A still from Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes (1960).  A great moment.

A still from Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes (1960).  A great moment.

I take as my task a call to action, echoing those who have come before, denouncing those who merely pretend, and preserving an object once sacred, now perverse, the filmed story.  This is not meant to define the art of cinema in an entirely new or unique way (I could never be so consciously brazen), but rather to embolden, italicize, capitalize, and furiously underline the words of the great filmmakers and film-thinkers who have already so eloquently and certainly made the importance and meaning of cinema known.  Yet, the time has come for me to meagerly raise my cracking voice in argument for the restoration of that elusive chupacabra known as the movies…

B E C A U S E:

i.  The proliferation and democratization of the once impossible production of even the shortest filmed sequence by the amateur or the aspiring has created a vacuum of white noise in which one must now completely and determinedly navigate to be seen and heard.

ii.  The movie industry has all but lost interest in new ideas, new perspectives, bold stories, and even bolder statements, which was once its purest aim.

iii.  The cinematic experience has been diluted to the singular viewing of a singular viewer on a 21-inch computer screen, or, more frightening still, a 2x3 cellular telephone.

iv.  Three dimensional films now populate our movie houses like bums by the river.

v.  The bombardment of broad spectacle in all but the smallest art house or specialty cinema has left the truest of film’s sons and daughters on the abandoned fringes of town, only available to those brave enough to seek them out and coax them from their cavernous hiding places.

vi.  We would rather play with technological toys than tell good stories.

vii.  Crowd funding can put money in the hands of those who might misuse it, or, at least, act cinematically irresponsible.

viii.  In spite of these disturbing trends, I believe this can change for the better.

ix.  Humans still and always will love good stories.  

x.  Our audiences are smarter than we give them credit for.

xi.  We have lost our way.

L I N E S   I N   T H E    S A N D

Lines are often drawn between the terms movie, film, and cinema.

The unwritten definitions are usually somewhat thus:

i.  Movie – Anything with moving images, with or without sound, that an individual watches, whether alone or with others, that may or may not tell some kind of story but lacks emotional or relational substance.

ii.  Film – Those movies that strive for some higher plane of critical commentary, cultural observation, or eager answer seeking in regards to the human experience.

iii.  Cinema – Those films that have, whether over time, across borders, or through societal opinion found themselves held as important cultural, thematic, and/or aesthetic texts reflecting any part, specific or broad, of some place and time.

Though criticisms of such distinctions (i.e. trite, self-important, pretentious) may in this century be generally accepted, the criteria prompting said distinctions means well.  Regardless of internal, external, or contextual analysis, the differences between the words movie, film, and cinema exist because we must distinguish superhero escapism from, say, Port of Shadows or broad horror schlock from Seven Samurai.  There must be a difference between the spectacle and the special.  All are fine in their own right, but we cannot further the sentiment that anything projected onto a wall in a dark room is all born of the same mother.  There is a fundamental difference, the creator’s motivation.  Right now that motivation is cold hard cash.

If one were to hold up a Jackson Pollock to a painting by Thomas Kinkade as comparable, one would be immediately disregarding as having no fundamental understanding of the difference in substance.  “It’s all just paint on a canvas,” one might argue.  But we know it is not.  We know it is different.  Again, that difference is motivation.  Thomas Kinkade, it would seem, wants to make money off of the patrons at the local mall.  Jackson Pollock’s work changed the medium, affected his audience, and commented on the time and place in which he found himself.  This is not in criticism or support for one or the other; it is just calling it for what it is.

Unfortunately I sense a hesitancy to do the same thing with film.

I cannot help but to think that if Truffaut were to publish “Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français” in today’s cinematic climate he would be laughed out of the room as an arrogant radical and faux-intellectual idealist. In fact it was this very text, a harsh and unforgiving criticism of French movies in the early 1950s, which sparked a cinematic revolution called the French New Wave.  This in turn influenced the American film brats of the late 1960s and early 1970s who, for a bright albeit brief moment in time, changed the course of American film for good. 

Yet, here we find ourselves again, making escapist cinema for the layman, telling her what to think but not teaching her how.

If we are to return the movie industry to its natural state, not a business built on piles of dollar bills but a phenomenon founded on good storytelling, we must first call our spades, spades.  And we can start doing that by defining…

F I L M   A S   M O M E N T S

What then is that defining piece of the cinematic puzzle?  What makes up the DNA of a film that is inherently absent from that of a movie?  

It must be moments.

When Jake LaMotta flips over the dining room table, propelling dishes and food across his apartment, in protest to his wife’s own justifiable shouts of rage in Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980). 

In the sad, infectious, and terrified eyes of Jacqueline in Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes (1960).

When Jack Torrance infamously screams, “Here’s Johnny!” in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).

These moments are the only tools the filmmaker has.  If she has not moments, she has nothing.  Moments are built upon the things that precede them, clothed in the things that surround them, and understood by the events to which they lead. 

What happens when a film strings together a collage of these moments?  Well, there I would argue is where cinema is born.  Cinema has to be more than just a chic term for the movies.  This is not just tiresome semantic pretention.  It is the recovering of something that has slipped from our grasp, the very thing that called us to the medium when we were kids playing with our parents’ camcorders.  The awe.  The majesty.  The wonder.  The fun.

Every other artistic medium has its own terminology through which it identifies itself.  It’s own words through which it can categorize its creative products.  Why should cinema be the exception?  Because it is a mass medium?  I don’t think so.

Why does pleading for a restoration in the financial, cultural, and faithful investment of movie studios and moviegoers in good filmmaking label me naïve or idealistic?  Does it not take an idealist to shed light on the non-ideal state of things?

The time to reclaim our cinematic identity as artists is now, for we are certainly on the brink of something, and if we are to claim it for the furtherance of good filmed storytelling, we must move quickly.

 

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