Increasing Movie Memory
April 28, 2009 12:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I improve my film/movie memory?

I am a film student and frequently watch films (obviously). I can remember scenes and plots, but after a few weeks, my memory begins to dwindle. I feel like my classmates remember specific scenes, shots, and plot points a lot better than I do. Am I not as interested in the subject matter? What ways can I improve upon my movie memory?
posted by benji to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to remember this data for academic purposes, or just for your personal culture and geeking out with fellow students?
posted by jchgf at 12:51 AM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: @jchgf all of the reasons you mentioned
posted by benji at 1:00 AM on April 28, 2009

Here are some things that have helped me:

(1) Don't waste your memory of images. Don't watch a moment of television; don't catch a crappy movie just because you're out. Don't even watch films or television shows on your computer; in fact, try to minimize time when you're staring at any kind of screen outside of watching a film. Watch only what you're going to digest and think about. But you may already be doing this.

(2) Give yourself time to really digest a film. When it's over, go somewhere by yourself, like a coffee shop or a quiet neighborhood pub, and think it over; take some notes, maybe, jotting down some points that you found interesting. Often even the mere act of taking a few notes will more indelibly inscribe certain things on your memory.

(3) This is the most important one.

Watch honest movies. To explain what I mean by this, I'll first say that Sergei Eisenstein was a dishonest director; he sought to manipulate his audience by quick cutting and jogging. Honesty in film means moving slowly, letting the audience take it all in, giving the viewer time to examine the frame. It is dangerous to move quickly because there is a risk of degenerating into gimmicks or tricks.

To teach yourself to pay careful attention to every frame and every movement, you must start with movies where you have a lot of time to work with on different frames. For this, I'd probably first prescribe the movies of Andrei Tarkovsky, which move slowly enough to give the viewer time to see what is in the frame and to examine it for themselves. When we have trouble remembering movies, it's usually because, lacking patience, we hang loosely on plot points while we watch the film, just waiting for the next step in the story without really taking in what's going on. Tarkovsky will build your patience.

If you want to do this by a kind of brute force, and if you're the kind of student of film that I was when I discovered movies in college, you could try something I did that really opened my eyes to films and made them a different world to me: you could watch Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's masterpiece Hitler: Ein Film Aus Deutschland. It's entirely filmed on a sound stage with minimal sets and no location shooting; there are various costumes and 'characters' (most of whom are various incarnations of Hitler giving speeches) but there is no plot and no story, only interesting and didactic philosophical musings and historical vignettes which include everything from a zombie-movie Hitler to the diary of Hitler's valet. And it's seven hours long.

During the first segment, by far the most 'interesting' (though not really, when you think about it afterward; just the most engaging) you think to yourself that this will be easy; zombie Hitler, Battleship Potemkin Hitler, Gone With The Wind Hitler, and all kinds of Hitlers that are tributes and homages to various famous films parade across the screen, and it all seems very interesting and dynamic. But then, during the second quarter of the film, Hitler's valet's diary is read, including every conceivable mundane detail of Hitler's life; he wears brown shoes one day, but the next day realizes that he doesn't quite like that shade of brown, so he orders a darker kind of brown shoes because he believes those will go better with his coat, but do his socks match? Et cetera... Meanwhile, throughout, there is brilliant, insightful, historically provocative and insightful commentary being fed to you; but it is very difficult to swallow seven hours of thoughtful, smart stuff, so much so that by the last hour of the ordeal I was literally holding my eyelids open.

It was a fantastic experience in itself—I came away with a new appreciation of what even a very simple way of making a movie could produce, and I've been mulling the consequences of Syberberg's thoughts ever since—but the real revelation came afterwards, when I went back to watching 'normal-length' movies. Suddenly it seemed like 90-minute films were over far too quickly; I'd hardly had time to read the credits! And the colors and cinematography almost seemed to be too much. Why are the moving the camera so much? Everything is so bright! Suddenly I felt as though I could hold an entire two-hour film, even a very good one, in my head with almost no trouble at all; that feeling has, of course, faded somewhat, but I still understand what seeing Hitler did to me.

One note: this is not the sort of film one can watch alone. It should be watched with friends, preferably with people who can handle a real commitment and who can man up when watching a movie gets a little more difficult than normal.
posted by koeselitz at 1:06 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

[Hitler: Ein Film Aus Deutschland]
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 AM on April 28, 2009

Keep a film journal, with quotes you liked from the film, thoughts on it, etc. If it's an online journal, you may be able to add clips of your favorite scenes that you find on youtube or upload yourself. Just looking back at the entry you wrote after seeing the film will probably trigger many other memories of the film that you didn't jot down.
posted by PY at 1:08 AM on April 28, 2009

Do you watch movies repeatedly? You can't be expected to hold all of a film's information in one sitting. The more you watch a movie, the more you understand how this movie works and how its pieces fit together, and the greater your recall will be. It took me five viewings to fully experience and understand The Dark Knight (and it many flaws), and four for No Country For Old Man, for example. I can only remember a blur of a few images and scenes after watching a movie once, but by the fourth viewing, I can tell which scene and which cut is coming up at any time while watching it (certainly not every cuts, but the important ones anyways) and I can rebuild the movie in my head almost afterwards almost at will. I don't know any other magic tricks. Don't be too intimidated by the alpha-geeks out there and be patient.
posted by jchgf at 1:45 AM on April 28, 2009

I love giving good movies multiple viewings - you'll see new things each time
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:12 AM on April 28, 2009

A couple things off the top of my head. As you learn about film and its different techniques in lighting, editing, and screenwriting, I think the scenes will "pop" a little better for you, making it more memorable ("hey, look at that backlighting!" "wow, that was a terrible jump cut" "here we go with the inciting incident.") Of course, usually the better the film is the less you think about these technical aspects, but I think you can do this and still be engrossed and enjoy the movie.

Another suggestion is to take some time after the movie to read about it. Start with some reviews, then do some Google searching, maybe read some or all of the screenplay if you can find it. It will help solidify things in your mind a little bit (not to mention help your overall film literacy).

And as mentioned above, repeated viewings.
posted by starman at 5:17 AM on April 28, 2009

As opposed to koeselitz, I find it helps to sit down at a bar after a movie and discuss it with friends. This leads to some interesting discussions about things I or a friend sees and the other missed. The hive mind always makes better sense of a film than the lone mind.
posted by JJ86 at 6:00 AM on April 28, 2009

Yeah, repeated viewings as mentioned. Some of my friends think I have a steel-trap mind about movies, because I can quote dialogue and describe camera shots and movements. But these are films I have watched dozens of times!

Also, The trivia and quotes sections are very useful, as well as the message boards, if you skip over the inevitable idiots.
posted by The Deej at 6:38 AM on April 28, 2009

Talking about movies helps. Writing things down helps. Writing helps fix thoughts in our memories in general. Just writing down the name of the movie, principal characters and plot elements would be a start, but if you wrote a short essay, that would force you to think about the movie at a different level as well. Start a viewing blog.
posted by adamrice at 7:32 AM on April 28, 2009

N'thing repeated viewings, that's what works for me. Good movies are like good music: they take effort and repeated exposure to really understand. Talking about movies is good, but sometimes you want to establish your own opinion about something before being exposed to others, otherwise those opinions will influence yours, possibly unfairly.
posted by biscotti at 7:39 AM on April 28, 2009

If you're trying to the technical aspects like sets, lighting, cinematography, etc. it can help to actually block out the narrative aspects. Once you've viewed the film once, go back and instead of watching the film as story with characters and dialog just focus on the technical aspects. Then once you notice things like lighting and camera angles you can map that back to what you remember about the plot and think about the filmmakers' intentions.

One trick to make this easier is to turn off the sound, or watch it with a foreign language soundtrack without subtitles. I've even heard a suggestion to watch a film upside-down to help recognize patterns in images outside of the context of the scenes themselves.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:49 AM on April 28, 2009

I hesitate to give over my favorite trick. Ok. Just cause you asked. Yes, yes, repeated viewings, talk it over with friends....

Learn to actively view a film.
Sit there in the dark, with either a pen and paper (don't look at the paper) or a laptop with the screen brightness down to zero. Write down anything that you particularly notice. A particular cut. The color of something in the film. A line that made you laugh. Don't look at the screen/pages until the film is over.

Yes, referring to the notes helps; but truthfully, most of us watch film passively. This technique wakes you up to the detail around you. Takes a couple of months. You'll watch film and pay attention to small details, because you're asked to keep your brain active. Then there's the whole bit about turning that voice off; that's something else.
posted by filmgeek at 3:57 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Avoid voice cracking   |   Lollipop Fields and Robot Makeovers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.