Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Invisible Language Part II

I don't embrace the idea that the best audience is the most ignorant. The mantra amongst many filmmakers including the late Sydney Lumet is that whatever technical decisions are made throughout a movie (in context, he was referring to lens choices) are meant to be invisible; the audience shouldn't recognize any changes in a film's visual approach, they should only feel it. Much like the theatre you're likely not watching the movie in, they'd prefer to keep you in the dark.

I'm not researched enough to know whether things have always been this way or whether it's some misdirected attempt at prolonging the elusive 'movie magic' effect, but it's a startlingly, almost insultingly, dumb inclination.

There is no scenario I can envision where a movie you admire loses some of its intrigue or power because you succeeded in identifying and decoding a visual motif. Being practiced enough to catch a developing lens strategy should not be a disenchanting event.

Some clarity: Narrative films ordinarily function on two levels; There's the story being told and the way it's being told. But the way goes beyond just story structure. The way includes all of the elements that make the cinema what it is.

What well-intentioned but unknowledgeable film goers tend to do is read into visuals symbolically, and even worse, on a purely subjective, usually superficial level; Red means extremity of emotion, be it hatred or love. A fractured mirror always precedes an unfortunate event or a troubled psyche. Too often, film goers assign objects a predetermined value.

Every movie hypothetically begins with a clean slate. Even genre movies with their recognizable motifs frequently aspire to misdirect or manipulate cinematic stereotypes. Objects in the frame, compositional decisions, musical choices and so on only gain true value as the movie progresses. A good indication that an item or directorial decision is worth consideration and dissection is repetition. Another is strangeness (counter-intuitively). A fade-in during a movie with nothing but cuts is likely a moment intended to be noticed.

These types of developments happen gradually but for some it never happens at all because they're not astute enough to catch them. Fortunately (or unfortunately), cinematic shrewdness is also gradual. It's important to remember that a movie is a movie. To not consider a movie in cinematic terms is not only a disservice to yourself, but a detraction from a full and complete understanding of a movie's intention.

Here's my proposition: Your favorite movie of all-time is likely better than you'll ever know if you happen to be cinematically illiterate.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Invisible Language

Somewhere along the lines we stopped looking and we became receivers instead of critical thinkers. The cinematic medium lends itself to this result because of how busy it tends to be. At any given moment, at best, the creators of a movie can only hope you're half as alert as they'd like you to be.               
This is because there's so much to consider; if it's a narrative film (the kind this blog will celebrate) there's the story or plot, rarely both. As either an extension, reinforcement, enhancement or contrast to the story or plot there's the editing, camera direction, sound and the myriad elements which make up the visible universe of a movie (that's mise-en-scene for snobs). 
There's also the inexplicable phenomena of performance involved which often renders you a crippled thinker. An innumerable amount of variables are always at play so that an attachment to one particular detail could distract you from another.
But the information is there. Intended or not, every cinematic decision has implications. What a movie manages to convey through its form is separate from one's opinion of the movie itself. This is the point to remember; your opinion actually counts for very little.
Surprising as it may be, there's measurable ways to more accurately evaluate the worth of a movie. Traditional film reviews lean too much on personal opinion as opposed to objective cinematic observation and analysis. It's rare to uncover a film review that addresses the film in cinematic terms. More often the review is a condensed summary of the story followed by an approval or a dismissal. 
Make no mistake, CINETIDES is not a place for movie reviews nor is it a film competition. CINETIDES is a space for cinematic celebration. Film theory is what counts here. The movies spotlighted at CINETIDES will typically be short films made by burgeoning filmmakers and will fit the mold of whatever cinematic aspect is under discussion. 
The good news is that we don't mourn here. Regardless of critical inadequacies or visual illiterateness, the cinematic information and subtext is always present in a film and if anything, it's us who aren't looking hard enough.