Sometimes the best, most interesting ideas come to us when we least expect them...
Yesterday, I met up with a stranger, but one who I share interests common enough to make our ways cross at some point – and our ‘point’ was a place near my home, one of those far-from-the-city, slowed down locations where you don’t expect much to happen, and certainly don’t believe you could find much there but maybe some good coffee...We were to talk of work, but as soon as we came close enough to say 'hello' without yelling, we started chatting randomly, as if to try out the territory we will –in just moments, and without any way to go back unharmed - be stepping on and make sure that it’s no marshlands, or a frightening dark forest. And somehow, through the storms of words and expressions we poured onto each other, a melody of conversation developed around a topic completely unexpected: what one should speak of when one speaks about film.
He’s an educated man, my partner in the word-duel, with a degree in philosophy in his pocket. He’s also an insider to the world of cinema in a way that I shall never be – one that’s been on both sides of the camera, and on the screen as much as in front of it. Yet, when he speaks of the miracle of the ‘7th art’, he takes upon a stance of a technician, a craftsman almost. The world of critique, he explains to me, used to be a lot better before: people used to observe attentively the frames, the sequences, the cuts and the director’s decisions; the length of the sequence, the angle of the camera, the light and the fantastic depth to the mise-en-scène were admired, the pace of the film discussed at length, the different approaches recognized. Nowadays, it seems, no one cares about these things anymore – everyone is so busy trying to interpret the story, they’ve lost all interest in the ‘shape of things’, and only go for the characters, plots, emotions...and it’s a shame, really, for everyone has their own interpretation anyway, isn’t it so?
I listen to him attentively while the rebellious little lover of storytelling and interpreting within me wakes up and gathers courage to speak. True, I note with some shyness, all these things are quite fascinating – after all, what is directing if not finding your own way through the immense possibilities of shaping things, forming them and getting them together to create a unique visual experience? And were we not to think of these ‘technicalities’, how could we ever decide, even approximately, on the greatness of one director and the irrelevance of other? Yet, there’s so much more to cinema than just the ‘form’, the structure – and the social scientist in me simply cannot resist the possibility of taking all those beautiful images and looking in them for signs of value systems, traces of social structures (and their successes and failures), reading them through as if they were books, in hope of finding locked within them contributions to ongoing moral debates, cheers for ideological standpoints, citations & love letters and dedications to famous writers, thinkers or other wise men...If I was to give up on all of those and decide that film shall, for me, from now on be observed as a structure, a medium with its own logic and own rules to follow, debate and bend sometimes, how could I ever again write on the sadness, gentleness or joy of it again?
A conclusion was, of course, never reached – we only held onto this little thought war for as long as it was considered polite, then moved – with our bright smiles on - to other topics; but the thought of this has been following me ever since...And as complex of a question as it is, dividing scholars and amateur enthusiasts (who approach it with much more attentiveness and care than me, probably) alike into clans and paradigmatic fortresses, its basic dilemma still comes down to a matter so simple, it is almost ironical: when we think, write, talk of films, should we refer primarily to the ‘form’, the structure, or is it OK to treat film as being in the first place a story, a message, a note on values, ideas and concepts, with the form being only secondary to the contents, which are there, waiting to be ‘read’ from different perspectives?
So, what should we do, then?