In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Donald Pittenger on Sociology 2 | Main | Elsewhere »

April 22, 2005

Movie Descriptions

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I was flipping through the discount DVD bin at a local video parlor. Clatter clatter clatter -- and I'd pull a movie out and give it a closer look-see. Then I'd repeat the sequence.

What caught my attention was less the question of why some discs caught my attention than the question of how it was that I knew to give so many discs an instant pass. Flipping through the losers, I was moving much too fast to be making conscious decisions. Yet ignore them I did. What enabled me to do this?

(And what an interesting state of mind you enter -- OK, I enter -- when flipping through possible-purchase books, CDs, and movies, no? Glazed-over but interested; purposeful yet daydreaming ...)

I've got nothing interesting to report: sometimes the cover art puts me off, sometimes a general gestalt does. Usually the whole feel of a DVD package is what makes the decision for me. Funny/adorable suburban-papa comedies? (Bright colors, "hilarious" expressions -- Steve Martin in "Cheaper by the Dozen.") I don't have to think about it, I've got no interest. Goofy teens on a comic rampage? (Bright colors, "hilarious" expressions -- "Dodgeball.") On to the next disc.

For all I know, my unconscious's rules of thumb may be making me overlook movies I'd enjoy. Maybe there's one dorky-dad comedy that would really speak to me. Perhaps there's a misbehaving mall-teen picaresque that would crack me up. I guess I'm OK living with that possbility.

After observing myself at the DVD bin for a few more minutes, I came up with the one DVD-package element that turns me off a disc most conclusively. It's when the descriptive text on the back of the DVD box starts this way: "Four generations of the eccentric Baxter clan gather in Maine to bury their patriarch, and long-concealed resentments and unexpected family secrets begin to -- "

Oh god, no, my unconscious seems to think: two hours of hashing-out-emotions! Plus tears, hugs, and moody walks on the beach! No, no: anything but that! The prospect of watching such a movie makes me want to plunge into a bath of utter sleaze. (Don't ask me why I'd be reading the back-cover copy of such a movie in the first place ...) I start to feel the need to buy entire stacks of sexy '60s splatter-exploitation movies.

Wait, it occurs to me there's another flip-by-it-fast contender: the DVD package that goes with "middle-aged Boomer love story" -- plaid shirts, Lifetime-TV photography, autumnal colors, biking and walking ...

Which DVD-package elements turn you off most quickly?



posted by Michael at April 22, 2005


Whenever the pull quotes or synopsis describe the film as "edgy" or "in your face" then I quickly throw it back in the bin.

Posted by: Bryan on April 22, 2005 7:58 PM

"The year is 2023. After the next war, the streets are teeming with violence ..."

"The fall term at Scumchancre's School for Warlocks and Witches looked like it would be fun! But Alyosious Smegma, Harry's old enemy, had other plans ..."

"Jim Carrey is ..."

Posted by: George on April 23, 2005 8:31 AM

Good subject!

Any DVD that features the actors' heads floating in blackness is almost sure to suck. I've noticed the more heads are featured, the more it will suck. Also, the more concerned the look on their faces, the more it will suck.

The bright airy pastel feminine-hygiene look also repels. (Have you noticed that the self-help section of the bookstore is always pastel on white, while true crime is always red on black?)

And I'm not crazy about the all-silver look either. Too spacy. Also anything which overdoes the phony CGI smoke and fog. These two design paradigms usually appeal to the same crowd, I've noticed, maybe because they look like video games.

On the other hand, black and white photographs grab me without fail. Couple that with crazy or striking design and I can't resist. (Interesting that the M cover looks kinda like one of those true crime book covers I mentioned. Intentional? I wonder.)

One of my pet peeves is when they put a colorized picture on the cover of an old B&W film. Drives me nuts.

Posted by: Brian on April 23, 2005 12:00 PM

How funny. "The year is 2023. After the next war, the streets are teeming with violence ..." would have me taking a closer look!

A turn-off would be any description that involves a wedding, such as "After returning to her parent's London home for her sister's wedding, a young woman hires a male-escort to pretend to be her boyfriend when she is forced to reencounter her ex-fiancÚ."

Are there certain cultural niches that turn your interest on or off? I probably wouldn't spend much time with a DVD cover that's overly invested in hip-hop culture. There was a time that Asian fighting movies would intrigue me but not recently.

Posted by: Matt on April 23, 2005 2:23 PM

"Battlefield Earth"... that.. that repels me more than anything else, also psuedo intellectual movies that think they're smarter than you but are so woefully dull that by the time im 15 minutes in im contemplating tearing my own eye balls out with salad tongs... i mean SURE i could turn it off with the remote but it just wouldn't be the same

Posted by: jimmi-pop on April 23, 2005 7:36 PM


You people go to physical stores and thumb through actual packages to find DVDs to watch?

What century are you in?

With a few clicks of a mouse you could be reading user reviews, critics' reviews, user ratings broken down by demographics, etc.

I doubt that our subconscious associations between packaging elements and movie potential are very reliable; especially now that you're analyzing it.

Posted by: Gil on April 23, 2005 8:36 PM

DVD's that do not picture the stars on the covers tend to fall into one of two categories:
1) indie movies driven by plot rather than character;
2) atrocious "Z list" straight-to-DVD movies that don't picture the stars because no one would recognize them.

Posted by: Peter on April 23, 2005 11:15 PM

Interestingly, the recent movie that most clearly fell into the "middle-aged Boomer love story" category - Sideways - broke with the usual pattern when it came to DVD packaging; the cover shows small pictures of the four (all "B list") stars and a drawing of two men in a sideways wine bottle. Something that stands out, to be sure, though I didn't care much for the movie :)

Posted by: Peter on April 24, 2005 12:44 AM

Those are all a riot!

It occurs to me that there's another movie-trope that instantly puts me off: helicopters (or jets) circling the White House. I don't know why, but the D.C. thriller -- particulraly ones that wind up centered on the President -- is something that holds no appeal to me at all.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 25, 2005 12:21 AM

Unless it's about a day of the dead celebration, anything with a skeleton or demonic face. Those are always the mark of a "z" horror movie where:

- A young ingenue shows her breasts, and she dies.
- Another young ingenue doesn't show her breasts, and she lives but only after getting covered with everyone else's blood and screaming a lot.

I also can't think of one movie that's any good that has the word "kiss" in the title.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 25, 2005 10:35 AM

"I also can't think of one movie that's any good that has the word "kiss" in the title."

Kiss of the Spider Woman was pretty good, if not quite as outstanding as some reviewers claimed.

Posted by: Peter on April 25, 2005 2:31 PM

<"In Living Color" movie critic with funny little hat>Hated it.</"In Living Color" movie critic with funny little hat>

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 25, 2005 2:46 PM

"Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) is a good movie.

I liked "The Long Kiss Goodnight" when it came out, but at the time I was an idiot. Nobody should watch that movie.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on April 25, 2005 6:48 PM

Hey, I like "The Long Kiss Goodnight".

Everybody should watch it.

They just shouldn't expect something deep. It's a fun lightweight action movie with cute dialog (e.g. Chef's do that.)

Posted by: Gil on April 26, 2005 1:38 PM

Gil's right. In The Long Kiss Goodnight, you got your likable good guys, you got your hate-able bad guys, you got your explosions, you got your fights to the death ... what's not to like? I think it's an extraordinarily well-done live-action cartoon. And, no, I'm not being ironic.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 26, 2005 2:48 PM

Bad -- a sad woman or a happy child.

Good -- stuff blowing up.

Posted by: Sluggo on April 27, 2005 11:16 AM

I never buy DVD's I haven't heard of just from the cover art or description. So there's nothing that would "make me look"---unless it was a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis in it that I had not been aware of. In which case, it wouldn't matter if it pictures floating heads, or the White House, or long walks on the beach!

Posted by: annette on April 27, 2005 12:05 PM

Malcom Gladwell covers this stuff in Blink, but you know this.

Posted by: sac on April 27, 2005 6:34 PM

Annette -- The truth emerges!

Sac -- Actually I didn't know that, tks.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 28, 2005 11:39 AM

Any cover showing a girl or guy holding a pistol. I think this got started with James Bond posters. You can instantly tell where and when the film is set by looking at the type of weapon they're holding. It's ridiculous. These covers are going to be hilarious collector items in another 100 years, sort of like those Victorian ads showing someone wearing therapeutic electric belts. The pistols these futuristic Amazon babes are holding look like forty pounds of something that is a cross between a bazooka, a sawed-off shotgun and a flame thrower.

Posted by: Charlton on May 2, 2005 10:52 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?