John’s MIFF blog – House Of Blurbs

One of the thrills of the Melbourne International Film Festival is Program Day. You wake up so early, just as the sun is starting to peek into the window. On tippy-toe you creep down the stairs, clad in your pyjamas and Wong Kar-Wai slippers, to find that special package under the Festival Tree. You undo the ribbon, gently unwrap the layers of gaily-coloured tissue paper, and finally – there it is. The Festival Program. Now the circling can begin…

Film, fringe and comedy festivals all follow much the same template when it comes to their programs. Only a single photo and a short blurb help you to decide what’s Hot, and what’s Book Of Revelation. For MIFF there’s roughly 150 words in a standard description. A generic blurb looks something like this:


“Fulsome but uselessly vague praise!’ – International Newspaper

Character X, a (vending machine repairman/factory worker/university lecturer) in (Taipei/Seattle/Bucharest) is drawn into a web of despair in this new film from Director Y. Like (an unwieldy and confusing metaphorical reference, possibly involving World War I or Iraq), FILM TITLE is a (harrowing/hauntingly beautiful) insight into (the pain of a middle-class couple in crisis/child prostitution/zombies). An exceptional work, FILM TITLE further explores the themes of Director Y‘s FILM YOU DIDN’T SEE (MIFF 2005).

D/S Director Y S Grace Park, Julianne Moore L Esperanto w/English subtitles 35m/2007/193 mins

And honestly, that’s often enough to give you an idea whether you want to see it or not. You may just need to know the director, the subject matter or the genre to make your mind up. But sometimes it’s too vague, especially if the film is extremely complex or falls between categories. Sometimes the descriptions themselves cause confusion, leading the audience to believe the film is something that it’s not (the blurb for 2006’s Flanders led many to expect a World War I drama, rather than the modern-day piece it actually was).

As with most things in life, the internet has changed things for the better. Oh internet, is there anything you can’t do?

Not sure if My Winnipeg is going to be your cup of tea? You can read reviews from overseas sites like The Onion AV Club, and arts blogs are nearly as ubiquitous as online porn. You’ll often find the trailers on youtube, and you can even read the largely incoherent ramblings on IMDB.

At the end of the day though, film is a subjective form, and one man’s meat is another man’s Book Of Revelation. So maybe you should just write all the titles onto pieces of paper, stick them in a hat, and go see the one with the most nudity.

My favourite festival blurb of all time was for Stewart Lee‘s Pea Green Boat, at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe. His complete description:

An owl wakes up at sea in a pea green boat.

It is accompanied by a cat, its natural predator.

There is some honey.

What chain of events led to this dangerous situation?

I never saw the show, though. I was worried it would spoil the blurb.

3 Responses to John’s MIFF blog – House Of Blurbs

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    My opening night choice was”Inside”. It made “Misery” look like Mary Poppins. Of course, now I need something more hard core to top it.

  2. Dave AA says:

    What amazes me is how mis-leading that 150 words can be. I remember one year I saw about five films in a row which had major errors in the program’s plot descriptions.

    Also, Godard once said that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun (although I believe even Godard usually uses a camera.) There’s not so many guns in the MIFF program, but it does seem that every other film is accompanied by a picture of a beautiful woman, often undressed.

    This leads me to my theory that the difference between commercial and arthouse cinema is the guns:girls ratio. “Flight of the Red Balloon” has lots of women and no guns. “Transformers” had lots of guns, and may-have-had-a-girl-in-it-but-I-don’t-remember. Only Quintin Tarantino has successfully straddled both sides of the divide by putting women in major roles in gun-heavy movies, so he can enjoy box-office success while being taken seriously by critics.

  3. Chris says:

    I’ve used the net this year to research my movie picks. As a result, so far I’ve seen 10 movies and no duds. I decided awhile ago that the MIFF blurbs are an entirely hit and miss way to plan my schedule. The past couple of years I’ve had a full passport so having a dud doesn’t leave me cursing at MIFF for leading me astray and wasting my money, and time. Now I can just blame myself and the internet.

    On antoher note, I am almost in bliss this year with the MIFF member priority queing. No standing in lines stretching all the way out to the road anymore. It makes me feel very special :)

    Congrats John, so far your blog is the best I’ve come across for this years fest.

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