Sunday, January 11, 2009

Film and Its Pretty Packages

According to Walter Benjamin in his article, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," film is all about the camera and that "the audience's identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera" (sec. VIII). This assertion that the audience is keen to the movements of the camera more so to an actor's performance intrigued me. As a theater enthusiast (and occasional actor), I have always thought that what grabbed me in a movie or play was the actor's performance. Yet, now I am beginning to reconsider this. 

I recently saw Doubt, a film adaptation of a play by John Patrick Shanley, and I commented to my mother that I although I enjoyed the film, adaptations of plays have to be treated differently cinematographically than any other type of film. Benjamin even says that "there is indeed no greater contrast than that of the stage play to a work of art that is completely subject to or, like the film, founded in, mechanical reproduction" (sec. IX). Because a play is written to work around the the problems of audience visualization, such as by complex staging or over-the-top acting (at least in comparison to film acting), this can be problematic in film which relies on the camera to give the audience its visualization. In a play, the audience's gaze can wander and take everything in, but in a film adaptation of a play the focus immediately is set by the camera onto the actors' interactions. This can prove to be dull especially since audiences are used to more fast paced cuts and displays of distinct images. Therefore,  I think it is important for a director and cinematographer to carefully plan how to bring a play onto a very different medium such as film, because it is possible to make great adapations. Plays turned into films, like The Laramie Project and Angels in America, worked beautifully because they were treated with film conventions rather than keeping theater conventions.

Mechanics aside, film for me is more than just how a camera moves or the quality of the sound. Film affects how I see the world in numerous ways. As Benjamin puts it, film "burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling" (sec. XIII). Movies always transport me to these other worlds that I might never get to experience in real life. I could be in London one minute fearing Jack the Ripper and then in a VW Bus driving to a beauty pageant. Movies let me explore on a far cheaper budget. Yet, movies have screwed me over, so to speak. They have made me believe that all of life situations have a happy ending. Prince Charming is indeed out there; back-up will come at exactly the right time, just before my head gets blown off by the villain; the bomb will be diffused with exactly one second left; and if kidnapped I will be found. I admit, I enjoy happy endings. After all, why do I need a reminder that life can be abysmal with a sad ending? Nevertheless, those movies lacking happy or concrete endings are refreshing because they are more realistic. At times you just want to blame movies for giving you these crazy expectations for life and so realistic endings can be comforting in the sense that life is not always wrapped up so easily. Movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Fight Club are some of my favorites because of their unconventional storylines but also because of their unconventional endings. 

When I first saw Fight Club at the tender age of 12, it really shook my perceptions of the world. Here was this cool and vastly different guy (wrapped in the gorgeous body of Brad Pitt), Tyler Durden, telling me that, "You are not special. You are not a butterfly or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying matter as everything else." Fight Club showed me the banality of consumerism and the freedom of accepting life for what it is, a harsh and sometimes unforgiving place with darkness all around. This is not to say that my whole world view changed after watching this movie, but I was still intrigued, especially after a lifetime of Disney movies and love stories. Fight Club was really one of the first movies that made me consider the merits of the weird and unconventional. Its assertion is that life is not always a neat and pretty package meant to be coped with by escaping into our mental caves, but rather embraced and explored for what it is. 

Ultimately, film will always be a form of escape for me because movies are, after all, fantasies: people we wish we could be, places we wish we could go, and things we wish we could do. Film enables me to see the world through a camera, but maybe someday I can see the real thing. 

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