April 2nd, 2012 / 8:01 am

I made a video that critiques the opening three scenes of “Inception”

I’m trying out different ways of doing film criticism. In addition to writing articles, I think it makes sense to record commentaries (like the one I just did for Drive) and make critical videos. (My inspirations here are Mike Stoklasa and Jim Emerson.)

So here’s my own foray into the latter:

My M.O.: I looped the opening scenes of Inception four times, then commented on different aspects of the filmmaking. This follows certain articles I’ve written:

My M.O., annotated: I persist in writing and talking about Inception because it’s useful. Millions of people have seen it, and many have called it “more sophisticated,” somehow, than the usual Hollywood fare—when in fact it really isn’t.

But my primary goal here, as in all of my film writing, is to bring a heightened awareness to how films are actually made. I DON’T CARE WHETHER YOU LIKE THE FILM OR NOT; LIKING SOMETHING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH STUDYING ITS FORM AND MANUFACTURE. I suppose I myself “like” Inception in some way, since I keep going on about it.

Regardless of your own thoughts on the movie, I hope you find the video edifying. I’d encourage watching it sooner than later as, sadly, I don’t know whether YouTube will leave it be.

And I’d love to know what you think of it, as I’m already busily making more. What worked? What didn’t? How can I make these better? (By which I of course mean more annoying, more pretentious?) … Thanks!

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  1. Anonymous

      Enjoyed this a lot. Didn’t expect to sit through the whole thing, but it kept me engaged for the full 12 minutes, and then I went off to your website to read more. As for improvements, I think you could edit out a few of your long pauses. A couple times I thought you were choking on something. I liked the scene.shot counts, and thought you struck a good balance between talking and graphic explaining. I wouldn’t mind if you got a little funkier, funnier, flashier with those. Might add a nice element of humor to your very geeky (wonderful) analysis.

  2. A D Jameson

      Thanks so much for the feedback!

      I did choke a couple of times. I’ll not eat while speaking next time…


  3. Stephen Tully Dierks

      i think you can put your videos on Vimeo if you want to avoid copyright issues, Adam? vimeo’s good in my experience

  4. A D Jameson

      Yeah, I was wondering about that. So far I haven’t had any trouble with YouTube, though it’s also only been two days. But thanks!

  5. Jacob Horn

      Hi, Mr. Jameson–

      I really enjoyed watching your breakdown of the material, and I agree with a lot of the points you made. After seeing this, I have now downloaded your Drive commentary track and look forward to going through that movie with your reading of it. 

      One place I felt could have perhaps used a touch more nuance was your discussion of why this particular set of scenes opens the movie. If I remember correctly, your assertion is that this has no major impact on any of the central themes of the movie–in short, it is not really important to what the movie is about. 

      This is a fair reading of the material in large part because the film does little to establish the importance of this starting moment, and it would have significant difficulties doing so because of its ‘mystery’ structure (i.e. we can’t know what’s going on here because it would reveal too much about what is to come in the movie). However, in retrospect this moment in the movie can (perhaps not should) be read as noting the impact of being stuck within dreams. Much of the film is interested in the distinction between reality and dreaming as well as the difficulty of recognizing the difference; Cobb’s wife is utterly caught within this, and then Saito becomes trapped again. Beginning in this space where dreams cannot be distinguished from reality could be a very clever opening for the movie, but I do not want to suggest that Nolan does this particularly well. I can totally imagine Nolan conceptualizing this sequence of shots as doing what I suggest, because there is an interesting thematic link. However, the shots he chose, as you note, do not indicate anything about this space, and there is not even a hint of how this entire world could be Saito’s mental playground (especially in comparison with Cobb and Mal’s created space). That said, to say that this part of the movie is completely without significant value in terms of understanding the whole seems a little excessive (I am being a little hyperbolic with your statement here–I apologize). 

      Despite my concern, I really appreciate the value you put on multiple viewings and multiple analytical strategies. As a teacher, it is one of the things I wish my students would spend more time doing. 

      I look forward to your next analysis, Mr. Jameson. 



  6. Leah Minadeo

      This got me thinking about opening scenes I really enjoy, my absolute favorite opening scene being in Harold and Maude. I’d love to read or hear you dissect that scene because I think it’s a great example of an opening scene done really well vs. the lackluster Inception opening scene. 

  7. lorian long

      for the love of god please do not touch harold and maude. thank you.

  8. Matt Zbrog

      I liked Inception and I really liked your analysis.  I think your video is a very good example of ‘going negative’ but in a non-argumentative way — which is (i think very) hard to do, especially on the black+white internet.  I guess the whole ‘human voice’ thing helps.  After I see Drive I’ll be eager to hear your commentary.

  9. reynard

      my penis has a lot of insights re: hal ashby’s work, it plans to release short critiques via iphone app as soon as it can afford a developer’s license which will happen when its kickstarter campaign gets kickstarted, donations accepted at reynardspenisisabettermoviecriticthanaolscott@paypal.com

  10. postitbreakup

      i’ve teased you on here for your in-depthness, exhaustive cataloging etc but just so we’re clear i’m basically in awe of your focus & dedication to your passions, & you also have such a positive non-cynical attitude about all of it too. just really cool

      on a completely unrelated note if that’s OK, any lesser-known horror films you might recommend?

  11. Anonymous


  12. Pascoe Foxell

      Really enjoyed this thanks- still looking forward to that LOTR critique you’re always hinting towards. Re: Nolan/Hollywood’s excessive cutting, just watched this scene from Beckett, which nicely demonstrates the power of just letting an actor get on with a scene and leaving the endless close-ups out of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4BbUXblkKw&feature=relmfu