Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Back Row: An Introduction


Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream, it takes over as the number one hormone; it bosses the enzymes; directs the pineal gland; plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to film is more film.

This was said by Frank Capra, one of the most influential film directors in America in the 1930s, and therefore one of the most influential film directors who lived. His influence can be traced in the works of many of the most famous directors who came after him, like Robert Altman, John Lasseter, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and François Truffaut. And what these filmmakers have in common is not only stylistic and thematic elements, powerful and independent voices in their art, and magnificent flair for storytelling. Most primally, they share a love for and obsession with cinema. I wouldn’t profess an attachment to the same degree as that of some of these great artists, nor that my cinephilia is any indication that I could make a film, but I do think my love for cinema is of a similar kind to theirs, and that many of you share that love as well.

Cinema removes us from where we’re sitting, and sets us in a realm that the Russian writer Maxim Gorky called “the Kingdom of Shadows”. It is a story told in images and, for the last 85 years, in sound, and has engrossed its audiences like no other art form. This is presumably helped by the fact that most films are a combination of art forms: photography, music, drama, literature, design, fashion and, of late, digital imaging. The language of cinema is the language of our dreams – what we fear, desire, foresee and remember can be, and have been, conveyed in a series of moving pictures and synchronised sounds.

Having only recently been introduced to the wonders of cinema, there are immense gaps in my film education, and viewing history. I haven’t seen many of the films deemed necessary for a comprehensive background, such as Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), or Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), nor many of the smaller independent and foreign films of recent years. I don’t find this disheartening, however; on the contrary, it’s immensely exciting to have what I understand to be some of the greatest film watching experiences ahead of me. These will be shared with you here on my blog. Since most of what I’ll be watching and learning from are old releases, my blog is called “The Back Row”: I’m seeing these films years, even decades after their release, and adding my comments to the ends of everything that has been said before. I sit in the back row, taking notes, shouting to the front every now and then.

Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, 1952)

The primary distinction of blogs is that they are interactive. I encourage, in fact implore, you to comment as often and as comprehensively as you can. Hopefully, I’ll never write a single post in which everyone agrees entirely with everything I’ve said. If you’ve seen a film I’ve reviewed, or even if you haven’t, do say whatever it is that you’re thinking, even if – especially if – there’s something you disagree with. Disagreement stimulates the most fruitful and the most engaging discussions.

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

Because I’ve been asked before, and to avoid this specific question in other places on the blog, I’ll tell you now that my favourite film is a tie between three works: Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, 1952), Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980), and The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011). These three films provide a standard of vibrancy, intelligence, wonder, and a pervasive worldview, to which I hold everything I see. Here’s hoping many productions will match them.

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

The last word on cinema, in my first word on it, I give to another Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who correctly predicted that cinema would become the major art form of the 20th century:

You will see that this little clicking contraption with the revolving handle will make a revolution in our life – the life of writers. It is a direct attack on the old methods of literary art. We shall have to adapt ourselves to the shadowy screen and to the cold machine. A new form of writing will be necessary. I have thought of that and I can feel what is coming. … But I rather like it. This swift change of scene, this blending of emotion and experience – it is closer to life. In life, too, changes and transitions flash by before our eyes, and emotions of the soul are like a hurricane. The cinema has divined the mystery of motion. And that is greatness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Enter your unrestrained and dissenting reactions here