The Cynical Optimist – 22/5/09


cinâ‹…eâ‹…ma [sin-uh-muh]
1. the cinema, motion pictures collectively, as an art.

“No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul. A little twitch in our optic nerve, a shock effect: twenty-four illuminated frames in a second, darkness in between, the optic nerve incapable of registering darkness. At the editing table, when I run the trip of film through, frame by frame, I still feel that dizzy sense of magic of my childhood: in the darkness of the wardrobe, I slowly wind one frame after another, see almost imperceptible changes, wind faster a movement.” – Ingmar Bergman

“For me, film-making combines everything. That’s the reason I’ve made cinema my life’s work. In films, painting and literature, theatre and music come together. But a film is still a film.” – Akira Kurosawa
To the majority of American moviegoers, films are seen as events – opportunities to escape reality for two hours. The word “art” often implies a lack of, well, profit. Film studios advertise big summer blockbusters that you can’t afford to miss – we’re sold toys and video games and t-shirts and fast food XXL combos with super heroes and action stars on them – and the idea that even the most entertaining blockbuster can be considered as art is lost in the process… because being artistic and thought-provoking doesn’t guarantee box office returns.

So what you have is a clear definition in people’s minds that “art films” or “Oscar movies” aren’t entertaining – they’re long, boring, pretentious, meant for snobs and self-congratulatory rich industry types. I think what people fail to realize is, a deeper understanding of film as an art form – a deeper comprehension of theme, tone, color, cinematography, leads to a greater appreciation. To be a fan, to appreciate something, is a wonderful thing… but unfortunately the majority of modern day moviegoers are more interested in mindless whirls of color and sound, something to distract their mind for two hours so they can have an excuse to drink 50 oz. sodas and eat bucket upon bucket of buttery popcorn.

I’m not against entertainment – I would say I’m an overly-entertained person. Perhaps we all are. DVR, DVD, Audiobooks, On Demand, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes – instant gratification on every level of the entertainment Glam-ladder. I’m not denying the benefits of these technological “advances” – I indulge in them daily – but doesn’t this constant onslaught lessen people’s appreciation of the time and effort put into creating the things we consume so readily?

Hollywood, of course, doesn’t seem to mind that cinema has become a mindless bankrupt business – and I can’t say I blame them. Why put more effort or thought into creating something if you can make just as much money (or millions more) by remaking established franchises or creating low-budget sequels with familiar characters and brands. What’s more likely to make money? A small film like Michael Dougherty’s 2007 film “Trick ‘r’ Treat,” which still hasn’t seen a theatrical release, or the next inevitable “Saw” sequel?

There isn’t a lack of great filmmakers, that’s for sure. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Gus Van Sant, David Lynch, Tarantino, The Coens. Is it the material? A lot of people have come down on Hollywood for lacking originality. I won’t completely disagree with them – the never ending stream of remakes, retellings, reimaginings, sequels, prequels, NyQuils, are enough to put a person in a constant state of Deja Vu.

But, originality isn’t the most important part of a film – yes it is essential in allowing audiences to experience new things but what good is the experience without the key ingredient I find missing from most films – heart. The majority of films these days seem to lack a soul, a theme – an idea worth sharing with the audience.

I guess it goes back to The Project Triangle:

Here’s the idea:

1) Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap.

2) Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.

3) Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time.

It seems like the majority of Hollywood is aiming at #2. Have you noticed the time between most sequels has been cut down from 3 years to 1.5 – 2 years? Everything is churned out so quickly now – there’s a new “Saw” film every Halloween. The blockbusters of 2007 are following up with sequels in 2009, the blockbusters of last year will have follow-ups next year. It’s over-saturation. We’re never given a chance to truly anticipate anything.

Not to mention, by the time I am middle-aged, every film that comes out in theaters will be something my generation has already seen adapted in one form or another. We’ll sit through countless adaptations of ’80s cartoons turned live-action films – remakes of classic films (and not-so-classic ones) and watch the overextending roster of super hero films roll on until there is a full-scale revolt.

I’m tired of writing about film in the fashion I have been. I’m going to retreat into the wilderness of classic cinema and spend some time cutting my teeth on the essence of film as art. Hopefully I’ll come back with a better mind and a better understanding of writing about film and critiquing it.

“When I start on a film I always have a number of ideas about my project. Then one of them begins to germinate, to sprout, and it is this which I take and work with. My films come from my need to say a particular thing at a particular time. The beginning of any film for me is this need to express something. It is to make it nurture and grow that I write my script- it is directing it that makes my tree blossom and bear fruit.” – Akira Kurosawa

“I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically…. I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.” – Ingmar Bergman