Drew Edelstein’s review published on Letterboxd:
Around a month ago I watched Jennifer West's experimental movie, Film Title Poem. I made a review which somehow ended up becoming the top rated entry on the page, and which makes many points I still stand by. However, the film has been stuck in the back of my mind since I saw it, and a review posted by Graham Williamson (and the discussion it prompted) inspired me to take another look at West's film.
When watching the movie for the first time, I managed to miss the fantastic introduction West prepared for it's Mubi release, and something that is really essential reading for anyone looking to watch this. Watching the film entirely blind was a mistake on my part, and I'm certain that I would've enjoyed it a lot more had I come in with a concrete understanding of what she was going for. Even the most accessible of films will likely have some context provided before you watch it, and avant-garde works especially deserve some level of contextualization before they are seen.
West's purpose was born from the idea of "the remembered movie," and how our conception of a film is deeply rooted within the circumstances in which we watched it. Her methodology for producing this film, from combing through her old physical media collection to engaging in discussions online with various film fans about their own personal film stories to researching academic accounts of the relationship between film and memory, is all in service of capturing the feeling of remembrance and subconscious that defines what film is for so many of us. It clearly demanded a high level of dedication and effort from her, and the fact that I claimed it "never presented a thesis" is kind of embarrassing in hindsight.
With this being said, I still hold a lot of reservations on the success of the actual execution of the film. The mostly alphabetical sort presents a kind of randomness that feels more broadly approachable than a more specific approach to organizing the material would, but it similarly feels less meaningful than a specific approach would. I can't help but wonder why she didn't simply apply a truly random sort if she had hoped to present it in a truly random order, as the inconsistency in the current approach was confusing in a way that muddled the actual purpose of the film. In addition, the general presentation still doesn't quite do it for me; I've come to appreciate the grungy and sketchy look of the piece, but the music is grating and distracting to the point where it took my focus away from the actual film at hand. The thumbnails and progress bars present on some of the title cards were also intended to serve a specific purpose, contrary to my initial assessment of them being a byproduct of a lazy production; the intent to capture how we consume media just as much as archiving the media itself is an interesting one, but I can't help but feel like the film could've presented this idea in a way that would feel more "intentional" than the current incarnation.
What I regret most in my initial take on this is the somewhat dismissive attitude I took towards the whole thing. West clearly put in a lot of time, thought, and effort into the piece, and I feel like I should've given it a more open mind when I first saw it. One could argue that the subjective experience of watching this is as important as the actual material itself (West certainly says as much in her article), but I feel like there's a certain give and take when one commits to watching a work in its entirety that I didn't fully uphold on the first watch. Of course, the fact that I only understood her intentions after reading external criticism and an in-depth breakdown of the piece by the author may hint towards a degree of inaccessibility here, but I think there's more nuance than just that.
Film Title Poem encourages reflection. Whether you hate this or love this, pick up on the "remembered movie" concept or find your own way to parse the material, I truly believe someone cannot watch this film without finding some new perspective on the media they consume as a result (even if it's just that they don't like this brand of avant-garde filmmaking). In this regard, it's hard to call the film anything less than a resolute success; if the goal was to inspire the audience to look inwards, and to celebrate the way that we make films our own, then my experience with this work can only point towards her message getting across.
If you are going to watch this though, please read the introduction beforehand. It's a much harder work to appreciate otherwise.