Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Magic of Films

The following article is going to appear in my campus magazine "The Fourth Estate".

I love films. I can watch them all day long, one after another, and still not get tired. I can discuss their stories, talk about the techniques used in them, give you the complete biography of each cast member, write about them and still not get tired.

When it comes to films I have no prior reservations. I don’t care whether the director is a multiple Oscar nominee or is a sixteen year old high school drop out who just made his first movie using a camera he borrowed from the local junk store. As long as there is a film to be seen, I will see it. I reserve all my judgements for after the movie. This I do on purpose. Every time we form a view about a film (could be about the actors, directors or the composer) before watching it, we either raise our expectations or are dejected even before we have had a glimpse of the film. So if we were expecting a movie to be trash and it turned out to be real gold we wouldn’t have been in a position to appreciate it and give the film its due credit. On the other hand if we were expecting a movie to be a masterpiece and it turned out to be trash (or even average) then we are overly disappointed.

Suppose we completely forget that we had ever seen the original Matrix. Then maybe, just maybe, we could have appreciated Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. It is this baseless need to compare every film (especially if it is a sequel) with its predecessors which spoil the film watching experience. The original Matrix was a master piece, a film whose likes will not be seen for many a decades. It had a great script, capable actors, visionary directors and never seen before special effects.

So when the sequels were announced we assumed that they will have an even better script, greater vision from the directors and SFX which will excite every last atom in our bodies. This is where we made our biggest mistake. Watch the sequels with a fresh mind and maybe, just maybe we will be able to appreciate these two movies. Most of us might still feel that the script sucked big time and the acting was boring to say the least. But all of us will definitely appreciate the effort put into the film, especially the effects. It took them months to come up with the perfect rain drop for the final show down between Neo and Agent Smith. Watch the movie afresh and you will love that raindrop.

Effort is what most of us fail to see. Films are not just about the actors in front of the camera. And while most of us know that there are hundreds of other people behind the scenes, all of us fail to notice their contribution. Of course if the acting is lousy then no one can be blamed for not noticing the wonderful use of light and the great set design. But for people like us who boast to be semi or pseudo intellectuals and who watch tons of movies it should be the whole experience of the movie, starting from its conception, moving towards the script writing, the actual hours and hours of footage and to the final cutting on the editors table, which should excite us and catch our attention.

From whatever little experience I have gathered after watching films, I have classified them into three categories: (a) Popular cinema, (b) Films tending to Cult and (c) Art. Category (b) in most cases is a subset of category (a). Let me explain this classification in detail.

Popular Cinema consists of films which are made for the masses. While some of you may argue that films are always made for the masses, I beg to differ. Most films fall into this category simply because they are made with a motive to earn money for the studios investing in them. The script writers and the directors may have a great vision and might consider themselves artists but the truth of the matter is that they are making these films for profit. And there is nothing wrong in that. Some of the best loved films of all times fall into this category.

These films are based on the traditional models of story telling and most of them have straight forward stories (might be about complex subjects though) with clear narratives. The more popular ones will have good actors doing what they do best - acting. These films are based on the traditional theatre style where the audience was a given, an axiom. The film is based on a simple two way communication between the audience and the characters. If the character is sad and is crying the audience should also get a feeling of sadness. If it is a war film which talks about the horrors of war then the audience should be shocked after seeing the blood and gore and the evil that war brings out in men. We don’t need to strain our minds for understanding and liking these films. As long as the acting is fine you can even watch these films in mute (except a musical of course).

Examples of category (a) - All Indian films (even the parallel cinema), Titanic, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, LOTR, etc, etc. (Basically 97% of all films)

The second category is the one where the director and the screen writer make an effort so that the audience has to exercise its brain cells. These are thought provoking films - films which raise philosophical questions, which serve as a way for intellectual masturbation. A friend of mine likes to compare such films to onions. The director wants you to peel off one layer at a time till you finally reach the core. This can be done by using various techniques like moving backwards and forwards in time, having multiple narratives or by just having a simple story told in a complex manner.

Such films cater to the needs of a small and select crowd who like to think while watching a film. Some of these films go on to become big box office hits because people had to come back a second time to completely understand the film or to appreciate the finer details. Some of these films are disasters when they are first released but slowly become cult classics. You simply cannot watch these movies in mute.

Examples of category (b) - Blade Runner, The Usual Suspects, A Clockwork Orange, Memento etc, etc. (2.99 % of all films)

The third category is the one which has the least number of films but this number is slowly rising. These films are made by directors who are really artists. They don’t make their films for an audience. These films are like works of art. It doesn’t matter if they are hanging in the MET or in some one’s bedroom or in the painter’s studio. They are beautiful and complete in themselves and don’t need an external source to interpret them. They are released in theatres and people do go and watch them. But the director doesn’t really care whether you liked his film or not. It’s a work of art - If you can appreciate it then good for you, otherwise: goodbye and have a nice day. It doesn’t matter if the film is in mute.

Examples of category (c) - All David Lynch films etc, etc.

Films have always been about escapism. Where else can you fight like a Jedi, roam the middle earth and go where no man has gone before? Where else can you feel the pain of a man on a death row, escape from a prison and become lost in translation? Where else can you be the devil’s advocate, tango with Gabrielle Anwar and become the head of a mafia family? Only in films, baby. Only in films.

[The writer is the co-ordinator of IIT Madras Film Society. He is a self confessed movie fanatic and claims that he has seen more films than any other set of three people on this planet.]

No comments: