Expectations go hand in hand with lots of things and film is at the top of that list. Most films I know of are for the most part made for people and with that come certain demands on the filmmaker. I’m sitting here presuming all filmmakers strive to satisfy the masses which isn’t entirely true (*cough Lars Von Trier cough*) but I do think aside from the art and expression, that’s the point really, to try and meet our expectations and give us some form of satisfaction.
To really understand expectations, I feel like I would have to jump into the key role the concept of genre plays. A film may only resonate with an audience when there is a match between the expectations and the audiences seeming awareness of the tenets of a particular genre. There is also the case to be made for understanding how a particular filmmaker utilizes a particular genre for his own artistic purposes and appreciating the nuance he or she may bring to play but I’ll get to that later on.
Different people have different outlooks on a film of a particular genre and this will directly influence the overall assessment of the final product. The knowledge that this genre works in such and such way could be because audience’s expectations play some part in shaping it that manner. I wonder what the first ever western was like, were people expecting a period piece or a dose of gun-slinging action as most of them turned out to be? This knowledge will determine when expectations are not met and even when an auteur director oversteps the perceived boundaries set by audience expectations.
That said I feel the hands behind any cinematic vehicle should be given some consideration when it comes to matching expectations. Some directors have appeared to earn the right break out of the shackles of the tenants of various genres and express themselves in the full flow of their auteur sensibilities. In my experience, I have found that the knowledge of the person behind the camera and the pedigree they bring actually take precedence in my reception of a film. I am more likely to buy into a Coen Brothers new and inimitable take on a western than a first-time directors offerings. Like I said, some auteur sensibilities have come to transcend the constraints of genre and attention swings to the directors handling of a genre and his ideological nous.
The modern age has brought with it various avenues for outrageously vigorous marketing efforts and extensive promotion. External hype surrounding a film prior to its release is an unwelcome variable in my opinion that skews our expectations. Fans are obviously told want they want to hear and show what they want to see in a bid to sell tickets.
Decades ago I imagine the average person just got wind of a movie via a poster and went on innocently to be overawed by the magic of cinema. Now it’s just spoiler ridden trailers of trailers and teasers and so on like a matryoshka doll.
I honestly feel films like Twelve Years a Slave were ruined for me last year. Before I saw it watched peeps online and what not measure their sorrow barometers against each other. It is no doubt a brilliant piece by Steve McQueen but when all the talk preceding the film is about how harrowing and how hard a watch it’s going to be it takes away from the effect of the film and indeed when I saw the film and it wasn’t that much of hard watch. Chiwetel gave his best Eeyore impression as expected but look at how Lupita Nyongo’s character Patsy hit us, there was no prior focus on her and we just sucked in her character and absorbing character to the fullest and to all those who think Twelve Years is a hard watch, try Hunger by McQueen himself.
However, when a movie is hyped and your high expectations are met or even exceeded, it’s a huge thrill. What makes The Godfather so great for me is the fact that following decades of never-ending adulation, you can’t help but still be in awe of Coppola’s baby. From the onset with Vito and Bonasera’s discourse, everything great about the film is laid out, the acting, the script, cinematography and so on. There’s also Meryl Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice of which I have no words to describe, just a tear-stained pillow.
I think that expectations and conventions are things that we as critical viewers should really pay attention to. A film can be judged on its use and manipulation of expectations and conventions. In Ghana, I feel like our expectations of a film come right from the bottom of the barrel and really anything goes no matter how inept. If we expected better maybe, just maybe, directors would give us better. It’s well noted the iffy stuff that passes as film and I’m not going to pretend I’m surprised the masses welcome it with open arms. Our modern filmmaker should be searching to find ways to create new conventions or even break conventions and change the way our viewers in Ghana feel during and about various cinematic endeavors.