Emmy Award winner and Grammy Award–nominated comedian David Cross cocreated the critically acclaimed HBO sketch comedy show Mr. Show with Bob and David, which received three Emmy Award nominations. He also appeared as Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development. More recently, Cross was the creator, writer, producer, and star of IFC’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. He has appeared in more than 35 films. His debut feature as writer/director, Hits, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Hi, David Cross here. I received a request from Nick at Talkhouse Film to write a “piece” about a movie I was interested in watching. (Not a “review,” as they prefer not to use that term). I won’t bore you with the details but, for a number of reasons, I didn’t get to see my top choices, either in a theater at a screening or on DVD at home. Partly because I refuse to watch a movie on my laptop; I think that’s rude and disrespectful. Unless it’s something like Anchorman 2, of course, which is just a series of very expensive jokes and can be enjoyed as much on an iPhone while sitting on the toilet as it can while paying 15 bucks to watch in a theater with crystal-clear optics and Dolby 5.1 surround sound. After much back and forth, my first 12 or 13 choices were unavailable, and I ended up choosing the documentary Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets. I like Pulp so was happy to get a copy and watch it on my sweet, kick-ass home theater and write down my thoughts. Which is what I did.
I sat down to watch with a pen and paper in my lap.
Which led me, almost immediately, to this observation: this is no way to watch a movie! It’s completely unnatural. I had to pause the movie so I could write this very thought down as I was thinking it, which again, is no way to watch a movie. A movie (a story, a visual story) with subtext and metaphor and judiciously and calculatedly laid-in nuances, which may seem innocuous at first but will have greater import later as the story unfolds, should be watched with a clear head and no distractions, such as the distraction of either pausing a film to write your linear thoughts, or to take your eyes and ears away from the film while it continues so that you may write something down. My mind is now connecting the wrong thoughts. Because my thoughts have little to do with what’s on the screen right now because I am taking the time to think and record my “reviewer” thoughts. They are intruding on the feelings that I would be having if my experience were solely and simply to watch the movie. It made me see the act of reviewing a film in a new light. And that light is harsh and florescent and makes your skin look sallow.
When I watch a great film and I get distracted in any one of a multitude of ways (“Where have I seen that actor playing the cop before? Was he in Grindhouse?” “What’s the name of that instrument? Didgeridoo or something like that?” “Ohhhh… nice edit!!!”), I push those thoughts out as soon as I can. For reasons that should be obvious. But reviewers can’t. Or I suspect, don’t. I have no idea what the process is for movie reviewers, but if I learned that they watched a movie twice, once the way it was intended to be watched and then again to take notes, then that reviewer would get a thumbs up, or five stars, or ten boxes of popcorn or whatever the fuck they “give” movies. But… yeah… eyes opened.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t particularly care for the film. But that’s not what I want to write about, I want to write about how this is an artificial way to watch the movie. Well, I suppose I’ve just done that so let’s move on to the film at hand, Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets.
It centers on the band getting ready for the last show of its (ostensibly) last tour, which finds the members coming back to their hometown of Sheffield, in northern England. There are interviews with the band, interviews with the people who live in the area, and interviews with fans from as far away as Georgia (the state, not the country). Mixed in is some archival footage, and… well, that’s about it. You also get to see a lot of fans singing along to their songs.
Outside of learning that in his teens Jarvis Cocker worked a Saturday job at a fish market and that the keyboardist contracted arthritis in her teens, there is little learned. And those two bits of information are pretty fucking boring to me. If you are not a die-hard Pulp fan, I think this movie would be of little interest to you. I am not a die-hard Pulp fan. I like them, I appreciate them, I think Jarvis Cocker is arguably one of the better lyricists of his generation, but this documentary is boring. Both visually and aurally. Hopefully, next time I can write about a movie that I want to see… twice. Once to watch as intended, with a focused head, and the second to take notes and think about what I’m thinking about (and why).
Sorry for wasting everybody’s time.