Why Does Cinema Matter? An Introductio…

 

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Why does Cinema Matter? An introduction…

Cinema is the marriage of technological advance with artistic endeavour.  In the evolution of cinema since the late 1880’s scientific innovation has been a constant, from the introduction of sound by the Warner Brothers, to technicolour, cinemascope and Dolby surround sound. Technological advance has challenged the creativity of the writers, directors and actors to adapt and improve upon what went before. Within today’s technological landscape cinema again faces new challenges; the key difference however is that in the past technological changes primarily affected how film itself was made, today’s technological advances affect how film is experienced.  This in turn impacts the type of work being produced, and challenges the position of cinema itself.

The arrival of the internet’s film and programme sharing platform services has become a game changer in the film industry. It is often alluded to that we are now in “the golden era of television”. As discussed in our first lecture with Lord Puttnam there are benefits and disadvantages to the dominance of small screen production. Demand for better quality offerings, means there is more work to go around for those seeking to enter the industry. On the other hand clearly there are less films being made. Franchises and films with brand potential, have been pushed to the fore in terms of production.  Just as the record and the CD gave way to the mp3 players and internet streaming.  Is it not time for cinema to give way to adapt and to give way  to its own evolving technological landcape?  Or does this change go to the heart of why cinema matters?

With the advent of internet based content sharing platforms  we now “consume” film rather than “experience” it. We “binge” watch the latest trending series on Netflix.  Given the amount of time we spend watching these programmes, we form fast attachment to the Frank Underwoods of this world. But more often than not what we find in these productions is over-developed characters and underdeveloped plots. We continue their journey with them only to find by the end the story has become farcical.    Our attachment to the character ends as we move onto the next show and the overall significance of the work on the viewer? Lost…

Yet a person’s relationship with film can last a lifetime.  Seeing a great film in your youth leave such an imprint that it not only changes your outlook on life.  You may in fact re-watch it dozens of times and yet never tire of it.

Why is the cinema important?  If a story is worth being told, it should be given the opportunity of impacting the viewer in a more enduring way;  to truely experience of cinema and not merely consume it.

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Fact or Fiction: The changing world of documentary.

Documentary film has been described as addressing “the question of what constitutes the representation of social reality. Whereas Narrative film is more of an attempt to create an imaginative conception of what is called reality”[1] In the last few decades documentary film, has made significant inroads in box office popularity. With the result that the boundaries between documentary film and narrative film have become more and more blurred. John Grierson advocate of social realism in film took a more middle road view describing documentary as “an instrument of information, education and propaganda as well as a creative treatment of reality”.[2]. This was clearly applicable in his era and in times world war but in the modern age of documentary where does “creative treatment” move beyond information gathering into the world of entertainment or “creative reality”? What impact does this have on the truth of the story being told? If as stated by Lord Puttnam the role of documentary is to challenge out diminishing consciousness’s”, we must be more critical of the blurring of these lines. With many documentary features depending on re-enactments and staging of historical events, based on subjective interpretations of individual experience how can we judge this footage objectively? As stated by Grierson, propaganda may have been an accepted element in documentary film but only where it benefited “the greater social good”[3].

Conversely, many of today’s war films are hugely steeped in realism and the banalities of modern warfare. Gruesome battle scene’s central to the most famous war films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Platoon (1988) are no longer applicable to the modern context in which combat is conducted at a far more remote level. If directors cannot re-create battles documentary stylings offer a realism and depth to modern war films. In Jarhead (2005) actual battle scenes are not re-created but rather only referred to. With fictional war films taking a more realist approach and documentary films evolving more into entertainment it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish the lines between fact and fiction in this genre. As a result a new genre of “hybrid film” is being produced reflecting the merging of documentary and narratives styles. Royston Tan director of the film 15 describes the “hybrid film” in the following terms“”In telling what you’re trying to tell, a narrative story can be more truthful than a straight documentary, creating a narrative fiction can be extremely effective.”[4]

[1] http://www.documentary.org/magazine/hybrid-reality-when-documentary-and-fiction-breed-create-better-truth%20

[2] Pg90

[3] Ibid

[4] http://www.documentary.org/magazine/hybrid-reality-when-documentary-and-fiction-breed-create-better-truth%20

The Story of the Musical

 

The story of the muscial can be linked historically to changing audience attidues to entertainment. For the most part musicals are associated with a by-gone era or the golden age of Hollywood.  During the 1930’s (following the enormuos success of the Jazz Singer (1927) the musical began its surge in popularity with audiences; developing into a distinct and vital genre in the studio system.  In its historical context we recognise how the economic crisis of the 1930’s drove audiences from theatre seats in Broadway and lead the great writing talent of the age to Hollywood.  The talent’s of Broadway helped to shape the Hollywood musical which up to then had been known for its “fairly naive plot and were primarily perceived as vehicles for song and dance”[1]. Audiences flocked to cinema’s dispite the financial crisis and in order to capitalise the studio’s invested  better narritives and better quality productions.. By the 1950’s musical biopic’s and Broadway re-makes such as A Star is Born (1954) and Singing in the Rain (1952)  were continuing to prove enormously successful at the box office.  In the 1960’s the success of West Side Story (1962) reflected a trend for “greater realism” in film[2]

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Since the 1960’s the musical has been very much seen as a genre on the wane. The perception being that audience appetities for films comprising entirely of musical song and dance numbers no longer remained. Hollywodd adapted linking up with the music industry, to create films with central musical scenes such as Saturday Night Fever (1977), which would assure a large yield in soundtrack sales.  Since this period there have been several attempts to re-ignite the public’s interest in the musical. Director’s such as Baz Lurhman have attempted to add a modern twist in order to engage audiences.  There have been a number of stand out success such as the remake of Chicago (2002) and Les Miserables (2012).  However they have in general been few in number.  It is of note that this has remained the trend dispite the recent recession.  Audience’s have not flocked to cinema’s for musical entertainment.  This could be explained by the advent of hugely popluter television musical productions such as Glee or X Factor.  Whilst there continues to be some audience demand in music within film, it seems to be more niche than large scale. In recent times Irish diector John Carney has also found a niche in indie-musicals such as Once (2006) and Begin Again (2012).   The Cohen Brother’s also have offerred a nostalgic remake classic Hollywood routines in Hail Ceaser (2016). No doubt the role of music in film will continue to evolve in particalar in the light of the growth of virtual reality, which brings with it a host of untapped posibilities.

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[1] Pg 244 Susan Hayward, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts

[2] Ibid pg 248

‘Identity is Everything’….

The Power of The Onscreen Hero: ‘Film is all about identity’.’

 Identity comes in degrees; no one thing defines a person’s identity. There are given factors such as gender, culture, race, sexuality, and creed set parameters on a person’s identity. Yet identity is far more intricate, it has layers as well as degrees. We can identify with a feeling (pain, fear, anger, joy) or a memory (achievement, failure) or a thought (aspirational. defeatist). For example we may never have been in outer space but can connect with the isolation felt by Sandra Bullock in Gravity (2013), her fears and the human instinct for survival. In this lecture Lord Puttnam speaks of how James Dean’s character in Giant (1956) (and in particular his relationship with his father) resonated with him as a young man growing up in a very different world to the films protagonist. Within the cinematic experience we are transported to different countries, era’s and even galaxies, but it is not until the moment we identity with a film’s theme, or character’s do we truly feel part of the experience. We are left with the strange dichotomy that in delving into the world of the film, we are somehow brought closer to our own experience and to understanding ourselves.
In terms of national identity there is an even more instant connection with the onscreen characters. A sense that although the characters are clearly fictional, that they somehow seem more real to us. As described by Susan Hayward in the context of national identity, “a mirroring process occurs…positioning the spectator as a subject-effect who takes as real the images emanating from the sreen”.[1] Although we may identify with characters of Hollywood or European cinema there is something particular about film where the protagonists are from your own country. To describe yourself as an Irish person as “Black and proud” would perhaps seem ridiculous in any other setting. But when the bandmates in the Commitments chant the words together we believe in it and relate to it entirely. We identify with their sense of oppression as Irish people and therefore believe that our onscreen heroes could emanate people of a completely different nationality: the great American soul singers.

I m Black and I m proud!

[1] Pg 26 Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts 2nd Edition, Routledge 2000.

Images and Emotions :The Role of Performance

“The paradox of extraordinary acting is that it necessarily calls attention to itself: “Brando was so believable,” we gush. But if a performance is indistinguishable from the real thing, we shouldn’t be able to see it, right?”[1]

Cinema’s most iconic performances have been as those mentioned above, those which have “called attention” to themselves. From Brando’s tour de force as the brutish Stanley in a Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to James Dean’s eruption of raw emotion in Giant (1956) to Jennifer Lawrance’s indomitable “Tiffany” in Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Audiences identify with the powerful emotional performance. We respond to character’s who defy convention and express their emotions  freely. It is often more difficult for an actor to contain emotion within a performance. If Lawrance’s Tiffany is the exemplification of unfiltered emotion Celia Johnson’s Laura in the classic Brief Encounter (1945) masterfully epitomizes repressed emotion.

In the Noel Coward production Johnson plays Laura, the suburban housewife accidently caught up in a would-be love affair with married doctor Alec. It is an exceptional example of passion felt yet kept unseen. Aided by the tools of voiceover and the films score, Johnson’s portrayal of inner torment is witnessed in her internal monologues. Her cries of “this misery can’t last” reflect ‘her dignified but torn middle class aspirations’[1]. Acting as a confessional to her husband (and the audience) he monologue’s contrast with her notable silence in several of the films key scenes. The protestations of love come from Alec. Even when given the opportunity to express her true feelings she relents. Her steely outward performance her true torment.

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Lawrence finds herself in a not dissimilar predicament to Johnson in Silver Linings Playbook; a woman in love with a married man, afraid to express her true feelings. Without the aid of voiceover Lawrence’s emotions are be conveyed in every scene by her powerful physical performance. She is loud, confrontational and dramatic to a point that her true feelings for Bradley Cooper’s Pat are obvious to all but him. The two contrasting performances of emotion both admirable but Johnson’s subtle anguish, which does not necessarily call attention to itself holds more impact.

“Merely to have had these feelings, and then to have renounced them, confers upon… Laura a romantic even tragic, grandeur.”[2] Johnson’s performance remains a classic example of a performance of unexpressed emotion leaving a powerful impact on audiences.

 

[1] http://brightlightsfilm.com/not-girl-next-door-doris-day-reconsidered/#.VvKjJf3J9y0

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/nov/05/brief-encounter-review-70th-anniversary

[3] Ibid

The Role of Sound, Music and Cinematography

“Dialogue is the moon, and stars are the sound effects”[1]

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Cinema is first and foremost a visual medium yet the role of sound and music cannot be understated. Understanding the emotional power of music in film is a complex undertaking. A film may be defined by a stand out score, but it is the combination of multiple elements that make the fundamentals of a soundtrack. “Greater combinations of sounds expressing a wider spectrum of tones, textures and volumes can be heard at the movies more than ever”[2] It is the combination of these elements combined and their timing within the film that ensures the impact of music and sound in film. The relationships between dialogue, music and sound effects are crucial to ensuring the overall impact on the production. The soundtrack can enhance a narrative such as with Baz Lurhman’s re-telling of the classic Romeo and Juliet (1996). The modernity of the music and the edgy feel of its acoustics brought modernity and a relevance to the Shakespearean narrative to young audiences.

Music in film can certainly be overused in attempt to emotionally manipulate the audience. Lord Puttnam was certainly of this opinion and in this respect he quoted director Ken Loach “You must work very hard to earn the audience’s tears”. In a similar vein, when music is used it is critical to ensuring an emotional resonance that elevates what is occuring visually on screen. Lord Puttnam spoke of this in length in relation to Chariots of Fire (19) a film now synonymous with its Oscar-winning score by Vangelis. He accredited much of the film’s success to the music used was critical to success. The use of the Vangelis music for the ‘beach running scene’ was of particular significance. In that it was an early example of using music of a different era/style and fusing it to a key visual scene for ultimate impact. Although it may have seemed out of place in the film’s context it actually enhanced the scene and created a stand-out inspirational cinematic moment.

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Conversely, even in the era of the blockbuster brought to us in dolby surround “often, the absence of sound can be just as eloquent”[3]. The soundscape can be equally enhanced by the absence of sound. In its final scene in the Godfather III(1990)  the cries of Michael Corleone are dubbed out by the sound of the infamous score. We see his agony but we cannot hear it, when his cries are finally re-added into the scene it creates a highly emotional crescendo. The layering of sound here has an operatic effect that adds significant poignancy given the death of Mary’s character on the steps of the opera house in Palermo. After three outstanding films the audiences tears have been well earned by Ford Coppola.

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[1] (Michael Ondaatje, The Conversations:Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (New York:Knopf, 2002)

[2] The Contemporary HollywoodFilm Soundtrack: Professional Practices and Sonic Styles since the 1970’s pg 2

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2008/jul/17/ahistoryofsoundinfilmabr

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