Well, Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. As I pondered what to blog about this week, I felt it fitting to focus on romance in one way or another. After throwing out several ideas, including an in-depth character analysis of Jack & Rose or a follow up blog as to why I watched Frozen a 5th time, I decided to go with something broader. I think it’s always wise to take a step back and see the big picture. It’s fun to analyze stories and characters but I rarely ask myself – Why do I like this stuff? Why do I stay awake for hours playing scenes in my head? Well, I thought I’d share some of that today and tell you about my love affair with cinema.
When I was much younger, I remember one night when my father and uncle thought it would be fun to have guy’s night and watch some awesome flick together. As a young teenager, a night with other bros sounded pretty much perfect and I’ll never forget how much fun we had hanging out and watching The Fellowship of the Ring. That’s one of my earliest memories in cinema and I’ll always vividly remember the couch I was sitting on. It hooked me. I loved it and it only grew from there. As I analyze my passion for movies over the past years, three things bring me back time and time again.
First is film as an art form. I was conversing with a dear friend of mine and I made an off-handed comment about me being an artist. She looked at me weird and assured me that I was nothing like an artist. I wasn’t about to let that go unchecked and in time, she finally understood what I meant. Cinema is art. It’s beautiful. It’s strange to think that movies have only been around for a little over 110 years. It isn’t as old as a Picasso does but it absolutely carries its own artistic weight. Last night I watched one of my favorite films The Road to Perdition. Conrad Hall has some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible for me to watch that and write it off as something other than art. The production design, the sound design and even the lighting design. They’re each a different color that make the full picture on the canvas we call a set. We even see artistry from actor’s performances. Some great method actors like Heath Ledger and Viggo Mortenson put the same, if not more, effort into their craft that a painter would. I wish more art museums would have aspects of filmology in their ranks. It would be a travesty to consider cinema its own category.
The second aspect that draws me to movies is the power they have. For good and evil. This is no new idea and everyone from non-profits to governments have harnessed its power. The Third Reich used cinema as propaganda (so did the US, let’s not kid ourselves) and even now we see it’s effect on our lives and conversations. For the average person, I’d venture to say it’s easier to retain information from a moving image than to read an article. So on one hand we have the power of the story itself but on the other hand we see the overwhelming addiction that movies and TV shows can be. Netflix is opening new doors with binge watching as they’ll drop an entire TV show and half the country will have finished it by morning. I think it’s genius to release the second season of House of Cards on the day when many people want to stay at home and wallow in their singleness. Cinema provides an escape from reality for many viewers and though it can be relaxing at times, it can keep us from addressing issues in our personal life. Now I say all that and it sounds horribly negative. But with every negative there in resides a positive. Uncovering and harnessing that power with incredible storytelling is an adrenaline pumping task that I’m so thankful I can call a career.
Finally, I love that you can always go deeper. I’ll never forget a class I had at film school where the professor took a scene from The Princess Bride and broke it down to it’s most basic elements. He pointed out how the vectors and positioning of trees added to the overall story. How the characters changed positions at the exact moment that the power shifted during a conversation. On and on he went and my entire class left jaw dropped. Now, did the director think about ALL of that? Maybe but probably not. Regardless, as a viewer, I pulled meaning laced deep within the scene and it added to my experience. That’s a win. Audience interpretation – isn’t that an art term? (Back to art are we?!?) If you take some time to watch some of your favorite movies again, really dig deep into each scene and you will pull out some incredible nuances. I watched Silver Linings Playbook the other day and took 3 pages of notes about the way they told the story. For example, I noticed how one character would always chase the other and how at the end, those role reversed as their characters changed. After it ended, I mentioned a few of my findings to my roommate who just looked at me with his eyebrow raised and said, “Yeah, I got none of that.” Some things are obvious and others subtle, but regardless of what the filmmakers put into the scene, it’s literally so much fun to pull as much we can from it.
I dare you to try it. Watch movies differently. At school, people would always complain that filmmaking ruins movies. I say the contrary: It’s allowed me to understand movies at a deeper and more passionate level than I ever have. I’ll never stop watching, collecting, enjoying and dissecting these wonderfully powerful pieces of art. Happy Valentine’s Day.