This is the last part of a three-part posting taken (reworked) from a brief lecture I gave during a film class years ago.
The other posts are Part One and Part Two. The main purpose of these posts is so that I can clarify some of my thinking on cinema – I’m sure my posts will shorten over time. I imagine that most of those blogging on film these days will find this rather pedantic and abecedarian. And I will also make a disclaimer that virtually all of “my” ideas come from other sources, not least of which are the writings of David Bordwell, esp. Narration in the Fiction Film. My lack of proper citations is due my having lost my notes from that class.
I must say that the ideas in these three posts provide some foundation for the concept of “contemplative cinema” which is the subject of an upcoming blogathon at Unspoken Cinema here: Unspoken Cinema: BLOGATHON. I plan on putting together my own specific thoughts for the blogathon, but I think this post may stand as my entryway into the subject, even if only obliquely.
Art-Cinema Narration and its goals.
Compared to Classical Hollywood Narration, the goals of Art-Cinema Narration are quite different.
Just a few distinctives:
Characters focus on the existential choice:
- That choice which is about one’s very existence and very reason for existence.
- Character(s) struggle at the crux between meaning and meaninglessness.
- Or between expectations imposed externally (society, religion, school, etc.) and one’s desires.
- These struggles are very much within the struggles of the 20th and 21st Century’s individual as described in the previous posts.
Focus on the interior life of the character:
- The mental world trumps the mere overcoming of external obstacles. This is often played out narrationally as “psychological effects in search of their causes”
- A searching for answers to one’s mental state, etc., but of course they might be presented in a very subtle way; it is hard to show what is interior.
Often the littlest, most insignificant things can be what triggers a wholesale reexamination of one’s life.
Redefinition of “Reality” and “Truth”:
- Acceptance of coincidence, randomness, “and plausible improbabilities” as the ground of daily life.
- The anomaly is normal, the clear causal chain of events something to question.
- Characters search for truth while believing there is no such thing.
- “[T]he world’s laws may not be knowable, personal psychology may be indeterminate.”
- Foregrounding the problem of subjectivity: both within the story being told (subjectivity of the characters) and the very process of telling that story (subjectivity of the filmmakers).
And, as you can imagine, compared to Classical Hollywood Narration, the cinematic results are going to be different. One could argue that Art-Cinema Narration is really just a way of making films that remain “true” to the modernist mindset.
Some observations on how these goals are played out:
- Often “looser” more ambiguous plot constructions.
- Plots are less “neat”, less clearly motivated. Classical Holly Narration usually has characters who know what the problem is – the building is going to blow, the terrorists are going to do something bad, the mystery needs to be solved, the misunderstanding needs to be resolved, etc. Art-Cinema Narration may not have such clear-cut problems and therefore may have rather diffused goals – such as fighting boredom, or finding oneself, or finding meaning, or just existing.
- Plots are not always logical or fulfilling of viewer’s expectations. Asks the viewer to do more. May be subject to question: “are we seeing the truth?” What is the truth?
- Characters are often less clearly defined Ambiguous, may not fit into traditional stereotypes, inner turmoil, may change.
- Self-conscious narration: The film “knows” it is a film and is not afraid to let you know that it knows. This can be done numerous ways, for example: characters talking to the camera, overt narration, breaking film “rules” etc. The film may even “show its cards”; may reveal the camera in a mirror, etc.
I must stress, however, that even with the seriousness the many of the ideas underlying art-cinema narration, many so-called art films are no more profound than any classical narrative films. And art films can fall prey to the same shallowness and overt “posing” that affects much of the art world as a whole.
One of the more interesting things, in my mind, about the history of cinema is the existence of both kinds of narration – Classical Hollywood and Art-Cinema – side be side throughout most of the last one hundred years. And certainly they have had influence upon each other.
As for contemplative cinema…
According tot he folks at Unspoken Cinema, contemplative cinema is the kind “that rejects conventional narration to develop almost essentially through minimalistic visual language and atmosphere, without the help of music, dialogue, melodrama, action-montage, and star system.” It seems clear to me that contemplative cinema then may be considered a sub-set of Art-Cinema Narration.