“There must be a reason for every film” said Michelangelo Antonioni and yet we have “the movies”, the American counterpart for the word in its entertaining and commercialized version.
In both situations, people have admitted that after having enjoyed a film/movie, they felt a changed person because they had discovered a new meaning of life. But films are quite different compared to movies - for starters they never follow the typical boy-meets-girl-under-different-décor pattern. Instead, the true cinematic image has no formula and it doesn’t appeal to feelings but to senses. In other words, it doesn’t have a fixed beginning, middle or a climax and the end can adapt to any meaning we wish to impose on. A film’s plot is simply the order the director has given to a definite selection of images.
Moreover, there are two kinds of actors: the non-actors and the Hollywood stars. The former are chosen for their authentic looks and behavior. They are not particular individuals but representatives of whole groups of people. Their actions are spontaneous and they feature environmental situations rather than private affairs. Two of the best examples are the actors in Vittorio de Sica’s film “ The Bicycle Thief”. They were non-professionals; instead one of them was a laborer that had difficulty finding a job after this film. Initially, the producers had agreed to finance the film if the leading role was played by Cary Grant (imagine that!) In contrast, the Hollywood stars are attractive, elegant and imposing. People really feel the urge to look or act like them but if you follow their careers you’ll realize that they really act the same way in every single movie. Humphrey Bogard for example had always been H.B. no matter if he impersonated a sailor, a night club owner or a detective. Movies really revolve around stars, instead of the other way round.
Third, the dialogues. Sergei Eisenstein feared that the spoken word might be used as the carrier of all the significant statements and, thus, determine action. Do you really believe that Dolby stereo surround is important? In a film, speech is de-emphasized because directors want verbal statements to grow out of the picture. In Hollywood, there are special Oscars for sound, music and effects. What about the picture itself? At the beginning of sound there were people that resisted the temptation of speech, such as Chaplin whose lifelong silence as a pantomime was a choice because he wished to speak his mind out. Or the Marx brothers, especially Groucho Marx who, in his films, contributes to running dialogue with nonsense words without participating in it, something that looks like a back vocal.
There is an urgency today to learn more about the fundamentals of motion picture expression. Critics and film makers are questioning old conclusions and attempting to arrive at a deeper understanding of film art – the same thing that was achieved for painting, writing and music. This deeper understanding can be achieved only through the European filmography. Originating in the avant garde movement of the twenties, the cinema of Europe takes much of its inspiration from contemporary art. It is painting in motion. This pure cinema is what Lumiere had dreamed about. In the first film of his, the “Arrival of the train” it was the conception of movement that shocked the public, not a story about people gathered in a train station waiting for a train to arrive.
European artists break away from the commercialized cinema not only because of the inferior quality of many adaptations from plays and novels but, more importantly, because the story is something alien to the camera, an imposition from without. They deal with symbolism and many directors – inspired by Freud – are interested in the unconscious and subconscious processes that may emerge in a set, as is the case of Igmar Bergman and the Swedish films of dreams and superimpositions. Or in the films of Luis Bunuel “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” where the main characters walk on empty roads. No one questions why they are there. No one seems to know where they are going. Bunuel doesn’t say. Other times, there isn’t even a set. Soviet filmmakers turn their cameras away from studios to shoot real forests, city streets and farms.
There are people who wait for the Academy Awards to be nominated – yet the cinema lives elsewhere or has died altogether when Buster Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers and others left the big screen. Then, there is the European legacy of Fellini, Bergman, Eisenstein and Angelopoulos: their films are rarely shown in local cinemas but when they are on, treat yourself to a screening.
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Giannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. 4th ed. USA: Prentice Hall Inc., 1972.
Jacobs, Lewis. The Movies as Medium. New York: Octagon Books, 1973.
Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film. The Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford, 1960.
Mannoogian, Haig P. The Film-maker’s art. USA: Basic Books, 1966.