'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

18 September 2010

Cinema Critic

Much of what is produced with great budgets or made or churned out for Television seems to often mean mediocre, uninspired and often an unfortunately biased, simplified, xenophobic, distorted or simply censored approach to history or reality. The messages of these formula movies seem, to me, to promote false morals, or perverted sentimentality and unreality, as they come from writers, producers and directors who have little conception of ethics due to the influences of a blind need for popularity and profit. The appeal to the lowest common denominator keeps people in place and does nothing to enlighten, uplift, challenge or confront. To make many a modern movie there appears to be a few simple rules, plenty of product placements, patronisingly drop in a no smoking message however irrelevant, say something puerile about racism, but enact the opposite, make the woman who is usually skinny and with the chauvinistic appeal of a bimbo be unconvincingly stronger and always wiser than the male who is often stupid or cowardly, particularly in comedy. Do not forget that in Hollywood etc. one must place an American flag in as many scenes as possible and inappropriately promote current populist values particularly out of place in historical dramas. The unfortunate thing is that because of the wide audience they receive, they are altering, manipulating and destroying man's ability to love, share, learn and understand with any understanding of truth or decency. My problem is that I see directors or screen writers not merely observing, but obsessed with preaching a moral tale or promoting their set of values as if it were absolute truth, but they give all evidence of being totally bereft of morality or understanding it and it is more in line with Tabloid sensationalism rather than honest ethical values. True, my understanding of morality diverges far from the simplistic and populist. Basically much film is made to please or certainly not upset the investor, maintain the well-known actor's self image, the product placement sponsors and the very loud “moral majority” or the ignorant. Fear of a financial backlash has led to censorship of not only images, but content. Fictional and historical characters are redrawn to not offend those with a big mouth or a big wallet and thus a false view of our world and often its literature and history is pouring onto our screens. I have seen comments by critics about inaccuracies in historical drama saying ‘Who cares about what happened in the past anyway?”
There are, however some who can still merely entertain, touch the true heart, enlighten or provoke thought without the need to bastardise the truth. Film can be in you face and raw. It can be weird and difficult. It can be real. Theatrical metaphor is fine, extravagant exaggeration is fun, fantasy is healthy, but I can not accept the wilful destruction of a handed down truth, be it legend or historical. Perhaps this sounds very pessimistic, but occasionally my heart is given hope when along come films like 'Dancing in the Dark' (Lars von Trier), and even mainstream works like 'The Usual Suspects', 'The Lord of the Rings', 'Moulin Rouge', all so different, but equally enjoyable for holding my attention without wincing at glaring or inappropriate and meaningless anomalies. It is easy to differentiate an anachronism that is placed there for artistic reasons (typewriters and coloured bulbs in Derek Jarman’ Caravaggio). They trigger a thought unlike a mistake made from simple laziness and ignorance. It is also funny that so many film covers claim to be the most, the best, the greatest, the first etc which is a claim none should make. I also accept that individual taste and personal need of the moment will influence what is or is not worthy. A Lars von Trier film I own, 'Breaking the Waves', quotes on the cover 'One of the best films ever made' and a friend told me of a quote something along the lines of 'it is like watching open heart surgery without anaesthetic'. To me it really is one of the most powerful and affecting pieces of cinema I have experienced, but I accept that the harrowing descent into the insanity of goodness would not affect all the same way. Real movies of the human experience do exist and to track them down reveals awesome rewards. I have collected what I believe to be some outstanding contemporary directors. Some have my belief in beauty, others prefer to shock, some make films of stunning cinematography and others use rough imagery and basic techniques, but all are interesting and a breath of fresh air from the cloying mind numbing obscenity I see in most mainstream cinema.
Having embarked heavily on collecting DVD's I have found my research is evolving in greater depth as I find new interests and search for the cinema which has seldom appeared near me or rarely on television. Several directors have made an impact and as I read and explore I find, like days of old, the artists I prefer are most often connected in some way. Similar to the times of Oscar Wilde or the later Beat generation links appear as no doubt the influential congregate together and encourage mutual progress in their art. Of those listed on my Brilliant Directors post I would love to meet Bruce Labruce and Bavo Defurne. Two directors who could not be further apart in their work, but both so interesting in their individual approach to the art of cinema and who express the differing ideas that stir my imagination. However because watching a movie on Jesus Christ does not make you God, or watching a war movie does not make you a soldier, one should also not infer that observing life in its bright and dark sides is necessarily a reflection of, or an influence on any individual's personality or actions. I maintain that some people love blood and guts action have bad taste, but I praise their freedom to do so. Sexuality in cinema also seems to be a sticking point for so many (the loud voices again), but it is ridiculous to want to prevent others watching what certain people fear. Those with the fear have the problem. Censorship is an oppressive and futile exercise by those who have succumbed to the corruption of egotistical power. I do not want to be patronised by those who have set themselves up as my aesthetic or moral guardians, because I do not accept that they have the right to believe they are the source of all truth. A conscience is not formed by a film. It is simply childish to think so. Distinguishing between right and wrong is a personal duty far more complex than a tabloid headline.
"I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me." Terence (Roman playwright c. 190-158 B.C.)

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