Thoughts On: October 2017

31/10/2017

Where The Road Runs Out - Beginnings

Quick Thoughts: Where The Road Runs Out (2014)


Made by Rudolf Buitendach, this is the Equatorial Guinean film of the series.


Before the 1960s, Central and Western African cinema existed, predominantly, though not exclusively, through colonial powers. However, as African countries gradually gained independence, true African filmmaking is seen to have begun. Over the last 5 decades industries have then been established and developed, and whilst Nigerian and Senegalese cinema have become a staples of world cinema, film is still spreading across Central and Western Africa. Where The Road Runs Out is an example of this as the first feature-length film made in Equatorial Guinea.

A co-production between Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and the Netherlands, this is a by-the-numbers drama that follows a man initially born in Ghana who moved to the UK to get an education, but, after many decades, is still in the UK and is now a jaded academic. However, after his estranged friend's death, he decides to take his station beside an orphanage in Equatorial Guinea. From here we get a narrative centred on father figures as well as themes of responsibility, self-discovery and place with a B-plot romance thrown in for good measure.

Though this is shot very well with the cinematography being the strongest part of this movie, Where The Road Runs Out is a very mediocre picture. The dialogue is questionable, the acting is passable, the characters are contrived and the story is very predictable. There is then not much to praise in this light family drama, but it is nonetheless a solid, well-constructed movie and a significant first for Equatorial Guinea.

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30/10/2017

The Wolf Of Wall Street - Constructions Of Cinema: Exploitation?

Thoughts On: The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

The rise and fall of a corrupt broker.


I recently watched American Made, a solid film about government conspiracy, corruption, drugs, guns, war and money, and I've come back to a subject that has always fascinated me: ethics and morality (or a lack of them) in cinema. In such, there is a clear discord between what this film puts to screen and audience morality, which urges the question: why should we enjoy watching a character engage in extremely illegal acts and exploit the corruption of multiple countries?

A film like American Made is nothing new. Unethical films with corrupt, immoral characters and subjects have always been in the cinema. If we look far back to the birth of cinema, for instance, we will find the beginnings of pornography and the exploitation film. Whilst pornography and its moral discords do not need to be explained, the exploitation film is a strange genre of film that we have looked to before. In my thinking, there are three rules of the exploitation film:

1. It is a concept that the exploitation film exploits, one that is fixated on to an extreme.
2. Characters do not exist in exploitation films; they are caricatures or pawns for audience and filmmaker.
3. The exploitation film, at its best, is intimate.

These rules imply films that are fixated on violence, sex, drugs, race and a plethora of other things. Moreover, they are ridiculous to the point that they can be seen as games that, in some strangely intimate atmosphere, a sadomasochistic audience and an amoral director play. Famous examples of exploitation films are then Blacula, The Last House On The Left, Cannibal Holocaust and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Exploitation films themselves were primarily made between the late 50s and the early 80s as an American movement that followed the restructuring of Hollywood's studio system. Uncoincidentally, this coincided with the golden age of pornography and saw a select group of filmmakers take new-found freedom and run with it. However, alongside this, there was the British 'video nasty' movement, which was basically a mirror held up to the American exploitation movement by British filmmakers such as John Waters with, for example, his film Pink Flamingos.

However, as suggested, the exploitation film didn't come out of nowhere and it, in no way, is confined to a few countries across a few decades. The exploitation film can be seen to date all the way back to the birth of cinema and the late 1800s with scandalous films such as The Kiss...


And, especially to modern audiences, disturbing films such as Electrocuting An Elephant....


In short, Edison's Manufacturing Company, much like numerous filmmakers who made pornography (which includes those of the biggest company of the early 1900s, Pathé), took the power to capture and control time and space that cinema afforded and manipulated it as they knew audiences would enjoy. Understanding that this has always existed in film - and before that in photography, literature, painting and various other forms of art and performance that fit in a spectrum between prostitution and a childish euphemism - it becomes clear that immorality, as everyone who understands the term knows, is an inherent human trait. Thus, immorality and exploitation will always find their way into art and entertainment. So, when we take a closer look a genres of film, we can discover that, whilst pornography and exploitation films have always existed in various forms, their influence - which is one that stems from humanity itself - is vast.

First let us briefly consider the action film. Whether the hero is good, bad or something grey, violence, which is inherent to the action film, dehumanises, and so is, in a way, immoral and exploitative. The same can be said in respect to horror films. What's more, we can even stretch that to most dramas that feature strong physical and emotional conflicts; these films, to varying degrees, are fixated on darkness, which reduces characters to mere symbols, archetypes or characters. And comedy, this is a genre rife with violence, sexuality, immorality or, at the least, naughtiness - if it wasn't, it wouldn't be funny. In almost every single narrative, character-driven film we can watch, there is something that we could define as immoral. In such, we could even point to the most innocuous of children's films, say for instance, The Lion King, and find exploitation. As notorious as this is for being a great family movie, this is all about death, revenge, power, sexuality and pride. However, what does this mean?

Humans, whether aliens engineered it into our species, whether it was God-given or whether we just evolved with it, have the ability to, with our imagination, foresee. Knowing the future, and thus having a psychological grip of an idea of possibility, makes us human by characterising our species through fear. Fear is then our greatest tool; fears of being eaten by an animal, of being crushed by a rock, of being emotionally and physically brutalised by other people, of being alienated, lost and vulnerable is in everything we do. Fear then keeps us alive, well and motivated to stay that way. There are, however, two kinds of fear-motivated behaviour (which practically all normal behaviours can be categorised under) that we generally define with a distinction between 'survival' and living. To survive is to fear basic and fundamental concepts of death, pain, hunger, thirst, etc. To live is to fear more abstract concepts such as unfulfilment, immorality, inertia, futility, etc. It is from these two kinds of fear that we create morality and ethics. Again there are two kinds. Firstly, there are things we don't do: we (generally and most of the time) don't kill, torture, molest, steal, exploit, cheat, lie, etc. Secondly, and this stems from a fear derived from living, not survival, there are things we are expected to do: be kind, forgiving, understanding, compassionate, sacrificial, humble, etc. Understanding behaviour in such a way gives us great incite into cinema through the lens we have so far been discussing it.

These two kinds of fears are manifested by narratives because stories are conflict of some kind; there has to be a tension, even if it is as muted and trivial as a guy sitting in a room just being alive, for stories to function - after all, there has to be something to talk about by virtue of something else not happening. We fear the negative - we fear conflict - and so all stories project different kinds of fear. This is exactly why we can identify immorality and an implication of exploitation in all films; if they didn't have fear or material to be feared in them, they couldn't work, and if they don't have pressing and worthwhile fears (or conflicts) within them, they aren't worth mentioning. As a result, romances exploit the fear of being alone and all that comes connected to that - think of Jack in Titanic, more worried about Rose than himself; adventures exploit a fear of meaninglessness - think of William Wallace in Breveheart, fighting for freeeeeeeedom; action movies exploit fears of ineptitude - think of John McClain rescuing a tower full of people to be a better man and to, in part, save his marriage; horrors exploit fears of weakness - think of the characters in Saw, wishing they were stronger, smarter and better people; and comedies exploit structures of morality and fear themselves - think of Chaplin going insane in his factory job in Modern Times. Thus, in all of these films, we will see characters trying to avoid death (social or physical death) by avoiding loneliness, meaninglessness, ineptitude, weakness and structure.

There is, however, a spectrum of exploitation that skews the manner in which this character motivation functions. On one end, we have films like The Lion King, which outweighs negativity with positivity; good overcomes bad. The exploitation of fears is then trivial here; we can disregard an idea that this is an exploitation film. Some place beyond this, we have tragedies like Bicycle Thieves that see the negative outweigh the positive with negativity being a disembodied force. This means that bad things happen, but that this is sad because we can't attribute all of the blame, or all of the negativity, to the main character (or the focus of the narrative). The exploitation factor in these films is often on the brink of overtness, but, because its use is 'justified' by non-indulgence, it is often overlooked; again, the idea that these films are exploitation movies can be disregarded. In opposition to this, we have films like The Wolf Of Wall Street in which the negative outweighs the positive; evil (pretty much) defeats good. What distinguishes these films from tragedies is the fact that the evil is embodied and actively indulged as the focus of the story. Thus, we come to the realm of exploitation.

Understanding that all films have exploitation in them, but that not all movies are exploitation films, we can begin to see a tension between the rules of morality in the real world and morality as filtered through cinema. And this tension ultimately indicates that we can't think of cinema in terms of real-world ethics - and for multiple reasons. To bring things towards the crux of the essay, let us then concentrate on The Wolf Of Wall Street. Though it is long and full of excess, The Wolf Of Wall Street is pure fun and difficult to find fault in. There are those that'd suggest that this is just a disgusting, shameful film that indulges evil and finds glee in the anarchy that someone such as Jordan Belfort represents. However, in watching the film, I don't get a sense of this, and in thinking about it, I can't justify or empathise with such a critique.

Reasons for this are primarily centred around empathy. In such, there is a distance between myself and the content--the real-world history--of the film, one that is emphasised by the fact that I know that this is a re-representation of true events. However, there are questions I could ask myself on this notion. If Jordan Belfort personally screwed me over and ruined my life, would I still enjoy this film? The same thing could be asked in regards to any action, horror or disaster movie; if my friend was murdered, if my sister was kidnapped, if my town was destroyed by floods, could I enjoy these movies?

This is a hard question to answer directly as, whilst I am able to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to and around me, I've never been in a truly intense and devastating situation like those we often see in movies. Falsely or not, in assuming that I could maybe enjoy The Wolf Of Wall Street if Jordan Belfort had personally screwed me, the reasoning for this would then still be concerned with the mentioned distance and re-representation.

The saying "one day we will be able to laugh about this", says much about our topic. As said, all fear comes from foresight and being able to predict or imagine future happenings. However, foresight is often a product of intellect, memory and experience. As a result, we often fear things that have happened to us before. Nonetheless, fear of this sort can and should wane. For example, if you were once abandoned by someone you loved but are nevertheless a functional person, though the past sucks, it shouldn't still hurt if you are past, or over, it. And this says much about the function and the exploitation of fear in movies; bad things happen in life, and though cinema can simulate this, it does so with distance that opens up the way in which we see the events.

This is the key to understanding one of the major reason as to why exploitation films - anything ranging between the more mild Wolf Of Wall Street and the extreme Cannibal Holocaust - are made and are enjoyed by audiences. Because real life has consequences, we are forced to interact with it with a good deal of emotion whether we want to or not. We can then think of a famous hypothetical such as: people are tied to train tracks and an unstoppable train is coming, you can either watch the train kill those 5 people or you can pull a lever and watch one person die.


Let's not think of our responses to this hypothetical, rather, what it represents. Presented as an idea, we are allowed to think about this, maybe have a fun conversation about it. If we were actually in this situation, however, not only would it not be so interesting and fun, but we'd likely act in a different way to what we may propose when confronted with the harmless hypothetical.

Exploitation films are not just hypothetical questions, but they operate in a similar manner in that they distinguish and distance ourselves form the real world and thus let us imagine it without natural, involuntary emotional reactions. Humans all engage the world with different emotional proclivities. These predispositions to react with various degrees of emotional intensity are further stratified by classes of events. This means that we all react differently to different subjects; some people are more sensitive in general and most people are sensitive about specific subjects. This individual internal emotional composition is dissolved and played with by films because of their relationship with conception and abstraction. We have already indirectly discussed with an idea that films exploit fears and so have us react to narratives in differing ways, but, because cinema is not just not real, but exists in your imagination, we can act in relation to cinema in as contrived of a way as 'reality' is materialised in a cinematic space. This means that, when we step into a cinema, we aren't just stepping into another world created by a filmmaker, but are stepping into a new body also constructed, in part, by a filmmaker.

It is very easy to overlook this idea that, just as Leonardo DiCaprio becomes Jordan in The Wolf Of Wall Street, you become the movie's audience and, as a result, everything in a cinema - and that includes you - is the design of Scorsese and the various filmmakers who worked with him. This isn't to say that we all become zombies when we enter a film - though, this is true to a good degree. Instead, we are manipulated into projecting an imagined entity resembling ourselves; we are not ourselves, but an adaptation of ourselves in a hypothetical space when we are immersed in a film. There are then two all-important contingents of cinema: immersion and verisimilitude. If films don't affect you, what is on the screen doesn't become what the filmmaker hoped for. If a film doesn't grab you and immerse you in its constructions, you don't become the audience a filmmaker wanted to speak to. (Let us not feel sorry for the filmmaker at this point; it is their job to confront this and, if they make a bad film, these are the parameters in which they'll often fail).

To understand Wolf Of Wall Street with all its excess and immorality, all we have to hold onto is the idea that all that occurs in the film is contrived and, if we like the film, we project a contrived persona of Scorsese's making and so don't necessarily enjoy the film ourselves, but engage in the exploitation of our own fears. Let's visualise this idea:


In this image let us imagine we have you (the real you) and Leonardo DeCaprio flipping you off whilst a bunch of other actors observe and Scorsese directs in some place you can't see. This is The Wolf Of Wall Street to an alien; a crazy man in a magic box performs for us. To an active audience, there is a filter in between themselves and the screen; this filter is cinema.


It is inside the space between you and a screen that cinema exists. Cinema is then an abstract thought and a hypothetical space. However, inside that hypothetical space is the hypothetical you and a hypothetical screen constructed by the hypothetical filmmaker.


Inside cinema, we are beyond reality and its rules and so we are an avatar of ourselves that co-exists with a film in an abstract realm. It is then in this space that fear and conflict exist; this is an exploitation space in which reality and emotions are simulated under differing conditions and rules. The filmmaker then exists just outside of this space and controls the environment we step into. What we are then engaged in with the depicted scene of Jordan making a sale is a confrontation of our own fear of ineptitude and financial failure; we are made to see what it means to be ruthlessly and unapologetically successful and materialistically fulfilled. (There is also a strong element of Robin Hood throughout this film, as is mentioned, with the rich being stolen from, and this distances Jordan's evil from ourselves). We can visualise this by recognising that this image...


... relates to this conceptualisation:


This image suggests that the abstract cinematic space, the exploitation space, has changed because Scorsese is feeding us cinematic language. By extension of this, we feel and are consumed Belfort's greed and his malice, and thus we change too (which is why the screen and projected figure is green). This is cinema in regards to emotion and imagination; our imagination and our ability to perceive and foresee materialises the cinematic construct (the exploitation space), and our emotions fill this space in with guidance from a filmmaker. This occurs in all films, so let us look at another example. This...


... leads to this...


In recognising Scarlett's indifferent cunning and selfishness, we are immersed in a new realm of emotion. However, whilst we may signify this realm with the colour blue, this representation is limited. This is because we don't just feel emotions when watching a film and that colours themselves can't express the complexities of emotion. Our imagination, our intellect, whilst it constructs this abstract space through which we feel a myriad of complex emotions by virtue of essentially embodying someone else in a new realm of rules, also has a direct link through all of the three presented mediums.


This diagram means that we know that we are watching a film, that we are engaging this contrived 'cinema' as created by a filmmaker and that we are watching moving images on a screen; we are not zombies hypnotised by a film, but conscious beings that understand the parallel reality and fantasy of cinema. So, in having this link that transcends reality and constructed fantasy, we can articulate what a film is; we can understand its subtext and the mechanics of the exploitation space. However, because there is this line which potentially breaks the barriers of reality and fantasy, there can be a discord between what a filmmaker attempts to make you feel and what you actually feel. So, when someone watches The Wolf Of Wall Street and doesn't like it...


... we can understand this to be happening...


It is obvious here that the viewer's understanding of the fact that they are watching a constructed film impacts the exploitation space; they do not feel what the filmmaker wants because they see through their attempts and, for some reason or another, disagree with them. That said, however, when you watch a bad film and enjoy it, or simply see a film in a way that a filmmaker didn't intend, you can be affected in the exploitation space whilst not seeing a film in the way the filmmaker wanted. What is then crucial to understand here is that the viewer can actively impact and reflect upon cinema whilst being affected and immersed in its illusion.

With this theory of cinema's mechanics, we can explore many different realms of though, but, let us stay concentrated on the Wolf Of Wall Street. Our conception of cinema through abstract symbols and diagrams suggests that films project the unreal into a believable space that we insert some part of ourselves into before watching ourselves watch a film and a film, with all its contrivances, play out. In this realm, cinema becomes a game of the emotions whose rules are made up by a filmmaker (how good they are at coding these rules is the art of filmmaking). Simultaneously, however, cinema is self-reflection and so a filmmaker must operate with an understanding of the artful mechanics of their film, not just its emotionally manipulative (or exploitative) functions. So, whilst there is an illusion that we are in control of a film, the truth is that we are communicating with the puppet master of a specific realm. To not communicate with Scorsese and to not enjoy the world as he presents it is to dislike the Wolf Of Wall Street. Whilst we all have the freedom - even a predisposition - to do this, I do believe there is a mistake can be made in this regard.

Many people bring real-world morality into the exploitation space - into cinema - and thus they refuse to see the world hypothetically, with distance and with an understanding that cinema is a space in which possibility itself is, intellectually and emotionally, explored. In such, The Wolf Of Wall Street asks us to recognise the virtues and strengths of Belfort despite his corruption; to see the world as he sees it, to stare into the void of capitalist chaos and maybe take a dive into it. Following the logic that this is a well-designed movie, the only true fault of this Wolf Of Wall Street would be Belfort being an unlikable character. So, the question I want to leave you with is: do you like The Wolf Of Wall Street? And considering the ideas put forth, why?







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End Of The Week Shorts #29

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Where The Road Runs Out - Beginnings

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29/10/2017

End Of The Week Shorts #29



Today's shorts: The Big City (1963), People On Sunday (1930), Baby Driver (2017), A Moment Of Innocence (1996), What Happened To Monday (2017), Queen (2014), Cinema Libertad (2010), The Man Who Sleeps (1974)



A beautiful film, and another masterpiece by Satyajit Ray, The Big City follows a wife of a struggling family into her first job as a saleswoman. And in such, this narrative encompasses, somewhat abstractly, an idea of a new-marriage or a re-marriage between a couple leading traditionally structured lives that are in jeopardy. This re-marriage re-defines the rules of their relationship and family life and its purpose is ultimately to reconcile a separating family in changing times - times defined by the developing cityscape around them. 
For the way in which this change, as represented by the microcosm of a middle-class family, is projected with perfect mise en scène, realist (though sometimes expressionist) direction and framing that exudes powerful photogénie through Madhabi Mukherjee's features alone, The Big City is a definite must-see and an unquestionable 'great' of world cinema.



People On Sunday is an example of one of the numerous cinematic movements that sprouted out of Germany in the 20s and 30s. This is a Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity or New Sobriety) film which was opposed to Expressionism and so was focused on a documentary aesthetic and realist storytelling. In such, this follows the lives of a handful of non-professional actors on a loosely scripted weekend with a key statement of the film being that they (as the film was being shown in cinemas) would be back at work in their depicted jobs. This is then seen as a significant, pre-Nazism, depiction of German culture in a somewhat truthful manner, but is also made note of because of contributions made from to-be significant Hollywood filmmakers such as Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak amongst others. 
So, though this lacks focus and doesn't really provide a memorable story, People On Sunday is a successful experiment in realism that seemingly captures life, formally, with a good degree of truth and beauty.



An ok film with significant problems in regards to character and story that left everything feeling rather hollow. 
With Baby Driver, Wright constructs an action-romance-musical with strong sound montage, highly stylised camera movement, some impressive chase scenes and mise en scène that is in constant conversation with the striking cinematography. For this, Baby Driver is a fun movie from a pretty good director. Unfortunately, Wright fails to integrate his style into story and character like he did so well in Scot Pilgrim. In such, the exposition and backstories are annoying, the dialogue is often grating, the bit-part caricatures are sometimes exasperating and the main characters are all throw-away meat sacks who carry no real presence. Dotted throughout are a few nice moments of comedy, but nothing pays off - especially the plotting. I thought there'd be more to this in terms of plot twists that'd make up for bad character writing, and hoped for some kind of substance in the story, but the script failed to deliver. 
All in all, not worth complaining about too much, it's just a shame that this couldn't work better as the approach to the action-musical was sometimes ingenious.



A Moment Of Innocent is a film that falls in the ranks of other movies such as The Chinese, 8 1/2, Day For Night and Interior. Leather Bar. in that it is a film about making a film, and so has many levels to its story bound together by questions of truth. 
Makhmalbaf takes this idea one step further by basing this film about making a film on his own life (possibly both past and present). In such, this is about recreating the moment in which he stabbed a police officer as a young man as to 'save the world'. This narrative then contemplates rebellion under the guise of naivety with sprinkles of comedy and much confusion throughout by contrasting the ideals and inner motivations of both the policeman - both young and old - and Makhmalbaf (who stabbed him) - also in his younger and older forms. This is done through the veil of cinema and other actors and so a network of emotion and subjectivity is constructed, leaving one confounding final frame that exudes ambiguity and a film that needs to be seen.



What Happened to Monday is your average political sci-fi picture with a tyrannical government and corrupt capitalist infrastructure which needs to be overcome that is spruced up with a high-concept and numerous performances by Noomi Rapace. 
Whilst this has some clear commentary on individuality, collectivism and family in face of corrupt conservatism, What Happened to Monday lacks worthwhile characters and provides no substantial answers to its antagonist's terrible solution to a population problem. The story then has no punch and, despite the effort put into the action scenes, everything feels weightless and empty. 
Ultimately, though this isn't a mindless and ill-constructed film, it only barely manages to pass the threshold of mediocrity.



Second watch: still absolutely love it. 
There's not too much to say about Queen other than it is just oozing with personality and character. This could be 5 hours longer and I'd still not feel the run time. From the moment Southall (a pretty cruddy suburban area not too far from where I was born and raised) is mentioned to the second the credits roll I'm locked in and grinning like an idiot. As with Amélie it'd take a long-winded essay to explain why I truly like this film, but suffice to say that it just resonates with my bones for some reason. 
So, though this has a few technical problems, the heart of Queen overwhelms everything anyone may claim is at fault. To me, this is just a flawless piece of cinema that rests comfortably in the soft spot of my being. Perfect.



Cinema Libertad is a well-designed short film about young love and cinema itself. In such, this owes much to Cinema Paradiso (and it seemingly accepts this with a direct reference) with its exploration of cinema as an equal ground of non-verbal expression that can not just unite people, but bring them together in one emotional atmosphere. 
Though this is a simple idea, it is brought to life brilliantly by the light-hearted sound track which perfectly resonates with the free camera movement and brisk editing. Further to this, the direction is impressive for the way in which the El Salvadorian location is captured with low angles and wide mise en scène that consistently gives the fame rich colour and texture. 
So, though this isn't flawlessly performed, Cinema Libertate is well worth the 25 minutes:



The Man Who Sleeps is a brilliant cine-poem about existentialism, indifference and nihilism that, through images and prose, captures a hopeless emptiness in both Paris and a young Parisian man. With beautiful direction and evocative imagery, this can be seen to be the French (slightly) non-narrative Taxi Driver. However, to compare this to Taxi Driver is somewhat ironic as, though both films explore nihilism and anarchy, it was the cultural evolution of America (and its cinema) that would begin to overshadow French cinema and its romanticised, idealised culture in the 70s. The emptiness of Parisian culture that is projected through this film would then be ironically exhausted with a comparison to Taxi Driver as, in spirit, this is what the film is seemingly commenting on: the perceived decline of Paris through a hopeless young man. 
Just about as dismal and dark as films can get without being miserably masturbatory (thanks to the ending), The Man Who Sleeps is a great film well worth the watch - especially for anyone who's feeling particularly nihilistic.






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Every Year In Film #28 - That Fatal Sneeze

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28/10/2017

Every Year In Film #28 - That Fatal Sneeze

Thoughts On: That Fatal Sneeze (1907)


In this post we will be exploring 1907 as the end of an era.


Today we will be talking about a term that has been consistently mentioned so far in the series: "The Cinema of Attraction". To talk about this, we will have to do a brief overview of the previous 27 posts. Before we start, however, I'll leave a link for you to read Tom Gunning's full text, The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectators and The Avant-Garde.

Cinema emerged from the depths of humanity's past; not only have we been fascinated by capturing imagery and form--the world--for millennia, but we have also been focused on the capturing and re-representation, or projection, of movement. So, whilst the ground work for cinema has been in place for an incalculable amount of time, it became more and more tangible across the 1800s with the development of photography, projection devices and various toys that could manifest moving imagery. In the late 1800s, the first cinematic devices emerged which saw moving picture technology evolve from chronography to peep shows to actual movie projection in little under 20 years. Thus, cinema is seen to have been officially born in 1895. It was from this point onwards that people would begin to make and spread films across the world and establish film industries in regions all over Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia (some films were being made in Africa, specifically Egypt, around the 1900s, but, for many reasons - one of the most prominent being colonialism - African cinema flourished quite a bit later than other continental cinemas). The first 10 or so years of cinema's development are predicated on trick films, comedies, actualities, miscellaneous spectacles and early narratives. This era has been coined, by Tom Gunning, as the period of the 'cinema of attraction'.

Boiled down to its most basic element, Gunning's concept stresses the strong focus on films as something that have to be seen. In referencing a 1922 essay written by Ferdinand Légar, Gunning defines his term through cinema's eagerness and "its ability to show something". As a result, Gunning describes this era as one focused on exhibitionism with a focus on the novelty and the spectacle of cinema itself, not necessarily films and their content. We have explored this consistently over the last 10 posts, looking at the development of camera movement, framing, editing, film length and the numerous figures that were apart of this exploration of the form. However, Gunning, judging from his essay, may find fault in the manner in which I portray all of these subjects. This is because there has been a clear contextualisation of all of our subjects around the creation and rise of narratives.

It was the narrativisation of cinema that ended the cinema of attractions period around 1906-07. In other words, narratives became the core focus of mainstream cinema, and such is the way in which film historians look back on - and define - the early silent era. You may then critique the manner in which I've presented this period as I usually define it by where it is going, rather than what it actually is. In an attempt to provide a rounded and, hopefully, as-true-as-can-be picture of early cinema, before we move away from this period, we're going to try and conclude an idea of what the cinema of attractions era was.

Whilst Gunning defines early cinema by its eager exhibitionism, he, in reference to Sergei Eisenstein, also implies that the films of this period have much in common with avant-garde cinema. Avant-garde, or experimental, or art, cinema questions the form and plays with its abilities to be, and project, 'art'. In such, the avant-garde is defined by consciousness; artist engaging cinema as cinema, not as an illusion of reality or fantasy as narrative and documentary filmmakers often will. It is upon these grounds that the films dated between 1895 and 1907 are similar to the avant-garde; early filmmakers engaged cinema as a tool and with few illusions of the potentials of cinema as an abstract, narrative concept. Gunning stresses this with a key quote from the most iconic figure of this era, Georges Méliès, taken from an article titled "Importance du Scénario".

"As for the scenario, the "fable," or "tale," I only consider it at the end. I can state that the scenario constructed in this manner has no importance, since I use it merely as a pretext for the "stage effects," the "tricks," or for a nicely arranged tableau."

Méliès is on the heels of D.W Griffith and Edison in regards to being a heavily romanticised figure of early cinema. What Gunning is refuting with his use of this quote and his idea of the cinema of attraction is that, whilst Méliès, much like Porter, played a part in the development of narratives, he himself wasn't interested in them in the way we'd like to think, and nor did he conceptualise 'narrative' like we, in the modern day, do. As Méliès himself implies, longer narratives meant more tricks and special effects - this is all. This meant that Méliès didn't care for meaning making - otherwise known as semiosis. Semiosis is why I love cinema; I love cinema and moving images as a language that can produce meaning - and often through narrative. Cinema of attractions films rarely demonstrate cinematic language that leads to semiosis. With various adaptations of stories entrenched in semiosis, look for example to religious films or narratives that bring famous plays and books to screen, there is semiosis, but it is a virtue of a short film's source material, not necessarily the film and the filmmaker. As a result, whilst the cinema of attractions is linked to the avant-garde cinema because of the focus on cinema as an non-illusory entity, it is incredibly distant from the avant-garde as the consciousness of film form is singular; it has no relationship with content and semiosis as many avant-garde films do. In simple terms, this means that the cinema of attractions isn't self-aware, or developed, enough to be avant-garde in the way we, in the modern day, conceptualise it.

As we have explored, there are numerous examples of films that have some kind of meaning - that comment on society; many films of Zecca and Guy-Blaché are examples of this. Nonetheless, there is no, as far as I am aware, example of a filmmaker that we can point to and suggest that they were singularly interested in narrative cinema. Some spectators of film history attempt this with figures such as Méliès, Guy-Blaché and Porter, but their claims are all easily refuted with a look at their wider filmography. What we can then understand the cinema of attractions era to be made up of is films and filmmakers consciously working with cinema as a non-narrative novelty or spectacle whilst having no regard for semiosis or cinema's ability to be a true art (if we are to define art as a form of communication or language, then semiosis is key).

There is, I believe, more to the cinema of attractions than what Gunning suggests, however. There is no stress in Gunning's article of the commerciality (its capacity to be sold) of early silent cinema. The real conflict that we are tapping into when discussing, accurately or not, the state of early cinema concerns the internal tension between cinema as an 'art' and cinema as entertainment that can be sold for lots of money. To a large degree, the truth about the cinema of attractions is that it is cinema as commercial entertainment; it is not necessarily artful storytelling or experimentation like 'true' art and narrative cinema came to be because there is no real semiosis, consciousness or a consolidation of form. As a result, the attribution of the cinema of attractions to the avant-garde is, in some respects, more disingenuous than defining this era by its movement towards narrative. The avant-garde, experimental, or art cinema, has little to do with selling a film and making money - at least, not in the traditional sense. An avant-garde film may sell for a lot of money as a piece of art akin to a sculpture or painting. As a result, you may be able to sell an art film to a private buyer for a lot of money much like people sell their sculptures and paintings. However, though art cinema can be commercialised in such a respect, traditional cinema is democratically commercialised; thousands or millions of people must see a film for it to make money and be successful. This is not far from what films made between 1895 and 1907 were. These films marked the establishment of the traditional film industry as one that sold its films to mass audiences; industries would not have been fully vertically integrated, nor would a studio system function exactly like it does today with censors, film distributors, exhibitors, etc, but they would have functioned in a similar manner.

There is a clear relationship between the cinema of attraction and the establishment of film markets that sold cinema. This is a difficult claim to provide strong evidence for as records for film sales weren't properly regulated and based around a box office system in the early years. However, with the domination of national markets by specific studios and corporations, it is clear that money ran the early mainstream film industry as it does to this day. We can thus understand the first official decade of cinema to be defined by this relationship between cinema's ability to show something (as Gunning suggests) and cinema's ability to be sold. Its relationship with the avant-garde is a difficult subject that Gunning, in my view, doesn't do well in explaining or exploring. It is clear that the focus on form and the potentials of the new art would entice artists who were interested in further experimentation (which is part of his point), but to define the cinema of attractions in regards to this says little; it was an open and evolving form, but the avant-garde seemingly flourished, as narrative did, by virtue of the fact that cinema was new, not that it was an attraction (the attraction has heavier links to commercialisation via narrative cinema).

When we cast our thoughts back to all the films we've covered thus far in the series it is important to remember that all of those shorts represent themselves and their own era. Understanding their context will provide you the means to accurately watch them. Nevertheless, once we have the understanding of exactly what early cinema is (rather than what it is not or what it is going to become), we can confidently begin to look into the future with the cinema of attractions films being symbols of evolution. Furthermore, we can look at the whole era as an integral indicator of what exactly cinema is.

From 1895 to 1907, cinema was born as a spectacle that attracted audiences and money. As a result, we will forever see characteristics of the cinema of attraction in the cinema - and can even understand it to be one of cinema's most defining and highest virtues. After all, the fact that cinema is mass produced for mass audience consumption and enjoyment is the basis of cinema and one of its two faces (the other being much of cinema that we can attribute to art). In many respects, the cinema of attractions era represents an initial polarisation of cinema; it was born as just entertainment and spectacle - there were hints of science through figures such as Marey, Muybridge and the Lumières, but the scientific nature of their films (if we can call them that in regards to Marey and Muybridge) is debatable. The entertainment that cinema was born as has some ties to the later avant-garde and had hints of art and story, but these are separate forms of cinema that would have to develop independently. And that is to say that the coming of narratives and feature-length films doesn't mean that cinema was re-born. The development of narrative saw cinema find, in my opinion, its greatest strength and most natural purpose. Cinema's content was born with emphasis on documentation and spectacle with formal experimentation sometimes as support, sometimes a separate entity, and so when it found and focused on narrative, it had a new tool. These tools, however, were all separate beings. Cinema could not be unified as art and entertainment until semiosis was introduced through all of these tools; editing had to produce meaning, aesthetics had to provide meaning, plots had to provide meaning, framing and mise en scène ha to provide meaning, etc. Thus, true art cinema wasn't born until we approach the 1920s when filmmakers would begin experimenting with film form and using it to tell stories with semiosis (to varying degrees of significance and depth) that could be sold and projected to mass audiences.

Moving out of the cinema of attraction era, we can then be seen to move into a consolidation period. In such, with narratives as the new focus, filmmakers would be developing formal techniques and storytelling techniques whilst film industries and audiences flourished and were systematised. This era would explode in to the Silent Golden Age in the late 1910s and 20s - an epoch which symbolised the birth of a new art. In this era, cinema was not yet fully completed, however, as it still needed to incorporate sound whilst further work on peripheral forms of cinema - which, through film history, would emerge and evolve through 'movements'. Nonetheless, with the silent golden age, we see a transition that would be built up to from 1907 onwards.

Looking forward, we, again, cannot forget what the cinema of attractions represents. Whilst it is its own entity, this is where the fundamental tools of cinema were discovered, this is where cinema's abilities were initially tested, and this is where the commerciality--the show business--of cinema was established. Let us now then look at a selection of films that demonstrate more specific attributes of the era that would evolve alongside industry and technology.


Our subject of today, That Fatal Sneeze, is a British comedy from Lewin Fitzhamon that demonstrates the developed interaction between scenario and direction in 1907. The premise is simple and flaunted to the audience with the boy breaking the fourth wall by demonstrating the sneezing powder - which, as Gunning suggests, symbolises the disregard for the sanctity of illusion and the cinematic space in the cinema of attractions era that is paramount in traditional narrative storytelling. The spectacle in the scenario is emphasised and exploited with many poorly linked set-ups (whilst it is clear that the old man walks to places, there is no motivation or story to this) through the stage effects - things falling of walls - and then camera movement and a trick of editing.

That Fatal Sneeze is then a novel short that perfectly represents comedy in the cinema of attractions era and how, moving out of the era, this would be combined with formal tricks, but not consolidated very well with story or character (we have to wait for the likes of Chaplin and Keaton for this).


In Chomón's, The Red Spectre, we see formal tricks interacting with storytelling. This is what Segundo de Chomón (via Méliès) is known and revered for. Spectacle is born from Chomón's stop motion, his colour tinting, dissolves, pyrotechnics, stop edit tricks, choreography, mise en scène, props, costumes, close-ups, multiple-exposures and reverse-motion; he puts on a magic show that would only be possible with cinematic trickery. However, this interacts with his scenario, a story of a demonic figure being evil and having fun before being confronted by a good spirit. This provides context for the spectacle and thus heightens the multiple techniques put on display. But, this relationship between tricks and story is, admittedly, very weak.

The Red Spectre is then a brilliant showcase of the trick film, one that contains a plethora of specific examples of tricks, but also showcases the weakness of these films (story) that would have to be developed in a later consolidation era.


This is the earliest known (unauthorised) adaptation of the epic story of Ben Hur - which has been re-produced countless times. Whilst the core focus of this film is narrative, its storytelling is limited to the assumed contact that audiences would have had with the book. Unlike a film like A Trip To The Moon, this didn't try to tell its own story. (Let is be noted that A Trip To The Moon doesn't tell much of a story, rather, provides an exotic set of scenarios for various tricks and stage spectacles). When we look to this adaptation of Ben Hur, we are seeing an early form of narrative storytelling that was more akin to a presentation or visual aid for real storytelling - which was done in books, poems and plays. And this is very evident for the manner in which the inexpressive one-shot scenes are given meaning almost solely by the inter-titles. As a result, Ben Hur is, in fact, a particularly weak attempt at longer-form storytelling as previous films, such as The Life and Passion of Christ and The Kelly Gang are not only longer, but have far more sophisticated cinematic language and form.

What Ben Hur then represents are the early attempts at narrative which were really a visual facade for bringing audiences into shows for something that was popular off its own merits and so would merely be exploited by 'narrative cinema'.


Race For The Sausage is an excellent example of a chase film. These were the highest expressions of plot in early silent films and so took a precisely designed set of scenarios synthesising with articulate direction to create an action-comedy narrative. So, in bringing pure anarchy and chaos to the screen for 4 minutes, Guy-Blaché constructs one of the most potentially sophisticated kind of films from the cinema of attractions era. The chase films could have story, strong comedy acting, stunts, tricks, editing and cinematic language. The only other films that could be more sophisticated than these would be comedies or dramas with subtext and meaning attached to them (films such as Guy-Blaché's The Consequences Of Feminism for example). However, they were often only more sophisticated in areas that chase films weren't - namely, character and story - and so could be rivalled by the chase film because of the complex formal design that the subtextual comedies and dramas lacked.

Whilst Race For The Sausage is not the best chase film (Zecca would have made many impressive examples), it combines story, tricks and comedy better than most films, but is most expressive as a projector of plot. This meant that chase films symbolised the development of film structure - both on the technical and narrative level.


Lion Hunting, made by the Dane, Viggo Larsen, is a striking synthesis of the ethnograph, actuality and narrative film. In such, this documents a real event - a hunt - and observes actuality - animals who venture near the camera - with the support of a constructed story that utilises a selection of actors and extras. This is then an example of a form of early cinema that had had the longest time to develop: documentary. However, we should not consider street scenes by the Lumières to be documentaries as they are just observational records of life, and neither should we consider this much of a documentary either. This is because it is clearly very contrived and full of ethical issues that are inevitably going to arise when looking back to the early 1900s. In such, within this film we have the mistreatment of animals, the exploitation and exoticisation of foreign lands as well as the mistreatment and misrepresentation of natives (which has many connotations of early 20th century colonialism, racism and exploitation).

Looking past the problems of this film's content, what we can see Lion Hunting to represent is the actuality as a form of early cinema. This combined with the narrative film to a degree in this short, and so implies the development of documentaries - which are all concerned with the capturing of 'truth'.

What we are seeing with these examples of 1907 films are key elements or forms of the cinema of attractions; we have the trick film, the comedy, the chase film, the narrative adaptation and the actuality. These are combining with other forms and developing in 1907, which marks the coming of the consolidation era that was overshadowed by, and centred on, narrative. We can nonetheless see how these films plant the seeds of the modern sci-fi spectacle film, which has evolved from the trick film; the modern comedy which has evolved from these slapstick shorts; the narrative film, which evolved from early visual presentations or recreations; the modern thriller or crime film that comes from early, plot-heavy chase pictures; and the modern piece of news or documentary which evolved from the actuality. All of these genres of the cinema of attractions will morph and fit amongst various other forms of cinema (animation, experiential cinema and the films of a myriad of different movements for example). But, whilst these genres will melt into modern cinema and become something else, we cannot forget that they represent their own era and context before they represent the links that this era has to the modern day.

To conclude, there is much to say about what early films were and how they impact the future of film history and the present day cinema. To think about the cinema of attractions we must then be very conscious of the relationship that there is between the dormant past and evolution that occurs over time; film history has its basis in the first decades of cinema, and thus it is easily identified out of its context, but it nonetheless has its place in history that it cannot be torn out of.


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27/10/2017

La Vida Loca - Change/Futility

Quick Thoughts: The Crazy Life (La Vida Loca, 2008)


Made by Christian Poveda, this is the El Salvadorian film of the series.


La Vida Loca is a brilliantly structured documentary, one that feels scripted at points. However, with the reoccurring plot of death and imprisonment, there is no real sense of artifice in this film, just an ominous, devastating reality. Following members of the gang, La 18, this then primarily portrays non-criminal activity and a communal battle for change in El Salvador. In such, the conflict between religion, morality, gang solidarity, family and the law is documented with varying distance. This distance is the most challenging aspect of this film. At points, it seems that the camera sympathises with gang members and even indulges in their activity (a strip tease scene is arguably very questionable in this respect). As a result of this sympathy, we are left to question the socio-cultural environment in which the gang members exist; we are made to contemplate the role of the police, poverty and, to a degree, international politics (after all, both La 18, or The 18th Street Gang, and their rival, Mara Salvatrucha, are international gangs that were founded in LA and later spread into Central America).

As this plays out, we are, however, left wondering of the precise illegal activity that the many subjects of this film are apparently involved in. So, the sympathetic camera eventually becomes questionable as, whilst it gives a human facade to the gang, it doesn't demonstrate its true nature - rather allows the gang members to present themselves, and often as in states of change due to family, rehabilitation, work or religion. However, due to the structure of the narrative, a dark truth can't help but surface. Whilst we are made to see the faults of the government and the effects of the environment on the gang members' actions, with the constant repetitious death and imprisonment, sympathy naturally wears thin. With the final few shots of this narrative, the futility of attempted change from within the gang is implied - the idea that the eradication of violence is echoed - and thus there is a strong undercurrent of critique of the gang that surfaces; their doctrines, activities and constant expansion are never shown to be of any good.

La Vida Loca is then a very confounding film. There are problems packed in problems embedded deeply into the subject of gangs and it seems that they form a superstructure that does not want to fall; the police and government alongside the communities and the gang members stunt and destroy opportunities of change. And to round off all of which this film captures, its director, Christian Poveda, was murdered by, allegedly, both police and gang members who did not like La Vida Loca's content.

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UPDATE: For a look at an El Salvadorian short, click here.







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Kiki's Delivery Service - To Sell Ones Soul

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26/10/2017

Kiki's Delivery Service - To Sell Ones Soul

Thoughts On: Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便, 1989)


After coming of age, a young witch ventures to find her place in a new city.


Kiki's Delivery Service is a simple, yet heart-warming tale from Studio Ghibli that was the first to be distributed in partnership with Disney. The aesthetic approach taken in this film is predominantly a showcase of classical near-realist animation that is similar to that seen in Castle In The Sky (especially with the capturing of European landscape and architecture) and so may have been recognisable to Western audiences as a product of the 'Japanese Disney' (which Studio Ghibli is so much more than). There is nonetheless a strong sense of the elements - especially the wind and the weight of gravity - throughout Kiki's Delivery Service that clearly mark this as a uniquely Ghibli film. Furthermore, there are common tropes of Japanese anime, such as the mahō shōjo, the magic girl, integrated into this story that are strongly bound to the film's cultural context. So though, aesthetically and commercially, Kiki's Delivery Service feels somewhat Disney-esque, this has an overt Ghibli stamp of quality and character.

Looking at the narrative of Kiki's Delivery Service, we can see one of the most prominent Ghibli tropes executed in almost iconic fashion: the strong female protagonist. In many ways, this film is aimed almost solely towards young girls as a tale of independence and growth. And we see this articulated through numerous female figures, female-centric themes of freedom and meaning and, as attached to this, symbols of femininity such as pregnancy, birds and flight.

Superseding almost everything concerning femininity and drama in this film, however, is subtlety. In iconic female, or feminist, films, for example, Thelma and Louise, physical conflict is emphasised as to comment on the strengths of women in juxtaposition to the portrayal of the strong man; he who can fight off a 100 bad guys at once. This is a trope that is becoming increasing more familiar when we look to modern American blockbusters such as Avengers, Logan, Star Wars and Mad Max: Fury Road that sell the idea that 'women can kick ass too'. Contrasting Kiki's Delivery Service to these male films with females carved into them leaves Miyazaki's narrative with an overwhelming sense of genuity that the mentioned films (and many of those alike) lack. And this sentiment is true of the multiple levels of Kiki's Delivery Service, from the formal to the aesthetic to the narrative to the subtextual. Manifested at each of these levels of analysis is a natural and genuine sense of femininity and conflict. And it is this that lies at the heart of this narrative's affecting abilities; there is no sense of manipulation, only story.

The story that is told with this wonderfully natural tone is one of discovering how to become a unified, functional adult. In such, this narrative sees Kiki go out into the world and act as the best person she can possibly be; she sacrifices her time and energy for others and in turn finds a place in a new community - and this point is made with contrast to the many 'stuck up' girls Kiki encounters. Kiki's journey to sustain this higher being is detailed through the founding of her Delivery Service with her witchcraft seemingly representing naivety. We can come to understand Kiki's powers as deriving from childishness because of the joy they represent and the imagination that they project; consider flying as a joyous act and talking to her cat as almost having an imaginary friend. But, what we see as Kiki's powers become a functional job is her abilities beginning to wane. In such, she not only loses the ability to fly, but her talking cat becomes a normal cat.

At this point the her three mentors, one young, one middle-aged and one old, become more significant. In such, Onso, the pregnant baker, comes to represent responsibility and her job; Ursula, the young artist, comes to represent self-discovery and independence; and Madame, the elderly lady, selflessness and compassion. These are three traits that Kiki bares from the start of the narrative, but once she finds her stable job, she becomes fatigued in these respects. These three figures then teach her how to be taken care of - Onso looks after the sick Kiki - how to desire - Ursula and Onso seemingly spark Kiki's interest in Tombo - and how to accept payment for ones work - not only is Kiki payed by her mentors, but she gains friendship and care.

Having learned these things, of the social push and pull, give and take, of her core personality traits, Kiki's fatigue begins to wear away. However, she can only again fly when she has to save Tombo. This act of accepting another's compassion, of following ones own moral compass and risking oneself signify Kiki's growth and unification as an individual because she realises that who she is is not trapped within the domain of her own body and mind. What Kiki learns by the end of her story is that, to become an adult, one needs to split their being into other people and thus live with their community, friends and family as horcruxes, or soul containers, of their true being.

This conception of one's self as fragmented amongst others is a profound and classical idea that mirrors the notion that true social living is about sacrificial acts forming a network of exchange; if we give our time and energy to deliver someone's mail, we nurture an environment in which everyone, in a way and to varying degrees of intensity and distance, takes care of one another. What adds greater depth to this assertion of Kiki's Delivery Service's narrative is the fact that a symbol of naivety - flight - is returned to Kiki once she has learned this whilst she remains deaf to her talking cat. What this suggests is that naivety is a gift and a reprieve that we must earn by sacrificing ourselves to preserve someone else's naivety whilst an over-active imagination is a kind of childishness that will not support a practical (non-artistic) person. After all, the complete opposite of naivety is hyper-awareness, or over-imagining, which leads to anxiety, dread and stagnation. Such an idea is referenced through Kiki losing her powers; she is overwhelmed by the reality she perceives as a new adult and stumbles into an artistic or spiritual block. This is because she hasn't yet fully accepted the give of the 'give and take' societal structure around her and so only sees the demands of society, not its charity.

Once Kiki naively blocks the looming existential vacuum that is being (which can be defined as consciously and slowly dying once we pass our prime or enter adulthood), she not only realises greater meaning in life as attached to friends and family, but can enjoy being. And such is one of the greatest tricks our minds play; we forget the dangers and potential disasters of being itself and manage to live fulfilling, joyous lives (when we don't stop for a moment with fear, depression and anxiety).

In capturing and articulating this beautiful and melancholic truth, Kiki's Delivery Service transcends the average coming-of-age film by not focusing on the winding path that a pre-adult must walk, but the ultimate goal before their eyes. Moreover, this narrative transforms the idea of being a witch, almost as Dreyer does with Day Of Wrath, giving new meaning to 'selling your soul'. If you have not seen this film, I then wholeheartedly recommend it. If you have, what are your thoughts on all we've talked about?


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Who Is Cinema For?

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25/10/2017

Who Is Cinema For?

Thoughts On: Cinema & Its Audiences

Today we will be looking at ourselves as those who consume film.


Who Is Cinema For? This is a question I've been asking myself quite a bit recently, and whilst there is one definite and obvious answer (everyone), this question opens up many avenues of thought which ultimately have us turn to the century-old question: what is cinema?

The invention of moving images is for everyone as a consequence of it being a commercial, mass produced art of engineering born out of an industrialised age. However, whilst cinema was born as a commercial trick and a feat and tool of scientific interest, it became an art. But, in becoming an art, cinema did not, and could not (for films are too expensive to make), become an entity for the privileged few. The cinema of common definition - the films that could be seen in theatres or at festivals - has then always bore a tension between art and entertainment. And thus cinema has conservatively evolved, by virtue of its capitalist features, as a somewhat democratised art, fuelled and funded by audiences, culture, studios and artists. This does not mean that all audiences see all kinds of films, however. Rather, a person's view of what cinema is is often defined by genre preferences and marketing; we seek out the films that we think we will like and we watch the films we are put into contact with. This may leave the average person having seen all of the films they thought to be interesting on Netflix or in the theatre whilst they are in a constant search for the next cult horror film. ('Cult horror' can be replaced with any niche genre that people who have an interest in films form an affinity for).

If this rings true, if people only look for specific films they like and watch what is put in front of their faces, the cinematic diet of the average person who loves, or just likes, film is a microwave meal with a weird concoction of their own design on the side. So, if cinema is for everyone, and most people see cinema through such a lens, what is, speaking generally, cinema?

It would be pointless to try and construct a specific definition whilst we are speaking so generally, but it seems quite evident that cinema is defined by pleasure and attraction. In such, the democratic answer to what is cinema? would fall somewhere along the lines of: cinema is moving pictures of various genres, but mainly the ones you like, starring the actors you know and like, that form stories that transport your imagination or rattle your senses a little. This is the kind of cinema that you will see reviewed across the internet, on television, in magazines, newspapers, etc. As we all could recognise though consuming this content, films are judged on their predictability, actors and how they make us feel. There are probably a few more specifications - many reviewers will delve into direction and aesthetics also - but these are what most reviews hit upon. This implies that cinema is generally judged and perceived as basic entertainment that can sometimes strike you with whispers of profundity, but is mainly centred around ideas of celebrity and sensory manipulation.

There are two key problems with this definition of cinema. The first concerns scope. For most people, all the films they see are pretty familiar; almost all will come from Hollywood and/or their own country of origin. But, when cinema is allowed to be defined by often one culture, for example, American culture - more specifically, American culture as filtered through Hollywood studios - it becomes very easy to see it as one specific entity. And in regards to the prevalence and influence of American culture on cinema, with cinema as a Hollywood product, there is no wonder why most people see it as just plain entertainment. Though this isn't universally true, the American film industry has always operated as an entertainment business. Great art has come from American cinema, but often under the guise of being entertainment. For example, we could look to the films of Disney and Pixar - which we have delved into in almost exhaustive depth with the Disney series. Though there is depth in the stories that are told by these companies, these films are generally considered family movies that entertain. At most, people will know of 'hidden meanings' in these films (as well as a plethora of other Hollywood classics), but, the idea of a 'hidden meaning' in a film is itself a mere novelty - at least, this is how its presented and consumed. When cinema is defined by one culture and its perception of film - as is the case in the modern day with Hollywood largely defining what cinema is - the idea of cinema, film or movies becomes watered down to a useless dogma.

The problem with familiar film consumption is then that, simply put, the potential of cinema is not demonstrated or realised. If you then put a Russian silent film, a 50s Swedish picture, a Bollywood and a Nollywood movie in front of a cult horror purist, their idea of cinema would be challenged greatly. This is because they'd see a kind of cinema defined by vastly different individuals, cultures and time periods than that which they'd be use to. Resultantly, they'd have to alter the way in which they watch these movies and so would also have to alter the way in which they see cinema. If anything, questioning cinema in such a way would provide the opportunity for a more genuine general definition of cinema to be formed, one that would ultimately reflect the potentials of cinema, not just our expectations. And this itself (if the average audience member saw film with more scope) is so important because we would give cinema and filmmakers the opportunity to evolve and expand within the ever evolving definitions of cinema; we'd, in all hope, get films born of a much more vast set of rules and conventions: unfamiliar and new films.

There is nonetheless another problem with the way in which cinema is perceived. Whilst the virtues of widening the scope of cinema are limited to an idea of greater freedom and potential in cinema, seeing greater depth in moving pictures would transform the whole art (as we consume it, not necessarily as it is created) into something far more profound. As a result, we'd not just get new films, but see film to be so much more than entertainment; we'd see cinema for what it truly is and can be.

Art, if we were to squeeze out as simple, yet accurate, of a definition as we could, is communication that requires some kind of window or frame to occur. For many arts, such as dance, opera, theatre and stand-up comedy, this frame is a stage and a crowd of sorts. Other plastic arts, such as painting, sculpture, architecture and film, need specific materials like stone, wood, canvas, celluloid or a virtual version of these things manifested with a computer. With these tools or environments as frames for communication between and artist and their audience, we can understand art to merely be an exchange of ideas. When we come to cinema and consider that this communication is mainly perceived as the exchange of fun stories or stories that emotionally effect you or liven your imagination, we can see little meaning attributed to the communication. In such, the art, the communication, of cinema is only defined be its ability to waste time. However, by changing the way in which we see the depths of cinema, we can see the art to fill time with more than emotional experiences, but genuine and articulate experiences of meaning.

To see cinema as a medium of storytelling in which the communication is meaningful heightens the importance of the form. And, through this, films would not be judged by their ability to waste time or fill it with various forms of emotional masturbation, but actually say something of worth; not something we think needs to be said or would like to hear, but something that is determined and given worth by the film's artist, culture and temporal context.

Before we go into unnecessary depth, it should be simply stated that there is a problem with the way we generally see cinema as entertainment that comes out of Hollywood. It is because we don't see cinema with some understanding of its genuine scope through seeing films from different cultures, time periods and of different or experimental forms, that cinema is defined as basic entertainment. And it is because we do not see depth and importance in cinema's ability to tell stories that this entertainment is primarily reduced to meaningless emotional manipulation. However, why, if cinema is so vapid and masturbatory and we - people in general - are not so simple-minded, should so much money and time be spent on its consumption?

This question can be perceived as a rhetorical one that would grant the assumption that I think we should all spend our lives watching every film ever made and contemplating their infinite depths endlessly. This would be a rather pointless assertion to make as most people don't watch that many movies and haven't the time to study them. This makes it acceptable to a degree that people perceive cinema as entertainment. However, if it makes sense that cinema should not be defined so simply, we are left turning back to our initial question of: who is cinema for?

If cinema is more than basic entertainment, then is cinema just for the few who go to university or college to get a Phd in the subject? Is cinema only for those who have seen 100s of movies from all over the world? Is cinema only for those that have made films? Is cinema only for those who can write about its depths? Should there be tests put in place to question our film knowledge before we are allowed to see movies unsupervised?

These are all terrible questions. Cinema's virtues are found in its ability to entertain and appeal to endless cultural and individual sensibilities. Cinema should not just be a form of intellectual and historical expression - at least, I wouldn't be too interested in cinema if this is all that it was. Cinema, in my view, is the greatest art people have yet invented because it is one that is so naturally consumed, yet, with time, patience and attention, can also be incredibly profound and an effective educational tool. As a result, cinema can and should be for everybody. There is nonetheless the issue of 'everybody' defining cinema as a lesser than it is.

To see cinema as 'just entertainment' is like using the internet to just watch porn and fail videos, using fire just to destroy stuff or using wood just for toilet paper. Using the internet I assume that practically all people (whilst they watch the odd fail video or bit of porn) educate and better themselves - even if this is just Googling the definition of a word you didn't know, finding a news article or reading a paragraph from a Wikipedia page. So, just like we use the internet as an multifaceted tool, just like we use wood to make books, buildings, furniture and a plethora of other constructs and just like we use fire to melt metals, cook food and create a myriad of other things, we should be using cinema as a tool to better and expand ourselves. People already do this in some way or another with documentaries and television shows that teach them something. However, generally speaking, TV and the internet - whilst they are moving picture machines and where we watch many of our documentaries - aren't cinema. Cinema is a term we reserve for narrative and non-narrative moving pictures--films or movies--not singularly attached to the internet or TV (this means that TV moves and Netflix originals are still cinema - even if they are usually pretty bad examples of the form). Not utilising cinema - the things you see in a theatre - as you do the internet, wood or fire is the precise issue which I'm attempting to detail. In short, the ways in which we generally interact with cinematic stories is too simple. We often do not use cinema to better or broaden ourselves. This is because most see cinema as without much scope and with almost no depth.

To reverse this is simple. Almost no one uses libraries like Will from Good Will Hunting; we all have the resource, but fail to use it optimally. This is ok - we're all only human. However, most still perceive, and maybe sometimes use, libraries as important tools; we see books as culturally and intellectually important artefacts. As a result, we think of books as things we can learn from - whether they are narrative or non-narrative, fiction or non-fiction. Why do we not see cinema in the same respect? Why do we not generally see cinema to have an inherently powerful capacity to teach and communicate before accepting its entertaining and more basic features as we do with books? Is it because films are so affecting and intoxicating to the point that all we consider them to be is pleasure things? If so, does it not then makes sense to again ask the question: Who is cinema for? Without wanting to say everyone and thus demean cinema, and without suggesting any laws or actions be put in place, shouldn't cinema be for, and thus be defined by, those who make some attempt to see its wider scope and greater depth; who, even on the odd occasion, take it seriously and defy the demeaning definition of 'just entertainment'?

Without wanting to meander on, I'll leave this subject with you and your thoughts. Is there more to be seen in cinema than what is generally perceived? Can you, yourself, better use cinema as a tool that, whilst it entertains, also gives insight into history, culture and more general ideas of humanity?








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