I’m watching the movie Amistad for the second night in a row. I’m only about 90 minutes in, as I fell asleep the first night, and it is pretty slow going. I can’t really critique a movie that I’ve only seen half of though. It very well might have an excellent second half. There have also been movies that I have found slow that come together magnificently in the end.
I think though that a movie’s first goal should be to entertain. A song’s first goal should be to create great music. No matter how noble an idea is, it needs to work as art first. 12 Years a Slave is incredible, because it manages to fire on all cylinders. It is telling a story that needs to be told, but it is telling it in a way that is incredibly emotionally involving. I think if you want to move minds you need to move the heart first.
Another thing I noticed while watching Amistad is there were several moments in the first half where the music tried to make you feel something that wasn’t earned. One of the worst movies I have ever seen, Mr. Holland’s Opus, consistently tries to make melodrama mean more than it does by laying on syrupy strings. In 12 Years a Slave, I am referencing that because I just saw it, the score is almost minimal. When it does come in it deepens the emotion that you are already feeling because the storytelling and performances are already so powerful. Too many times movies try to cheat with a score.
Anyway, again, I am not really trying to critique Amistad, because I haven’t finished it yet. What I have seen isn’t horrible, it’s just merely average. However, I wanted to touch on the above ideas while they were still fresh.
I never did end up finishing the movie last night as I was extremely tired. I did find a section towards the middle of the movie highly compelling. There is a scene that is largely wordless, aside from background dialogue, which documents the horrors on the slave ship. This segues directly into a slave auction, again with very little foreground dialogue, where we watch dandy whites dressed in light colors bidding on slaves. That section seemed to convey the whole horror and absurdity of slavery through mere images. I only wished that what I had seen before that was orchestrated with such expertise.