by F.

RSVP for movies? Sure. Why not.

I’ve been playing around with RSVP—rapid serial visual processing—as a way to read faster and with less aggravation on-line. If you’re not familiar with the term, it describes methods of taking text and displaying it one word at a time at higher that usually reading speeds. Beyond about 600 WPM comprehension seems to suffer, but that’s still about three times faster than most of us read.

There’s a very cool Firefox extension called JS Reader that will allow you to display text this way. There are also non-free programs like AceReader and Rapid Reader, but I’m not convinced they are worth their too-high prices. I’ve been using JS Reader on my Mac and it works great, particularly if you zoom the screen (turn on screen zooming in the Universal Access panel).

And now I’ve started doing the same thing for boring movies. If we’ve actually gotten the movie from Netflix or wherever, we feel like we want to at least know what it’s about. But often we rent some piece of poo like Off the Map and it’s just so freakin’ dull that I want to see someone get attacked by giant nematode worms or Paris Hilton with the delirium tremens or flesh-eating zombie weasels. Something like that. Or maybe we’re watching a “classic” like Kurosawa’s High and Low, which drags on for 2 hours and 23 boring, static minutes.

Life’s to short, so use RSVP for movies—call it RSMP. Here’s how it works.

(Step 1). Watch the first act, usually about 30 minutes or so on regular speed. This sets up the main tension of the movie, usually. So, for instance, in High and Low, at about thirty minutes in, Gondo’s son gets kidnapped (we think). In Off the Map, the IRS agent arrives. And so on.

(Step 2). At this point, take a reading of your boredom level. Is the movie dull? Do you care what happens? If “yes,” keep watching at normal speed. If no, and you want to know what happens—either because you feel you need to get your money’s worth or you want to be able to talk about this “classic” with your over-educated friends—watch it at 8X or more speed. You’ll be amazed at what you can comprehend even without dialogue. After all, film is a visual medium. And, the contemporary viewer has seen so many movies that we know how the thing has to go. Will the cops find the criminal? Will the lovers get together? Same thing, over and over.

(Step 3). If the movie is the usual 120 minutes, slow down around the 1 hour 30 minute point. This is usually the end of the second act. You may need to drop to normal speed to figure out what the new tension is that unifies the third act. Or not. Once you feel you’ve got it, go back to 8X speed or whatever fast-forward speed you feel comfortable with.

(Step 4). Around the last 5 minutes, go back to regular speed so you can see the ending. Generally, this is all you’ll remember from the movie anyway, so savor it. If it’s a typical movie, it will end on an up note. Yeah! The lovers got together! The cops found the criminal! Woo-hoo!


You’ve just watched the movie and will probably remember it no worse than you did watching it the old, inefficient way. If you want to test your comprehension, write out a quick summary of the movie, then compare it to a summary on IMDB or a review or the synopsis at the studio’s site (often these synopses are really good). Did you miss anything? If so, tune your watching accordingly. Repeat as necessary.

Now here’s the twist, though: if you can’t view the movie on 8X speed and get it, it may actually be–gasp!—original, not just another formulaic entertainment extruded from the Hollywood Play-Doh extruder.

So you may want to watch that one for real, the old fashioned way: 1X speed.