approach.
Falderal said, Meaning it’s not the information he withholds that actually makes the film suspenseful, but the information he lets go. Following that logic the more one actually knows of Hitchock’s usage of information the more they actually experience in the film.
I think you’re applying the principle too broadly, imo. Giving some information can heighten the suspense, but it doesn’t follow that giving more or all the of the information lead to a better experience. I don’t know if that film poster is authentic, but I understand that Hitchcock was adamant that people should not be allowed in the theater once the film started. When I first saw the film, I understood the reason for this—which is something you guys haven’t mentioned. The twist at the end is a fun surprise, but, equally important, if not more so, is the twist—or I should say “con”—that happens in the beginning. In the first twenty minutes of the film, the movie seems to be about a couple on the run. Leigh’s character is stealing some money and plans to meet her lover. What’s great is that I got invested in this story, and I wanted to see what happens next. Her arrival at Bates’ Motel just seems to be a small detour before the real action (i.e., the lovers on the run) gets going. But the film takes a left turn (one of the biggest of all time, imo) and becomes about this crazy guy in the motel. (And the lead is killed!) Imo, it’s one the all time great cons in film history, and I understand why Hitch didn’t want people to enter the theater after it started.
Unfortunately, this effect and impact are impossible for people who see the film today, not just because so many people have seen the key scenes, know the twists, but the title is a giveaway. (My secret plan is to start the film after the title credit when I show this to my kids.)
Despite knowing all the major reveals, I still have a lot of admiration for the film—to the point of thinking it’s Hitchcock’s best film. But knowing the spoilers absolutely diminished the experience for me. No question. The film didn’t have the intended effect, and that was a bummer.
Falderal said, The lead and the villain are in the room. We see the bomb. It’s the middle of the film, so we already know who is the lead and who is the villain. Are either of them going to die? Come on. You can figure that out even if you’re experiencing it in that moment.
A couple of comments:
1. Again, I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like this. There are filmmakers who you can’t trust in this regard—i.e., they’re willing to do anything, including killing off the lead. Psycho case in point. But there’s other examples, too, so you can’t assume this.
2. If we’re thinking clearly and we put in the effort, there’s a lot we can anticipate and predict in movies. However, when the movie is really working this part of our brains often turns off. If we’re so engrossed in the present moment, we fail to see what’s coming up next. If are not really engrossed, then we can see what’s likely to happen. However, if we know with certainty about twists or important reveals, forgetting this information is next to impossible. So if the scenes would be more delightful without information, they will no longer be as delightful.
Dang. Sorry about that, man. (Ironic, that I failed to warn you!)
Spoilers don’t only ruin suspense, though. For example, Brad’s example about comedy and knowing the jokes beforehand. DFFOO’s Dogtooth is also another example. The way a film unfolds and the way you construct your understanding of the film bit-by-bit can be very satsifying. (Man, I hope you’re not rolling your eyes. ;)
Speaking of rolling your eyes, I also want to mention several other examples that I consider small little pleasures from films—pleasures that would be robbed if you knew too much about the film. (Examples will be from the following films, so if you haven’t seen them, spoiler alert: Moulin Rouge, High and Low, Monster, The Wrestler)
>I had no idea that the film would recast 70s/80s pop songs in the 19th Century(?) French dancehall/brothel. So when Ewan MacGregor belts out “Your Song” I was absolutely surprised and delighted. (Plus, I didn’t know he could sing and I loved the adjustments they made to the song.)
>In High and Low, in the first twenty minutes, I thought the film was going to be a business powerplay, but then it turns into a kidnapping…then a police procedural…then a social commentary. I loved the progression of these changes and the experience would have been greatly diminished had I known these things.
>In Monster, I knew Charlize Theron was in the film, but, if I didn’t know that, I might not have guessed it was her. If that was the case, that wouldn’t have been pretty cool. (I also knew about the hype of performance, so that sort of took away from the experience. Same thing with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Had I not known the hype, I might have discovered the performance for myself, and surprise might have heightened my enjoyment.
@Jazz – The poster is real.
Yes. A spoiler is a specific fact a bout a movie is not meat to be known, its meant to be discovered. To me, we all deserve making those discoveries on our own and to be taken by surprise by the films on our own. A premise is not a spoiler. For example, we know people die in movies. We might even know that a specific character will die or will be killed, but that doesn’t mean that we want to know how or when. When specifics are revealed, then the film is spoiled. So no, I say no to spoilers.
Why would you want to deprive your self from that discovery process?
@Berjuan I totally agree with you. I remember a few weeks ago, as a twelve year old I was about to watch Goodfellas when I read on the stupid IMDb site that Tommy, well you know. It completely ruined the experience and I feel that know I will never be able to watch Goodfellas with a feeling of surprise again as this annoying person decided to spoil the movie. I HATE them.
I’d say story spoilers are bad.
But, I think scene spoilers are even worse than story spoilers.
I am told ‘These two characters get together at the end’, okay, most movies make that obvious hours in advance anyway, so not really a spoiler.
But, suppose I’ve seen a preview of a movie where I’ve seen ten scenes out of context. Now, I’m not watching the movie spontaneously in the moment, I’m watching it waiting for those scenes. Is there a character in that scene who is in a life threatening situation? Well, I know he’s going to escape, because a scene that he’s in hasn’t shown up yet.
It’s true that a truly great movie stands up to repeated viewings, but it’s still better if you don’t know anything the first time. You should let the movie prime you itself, not the commercials or the reviews. The first time you see a movie, the world of the film is completely open. The closer you get to the end, the more closed it becomes, and the magic and anticipation is gradually dispelled. If you’ve seen half the big scenes already and know the ending, the world of the film starts out closed.
It’s kind of like how, the first time you play a video game, you have the fun of figuring out all the puzzles yourself, and the next time through you can never get that back.
I actually like the way The Dictator handled ads. The ads are full of jokes that are similar to the jokes you see in the movie, but some of them don’t actually show up in the movie.
I mean, pretty obvious, but watching something yourself for the first time and reading/hearing about it from a third party are very different beasts, so much so that I struggle to understand the argument “I’ve had second viewings better than first viewings so spoilers don’t matter”.
People obsess over recapturing “their first time” for a lot of things in life, there is a reason why we spend most our time chasing those experiences. There is a lot of majesty in discovery, in all things “new”, like Berjuan and Jirin have hit at. If you engage in spoilers… you never get a pure dose of that sensation. A lot of what ‘movies’ are about in concept stem from the desire to experience something new, something different… why dilute that with spoilers? Senseless imho.
The “sense” is in understanding why that feeling of “purity” exists, when, in reality, it’s just a form of manipulation.
“But, suppose I’ve seen a preview of a movie where I’ve seen ten scenes out of context…”
Other than the fact that this only applies to about 0.5% (if that) of all films made (those that have a sense of suspense, or “narrative anticipation”), this actually reminds me of a specific example.
Has anyone seen the Wellspring VHS/DVD trailers for their Tsai Ming-liang films?
They’re awful. They highlight all of the most dramatic moments (and even in a trailer, there aren’t many), while ignoring the essence of his cinema; mundanity, emotion in its meaninglessness.
But if one goes in with these as their own reference point, it doesn’t matter. Because his cinema exists for the moments in-between drama, not the drama itself; i.e., the information provided, not the information withheld.
Or… In other words…
I like that no one has even attempted to answer my question as to whether knowing the ending of Hamlet makes the experience of its first reading through worse…
Because it doesn’t. The “narrative anticipation” provided is meaningless. Who the fuck cares? What matters is what Shakespeare creates in moments.
Like most other works discussed here, Hamlet benefits from elements of reveal throughout. Of course, it would still be great if spoiled, but it rewards first time viewers who are not. Take the scene in which Claudius is praying as Hamlet stalks behind him debating whether or not to kill the King right there. Hamlet is conflicted. Will he have his revenge if he sends the king to heaven? This is a great moment of suspense and there are many others. Will the use of the actors reveal Claudius as the killer of Hamlet’s father? Where will Gertrudes loyalties lie? What of the army amassing at the borders? Hell, there are hints that Hamlet might kill himself. And finally (SPOILER ALERT!) everyone dies! Why dilute the power of this moment for those who haven’t yet experienced it? Shakespeare played with audience expectations as much a Hitchcock.
Hamlet is a hard one, because, as you’ve already noted, most people will already be familiar with the ending before going in, and therefore very few people have the opportunity to experience it for the first time without spoilers. So essentially no one knows if the first experience would have been better sans spoilers.
Who the fuck cares?
Well, clearly some people enjoy the process of discovering everything for themselves. Also, I think that to suggest “narrative anticipation” as meaningless probably undermines a great number of narrative artists who have constructed their work to provoke certain emotional reactions. The intention of the artist being something that we should value even if we can’t always construe it.
…just a form of manipulation.
Being manipulated is great! Ask anyone who enjoys sex.
I understand where you’re coming from, Falderal. As someone who finds the best cinema more rewarding and gratifying on subsequent viewings (gaining a better understanding of mechanics, more mental space to look after smaller details, etc.), but I don’t think those things have to discredit or undermine the initial emotional reaction or surprise that can be provided by certain narrative structures.