CINEMA THINKS – Cinema and the Philosophical Project of Alain Badiou.

France - "Vous aurez le dernier mot" - TV Set“There is something interesting in cinema because we cannot reduce it to a conceptual definition.”

The above quote from renowned contemporary philosopher Alain Badiou opens up a world of theoretical enquiry into cinema as an art form and where it might be heading. However, as always, targeting the specifics of this interesting ‘something’ is not an easy task. This article will break down Badiou’s thought on cinema and hopefully open a way for more exciting thought on the cinema and appreciation of such art works.

We begin by asking the interminable question “What is Cinema?” It is an everlasting question because there is no definite answer. If cinema is an art form, then why can’t it be conceptually defined like all other arts? If not defined, then what is the special ingredient? For example, poetry is an attempt to say what cannot be said, theatre is a battle to form an external relationship between human beings and an audience, and painting aims to create the visible from the invisible – these are the fundamental ideas that promote and invoke these arts. There will always be further ideas on such a quest, but it is clear that cinema holds no such distinction. I always like to argue that cinema is a collective of all these ideas and that’s what makes its individuality eternal, it is never shaped by a definition, and therefore there can be a positive infinity in cinema production.

However, as Badiou makes clear from my previous assumption, cinema itself is a very complex question and therefore cinema as an art must also be a very complex question. It is rather simple really: cinema is complex, so hence anything we wish to attribute to cinema (philosophy, art, psychology, archaeology etc.) will also become complex. A philosophy of the cinema is a complex idea; we can never really know what cinema is. Badiou even attempts to postulate cinema as the “history of complexification of itself.” These layers inherent to cinema form a unique relationship whereby the spectator falls under the spell, or inside the cinema according to Badiou, but without knowing its real signification. Cinema is essential in the collective existence of today’s world and yet it continues to be something that we have no firm notion off – certainly from a theoretical standpoint, but arguably by way of practice also. Is this not a very dangerous idea?

Badiou_Cinema

 

Whenever we are considering the thing of something, or the what is, we need to retrace our passage back to some custom of historical antiquity. Plato is a good denominator to begin with, especially for cinema. With philosophy we are on a search for truth in life, or a true life, something that is pure and in accordance with our entire make up. How does cinema impact this quest? Can cinema be true to life? These questions are inscribed into every film, and it often comes back down to the spectator’s ability to suspend their disbelief: to give themselves whole-heartedly over to the sequence of images and sounds on the screen. If they can do this then the images they witness are true, at least true to themselves. Even so, this it too general, we need to look beyond the spectator and take the films at face value. What makes a good film? How can we identify good film with art and philosophy?

If Plato were alive today, he would probably be feeling very ill. We cannot escape images today. The famous cave allegory was a false reality for Plato, but it is the founding movement of cinema: moving shadows cast themselves across the walls of the cave once backlit from a great beam of light. This was a conviction of truth: the composition is an illusion! Illusions cannot be so! Here is the answer: cinema does not claim to be such a false reality, cinema knows very well that it paints a grand composition of illusion, and its images are no substitute for contamination, they are didactic images that speak off new formations and new bonds of knowledge! In other words, cinema is an answer for finding the truth in irreality; cinema knows that it lies, but it is a lie of edification.

Cinema is alive and speaking to us. Cinema has possibility, it is an art of possibility perhaps, and this is why it must have a relationship to philosophy and vice versa. Because cinema is so alive, it is constantly in battle, a fight between art and non-art. It is here that Badiou can draw out his belief that “cinema thinks”. By way of this vision in which a contemporary world battles with art through film, we are able to distinguish the good films from the bad. If, permitting to Hegel also, art is something of the past and cinema takes on a contemporaneous position as the ‘impure art’, then through constructing a successful conflict of images one has created a good film. This conflict is within the images themselves as well as the audience because the images require contemplation and are often ‘vulgar’ or disruptive. Cinema is therefore not a peaceful art and furthermore, this aforementioned fight between art and non-art is allowed to erupt between its fences. We can then resolve, in line with Badiou’s claims, that the more impure the artwork/the film, the greater the present battle is within the image itself and the better the film!

MelancholiaWhile this is all very metaphysical and might seem dismissible to most audiences, Badiou has targeted the underlying causes for our connection with the image from a strong philosophical standpoint. The point of most significant is this totalisation of cinema: cinema as the non-essential but all-permitting feature of new possibilities and limitlessness. Cinema creates new evaluations and new participations in dialectics. For example, great music can be given a new education in films. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia features music from the prelude of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The music is played at different points throughout the film and at each instance is inscribing new meanings onto the image. There is battle with the image and the music is forced to engage in new directions. The range of possibility is astonishing. It is here that cinema takes a form of judgment on all the other arts.

Badiou is telling us to “go to the cave.” We must approach cinema as a means and become involved in the democratic dialectics of our modern education. If none of this speaks to your way of thinking, then you must focus on the idea of possibility: the search for possibility. Cinema makes the search possible.

 

Author: Charlie Bury

 

You can watch the full video that inspired this thought below.

A Book of Tricks and Manipulative Exploits for the Film Director

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The tricks and exercises in this book are justifiable and perceptive enough to succeed any literal knowledge, in the field of directing, gained from three years at film school or university. They are irrefutably researched and practiced insights from the top, the best; they are known to be the most effective. In most cases, the tricks are kept brief in hands-on example, but they come with enough resource to guide the beginner or advanced practitioner (or “wizard”) to furthering their magic skills quite considerably. In fact, this metaphor of the director as magician, or wizard, is instinctively argued and becomes a remarkably valuable way of understanding the craft. These tricks that Mark proposes do indeed involve the slight-of-hand of what are fundamentally psychological sidesteps and manipulations, or illusions, if you like.

And what do these illusions hope to achieve? Essentially, it is to excel in the creative collaboration with actors and directors. While, the book does focus on working with writers and actors, the tricks are, in fact, applicable to the entire filmmaking process as a director and all the obstacles you will come to face. It is clear, that the most important consideration for a film director is to get the best performance from his/her actor. And Mark gives some great answers to this largely inexplicable phenomenon. I will mention, what I believe to be, an underlying theme across making all Mark’s tricks work, a strong focus on the subtext of the text/character/scene/or any situation (in filmmaking and, dare I say, life).

I won’t recite the tricks in this post; you will have to buy the book. However, I wouldn’t be able to offer a patch of the intuitive and mature outlook of Marks writing, which surrounds each technique with an extra flavour of humour and reflection. There is the odd bit of cynical wit surrounding the director and Mark fulfills the good old joke of the director doing, at the end of the day, whatever he can to get what he wants. In fact, the interviews that Mark conducts with wise, noble and expert wizards are occasionally diverting and even mocking of what we, as directors, do. Of course, this is no criticism, it is the insight of entertaining personalities, and they offer ample bouts of sharp knowledge and evidence of everything that Mark has talked about during the book. The book is a package that folds together to form a neat little parcel full of treasures and surprises.

If you have read Mark’s other books (The Directors Journey and Directing Feature Films) you will be familiar with his style and friendly approach. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that this book will be a rework of his past writings, it is essentially distinct and whilst a few intuitions are understandably repeated (Mark even acknowledges these areas), the bulk are remarkably fresh and even rewarding to read. Thanks Mark (and Michael Wiese)!

Find the book on Amazon here.

Film Producers – “What Don’t They Do?”

Christine-Vachon

(The title quote is from a book called Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies That Matter written by Christine Vachon – above).

Christine Vachon, a film producer who gave life to such stimulating independent films as Happiness and I Shot Andy Warhol (plus many more), gives a fine insight into her working life and the countless scuffles of the filmmaking process. Ultimately, the book is a reflection of her practice as a film producer and a rousing discussion for aspiring filmmakers to get ahead of the game, which moves ever so fast.

Christine’s grounded and somewhat taxing approach is actually refreshing to hear and she offers predominant insights into personal experience of film havoc, despite her wonderful success. It is essentially real; diary interludes offer a further taste of Christine’s approach and the inevitable tasks of filmmaking. Though, the discourse can at times be overtly self-conscious, it doesn’t set out to be a clear and concise guide of A to B, it is a meditative medium after all.

Whilst running through the filmmaking process in chronological order, Christine is generous in her offering. She provides full-budget feature film write-ups, cost reports and production reports etc. Whenever something is clearly daunting for the reader, she lightens the mood with her witty thought on the subject – “Stay sane and embrace the madness.” Descriptions like, “No cut is painless; the trick is to avoid slicing a major artery” (on budgeting whilst Shooting to Kill) are memorable and entertaining for the reader. Frankly, there are a number of quotations one could pull from this book and use as stimulus or however else you like to use intuitive information.

I wish to note a few points in the book that struck me as areas for deeper thought (not relative to practical tuition, however). Christine briefly mentions (to paraphrase) that she is intrigued by how disparate the continuity between a movie itself and moviemaking process is. The parts that make up the constituents of a film have obsessed film theorists as far back as Eisenstein (such as the process of montage editing), so yes, technical aspects of filmmaking have been studied in regard to continuity. But, the aesthetic of actually being on set (actually making a movie) – the chaos – is absurd in its discontinuity. How can cinema appear so pure on the screen? This is, of course, the magic of filmmaking (and all the hard-work that goes into it!).

Furthermore, Christine notions a lot towards the personality a film producer should have towards their work. It varies, but she gives some valuable thought. Of course, respect and equality reigns on set, yet balancing this with authority and sixty egos is no easy feat. Of the finished film, it is understandable that the producer and their team will expect everyone to think it amazing, how couldn’t they after their concentrated long-hours? Christine says, “Not everyone is going to like it, nor should they be expected to.” If you want to produce controversial work, or work that is going to be seen for its difference (often the only way in a saturated independent market, like today) then you have to keep a level head and respect peoples opinions. Okay, if it’s your last chance at a distributor and they read it completely backwards, feel free to go out into the backyard and scream a little.

Find Christine on Twitter.

Her book can be bought on Amazon by clicking here.

The Jaws Log – The Real Chaos

Jaws_Log

‘The real chaos’, or the beauty of cinema i.e. the sheer capacity of deceit that the director hides behind and around the camera! In this case that would be a great tugboat, 2 unit barges and a mound of rigging entangled amidst poor souls in scuba-diving gear.

If you are currently producing a film and finding yourself worked up, then take a step back and think about how tough it was for the team on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1974. Take out Carl Gottlieb’s book, The Jaws Log, and laugh wickedly at their hardship. This book truly is a marvellous account of the perils and joys of making a movie. It will transmute you into the minds of the crew-members and send a shiver down your deck. I even gasped at some of the convolutions in this book… Conclusion… Spielberg is a hero.

However, this book is more than just a mash up of everything wrong with making a movie, instead it actually provides the answers. The answers of thinking outside the box, motivating your crew, relying on your director to make the right decisions and, surprisingly, maintaining a good relationship with your producers- in this case the unrivalled Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Zanuck/Brown Productions). Apparently, Steven Spielberg’s brain was so sapped of lucidity and wellbeing that he spent 3 months after leaving Martha’s Vineyard having nightmares about being on the Ocean with sharks – now there’s a director with their head in the game!

Peter Benchley is the author behind the marvellous book Jaws, the book which got turned into this spectacular picture. Despite plenty of significant script changes by Spielberg and Gottlieb, (screenwriter for the movie – Benchley is also credited) alongside a couple of scuffles, Benchley was highly commendable of the outcome. And, so were the mass audiences who would flock to see the picture, “laughing and shrieking”, in the summer of 1975.

Carl Gottlieb has truly witnessed an extraordinary account of filmmaking and his documentation is certainly engaging entertainment. If you know a friend who doesn’t appreciate the craft of filmmaking, then throw this book at their lap and they may grow to become obsessed.

I would write a more detailed account of what Gottlieb has to say, but you really need to immerse yourself in the book and salute your admirations to the filmmakers. Grab a copy here.

For fun, as I love trailers, here is Jaws: