Seeking purity of experience in a world of noise

It’s not easy to do, but skipping trailers and pre-release hype can lead to a more fulfilling moviegoing experience

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The other day I saw a movie called “Hell or High Water.” Walking into it, I only knew one thing about it: That it was called “Hell or High Water.”

We live in a dizzying age of information overload. When it comes to entertainment, we are bombarded with stories, Snapchats, tweets and hashtags in a constant barrage of digital noise whose aim is to capture a piece of whatever fraction of an attention span you have left in order to #sell #you #products.

At the movies, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the forces of marketing.

Blockbuster films are teased out in buzz reels and trailers, and those trailers are studied, analyzed and thinkpiece’d out until by the time the movie opens, you not only feel like you’ve seen it, but you’ve made up your mind about how you feel about it.

To avoid that trap, I do my very best to avoid watching trailers or reading about movies until I see them. I’m seeking purity of experience.

“Purity of experience” is a term a friend of mine coined a few years back, when he embarked on a quest to avoid all trailers, commercials and pre-release hype leading up to Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” The idea was to enter the theater fresh, not knowing any scenes or lines of dialogue ahead of time.

It meant months of avoiding links and tweets, and turning channels when a TV commercial came on. But he was successful. Even in today’s world, it is possible to have an unspoiled experience.

Without calling it that, I had previously employed the “purity of experience” rule on my first Madonna concert. It was her 2001 Drowned World Tour, and I avoided reading any reviews from the road or seeking out any setlists, even skipping the HBO special that aired live from the Palace of Auburn Hills. I didn’t want to know anything about the show until it was in front of me. The payoff was worth it, and I’ve done the same thing for every Madonna tour since.

The temptation to know everything about everything before it happens is everywhere, and today it’s easier than ever to achieve.

“Suicide Squad” doesn’t open for another two weeks, but already it feels like we’ve been living with the film for months. (Are there any Harley Quinn scenes we haven’t already seen?)

For their part, movie companies need to flood the public with awareness about their products.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake every weekend at the box office, and you can’t sell a movie on a title and cast alone.

Paramount can’t just pull a Beyoncé and surprise-release a new “Star Trek” movie, especially when movie companies carve out release dates several years in advance. And if people are going to shell out dough for tickets, concessions, a babysitter and a meal, they deserve to have a reasonable expectation of enjoyment.

Here’s the part where I acknowledge my role in the machine. I write about movies, I blab about them on Twitter, and a review in the paper becomes a part of the chatter surrounding a film. I realize this. What I hope is to add to a conversation, not just make a bunch of noise and pile on the hype.

Information is a good thing, it plays a valuable and essential role, but the glut of information can be pummeling and can detract from the end product.

Which leads me back to “Hell or High Water.” It’s well worth seeing, but I won’t say anything else about it for now. I wouldn’t want to ruin your purity of experience.

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