Thoughts On: March 2020

30/03/2020

Baaghi 3 - Through It All... It Breathes

Thoughts On: Baaghi 3 (2020)

Terrorists kidnap the older brother of a young vigilante with a superhuman will.


Baaghi 3 was recently in cinemas. It is the third in a series of thematically linked films. Each of the Baaghi films, as the title suggests, are about rebellion. Baaghi 3 sees Tiger Shroff reconstruct a romantic hero that, instead of rescuing a beloved damsel in face of gangsters, vows to always protect his older brother as a vigilante. The reversal of convention here is at once ingenious and fated - in a warped and twisted way. The first Baaghi is inspired by, and then eventually rips off, The Raid. It re-works the skeletal plot, basic drama and epic orchestration of action and violence of The Raid into a multi-staged melodrama via romance. In such the key dramatic shift between The Raid and the original Baaghi is bound to the relationship motivating our main character. Baaghi replaces brotherhood with romance. Baaghi 3, however, doubles-back and appropriates that one element of The Raid that it excluded: brotherhood. Alas, where the original Baaghi's drama and character construction are undermined by its cheap remaking of The Raid in a final 20-minute sequence that pretty much ruins the general experience of the film, Baaghi 3 is a hefty mess of its own making. In such, it takes the brotherhood that sits under the spectacle of The Raid and centralises it, melodramatising the essence of brotherly connection as to generate some of the most intensely brilliant aphorisms of pure sentimentality.

The final result of Baaghi 3 was slightly surprising to me. The film, semiotically and symbolically, is a roller-coaster ride. So much of the run-time is dedicated to quasi-politically conscious commentary that finds itself rambling about terrorism and governmental responses to it. There are so many folds of mess to this that I dare not get into it. But, through all of this questionable and rather insane framing, there comes pneumatic meaning. The heart and end of Baaghi is in its absurdly sincere evocation of brotherly romance. For this, Baaghi 3 is not just enjoyable - it is a film you can't help but feel. This, of course, bears its technical issues. The choreography of action sequences never lends proper weight to the physical speculative reality within the frame. That is to say, everything seems beyond improbable and, often, fake. These issues aside, there remains a metric tonne worth of spectacle to gorge yourself on. And I think the choreographic downfalls of this are worth putting aside. Baaghi 3 does not care to modulate its melodrama with realism like a Marvel movie. In such, we are not required to first accept that Captain America and Hulk exist within certain fantastical confines. Cinema and narrative are enough. We live in another world without excuses. I visited this realm with a wide smile on my face and a beating chest. I highly recommend Baaghi 3 as a spectacle and melodrama.


05/03/2020

A Spectrum Of Cinematic Meaning

Thoughts On: Meaning in Cinema

An exploration of the instant, meaning, truth and cinema.


Meaning, reduce to a mere linguistic phenomenon, is very simple. Hence the cliche. A cliche is not merely a statement that re-hashes a trite simplification of the world and way of things. A cliche can be at once a platitude and truism; something obviously true and something thoughtlessly evident. Therefore, the cliche was, at one point, substantial; time and use has worn it out. At the heart of all profundity is a cliche for it is the manipulation of platitude and truism that formulates the art of all expression. That is to say that the re-articulation of that which has become inane within the cliche is the central work of artists. Such produces profundity. But, more than profound is meaning, as this is what all expression ultimately intends to attain. Profundity re-situates the mind about the heart of a cliche; meaning - potentially at least - moves the body beyond that which can be captured linguistically and consciously.

'Meaning' is indeed a nebulous term - likely one less specific than 'profundity' or even 'cliche'. I am attempting to use it to express something more than simple. Truth, in turn meaning, is much like an instant. An instant is not made of much, but everything can be captured within it. An instant is... that. We can think of it as a slice of temporality that is conceivably indivisible. It is nothing more than a fraction of a tick of a clock. All is unified by a spatial temporality; everything that is - therefore everything that has been and can be - is part of an instant. But, despite the fact that forever exists in all moments, the instant has no direct relationship with reality. The instant is an aspect in the order of reality. The instant then coexists with materiality as neither requires the another to exist. Space and time exist in relation to one another, but instants arise at a collapsed intersection of the two. Instants see time stopped, therefore they cannot capture space. 'That' is always an instant. It is immaterial, it cannot be memorised spatially or physically. The instant is a sense of timelessness; a sense of phenomena. The instant cannot be seen or known, one feels it to exist abstractly. Genuine truth, facts beyond the semantic, can only be propagated via the senses: a bodily attachment to a transcendent or immanent aspect of reality, something characteristic of an instant. Numbers do not prove little. Heat can be measured, voices can be recorded, but, truth is secured beyond trust only when one's hand feels something to be hot or when ones ears hear words spoken. Bodily perception, here, binds one to an instant. This instant sees sense transformed into belief. Truths do not require this belief as the materiality that can generate their evidence is a constant - therefore an aspect of reality. For instance, what happened doesn't have to be seen to have happened: it happened, reality knows this. It is merely the belief in the happening that can be manipulated. Nonetheless, whilst belief does not dictate what is true, truth is completed by belief, or more specifically, sense and perception. It is when truth becomes completed in this sense that meaning arises. Meaning is the activation of truth in the body and mind.

What is important about this definition is that it posits that there are orders of meaning distinguished by an intensity or character of affect. That is to say that the depth and shape of meaning is dictated by the way in which truth is felt. Here we return to the cliche: truth lacking impact, also known as, meaningless truth. Truths, on one level, may be practical and impractical. They can aid a situation or complicate it. On another level, truths can be dormant and vital. In such they can either passively present themselves to the senses or actively awaken them. These four characteristics conjure different kinds of meaning; impractical, vital meaning; practical, vital meaning; practical, dormant meaning; impractical, dormant meaning. Such forms a spectrum of meaning on a scale of affect:


Unaffective meaning utilises impractical truths that are dormant; the truth is irrelevant to a certain situation and does not inspire any affect or change. Empirical meaning may inspire minor change and affect as its truth is relevant and practical - but with that said, it does not activate the senses, rather, sensibility. Moral meaning activates the senses as the body is required to do more than unleash logic; the truth in moral meaning may be impractical, but it appears essential and so can transform a situation. Instantaneous meaning is, to borrow an allegory from Taoist philosophy, like an ugly, twisted tree. The tree is impractical, it cannot be cut down for wood. Therefore it grows old and develops deep roots. It eventually cannot be cut down without unnecessary and tremendous effort. Its only real use becomes aesthetic - maybe one can also lay under it in shade from the sun. The tree, in such a state, can never be used up. A truth like this is beyond profound; it is close to Tao. When such an impractical truth is sensed as vital, it moves us, too, closer to Tao. Such meaning moves one into an instant, elevating the spirit to a plane of the transcendent or immanent (I care not to debate an either or).

Let us find some examples of these different kinds of meaning. 'Time heals all wounds' is a cliche; it is more a phrase than a genuine expression of thought or emotion. It is true that pain dissipates with time, but how irrelevant and meaningless would this appear to someone trapped in a specific tragedy. The truth, presented as such, does not transform the situation via an activation of the senses as it is rather irrelevant.

The meaning found in cleaning ones kitchen is a rather empirical one. It is true that an orderly, sanitised kitchen is a practical one; one that can be used to good effect. The sight and experience of a clean kitchen, however, is not necessarily a profound one. You may be at ease in a clean kitchen, and may use it to express and do much of substance, but it is rare to be reduced to tears having put the dishes away. That said, we can all appreciate a clean kitchen.

Hollywood loves moral meaning. The Dark Knight perfectly captures it. What is moral may not be practical and simple. The Joker sees chaos, disorder and violence to be a simple state of truth. This is why he puts two bombs on two boats and places the triggers in the hands of the people on them; he believes people to be simple and predictable. Logic would then have one boat blow the other up as it is true that we all want to live and preserve our own selves. But, evoking the higher sanctity of life, morality is produced when the two boats trust the other to make, not the practical choice, but the impractical one that transforms their situation. This complexity moves the mind and body as a seemingly irrelevant truth becomes crucial; all lives are held as equal as opposed to an other's life being conceived as lower or separate from that of the self. Alas, whilst the body and mind are moved (within the diegesis or audience), such is a characteristic of the impracticality of the presented truth. There is a predictability and melodrama about this scene and aspect of The Dark Knight's meaning as it is built upon a platitude. Such a moment merely re-articulates a common idea of 'the right thing to do'. Christopher Nolan's cinema does well to consistently and predictably embody this rather dormant kind of meaning - hence I do not care too much for it. That said, Nolan's cinema is a moral one that appeals to the body and, more so, the mind.

Instantaneous meaning escapes proper articulation. One cannot use its truth, they cannot conceive of its truth, but they can come to coexist with it in a realm of pure sensation. Instantaneous meaning sees morality become essential through pure transformation. It'd take an extensive technical discussion to characterise it - which can be staged at another time - so I will simply defer to an example in Parasite. This is a moral film, one that exhibits a social awareness, but does not satisfy itself with merely this. Parasite moves into its moral subject as to find an inarticulable essence of the foolish and the unjust. Instantaneous meaning like this is incredibly powerful.

With a spectrum of meaning, or types of meaning, outlined briefly, further work must be done to situate this within a specifically cinematic context. Meaning, as suggested, is not like truth. Meaning is contingent and therefore synchronistic. In such, meaning must be understood as not just an evocation of the truth, but a chance intersection of separate worlds. In addition to this meaning is presented, via the cinematic space, as a contextualised statement, and so types of meaning must be understood accordingly. This further work can be done in due time, but for now, we have established four types of cinematic meaning: the clichéd, empirical, moral and instantaneous.



03/03/2020

Music vs Cinema - Mimetic Loops & Aesthetics

Thoughts On: Music & Cinema

A consideratioun of the difference between two artistic mediums.


My key area of interest concerns cinema and its use of narrative. However, to understand cinema, one must attempt to understand art. Art contains a myriad of processes, many of which unify the numerous mediums produced by the phenomenon. Equally important as the unifying aspects of artistic mediums are those elements that allow discrimination. To my mind, I then do not see how art could ever be understood to a satisfactory depth. Whilst there must be a universal structure and character of the artistic, there is embedded within the artistic the possibility of new mediums, and therefore there may emerge innovative and new aspects of art. The problem becomes fractal when one comes to realise that mediums themselves contain a similar process. Mediums change, grow, evolve; with innovation within a medium, there comes new characteristics, new definitions of what it is, what it can be and do. The chance that a certain medium may one day be understood is far larger than that of art, generally, being understood. We may consider mediums a smaller set of infinities within a larger order of infinity that is art generally. One may postulate that there are certain limitations that mediums face, and so may see their potential for evolution to be exhaustible. This is due to the fact that a certain medium may be changed so much that it becomes another. However, whilst these limitations of mediums confine them, I would not suggest that any artistic medium has exhausted itself yet. I could be wrong, of course. I have not investigated the concept.

What I mean to draw from this consideration of art as a phenomenon and concept is a means of better understanding cinema via its incapabilities. Whilst it is maybe questionable to define cinema by what it is not rather than what it is, I think it can prove valid to follow this line of investigation shortly. I would like to attempt this with a brief consideration of a medium I possibly engage more so than cinema - though very rarely from a theoretical perspective. That medium is music. Recently, I have found myself returning to two characteristics of the medium that distinguish it from, in particular, cinema: its aesthetic capabilities and its mimetic processes.

In my estimation, cinema can be understood via mimesis. The medium - most evidently the aspect of it that utilises narrative - centralises drama. Drama is, most fundamentally, action. Drama provides cinema many of its temporal characteristics and dictates its ability to manifest what can tentatively and ambiguously be called meaning. In such, drama is the manifestation of mimesis, or imitation. I believe that this imitation has two crucial related levels or faces. There is known mimesis, which is concerned with the representation of that which is known and can be known physically and tangibly. Then there is unknown mimesis: an imitation of that which cannot be known. Where known mimesis is embodied by the physical world, unknown mimesis can be traced back to that which exists beyond, within or under the physical. I conceive of this via the concept of Tao. In such, I see there to be a pattern of a certain logic and reason that propagates through space and time, conceivable only as a way of things. It is this way, Tao, that cannot be known, but nonetheless manifests that which can be known. Known and unknown mimesis share an interplay that allows the known world to be conceived of as an index of the unknowable way of things - what you may be so inclined to think of as the truth (though such an idea may not be particularly relevant here).

Cinematic mimesis emerges as drama that is then manipulated by the mode, logic and style of a film. Cinematic mode is concerned with methods of representing drama; cinematic logic assigns reason to drama; cinematic style manages convention. I do not understand these three processes. I am quite uncomfortable with how little I know of them. However, they seem to be the means through which drama is manipulated so that it may reach out to a spectator and affect them. This affect is unique to both cinema generally and individual cinematic works, which is to say, cinema affects the individual quite unlike music. We may realise the significance of this when we consider certain aspects of musical mimesis. My thoughts here are limited to small conceptual satellites with no apparent connection, but musical mimesis is characterised significantly by the fact that it generates a pronounced mimetic loop between artwork and listener.

Music's mimesis is heavily ambiguous. It produces a certain drama, but it is very difficult to make intelligible. Music is best understood technically. Where one would find little interest in the measurement of light frequencies and time signatures in cinema, these concepts (and many related and alike) are the primary way through which music may be understood. That which music imitates is far less tangible than that which cinema imitates. Voice and sound are indeed attached to the body and nature, but their representation of it is not visually coherent nor logically apparent. Language within music provide it its most accessible, knowable mimetic qualities. But, language is highly conceptual. It is quite unlike imagery. Images communicate or evoke aesthetically before they do cognitively - we see them spatially, and then understand what is occurring within them temporally. Language, you may suggest, reverses this. One must understand the meaning of a word before they can properly process the perceptible, aesthetic reception of it. That is to say the sound of words means less than the meaning of (the concepts within) words in many contexts. How true this is in music, I cannot be certain. What matters more, the sound of lyrics, or their meaning?

I am inclined to suggest that, in many musical modes, semantic process are subordinated by sonic aesthetics. After all, how important is it to understand the lyrics of a song? I listen to music in languages I do not understand, and what is more, I listen to a lot of heavy metal - which can be very difficult to comprehend semantically. Such suggests that musical is heavily defined aesthetics. However, we will return to this point. One of the primary effects of this aesthetic dominance in music is that music's affect is defined by sense more than reason. Here we return to the difference between image and sound. Images so often affect us, especially in a narrative cinema context, by the fact that we come to understand what they mean. One is then so often moved by cinema because they see the reason, logic or meaning presented by its succession and culmination of images; one understands and so they are affected. In a musical context, one need not understand: they feel aesthetically. What they feel does not matter, and it often cannot be moved into consciousness. The presence of feeling is primary in music. Therefore, the mimetic loop of music is completed by mimesis: dance and song. The key signification that music affects an individual is then that they begin to move their body and make noises that are related to and further evoke the feeling awakened by the sounds they hear. One does not react to cinema in a particularly comparable manner. Good cinema so often produces silence and stillness; the body is forgotten in its quietude. Music awakens the body, cinema, you may suggest, awakens the cognitive sensibilities and emotions, but traps them within the mind.

I do not suggest here that music is incapable of interacting with the listener cognitively, nor that cinema cannot physically affect and move us. Music has a complex relationship with images, personas and performance. And, as said, music utilises language. Cinema has its haptics. What is more, though cinema functions so that images culminate and interact so that they are to be ultimately understood, images must be aesthetically sensed before they can be understood. Alas, what I am attempting to suggest is that what is primary in music is secondary in cinema, and vice versa. Again, sounds are felt, images are understood, in their respective mediums. Such produces unique mimetic loops or types of affect. Cinema is mindfully meditative, where music is physically meditative. One returns to the unknown mimetic source of a song through movement and a physical involvement in a song; they return to an unknown mimetic source of a film through an emotional and cognitive immersion in understanding.

Related to this is the aforementioned place of aesthetics. Recently, aesthetics have become of major interest to me. For a long time, I have contemplated drama as it is bound to symbolic and semantic meaning. However, I have recently come to see the importance of the relationship between experience and meaning. Aesthetics complete mimetic evocation - in the cinema - in that they control the potency of lyrosophy: not just knowledge, but the feeling of it. Aesthetics provide information to the senses that cannot be fully transformed into concepts for cognition: they provide a certain experience. This is key to understanding the difference between the mimetic loops of cinema and music. Music, as so far suggested, provides experience as primary by presenting unknown mimesis. It is then concerned less with conceptualisation, and more so with abstraction. Cinema presents known mimesis before unknown mimesis, and whilst abstraction and an interaction with unknown mimetic qualities is key, cinema engages conceptualisation before abstraction. Such is the result of the fact that aesthetics follow drama in cinema. Without this, lyrosophy would not exist as it does. I then do not know how to think of lyrosophy in a musical context. Music is predominantly aesthetic - I am incapable of describing it in greater detail than this.

It is now that I bring this brief exploration to a close. Music is a profoundly interesting artistic medium. One can learn untold things about it, and through it, I think cinema can be better contextualised within itself. The same goes for other artworks. My mind drifts now to what one could learn about cinema from the art form of cooking and bakery...


01/03/2020

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Presumptuous Known Mimesis

Thoughts On:  To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

A return to an antagonising cinematic experience.


This is more ridiculous to me than it could be to anyone else, but, 'teenager makes a lot of stupid mistakes' movies either deeply frustrate me or shake my innards with anxiety. To All The Boys I've Loved Before left me wrought with anxiety - almost profoundly so. So, not a fun cinematic experience, but maybe an affecting one. The reason underlying my almost unbearable discomfort whilst watching this film stems from the fact that I pretty much avoided to make the stupid mistakes that these movies say we all make. It is cognitive dissonance, myself being torn between indifference, a sense that I'm far too weird, yet also a feeling of doom in my own life, that catalyse this overbearing conundrum. Self-indulgently or sadistically, I have to say I appreciate this movie most for putting me through such stress. Objectively I have to say that this is written and directed mediocrely, but performed nicely. That said, there's not much I could be objective about with this. In the end, more a personal therapy session than a film for me, I think I can say I kind of like this.


I wrote this about two years ago. I recently tried to watch the sequel to To All The Boys I've Loved Before. I didn't get through it. But, I approached the film wanting to further investigate the effect that the first film had on me, and I think I found some answers. What I endured two years ago was a suffering of self. I put before myself someone who I was not. I stared into an inky mirror, and through it saw a shadow. Cinema is an imitation of life. It is easy to think of art generally of such. And the concept becomes a trite cliche all to easily. It needs re-evaluation and reconsideration. With deeper thought, the mimetic faculties of cinema reveal themselves to be far more nuanced than the phrase 'cinema is an imitation of life' is often read as encapsulating. Life is a pattern through space and time. It stretches backwards toward a singularity we may only know as Tao. Life is a deep pool of waves and molecular interactions; a vast ocean of resonance and relations that formulate a nexus of a certain logic. To imitate this fabric of space, time, reality and logic, is to create cinema. We reach back towards the singularity of form and the soul with hands only so far from our faces. That is to say that we see and may know what we reach with, but could never come to comprehend that which our tools may touch or even grasp. The disconnect is jarring and poignant. Cinema is made of known and unknown mimesis. Known mimesis is concerned with the logic of conscious humanity. Unknown mimesis evokes the way and intelligence of the pattern of reality. The two have their relationship. I do not understand it. But, it is evident. What has become clear to me of recent, however, is the source of the disconnect between filmic material and spectator produced by certain films - films like To All The Boys I've Loved Before, and its sequel. These are films that present known mimetic material that is not actually knowable; that the individual spectator has no relation to. All known mimesis is prey to this phenomena: not everybody knows. However, known mimesis of a certain character and quality binds the spectator to its unknown face, thus producing lyrosophy. One must not known as to understand. But, one can come to fail to know something if it is never shaped to be understood. The situation is sticky. Certain melodrama of a trivial and trite quality corrupts unknown mimetic processes with an overabundance of presumption and contrivance. One screams as such manifest: this is not real, despite what you are showing me...

The problem is simple. The true pattern of how things are cannot be perceived through presumptuous known mimesis. One should never presume to know in the cinema; one should seek to understand. What that means, I do not know. Alas, it is evident.