25/05/2018

The Grand Illusion - As Unconscious Truth Rises...

Thoughts On: The Grand Illusion (Le Grande Illusion, 1937)

A group of French POWs try to escape their rather cordial prison camps.


It is far too easy to say, but, The Grand Illusion is a masterpiece, and whilst I wouldn't say that it is my favourite film, it is impossible to not hold this movie dear to oneself as an example of a cinema that is eternal; that will seemingly forever reach out to audiences and have its impact. Because it is so widely lauded, finding something to say about Renoir's masterpiece is a difficult task. However, what fascinates me most about The Grand Illusion is the juxtaposition between what it says, how it says it and the fact that it is considered a masterpiece. In turn, I'm interested in why The Grand Illusion is considered, not just a masterpiece, but one of the greatest films ever made. But, before discussing exactly why I believe this to be the case, it is appropriate that I should briefly build a case for this being such an important film.

In essence, The Grand Illusion is a reflection upon all that went wrong in the 20th century. It emerges from the earlier half of the 1900s, but, this turns out to be a great advantage for the fact that, in the mid to late-30s, Renoir would have been quite far removed from WWI, and so capable of beginning to see how exactly it was going to shape the world. Moreover, he was not immersed in the chaos of post-WWII Europe and so his view doesn't become muddled by a cloud of grey - which is what many cinemas became lost in during the later 40s and tried, in various ways, to move away from throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. Alas, one of The Grand Illusion's key realisations, a realisation or premonition that hung over Europe and even the entire world for much of the 20s and 30s, was that there was another Great War to come. And such is the 'Grand Illusion' that the film references; the illusion that war is over, the illusion that war has a purpose and, in turn, that once wars conclude social problems will be resolved and there will be ceaseless peace. In essence, The Grand Illusion then realises that, though WWI was an indescribable horror, it certainly wasn't the war to end all wars. And it makes this point just before the out-break of WWII in a context of growing tensions and developing ideologies that would come to conflict for the much of the century to come (those primarily being fascism, communism, socialism and capitalism).

In making such a point, The Grand Illusion doesn't become fear mongering propaganda, and nor does it use tragedy and reductive commentary. And this is why I believe that this is such a powerful film. The Grand Illusion confronts ideology and war without the pretence of an ideological solution, just human commentary. One could certainly argue that Renoir attaches himself to some ideology, maybe humanism, with The The Grand Illusion. This assertion could be based upon the fact that Renoir was a particularly political person who was bound to the Popular Front movement in France during the 30s, an organisation that collected left and far-left viewpoints (socialist/communist). But, whilst one sees elements of a Marxist commentary in The Grand Illusion's apparent documentation of the fall of aristocracy and the bourgeois to the working class man - it is in fact accepted as an inevitability not to be hindered by some characters - there is certainly a lack of a fundamentally Marxist viewpoint centred on the oppression of the lower classes via the power of the higher classes. In fact, to say that The Grand Illusion is particularly Marxist, communist or socialist in its ideals would leave anyone attempting to access its meaning scratching their head. Seeing this film from such a political context would even lend one to criticism which would blindside them to the point made by the narrative - which is quite hard to bind to a coherent ideology.

Exuding a basic interest in humanity, The Grand Illusion moves beyond the sphere ideology, which is a conscious and egoic one. The wealth of humanity is nestled in the unconscious mind, not the conscious mind, and it is best expressed by the integration of unconsciousness into consciousness. This is a Jungian philosophy and he called such a process of balancing the unconscious with the conscious as to become whole 'individuation'. He has then said the following:

There were psychic processes and functions long before any ego-consciousness existed: "Thinking" existed long before man was able to say: "I am conscious of thinking".

Such an idea for Jung validates the focus on understanding the unconscious mind as the source of a person's true being. Moreover, this statement when juxtaposed with Jung's theory of the archetypes suggests that, not just thinking, but understanding existed long before man was able to say, "I am conscious of understanding". This embeds an element of profound truth in the unconscious processes, which puts a much higher value on this dark and numinous aspect of humanity. Consciousness seems to be a filter that mediates between reality and the perception of self. Freud would describe such a phenomena in terms of the ego as one's idea of "I", the id as one's unconscious (what Jung would emphasise is only the personal unconscious) and the superego as the force that mediates between the outside world, personal impulse via the id and one's idea of themself via their ego. Consciousness in such a respect is burdened by its need to know, to figure out the world and identify with the best solutions - which is what one does when they use their ego to formulate functional personalities. Alas, what Jung and the psychoanalysts emphasise is not that one figures out the world and goes on to function properly, instead that one only struggles to understand themself. One must understand themself as answers lie trapped within, or rather, mechanisms for answering lay trapped within. As great poets once said: Forget your lust for the rich man's gold; all you need is in your soul... be a simple kind of man. To understand oneself, one must learn how to articulate and shape what is within; what resides in the unconscious mind. And such is Jung's theory of individuation re-articulated. One is born with the ability to make noise, in turn, they are born with the potential to speak. Alas, it is through the mediation of unconscious ability and conscious effort that noise turns into babbling, into basic speech that gets more complex, that can one day see someone write a book or a movie that has a profound impact on others, that can see someone form great friendships, express their love and humanity and uplift others.

Ideology emerges from the conscious mind in that it is a knowing reflection upon ones temperament (which is embedded in unconsciousness). It is then one part of a puzzle of humanity that is subservient to more complex structures embedded in unconsciousness. Above ideology is then social rule. One may argue that social rule is an ideology, but, that is not the case. Social rule, like thinking, existed long before man was able to say, "I am conscious of social rule". Being conscious of social rule provides one the opportunity to turn what are fundamental terms of engagement into an ideology that either supports or denotes what it emerges from. Ideology will nonetheless appear fickle before social order because such a phenomena is not arbitrary (which is not to say that all ideology is) and it is not conjured up in the conscious mind and formulated on a piece of paper. Social order is an expression of a collective unconscious. The means by which the collective unconscious, or essential humanity, is expressed is always imperfect by virtue of the fact that 'expression' means that unconscious truth must pass through consciousness. The degree to which this is measurable and obvious, however, is far less intense than is the case with ideology. Thus, social rule is less an 'idea' made into an -ism, and more an impulse acted out.

I linger on this argument because it not only reflects much about the content of The Grand Illusion, but clarifies the process by which Renoir formulates his content. Putting aside his own explicit ideology, Renoir delves into the unconscious in search of humanity. He thus pushes aside ideology and dogma as they are packaged by religion, class and politics to determine what the foundations of human connection are and how, possibly, positive thought structures and ideologies can emerge from such a place. And for such a reason it becomes most tolerable and easy to associate The Grand Illusion with humanism; it centres the value of human life above all in its ideological make-up. And it does this to explore, sympathetically and with interest in character and self, the ideals of Germans, Frenchmen, Jewish people, aristocrats, middle-class and working class men, etc. In parallel to this, The Grand Illusion forms a rather objective allegory about the rise of the common man and the fall of old social rules that primarily represent the functions and duties of the highest classes. Without explicit depiction and without any illusions about the inability for such things to simply dissolve, Renoir then touches on the dissolution of social class boundaries, showing all soldiers as equal men. These 'equal men' are not the same, however. They conflict because they are bound to differing cultural structures; aristocrats don't easily mix with working class Joes, Jews do not easily mix with Christians, German, French and English men don't easily mix and so fourth. Alas, whilst this remains true, it does not impede fraternity and dutiful, human function. This is at least shown to be true with all conflicting cultural attributes apart from race - a theme that is only alluded to with a black man being ignored.

What unfolds in The Grand Illusion is consequently two-fold. Renoir shows how, on multiple levels of analysis, humans can connect to one another; can perceive what is not explicitly their own self as partly their self and so imbued with incorruptible value. In becoming connected Renoir's characters move closer together, but do not lose their individual humanity - which is to say, they do not become godly saints floating in the ether of an imagined utopian collective unconscious. Nonetheless, the world and individuals emerge all the better for the progress that is made over the course of the narrative. In conjuncture to this one fold of The Grand Illusion is then Renoir's venture to suppress ideological, or rather, conscious premeditation for an in-moment enquiry of meaning and true, fundamental rule. The rules of Renoir's world are predicated on a failure to understand how to do anything but what one can only perceived to be of the highest moral right. There is then introduced an element of moral relativism with Renoir showing how a German commander is doing a moral good by killing a Frenchman. But, Renoir's point is not that the German commander did his duty and in turn became a patriot, but that he played the game he knew he had to and that the Frenchman knew he had to, and that the playing through of this game freed two men and gave the sacrificial Frenchman, who is seemingly bound to greater moral substance in being on the Allied side of the Great War, a good death. It is through this set of moral quandaries that the German actually served the higher moral right by killing the Frenchman - which he in fact didn't want to, and didn't mean to, do. And such is a perfect example of how Renoir uses ideology, for example, nationalism, to mine down through the shallow depths of consciousness into the humanity that lies under and that, by the will of good and the luck of humanity, will continue on as social order morphs and changes in the hands of those who will live on in the future.

To conclude, it appears to me that The Grand Illusion is such a powerful film and a masterpiece so widely and prevalently lauded because it manages to move past ideological facades in search of humanity. In performing this rare cinematic act, Renoir formulates an additive commentary that seeks humanistic transcendent ascension over reductive social critique and in turn resonates with the truth of the collective unconscious presiding over cinema - an ether into which this film has been firmly integrated.







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24/05/2018

Game Night - Screwball Heart

Quick Thoughts: Game Night (2018)

A group of friends get caught up in a murder mystery game that just might not be a game.


Game Night is a pretty brilliant comedy. At the most fundamental level, it simply succeeds in creating humorous scenarios through solid characterisation. Specific character traits are then funnelled and manipulated into a convoluted mystery plot that, thankfully, distracts itself with character. My only criticism of the film comes from the fact that it does distract itself with characterisation - which is to say that, it feels like one half of a larger game that, just maybe, has too many parts. But, whilst character, and subsequently a meaningful conclusion, doesn't naturally emerge from this narrative--which leaves many traces of the construction a writer must do to create comedy, character and a complex plot--it doesn't seem to want to make statements that are too grand. At its core, Game Night is a screwball comedy that, in spirit, is reminiscent of Bringing Up Baby. Game Night is more complex and self-aware than the 30s screwball comedy, but it preserves its ability to see two people combat in a seemingly unbreakable relationship, and in turn develop through absurd comedic quarrels. This is in fact repeated about 5 times over between the three couples, a police man and a brother. Each character is then given their comedic faults - arrogance and stupidity - but the faults are distributed well so that there isn't just one fool, instead a foolish group, and, whilst no one sheds their foolishness completely, it acts as a painful road towards greater truth and harmony between the numerous couples. So, like Bringing Up Baby and many other screwball comedies of its kind, comedy is used to manifest conflict between characters that doesn't result in true drama, but, comedic drama that will eventually bring two combatants closer together. And such, macrocosmically, is the general point made by the film: When you play through your stupidity earnestly and with good intentions, you can only ever carve out more space in your own mind and in your world of friends for growth. For this, I have to say that Game Night holds as a comedy of somewhat rare class; not only is it funny, but it has heart. Less cerebral and more entertaining (or rather, less European and more American), Game Night is a contender to last year's The Square as a top comedy of recent times.

To bring things towards an end, I'll leave things with you. Have you seen Game Night? What are your thoughts?






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The Look Of Silence - Humanity, Humility, Humiliation

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22/05/2018

The Look Of Silence - Humanity, Humility, Humiliation

Quick Thoughts: The Look Of Silence (Senyap, 2014)


Made by Joshua Oppenheimer, this is the Indonesian film of the series.


Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, which is certainly the centre-piece of his retrospective documentation of the 1964-65 killings in Indonesia, is one of the greatest achievements ever made in the realm of documentary. However, the film feels incomplete. It feels incomplete because it is a success. The Act of Killing is made complete, however, with the failure that is The Look of Silence.

Where The Act of Killing succeeds in getting the perpetrators of heinous crimes to confess and reflect upon their pasts, revealing their simultaneous humanity and inhumanity, The Look of Silence sees the victims of the crimes seek a response and all fail in securing anything of much substance at all. And such seems to reflect the reality of the situation in modern-day Indonesia; truth now floats semi-freely, but no one can grasp and deal with it; the facts are there, but no one is willing to take responsibility for them. In watching The Look of Silence, you're made to question how anyone could take full responsibility for such monstrous crimes and in turn pay just penance, but, these questions quickly fade away and are replaced with a vacuum of humiliating inertia. And I believe that such is the key failure of The Look of Silence - again, this failure does not mean that the documentary is bad, rather, it seemingly reveals the true nature of the film's subject. The Look of Silence is about displaced shame and unjustly inherited humiliation with truth somehow shedding all that is shameful about history and the lies weighing down the present victims with impossible humiliation - so much so that humiliation and humility come to mean one and the same as we stare at the vacant and devastatingly human powerlessness in victims' faces.

Little can really be said about The Look of Silence as all that is it is encapsulated by the title; this documentary exudes dumbfoundedness and the best any audience member can do is look at it.

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Shades Of Consciousness & The Cinematic Dream

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21/05/2018

Shades Of Consciousness & The Cinematic Dream

Thoughts On: Types Of Meaning In Cinema

This is a look at how we engage different kinds of films and their meaning.


In my best estimation, art is simultaneously a collective dream and collective dreaming. That is to say that art is the product of unconscious minds and thus a projected dream, but also a perceived dream and thus a vision dreamt somewhat unconsciously. I believe this to be especially true with those who simply experience art. For the general audience member who just watches movies, just sees paintings and just reads books - often with the genuine, but ill-understood belief that they are only being entertained or are just entertaining a hobby - art remains as pure of a dream as it can be. This is especially true with children. A different process occurs with those who analyse and critique arts. This process sees the dream move out of the unconscious and up into the conscious and maybe even back down again. Alas, whilst dreams can be analysed, they never stop being dreams, which is to say that they retain a mysterious and shadowy element of unconsciousness no matter what.

What fascinates me most in regards to this idea of art, more specifically cinema, as a dream is the element of meaning. As is the philosophy of the psychoanalysts, the unconscious bears the most meaning and the most profound answers to questions of human psychology and the human complex. The dream is one of the primary roads to the unconscious for the psychoanalysts, and so it is a primary road to understanding and meaning. Alas, whilst a figure like Freud considered this idea literally, Jung is one of the key figures who sees the fundamental narratives we tell as dream-like, and so roads into, not just the individual unconscious, but the unconscious of all of us: the collective unconscious. Jung's philosophy of the collective unconscious was profoundly simple. He posited that we so easily consider ourselves collectively human in regards to our physiology and biology, and can do so through our psychology too. In regards to biological science, every human is a unique individual, but nonetheless operates with a heart, lungs, brain, spine, etc. that aren't unique at all on a macroscopic level. What then makes us all biologically human is not necessarily our individuality alone - our unique genetic code - but our capacity for individual expression through our common constructs; through eyes, which everyone has, reaches out the soul. Such is just as true in the psychological domain for someone such as Jung. Psychologically, we are all individuals. However, there are psychic constructs that are tantamount to hearts, lungs and spines. Jung called these the archetypes and they were concepts of moral and behavioural being that we all embody, reflect upon and project onto the world, and must in turn wrangle and contend with as to express our higher individuality. It is through the archetypes that Jung found meaning in the unconscious; meaning that transcends personal existence and is in communication with the great human conception of the beyond from which we emerged and were gifted our consciousness. I believe a very similar process can occur through cinema.

With cinematic stories as dreams, they become gateways into the collective unconscious presiding over modern society. And this is not to say that movies express a quality of the unconsciousness that some of our oldest mythological narratives do. Movies interact with the collective unconscious somewhere between unconsciously and consciously. That is to say that they are operating on levels far more self-aware and conscious than more fundamental stories are thought to. As a result, they mould meaning, comment on meaning, and also mean to have meaning, they do not just embody/express it. They do this knowingly and unknowingly and so put between the screen and the abstract collective unconscious a persona and an ego via the very present artist. Because cinema is always constructed, it is not a true dream - but a dream of sorts, I believe, it nonetheless is. Alas, before anyone can begin analysing the elements of any cinematic dream, routing out its archetypes and, in turn, accessing its meaning, it would be important to ask what kind of dreams cinema can dream up.

Cinema is a construct, a dream if you'll have it, that exists between a screen, an audience and filmmakers; it exist between objective reality, perceptual interpretation and perceptual projection. As a result, there are three factors that determine the kind of dream that can be conjured and called cinema. Firstly, there is the objective reality: the screen. One (audience and/or filmmaker) can watch a film with the screen being a screen, or a screen as a window into a different reality - one can even mediate between these two views of what a screen is. As a result, there are two key philosophies of what a screen is; a screen can either be a human construct, and thus all that it contains is seen as a human construct, or it can be a functional illusion and a magic box that allows us to peer into other 'real' realms that are, themselves, autonomous and self-dependent. As a child, one often assumes the latter, that the screen is a window into alternate reality. That isn't to say that the screen is literally seen as a portal into a different place - though, for some particularly young children, maybe this is true. Whilst a toddler or a young child can tap on a television screen as a movie plays and know that what exists within isn't truly existing within, they do not necessarily perceive what is within to be non-real and, in turn, inconsequential. Movies can deeply affect children. As most parents know, movies can scare children because they do not understand that what they're seeing isn't real. And parents understand this quite specifically. It is not that the child doesn't know that an evil clown can't come out of the TV, it is just that they can't separate their unconscious fear from such a recognition and perceive what is on the screen as truly inconsequential. We know this to be true as adults. We know that monsters can't come out of the TV - moreover, that they don't exist within. Nonetheless, movies can still scare us because we do not always have the ability to separate this fact from our unconscious urge and recognition of consequence; the evil clown surely can't come out of the TV, but try tell you're unconscious nervous system this when you jump out of your seat.

In truth, some people can assure their nervous systems that they are safe and, in turn, that the screen is just a screen. Some of us can then tell ourselves that "this is just a movie" and not be affected by even a jump scare. We do the same thing any time we start to question how a filmmaker blocked a scene or achieved a certain shot. We stop seeing the constructed illusion of a cinematic space and the screen stops being a portal into an alternate dream-reality. One mediates between these two modes when they not only ask what a filmmaker is doing with a camera, but asks why and how this affects story. In such a circumstance, a screen is simultaneously real and unreal. In being both, a screen can become supra-real and thus transcendent of the dichotomy of real and unreal and thus something new, whole, unified and imbued with greater meaning.

The screen is just one component of three. The next we can discuss is the audience themselves who can project into the cinematic space between the screen, themselves and the filmmaker, a persona or self of varying quality. We can save the individual analysis of the filmmaker's role as they project into the cinematic space a persona or self, too. The difference between the filmmaker and audience, however, is that the audience projects a persona or their self as to understand and experience a movie in the context of themselves; a filmmaker projects a persona or self to express something, to put out, not to receive.

The difference between persona and self is quite simple. The persona is a conscious construct guided by unconscious drives. The self on the other hand cannot be constructed; it is what we inherently are and so it oversees all that we become. The self can then be consciousness guided by unconscious drive, or it can, to some degree or another, just be unconscious drive for a person who never engages in introspection and self-analysis, who is not self-aware. By projecting a persona into a cinematic space, an audience member or filmmaker is choosing to play a game of sorts; to construct a framework through which a cinematic story can either be told or received. An audience member or filmmaker can do this as they watch/make a movie and decide to do so with certain ideological constructs. When they watch a movie, they project a persona that is constructed by the rules of an ideology of any kind and thus operate in regards to it. For example, if you like looking for the 'sins' a movie makes, you subscribe to a set of ideals and one of them may be that exposition is bad. If you project this persona into a cinematic space as you watch it develop, you will see and interact with it with little tolerance for exposition and in turn mould the cinematic space around rules it may not have been constructed to comply with. Another example may be found in being a teacher. If you watch a film as a teacher, you will see it in regards to the lessons it can help you teach children or the lessons it is already teaching children. What becomes obvious here is that the rules that come along with that persona drastically affect the cinematic space - whether you are projecting into it as a teacher who is making a film or gleaning from it as a teacher in an audience.

As opposed to projecting a consciously-constructed persona into a movie, which, to a degree, is inevitable, one can engage it unconsciously. This, quite ironically, can take conscious effort. Nonetheless, it is possible to watch a film as an individual who is not just bound to a set of ideas and ideals, but is the conveyor and manager of all such things. When one watches a film with multiple personas I believe they make a move towards watching it as a true individual. This is because, if you are both a teacher, a father, a husband, a Jew and a part-time fire-breather, you will be able to have multiple sets of ideals conflict and conflate when you watch a film in a manner that simulates the way in which your self conflicts and conflates multiple domains and rule sets as to be you. By watching a film as the multiple yous, in turn, the overarching you, you begin engaging cinema as an individual self and, in turn, project your unconscious temperament and abstract ideals into a film. This is just as true for a filmmaker constructing a film. They can choose to make a film as a feminist and thus will construct a political document, or, they can choose to make a film as a wife, daughter, Cambodian and knife-enthusiast with a masters in business management. For the fact that people are always and inherently composed of multiple personas in such a respect, I find it reasonable to suggest that we watch and make films as our selves--through our self--far more than we do our personas. Alas, it remains a possibility that one can make or watch a film as just a persona or as a self despite the fact that there is always, at least, some minor conflation and confusion between the two.

To take a step back, we have three major elements of the cinematic space - the screen, the audience and the filmmaker - and, in turn, we have the three factors of its construction: objective reality, perceptual interpretation and perceptual projection. These three factors are divided by 4 positions; objective reality, the screen, can be seen as real or unreal; perceptual interpretation, the audience, can function in regards to a persona or self; and perceptual projection, the filmmaker, can also function in regards to a persona or self. What emerges from the collision of these different positions are 4 different kinds of cinematic space with 4 different kinds of meaning. These four types are: conscious, non-conscious, unconscious and subconscious. These four terms imply the kind of dream-meaning that a cinematic space can be perceived as having and so we shall look at each individually and then in regards to the equations that build them up.

Conscious dreams are pseudo-dreams; they are imaginations and thoughts sold as products of the unconscious when they are, in fact, tightly wrapped in conscious decision. The conscious cinematic space is manifested when the screen is real and the audience and filmmaker projects a persona:

real + persona + persona = conscious

This kind of cinematic space is often reserved for documentaries, especially those of the political kind. Experiencing documentaries of this kind, the screen presents itself as a message board of facts whilst the filmmaker and audience member analyse those facts with pre-constructed sets of ideas. Narrative films that operate with the same equation will break the cinematic space whilst demanding and receiving a specific set of ideals so that it may be interpreted. This kind of cinema can then be propagandistic, highly reflexive or exploitative. Most propaganda then assumes people are thinking a certain way and enforces their beliefs with what should be perceived as just reality, or a highly symbolic reality, emitted from the screen. Deeply reflexive films, however, play games. This game is acknowledged with the screen being seen as a screen, as real. It is then played with using sets of rules, or sets of ideals, that must clash. An example of this could be Interior. Leather Bar. This is a film that has you perceive the screen as real and unreal, but mostly real (meaning consciously constructed), and then introduces rules of identity politics that must conflict and conflate. How one concludes will determine if the meaning of the film is solely conscious or if it transcends consciousness and becomes deep or poetic (terms we will come to shortly). Finally, the exploitation film perceives the screen as a board upon which to play a game; the audience and filmmaker becomes players who bring forth personas: the filmmaker must scare, disgust, arouse, etc. and the audience must refuse or indulge and/or confront this. Conscious cinema of this kind is sometimes an ironic test of the cinematic space. Alas, the meaning of the game played needn't always be conscious. It can very easily be non-conscious.

Non-conscious cinematic spaces are like dreams that are forgotten or maybe never even realised by their dreamer. They require the screen to be unreal, in turn, it is not seen to be constructed, and the audience and filmmaker project personas into them:

unreal + persona + persona = non-conscious

This kind of cinematic space is so often entertainment that is not assigned meaning. It is then created by an audience member who thinks they are just a consumer waiting to be entertained and a filmmaker who thinks that are just a producer who must entertain. With the screen operating as a fantasy-land and an illusion that is never questioned, it engages the senses, but remains benign and cannot be interacted with. Thus, it is never given meaning and/or the meaning that may reside within it is never found. The kind of films with non-conscious spaces are so often pop-corn movies that no one takes seriously - or are very hard to put meaning into. This space can, however, also be tantamount to propaganda with a false reality being sold and understood by simple idea-structures. It lacks real meaning and is just a means of projecting rules and engaging certain feelings.

Next, we come to unconscious, or deep, cinematic spaces - spaces that delve into the unconscious and so have meaning buried within them. These spaces operate with the screen as unreal or real and the filmmaker and audience project their selves into the space:

real + self + self = deep
unreal + self + self = deep

These two kinds of spaces are rather precious as they come to represent two deeply personal kinds of cinema that require a genuine and complete engagement with what is on a screen. The difficulty that arises when cinema becomes highly personal, however, is that meaning can become too difficult to find. This becomes the case when the screen is seen as unreal. In such circumstances the filmmaker and audience do not know how to decode what they sense to have deep meaning and to be bound to the essence of their being. However, when the screen becomes real, when it is seen as a construct, coherent meaning is much easier found and placed. This isn't to say that deep cinematic spaces with unreal screens do not have meaning; these bear the potential to have the most meaning - it is just most difficult to find. As a result, a mediation between seeing what is on the screen as constructed and a functional illusion often helps tease out truth. I find that our personally favourite movies have deep cinematic spaces with unreal screens. Deeply profound and difficult movies, or decoded personal favourites, usually have real screens.

Finally, we come to sub-conscious, or poetic, spaces. Poetic cinematic dreams are dreams that are stuck between consciousness and unconsciousness. These are the most likely films to emerge from cinema because cinema itself is also stuck between consciousness and unconsciousness. Cinema strives to journey downwards, but so often only gets so far, and so becomes sub-conscious; not completely unconscious, but almost there. These spaces utilise real and unreal screens and are built upon a disagreement between audience and filmmaker:

real + persona + self = poetic
real + self + persona = poetic
unreal + persona + self = poetic
unreal + self + persona = poetic

These four equations' outcomes are quite similar, but we should split them further into abstractly and technically poetic spaces. Thus, spaces made upon a disagreement between audience and filmmaker, but have real screens, are technical whilst those with unreal screens are abstract:

real + persona + self = poetic-technical
real + self + persona = poetic-technical
unreal + persona + self = poetic-abstract
unreal + self + persona = poetic-abstract

The poetic spaces emerge from an audience member wanting to interpret a film in a certain way or a filmmaker wanting to say something specific. When the audience member wants a movie to say something in accordance with their persona and ideological make-up, but are confronted with a cinema that is more complex than what it is created due to its projection through a genuine and complex self of a filmmaker, then the audience member either provides 'a perspective' or simplifies the film. This can be good or bad, it simply depends on how well this is done. To provide an example, a feminist film critic will see all films in accordance to the structure provided by their ideology. A filmmaker may not make a film as a feminist--if they do, the film becomes a conscious or non-conscious document--alas, if a filmmaker does not make a film as a feminist, but has their film read by a feminist, poetry is made out of the matter of life; the feminist turns the life provided by the filmmaker into poetry. In the reverse, when a filmmaker makes a film as, for example, a feminist, but is read by just an individual without this lens, they will make poetry out of rules.

It is dependent on how the screen is seen that will determine if the poetic space is technical or abstract. If a screen is real and constructed, it will be analysed as if it is meant to say something or as if it is already saying something. Those who take a film projected by the self of a filmmaker and engage it with a persona will find meaning through reduction. Those who take a film projected by a filmmaker's persona and engage it with their self will find meaning through addition; they build towards the rules, or build off of them.

Conversely, if a screen is unreal and an illusion, it will be analysed as if it is unconsciously saying or merely implying something. Meaning is then abstractly given to a film by an audience member. This can be done reductionistically or additively; reductionistically if the persona reads the self and additively if the self reads the persona.

***

There are values and virtues embedded in each of these spaces. However, there are also pitfalls and vices. One can easily interpret these for themselves and so I will not provide such an analysis. Nonetheless, having provided these different kinds of cinematic spaces and the meanings that they produce, we can become more capable of recognising what filmmakers are doing, how they are operating and how we are operating. In some cases we can alter our perception, in others we can focus our analysis and criticism. But, the point of the exercise one may engage when using these ideas is to become conscious in our journey into and out of unconsciousness and thus become more efficient and capable miners of different kinds of meaning.






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20/05/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #58



Today's shorts: Jason And The Argonauts (1963), Deadpool (2016), Paheli (2005), Force Majeure (2014), Bill Burr: I'm Sorry You Feel That Way (2014), Tabu (1931), Pete's Dragon (1977)



It is no doubt dated and quite dry, but Jason and the Argonauts may be the best Greek mythology film ever made.

First and foremost, this is a technical masterpiece - and it is made so just for the final scene with the skeletal 'dragon offspring'. The stop-motion animation put on display in this sequence, which took four months to put together and lasts just a few minutes, is truly astounding; it is probably some of the most advanced and impressive animation of its age and can quite easily contend with all else.

It cannot be overlooked, however, that there is a strong story holding this film together. It deviates from classical mythology quite a bit, but remains symbolically and archetypally expressive whilst exuding clarity and spectacle. And it's this unity of technique and story that makes Jason and the Argonauts, arguably, the best mythological film ever made.



I remember having a real blast with this when it first came out. Having seen this quite a few times since, I have to say that it has depreciated quite a bit. This is primarily due to the fact that the outcomes and sources of most jokes are too obvious. There's a few ingenious lines and pieces put here and there, but it's hard not to say that this is trying a little too hard to be subversively self-aware and comic. In fact, despite what the opening credits tell us, I don't think the writers are the real heroes; for the large part, they seem to simply let loose a snarky flow of consciousness onto the page.

I nonetheless think that this is a pretty awesome movie; maybe a classic in the making that film students will look back on in 50 years and, despite their initial groans concerning the old superhero movies with crappy CGI, will love; our age's Singin' In The Rain if you'll have it.



Imperfect on the surface, but, at its heart, this is a pretty brilliant movie.

Paheli, or Riddle, is about a husband who leaves his wife on business with plans of not coming back for 5 years. A spirit falls in love with the woman and impersonates the husband, finding a place in the family. This fairy tale construct picks up on the duality of a husband and formulates an allegory about the concept of presence and materiality; what is objective and tangible is nothing if it is not given meaning and value attached to a cohesive moral and human good. Wealth is for people; people are not made for wealth.

If this was more concise in the story department (an elaboration on one or two songs wouldn't do harm), I'm sure I could call this perfect. As is, Paheli has a bit too much fat and CGI in it, but is nonetheless a good watch.



Absolutely brilliant.

Force Majeure deals with angst, reversal and imbalance in an imperfect familial equation; in a family where the bratty kids seem to run the show, where the father is dishonest and rather pathetic and where the mother wants to escape. This family is confronted with a symbol of their faulted state of being that sees the father fail to be the man he is expected to be and who he knows he should be. And the film blossoms from here, not necessarily analysing this symbol, but observing how the interpretation and confrontation of this symbol effects the family dynamic. In turn, we are made to question the validity and purpose of the symbolic event with all the arguments that emerge from it being about what the argument is about, in turn, what family means, as opposed to anything literal. As a result, this becomes a brilliant, slightly tragic, slight comic, uncannily human open study in what family is supposed to be. My second Östlund film and I like this director even more.



I can return to this a thousand times over and it will still be hilarious.

Yours goes quack-quack, mine goes quack-a-fukin-QUACK... the stuff of brilliance. This might be Burr's most physical and acting-centric specials - and it benefits so much from this. In not just telling stories, but stepping inside and getting lost in them, Burr moves past whatever his opinion may be, bringing us with him, and reveals his subject matter's hilarious side. The jokes then become infectiously funny and a straight face impossible to keep. Recommended to all comedy fans.



Tabu is a film that provides an answer to the question: When does a system of customs become tyrannical? Its answer is beautifully constructed with the use of expressive symbols and archetypes, and it goes as follows...

When a system not only disregards an individual's will, but betrays those that become heroes by swimming into the depths of the forbidden, shadow-unconscious to defeat a monster (that which is tyrannical in the system) and emerge with a precious jewel that represents their triumph and will be shared with a greater community, then a system is corrupt. When ritual becomes dogma that squashes all worthy rebuttals to concrete law then only tragedy can befall the innocent and the good. This is the quintessential Murnauan story seen in Sunrise and The Last Laugh powerfully told with mythological and futile overtones. I highly recommend this.



I used to watch this a bunch as a kid. It wasn't a particular favourite, but some of the songs and the image of Elliot the dragon has stuck with me. As I started to re-watch this today, I didn't expect too much - you never really should when it comes to live action Disney - however, I hoped it'd be clunky, but likeable. To a degree, this is, but... it is, technically, far worse than I imagined it to be.

The acting is pretty poor, the writing is ridiculously childish, the special effects are shockingly hammy and the direction never manages to sell the magic that the narrative really relies on. And I think the lack of magic is really the core problem with this movie; the fantasy just doesn't take. So, whilst a song or two made me smile and, overall, this kept me awake for 2 hours, I can't say this is any good for anyone over the age of 4.






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