The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

On the habit of taking notes and spitting wine – does it steal a bit of the magic?

with 58 comments

“When I was taking notes on it I stopped trying to critique it, I stopped trying to analyze it, I was just trying to write down what I was seeing as fast as I could and I could only get half of it down”.

Those words aren’t mine, but they stuck with me. It was Jake Cole who said it as he was a guest on the 50th episode of The Matineecast. He was talking about one of the extended action scenes in the recent Tintin movie.

I was fascinated. What a dedication mustn’t it take to not just observe, but frenetically analyze and criticize the movie you’re just watching?

I never do it. I don’t write as much as a single word – not even if I’m at home, where I’m in charge and basically could take a break at any moment to toss down some scattered thoughts.

In the case of Tintin, which I personally found strangely boring and not exciting at all, I should have had plenty of time to write down my thoughts had I wanted to. But the thought never even occurred to me.

To be fair I don’t think Jake is the one who is odd here. After spending six months among filmspotters and film bloggers I’ve realized that I’m in the minority. Taking note is a part of the deal and it’s a part of what defines what kind of a theatre visitor you are.

It’s the same as if you’re tasting wine. Only a professional wine expert spits it out. Average Joe swallows whatever he can get hold of.

Normal people have a box of popcorn in their knees as they go to the movies. The cinephile brings a pen and a notebook.

But even if it would fit nicely into my self-image as a film connoisseur, I can’t bring myself to note taking, as little as I spit out my wine.

I enjoy my movies like I enjoy my wine, not only the splashing around in the mouth, but the aftertaste that fills my mouth and the sense of comfort that spreads in my body as I swallow it.

If a movie stirs up emotions and excitement, I want to cherish it rather than analyzing it while I’m in the middle of the experience. The moment I start taking notes, they’ll run out of my reach, the same way as sand that you try to catch in your hand. The harder you close your fist around it, the less will you keep in it. I fear that an analysis on the fly would put an extra layer between me and the movie, keeping me from getting close.

To be honest I don’t even write down something immediately after watching a movie, even if it might be a good idea. In that moment I’m still too much wrapped up in what I just watched. I need to take a few steps back and let it sink in for a couple of days before I’m far enough away from it to sort out my thoughts and feelings about it.

It’s been ten years now that I’ve been doing wine tasting sessions in company with a couple of friends, serious ones with protocol and everything. But we haven’t come to the point yet where we start to spit out the wine.

And I don’t take notes in cinemas. Maybe there will be one day when I too will grow up to become a serious, adult film critic. But for the time being I’m perfectly happy to be like a child when I go to the movies – entangled in the moment, immersed in the events on the screen, oblivious of papers and pens and what I’m going to think and write about the film tomorrow.

And perhaps that’s why going to the cinema still is a magical experience to me. Every single time.

Written by Jessica

January 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

58 Responses

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  1. I don’t take notes either. Even if I decide to see two movies in the same theater. Though I would bring my laptop to write things down for the film I see. When I return after seeing the 2nd film. I do go back to the review of the first movie I saw and do some re-edits and re-writes.

    Steven Flores

    January 18, 2012 at 1:46 am

    • As far as I understand it you do it between the shows? I imagine how annoyed I’d be listening to someone typing frenetically as the movie went on. Not to speak of the light from the laptop… Worse than a cellphone!


      January 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

      • That is true. Once the film is finished. I find somewhere where there is a table or something. Then I just go ahead and type.

        I’m not doing it inside the theater while the movie is on. It’s insulting. It’s worse than the cell phones being flashed. There needs to be rules out there. Watch the film and you figure it out what the hell you just saw.

        Steven Flores

        January 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm

  2. I can’t take notes while watching a film – man, shouldn’t we be WATCHING the film instead of writing about it while we’re doing so? What if you’re so busy watching that you miss a critical part?

    I usually write my reviews a few days later, after I’ve had time to mull things over a little in my head. Unless I’m inspired to write a review immediately after the credits roll.


    January 18, 2012 at 2:08 am

    • Well I figure those who take notes watch as well but they certainly must hava a capacity for doing several things at the same time which I lack.


      January 18, 2012 at 9:52 am

  3. Maybe we’re on to something. I don’t take notes when I go to a theatre (who can see with the lights off) but when watching at home I frequently pause the film to jot down thoughts. And typically my review is written and posted within ten minutes of finishing a film (a bit longer if I’m at the theatre). Lacking notes or immediate write-up, too many of the details I could bring to bear fade. I could probably still capture general sentiment, but I feel it would lose something.

    That said, my tendency to watch films as a critic rather than a cinephile has to have something to do with my tendency to not like most films. Not many films can live up to that kind of detailed analysis. I’m not sure that I gain by revealing the flaws of films rather than just letting myself go to the film. Oh well, at this point I’m not sure I know any other way.


    January 18, 2012 at 2:08 am

    • Well you’ve been sadly let down by many movies recently. Perhaps you could benefit from trying a different approach, letting go of the notes and the criticism, just enjoying the ride. It could be worth a try. You have nothing to loose.


      January 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

  4. Interesting perspective. I think I take far too many notes–to the point where I feel like I’m no longer watching the movie. It’s not really as fun as the kind of movie watching I did before writing about movies. I’ve tried watching movies without taking notes and I feel like the reviews I write aren’t nearly as good; I just couldn’t remember as much.

    Dave Enkosky

    January 18, 2012 at 2:13 am

    • I guess it depends on what kind of reviews you write. Perhaps going into all those details isn’t necessary? If you really don’t enjoy the movie as you would without taking notes you might want to give no-note-taking a new try.


      January 18, 2012 at 9:55 am

  5. Good point Jessica !! It struck me too while listening to MatineeCast. I still am very much a newcomer here and do not write too many posts, I definitely do not review almost every movie I see. But usually, while watching a movie, at some point of time, I think I decide whether to write about it or not. And then wheels start rolling. I am not taking actual notes, but mentally I am doing exactly that.
    And then when I come home, I will sit down and give it neat shape. But even then I do wait for few days to deliberate on those thoughts and to see them mature and then maybe I will have something different to say. But yes, a lot of times I decide whether to write about particular or not while watching it and I do bookmark few things I need to say about it.
    On a side note, I like the titles of our posts. They are usually intriguing, make me leave everything and see what it is about. Nice Job!!


    January 18, 2012 at 4:25 am

    • Thank you so much! I honestly struggle a lot with my titles. Especially for the review ones. I figure the easiest thing would be to do like the majority of the film bloggers, just use the title of the film. But I just don’t want to do that, even if I sometimes end up with pretty lame titles.

      I’m not surprised I wasn’t the only one jumping a bit when I listened to the Matineecast. This guys note taking seemed so extreme. I could picture him writing as if there was no tomorrow, trying to keep up with tha pace of the scene. 🙂


      January 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

  6. I never take notes. I tried once, but it was extremely distracting for me, and the notes were useless anyway. Sure, there might be small points I forget, but then I don’t generally write reviews.

    Corey Atad

    January 18, 2012 at 6:13 am

    • Not writing reviews makes it makes it pretty much a non issue, does’t it? 🙂


      January 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

  7. Savour the moment, forget the notes! I sometimes take notes and then barely look at them when writing about the film.


    January 18, 2012 at 10:43 am

    • I can’t imagine myself starting taking notes anywhere soon tbh. My handwriting is so crappy anyway that I wouldn’t be able to decode it afterwards.


      January 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

  8. I am not a note taker either. I do jot down my thoughts right after in the car before I drive home however.

    I have been to many press screenings and I really despise the light pen writers!! they need to be hung drawn and quartered!! HAHA

    Nice post my friend

    Scott Lawlor

    January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    • Thanks Scott.

      I have no idea of what “hung drawn and quartered” means, but considering your devious laughter it sounds like something they’d like to stay out of.


      January 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm

  9. I’m reminded of one of Eberts reviews. After the film he looked at his notebook and noticed that he only wrote down a few words. If the movie is really good you’re paying your full attention to the movie, not your notebook.


    January 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    • That’s a good point. It means that the Tintin note taker only believed he liked it. As a matter of fact he must have been as unimpressed by it as I was since he could spend all that time writing. 🙂


      January 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

  10. I surely don’t take notes during the films. I let the film sink in and “marinate” for at least a day before I write my review. One important parameter when grading of the films is actually how it has fared during the time between watching and writing. A film that I don’t remeber a day or two after I saw it seldom gets high grades…

    However, I have found that since I started blogging, I have lost a little of the magical experiences that films used to give me. Nowdays maybe I analyze too much.


    January 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    • Indeed. What you can’t remember two days without taking notes can’t have made much of an impression.

      My magic feeling is still triggered by such a simple thing as the “SF”-tune, the classic one they play at every showing. I actually miss it when I*m at my independet artsy cinema!


      January 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

  11. I never write down notes, but I am constantly taking mental notes of things and analyzing the craft, how it was made and where things are placed, especially films with special effects sequences. I always think oh cool that looks real, instead of ouch that must hurt. It takes a very very good movie to stop me from doing that.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    January 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    • Fortunately enough I’m not there yet. But who knows, if I’m blogging long enough I might end up being preocccupied analyzing too. Sadly enough.


      January 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm

  12. Purely a guess, but maybe the difference between note takers or wine spitters and the rest of us is that they are attempting to remove themselves from the equation in order to objectify the experience. While the rest of wouldn’t dream of missing the experience ourselves.

    Perhaps when your reaction to a movie could cost a production company millions, or kill an actor’s career, you strive in any way you can for objectivity.

    And certainly if your job is to rate 25 wines in an afternoon, spitting is the only option.

    Larissa, the beauty of your reviews over a “real critic”, is that I get to know you. And that’s why I love coming here. And of course the wine here is excellent.


    January 18, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    • That makes sense Bristal. I really don’t look down on either wine tasters or film critics who are doing this professionally. But I’m sort of happy being what I am – an amateur.

      It’s so nice to see you after all this time. I’m glad there’s still someone around here who can spot the pink pigtails under my current disguise. 🙂


      January 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

  13. I do take notes, but only in front of the TV. I tend to be much more satisfied with my reviews when I have a little help from my handwritten friend. Maybe it’s just a way of saying that I don’t watch enough really good movies, because then, the review usually writes itself.

    I do, however, _not_ spit out my beer at our tasting sessions. Why waste a good thing?! 😉


    January 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    • Hehe no I didn’t see any signs of spitting last time we met at least. I would have gotten a bit surprised if you would have gotten into that all of a sudden when we met irl last weekend. 😉


      January 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm

      • Well, strictly speaking it wasn’t really a tasting session now, was it? 😉 But maybe we should have one next time?!


        January 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm

  14. I have taken notes on films many times – but never during the first viewing. When I watch a film for the first time, it has my whole and entire focus and attention. It deserves nothing less.


    January 19, 2012 at 3:51 am

    • Let’s leave the painful analyzing to someone else. If you’re fortunate enough not to be a paid critic you can just enjoy the film. LIke you and me.


      January 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

  15. I quit taking notes a long time ago. Did it for a few months when I first got into films, but half the times my notes didn’t make sense after the fact and I often found I could write my reviews without even looking at the notes. Never gone back since.

    James Blake Ewing

    January 19, 2012 at 6:13 am

    • I’ve actuallyr come to the same conclusion in other contexts. I fill note book after note book and at meetings etc and I never ever look back at my notes. What’s the point?

      My only defense is that I think I remember things I write down a bit better. It’s as if the physcal act of noting stuff also helps for my mental notes. But I think movies should be allowed to be note free.


      January 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm

  16. […] My good friend Jessica at The Velvet Café wrote a great little diatribe about why she doesn’t take notes during movies. […]

  17. I never take notes while watching a movie at home or in the theater. I’ve tried to take notes in the past, but I usually didn’t use them in the end. It also distracted me from actually watching the movie. As long as I write about the movie within a day or two of seeing it, it’s still fresh in my brain. The tricky part is when schedules cause me to have to wait a few days. That’s usually when the writing suffers and notes might have helped.

    Dan Heaton

    January 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    • Yeah one or two days is probably the best I think. I need a little time to get a little bit of distance. But not too long so it gets overtaken by more recent films I’ve seen.


      January 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  18. I’ve dabbled in note taking during and after my cinematic experiences and I can say that you’re right…

    I’ve never done notes in a theatre (feels kind of poschy to do). I’ve taken notes immediately after leaving the theatre though… jotting down some notable thoughts (mainly for when I’m watching multiple films in a day and I feel I may start to kind of mix up films as I go along in the day so getting it down is helpful for the eventual reviews) but you are right… sometimes it’s best to just bask in the after effects of a film you’ve just watched. But for movies other than Drive and War Horse I can’t mention a lot that of films that I needed that post film breath to just enjoy… a lot of movies you don’t always have to ponder that much. Or maybe I’m just watching the wrong stuff.

    Andrew Robinson

    January 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    • The “post film breath”, isn’t it such an enjoyable feeling! Last time I felt it was after Senna. I watched it in a morning and I was filled by it for the rest of the day and actually a few days after. It kept coming back to my mind. And I didn’t need any notes for that. It was all in my head already.


      January 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

  19. I like that you compare note-taking to spitting out wine. At wine tastings I always feel SO out of my element and I feel like in some ways a wine tasting would be like a critics-only screening. If I was at a critics-only screening I’d take in a notepad. At a general screening, no way. Just like if you’re sitting around with a bunch of friends drinking wine and not talking its finer points you probably wouldn’t spit it out.

    And besides, I really enjoy writing my review in my head on the walk back to the train. Good post! Enjoyed it!


    January 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    • Thank you Nick! It’s a fun observation that you’d probably bring a notepad if it was a critics-only screening. Aren’t we all easy victims to peer pressure? I say “we” because I don’t think stand above that kind of behavior, even if I sure would like to.


      January 19, 2012 at 11:31 pm

  20. I never takes notes. Pretty soon in the film a special feeling about it turns up i my head. When I´m writing down the thoughts afterwards I start off from this feeling. Sometimes I wait until the next day before the words ends up on paper…as if I have to think it through one more time, but the gutfeeling always decides in wich direction the reviews gonna go… 🙂


    January 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

    • The stomach feeling always guides you right. And you don’t need to take notes to identify it.


      January 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

  21. Everyone is aware that I don’t look at the notepad when I’m writing and keep my eyes on the screen, right? I don’t just stare at a piece of paper in the dark and miss the movie.

    Jacob Cole

    January 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    • I hope you don’t feel criticized. I didn’t mean to pick on you, honestly. It must be a good thing to be able to take notes and still not missing out any of the movie. I just know that I couldn’t do it.

      Oh, and you were a super fantastic great guest at The Matinee btw. One of the best I’ve heard.


      January 21, 2012 at 12:34 am

  22. Wow Jessica, this is quite the conversation you’ve sparked here – all from one little throwaway moment on my show!

    It looks like I’m deep in the minority here because I do take notes, but only during film festivals (there are three that I attend annually). The main reason i take notes during festivals is because I am seeing such a glut of movies in such a short time, that certain details become hazy later. As a for instance, it’s common during TIFF to catch four screenings in a single day. By the time you get to movie number four, pulling specifics from movie number one becomes tricky. So for me, if I want to blog more than a paragraph about any of it later, a pen and paper is a must.

    That said, precisely what I write down can vary. It might just be a quote, or a song on the soundtrack. Other times it might be a passing feeling I’m having that I want to articulate later.

    Beyond festivals though, there isn’t much note-taking being done on my end. I just try to rely on a good memory.

    Great discussion!

    Ryan McNeil

    January 22, 2012 at 5:23 am

    • If you’re watching four movies in a day I can definitely understand the need for making notes, especially if the time between them is too short for taking notes after every screening.

      All the credits for the discussion should go to you! Thanks for making a show that is so good and thoughtful that even a throwaway line can serve as inspiration. 🙂


      January 22, 2012 at 7:31 am

  23. I never take notes the first time I watch a film, but if I’m writing an analysis after the second time, I will take notes in that viewing. I believe that the primary object of film watching is to have an experience, not to analyze. Analysis and criticism is good, but if we don’t experience it first, then we have lost the point of the film.

    I can usually write a good analysis of a film, if I write it down within 24 hours of my first viewing. After that, I should watch it again. Certified Copy I’ll have to watch again, unfortunately. Wait, what am I saying? I’m happy to watch it again…

    Steve Kimes

    January 23, 2012 at 12:40 am

    • It’s very rare that I rewatch movies, but I think I should do it more often. The way you do this is really the best. Just enjoy the ride the first time. Make a closer reading of it the second time. And of course taking notes at that point makes a lot of sense.


      January 23, 2012 at 9:42 am

  24. […] appearance on Episode 50 of The Matineecast, he mentioned something about note-taking that caught the attention of Jessica from Velvet […]

  25. I don’t take notes either. I once tried it just to see if it added anything, but found it not worth it. While I’m watching I do sometimes make a mental note to describe something I see, but that’s about it. I enjoy watching way too much to do something else at the same time 🙂


    January 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

    • It’s a funny thing. This post has become one of my most commented on ever. And the vast majority of the commenters seem not to take notes. My previous impression was that it was pretty common among film bloggers.


      January 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

      • Some of the Toronto bloggers and I were talking about this at the bar last night (one of our busiest get-togethers ever…at one point there were 30 of us crammed in there).

        Many of them, like you, don’t take notes (and again – if it’s not a film festival, I don’t either), and the ones that don’t were asking those that do how they could juggle the scrawling and the watching all at once. Amusingly, one of them – Matthew Price who guested on my latest “In Between Days” episode of The Matineecast – pointed out that since he doesn’t write about what he’s seeing later, he doesn’t need to take notes.

        So even amongst our little cluster, habits are very split.

        Ryan McNeil

        January 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm

        • 30 bloggers, that’s crazy! We had our first Swedish blogger’s meetup in Stockholm recently and we were eight, which was great. But then at least two of us came travelling from other cities… The Swedish blogosphere is way smaller than the Canadian one I’m afraid.

          I’m glad to hear that the discussion contiued at your place. It makes me somehow feel a little connected, as if I had sneaked into your bar, invisible.

          And I clearly should have put up a poll about this, had I realized how engaged people would become in this issue.


          January 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm

  26. […] Beyond the popcorn experience – musing over cinema snacks How to pick a perfect seat in a theatre On the habit of taking notes and spitting wine – does it steal a bit of the magic? […]

  27. I always have the urge of writing down thoughts on the movie I see, especially at home (in cinemas is very hard to do it in the darkness, plus my friends give me weird looks). Interestingly enough, in about 50% of the cases, I rarely use my notes, because when I start writing my review, the flow is different from the things I wrote down in the first place!


    March 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    • I don’t take notes from movies but I can recognize myself in other writing when I’m sometimes doing that too. I think it helps our brains to kick off into their writing mode somehow, even if you don’t use the notes.


      March 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm

  28. […] I don’t take notes as I watch movies. But sometimes as I watch a film, the thought crosses my mind that I would like to do that: freeze the DVD and move forward just a few seconds at a time so I could write down some of the lines so I could get back to them later and enjoy them over again. […]

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