Film TikTok is giving film an explosion of energy, a performative and democratised version of cinephilia that celebrates, imitates, teases, lip-syncs, mashes up and mocks – but all the time rubs up against – the movies. Susan Sontag, in Against Interpretation, called for a rich, intuitive kind of criticism that celebrates and reproduces the sensuous effect of art, instead of imposing a coldly pedagogic analysis. I think she’d have loved Film TikTok. And it’s happened over just a few years, propelled by people under the age of 25.
Apart from everything else, Film TikTok may be undermining one of the most fundamental tenets of cinema: that the screen has to be “landscape” style, since anything else looks amateurish and inauthentic. British film-maker Charlie Shackleton recently talked about mentoring a group of young Australian critics and finding how utterly steeped they were in the language of TikTok: asked to take a picture of them on his phone, he recalls his chagrin for turning it sideways – “Like a fucking Lumiere brother!”
Jean-Luc Godard collaged the movies in his epic essay project: Histoire(s) du Cinéma. And Film TikTok is doing something comparable, though without the conspicuous cultural weight and heft. It’s appropriating constituent elements and scenes then reshuffling them, or cutting in new goofy re-enactments. This juxtaposition is a critical act. Overwhelmingly, it’s driven by humour and comedy, and Film TikTok incidentally adores the key TikTok trope of the doppelganger — the shot-reverse-shot of the same people talking to themselves as different characters, shot slightly from below to underline the absurdity.
People are always spoofing films including, inevitably, Wes Anderson, but I like the videos that approach the movies from a more oblique angle. Illeleana Karis has a fascinating account in which she pastiches movie tropes but creates her own content whose ostensible critical purpose isn’t immediately obvious: her micro-film I Am the Girl in Red is weirdly compelling. It’s … what? A critique of movie trailers? The Single White Female idea? I don’t know, but it’s great. In another video, she cuts herself into a scene in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women so that she gets to be the one rejecting a distraught Timothée Chalamet.
Hunter Clark is one of the biggest movie influencers on TikTok, and arguably one of the most important film critics in the world, with 2m followers for his Hidden Movie Details account, in which he does nothing but pluck out a detail from a movie and show you some little thing you’ve missed. His geeky little insights get under your skin and his videos are absolutely addictive, telling you things you didn’t know before. His one about the “hunnybunny” scene at the beginning of Pulp Fiction was an eye-opener.
Probably my favourite Film TikTok person is David Ma. He is an ad director and “food artist” who breaks down how food ads are made to his 1m followers – but also shows you the secrets behind every other kind of feature film, showing you how effects are contrived in the movies. He is brilliant on “food acting”, demonstrating how whenever someone is shown chewing, there is always a cut before the swallow – so the actor can spit the food out into a bucket. Actors can’t be expected to eat for take after take or they would get nauseous.
He shows, too, how “mirror” scenes are created so that the camera crew aren’t caught in the reflection: you create a dummy image of the set and characters with body-doubles. The Terminator’s Linda Hamilton was shown opposite her twin sister for one such scene.
And – to return to Pulp Fiction – he shows the machinery that created “chomp” burgers for the Travolta/Thurman dance scene: a dozen different burgers with a bite taken out of them with a set of metal jaws, so that the eating scene can be achieved with continuity through many different takes.
With its audacity, disposability and cheek, Film TikTok is putting the fun back into criticism.