NATE’S RANTS: Culture centric cinema

I’m leaving Hollywood out of this complaint completely because they aren’t relevant to the point (they suck in their own way though). In the crop of movies that fall into the “art,” “foreign,” “prestige,” or “independent” category, I feel suffocated by the surplus of “culture centric” films. These are movies which completely ignore any type of interest in story telling or film making and instead focus solely on a culture.

These are movies like “Sin Nombre” or “The Queen.” The film making simply services the examination of the culture. The director doesn’t offer any type of interpretation. The filmmakers have no interest in creativity.

Scorsese divides creative choices into two camps. At every moment, you can make a choice that “observes” the subject or you can make a choice that “interprets” the subject. An “observant” choice is generally as unobtrusive as possible while an “interpretive” choice is intrusive to some extent. I prefer to make the distinction as “intrusive” or “unobtrusive” because in reality EVERY film is just an interpretation, even if it seems observant. By “intrusive” I mean that the cinematic elements (color, camera movement, editing, lighting) modify the subject so that it appears different on film than it would to the naked eye. So, if I keep the camera very still and distant from the subject, that’s an “unobtrusive choice.” If I put a red filter on the lens, that’s probably more of an “intrusive” choice. And there’s a whole gamut, with one end being more unobtrusive and the other end more intrusive, and the middle having greater and lesser degrees of each. Many of these recent “Culture-centric” films are almost completely “unobtrusive.”

I should be more specific about the problem. My issue isn’t that these “culture-centric” movies focus on a specific culture. Instead, I feel there are too many “culture-centric” films ignoring film as a form, and these are the movies which are being championed as the best of the year.

I understand that if everyone was making a “cinema centric” film, then this posting would probably be ranting about the overuse of cinematic elements. But I must maintain my complaint.  I push forward as an artist by observing the trends and reacting to them.  Is this an absurd way for me to occupy my time? Championing one thing as good today and another thing as good tomorrow, and oscillating like this until I die?

I guess the real question is “What is the goal of these stylistic preferences?” Why hold this standard today if I know that I’ll have a different one next year? First of all, I have to help develop the form itself. Secondly, I look for techniques that are less represented because employing these techniques (more unique ones), is a way of catching the audience’s eye.  For “The Evangelist,” I have a very specific idea that I’m trying to communicate. By wrapping this idea in a style that is somewhat unique, I’m hoping to catch more attention. Consequently, I reach more people with the idea. I can’t use dominant trends to package the idea because then the film seems derivative.

And so in a way, I’m guilty of the same thing as these “culture-centric” films. I exploit the medium for my own purposes (some would even say that theology is my culture). But the difference is that I haven’t ignored the cinematic elements.

I should point out, that a film focusing solely on form and using the form as it’s subject is also problematic. I’m referring to movies solely about “cinema.” There are many arguments to defend these movies. “Isn’t film the most organic medium to communicate an idea about film?” Or possibly, “Why does your film have to be ‘about’ anything?” Can’t film just have an “intrinsic value?” Why does it have to contain something to have value? Fine, but I always feel a sense of emptiness with films that are solely about “cinema.” In the same way that a person who is self absorbed gives me a feeling of depression, a film that is self-absorbed  gives me a sense of depression.

I do not think that film has an instrinsic value. I think it has a utilitarian value. I can use it to communicate my ideas. I package the form around the idea, and as a result, the form gains value by association with the idea. Also, because the impact of the idea relies on effective/creative packaging, the idea also gains value . So the idea and form are both essential and codependent.

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