Modern Cinema vs. Story

I’m not sure I totally agree with the notion that Modern Cinema is entirely superior to Classical Cinema… I some ways I do, and in some ways I don’t.

I hate to side with Robert McKee on this, but I think there’s a lot of value in what he says about Story in film. He doesn’t say that Classical Design is necessarily better than Minimalism or Antiplot structures, but he does stress the importance of a somewhat archetypal story design, which can be used to unearth a universally human experience.

I think a filmmaker that is genuinely moved by a desire to touch an audience should not be afraid of using “Classical” techniques – be it a three act structure, invisible cuts, or a protagonist/antagonist scheme – as long as these techniques serve a specific purpose rather than an artificial convention.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying films should be formulaic stereotypes (most of my stuff is “experimental” in nature), but, regarding Automatic Recognition vs. Attentive Recognition I can only speak from my experience…

For example: When watching a Tarkovsky film my mind often tends to wander and memories flow in and out. As the camera slowly pans across a room, I am reminded of my childhood home. A long take of a house in flames makes me recall a time when I saw a building on fire. It’s a very personal experience, unlike the experience of watching, say, a Paul Thomas Anderson film. I don’t think one type of experience is superior to the other, but I think it’s a mistake to reduce a captive audience to simple “onlookers”… There Will Be Blood incorporates a more “Automated” mode of recognition than The Mirror, but to me both are good films. (I do agree, though, that the experience of watching a film in a theater is far superior and more “Attentive” than online streaming or DVD)

More importantly: I do not think that new/experimental = better. I can’t say that Andy Warhol’s long take of the Empire State Building is a better film than Dr. Strangelove, which came out the same year. (Although I’ll admit I haven’t seen Warhol’s in its entirety)

Here is a diagram explaining my take on this whole thing:
Cone of Memory

I guess my point is this: As a filmmaker, I want to move an audience more than I want to impress the critics. I don’t know if abandoning narrative structure and aiming my camera at the grass for 10 minutes can accomplish that goal.

I realize this is an Art/Philosophy class and not a filmmaking class, but this is just, like, my opinion man. I need more convincing.

Posted by: Kenneth Anderson

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2 Responses to “Modern Cinema vs. Story”

  1. Saishigo Says:

    Ken,
    The purpose of the lecture was to make us understand a little better Deleuze’s interest in art in general and cinema in particular, not to convince you that modern cinema is a priori superior to classical cinema. (A claim that Deleuze never makes. Nor did I.) Moreover, it’s not my role to convince you of anything, one way or the other. You need to work through these issues for yourself. This is what philosophy is. It doesn’t offer practical solutions that one can then apply mechanically or thoughtlessly. It is not a twelve-step program. Deleuze asks the question: how do philosophers and artists contribute to the plane of immanence, which is to say how do philosophers and artists contribute to life? His answer is that they do so not by abandoning this world (for another superior one elsewhere) but by showing us the beauty, mystery, complexity of this one. They give us reasons to believe in this world. In these terms, he has no interest in “artists” who simply want to re-affirm the spectator’s habits and beliefs, b/c the result for him is stasis or death. (What is McKee’s “universal underlying structure” except an attempt to tap into these habits and beliefs, and to exploit them to the point of exhaustion and collapse?) I would also point out that the filmmaker who made DR STRANGELOVE was not only a great admirer of so-called art cinema (he regularly refers to Fellini, Bergman and Antonioni in his interviews as filmmakers worthy of respect) but he also made 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY which is a great example of modern cinema ala Tarkovsky. (Indeed 2001 and SOLARIS are two great companion films.) PT Anderson’s reference points are also mostly non-classical, especially Robert Altman. (Altman’s great films of the 1970s have nothing to do with McKee or the conventions of classical film.) But don’t mistake this for an attempt to convince you of anything…

    Sam

  2. Reading this post back, it seems a bit snarky. Apologies if I gave that impression.

    I understand you’re not trying to convince students, (as you made clear from the first session), and I definitely gained a lot of insights and ideas from last class, but was left with my impression mostly from the in-class discussions after the lecture. I got a feeling that many people in class were of the mind that classical cinema = inferior. No one outright said it, but I definitely got that impression.

    Obviously 90% of Hollywood these days is horrible, but what got to me is it seemed that we were heading in the direction that “experimental” is the only way to reveal truth/break spectator’s habits/beliefs. I just don’t want to become afraid to use tried and true techniques in order to reveal the beauty, mystery, and complexity of our world you mention. Abandoning classical methods without knowing why could lead to cliche.

    I wanted to make it clear that Strangelove, There Will Be Blood, and even freaking Batman Begins, have taught me a lot about about our world while using OTS shots and invisible cutting. And I’ve seen “experimental” films that revealed nothing to me other than how to rack focus. I just hope that as a student, I don’t head in the direction of dismissing classical narrative as an inferior method of filmmaking — just a different method.

    Knowing how to take advantage of Automatic Recognition (story) when needs be seems like an important tool I could use, and not always a bad thing. That said, I’ve always wanted to do a one-take, slow as hell film about childhood, and plan to.

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