Monday, February 15, 2010

If You Aren't Happy That I Don't Like Scorsese...

...ask yourself why.

I'm somewhat bemused that it's a group of people who think taste in films comes down to just that - taste and nothing more - that seem to be the angriest when I express an opinion on cinema that they don't like. If you think my dislike of Scorsese's movies is just taste, then why should you care? Different strokes and so on, eh?

But I don't personally believe it's just a matter of taste. Indeed, I think there are a good number of objective criteria for the discussion of a piece of film craft. I'm looking forward to a future where evidence based objectivity is applied to film discussion at least as much as it is to music by musicologists. In fact, I think a scientific discussion of film craft is long over due.

It's almost 100 years since Lev Kuleshov carried out his experiments. They are probably the most famous of all attempts to look into the nature of film spectatorship clinically, but they're far from the last. While 'the Kuleshov effect' has become well known, even by film students in the most frilly, silly of film schools, the findings of thousands of other clinical, well founded studies go essentially undiscussed.

It's because of the rock solid evidence and finding of these very many studies that I'm quite, quite sure there's a more rational debate about film construction to be had. From my understanding of much of this research comes my skepticism towards the baroque, anything-goes jazzed-up, show-off cinema of many of the more celebrate 'auteurs'.

There are rules to cinema. They don't tell filmmakers what to do - because who could really? - but they do go some way to explaining how audiences react, en masse, to certain elements of film language, specific decisions of filmmakers, juxtapositions and combinations of formal film specification. Through understanding of these rules, the filmmaker becomes a better communicator, more accomplished in filling their media with the meanings they intend.

I've had a lot of hate-talk and angry words thrown at me today because I don't like a series of well-considered films. What my critics are not even beginning to consider is that I have any rhyme or reason, supposing that I dislike these films upon some kind of whim. I think I'd have more of an argument to claim they instead like these films on nothing but a fancy.

Of course, if you like a film on a fancy, that's fine. I wouldn't criticise that in a million years - but I would criticise if you pretended a hollow lie that there was more of a basis to your affection for the movie. Why be dishonest? Isn't "I like it" good enough? Of course it is. We should no more have to defend our preferences and biases to one another than agree on them in the first place.

There's any number of films I like that I could not defend as a piece of high-calibre filmmaking. There's not many films I don't like that I would consider a great accomplishment of film craft, however - simply because something I really like, myself, is finding a film that seems to be pretty well put together in terms of these "rules" I was mentioning.

If you think artists should be free to do whatever they want, just throw caution to the wind and doodle, let rip, outpour or explode unthinkingly... then so do I. Of course, I don't think an artists just doing this is going to guarantee them a result that communicates effectively.

There's a time coming when we'll also discuss films in terms of how they relate to the spectator in well-researched, clinically tested psychological terms. So far, this has been the province of the psychology researcher, but the world cinema will come to learn the benefits of being fully versed in the nature of film and film spectatorship. It seems quite perverse that it isn't already, don't you think? That there's all of this study and learning and deconstruction of cinema going on in absolute terms - from studies of eye tracking or the effects of different kinds of cutting on memory, say, or the uncovering of how far and in what way the influence of a piece of soundtrack music can tracked - and it isn't at the heart of our discussion of film?

So, I'm sorry I don't have the same taste in film as you. I'm not sure why it makes you so angry. But please don't think I'm just basing my ideas on nothing.

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