CRYING AND CINEMA

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What is it that enables the human being to cry? Beauty? Love? Poison? It is often an emotional response to another human being who has either shown us great love or great upset and abandonment. Or it can be our own independent state of deeply entrenched melancholy. Whatever the sense is that is caught and causes us to weep, it is wholeheartedly profound and intrinsically connected to what makes us human.

You know when you haven’t shed a tear for a while? It doesn’t feel right, does it? You almost begin to feel guilty of something, as if your soul has turned stale, into a machine or extra-terrestrial being. And then you fall in love again and remember what it is to cry. You feel awoken and inspired to live and make an effort at it. You may be distraught and bedridden, but you are alive because you are experiencing a revelatory depth of emotion. The human being who cries, is, at that moment of shedding a tear, indisputably human, which is a beautiful thing. It is therefore a very special event to cry. It of course occurs in some of us more than others. But it will eventually occur in all of us, one way or another.

Cinema has the power to ignite tears. In the cinema we can cry. And we cry freely in this safe place. Nobody else has to know what we are feeling. The cinema belongs to us. Others may feel different feelings from the same film, but whatever it is that we are feeling, if we are crying, then we are alive and experiencing something magical, together. This can be interpreted as an expression and symptom of love and beauty. And it is love and beauty as experienced via the medium of cinema. Therefore, cinema is undeniably a very serious and profound art form.

Painting and music make us cry, absolutely. But nothing makes us cry like watching a spectacle full of emotional characters fighting a good fight. Nothing makes us cry like a series of images that speak of unspeakable beauty when set in cinematic motion. Nothing makes us cry like the cinema.

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CINEMA METAPHYSICS: ALIVE AND DECEASED

Astoria auditorium, Mr Parker the projectionist arranged the coloured stage lighting, pink on the right and green on the left

Despite the morbid approach to the title of this short rumination, we will discover that the deceased can offer plenty of inspiration in thinking about cinema. Physically, cinema allows thousands of great lives to be relived onscreen, but looking at the metaphysics of it all, cinema is somehow able to share a literal time and space with those who have passed. Cinema exists but only in so far as the dead exist in the present. Cinema itself is not spiritual, it does not exist without our viewing, but once it is viewed, cinema is able to life a life hidden in the depths of our very own subconscious. However, the characters that we experience and that feel so real to us will be dead; they cease to exist from the moment they are conceptualised and put into a medium of fiction. But more importantly, the moving-image cannot breath, i.e. once an image is captured, the actual subject is no longer alive or present. This is what can be frustrating for audiences of the cinema: we are witnessing a theoretical death, as it pretends to be very much alive.

Another way to reach this conclusion is by basing one’s ideas on memories. We witness and remember a film much like we do our own memories. Firstly, the material of a film can be transcribed as the physical rendering of memories. The memories of the writer, director, or whoever one wishes to favour as auteur in the filmmaking process. Memories belong to the imaginary and cinema is one great big orgasm of imagination. Secondly, when reflecting on a film, we process it as a lived experience, in a similar way that we may re-process an important meeting that took place last week, or a date who never turned up. The parallels are so acute that our minds are fooled into thinking of the cinematic event as a real event. This is otherwise known more simply as one’s suspension of disbelief. But I am arguing beyond this, I argue that cinema becomes a construct of real memory, inseparable from the chaos of our own lives. You can think of it like this: if the cinema makes feel or act, then you are alive and the effect is real.

How is this connected to a notion of the deceased? One might argue that the deceased actually did live once upon a time, and so how come cinema can exist on equal terms of time and space? This is very true, but there is still something missing. The cinema has lived, but only its existence was shorter and confined to the present moment of occupying the cinema’s auditorium. It is a scattered life and not directly compatible with the timeline of a human life. Therefore, cinema is only able to exist in conjunction with our own existence for the duration of the film, unless we are to witness multiple viewings.

We are talking about the time and space occupied after the spectacle, the space occupied by our mind re-processing the cinematic event. The cinema deceased will live on in our memories can be remembered as we remember those we have known and perhaps loved. Even if we live within the cinema, it will remain mortal after every event. However, it is a great fortune, as we can revisit the deceased and dip back into the dark for another ninety minutes or so. It will always be our friend, even though it never did exist in the first place, it tricked you into thinking it did. It is like having a dream of your once beloved, only to wake up the next morning to a shattering reality that they are no longer there.

Note: I frequently use cinema to refer to film processes as well as the auditorium. This is because cinema can refer to the entire medium of film rather than be cut short by perspectives of a particular film. Cinema is the ontology of the movies. And any theory of spectatorship should be based on the place where that medium is best experienced: in the CINEMA!

For good measure, you can find this daring documentary of Michael Haneke’s work on YouTube:

 

CINEMA THINKS – 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?

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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.