Film Culture

 

Who doesn’t like movies? I have only met 2 people in my whole life who claimed that they didn’t like movies and even they have certainly enjoyed some films.

As with any kind of art, in order to experience it, you must first understand its specific language. There is a certain grammar to making sense of visual images that are being commonly used in films in order to make sense of it all. The grammar might be obvious, but is actually very subtle and we only become aware of it when a rule is broken, in the same manner, we become aware of a mistake in somebody’s verbal expression when breaking a grammar rule.

A film culture signifies two different things:

  • watching and deeply understanding a certain large part of what is commonly accepted as movies which made it into film history, have been awarded, acclaimed and stood the test of time

  • the ability to discern the quality of a work without having any context or reference for its understanding

They are interdependent, but can also be independent. Thus, with a proper guide and list, someone can easily go through a list of n “best movies of all times” and learn by reading and assimilating what was already interpreted and expressed about those movies. At the same time, someone can learn to discern the value of a film by watching movies about which (s)he does not read or know anything and trying to discover the meaning, the symbols, the signification by sheer intellectual effort based on the skills of the spectator.

The best way is to do both of them, with precaution. Which are some of the precautions that must be considered when creating an authentic film culture?

  1. Watching must be combined with reading about the respective films, at a certain point, either before or after the viewing. Each viewer should use his or her own capacity of making sense of the spectacle, then compare it to what the analyzers, critics, reviewers and historians have written. Thus, a critical argumentation may start to develop, that would allow the film fan to support his or her views.

  2. The importance of critic must not be underestimated and must not be overestimated. Critics are people who usually have a film culture and make solid arguments by knowing and arguing for what they believe, so they deserve to be read. At the same time, some films don’t get the attention of enough well-prepared critics and can have many negative reviews, which aren’t well (or at all) argumented. Critics can be influenced by political context, currents of opinion and own prejudice, not to get into the details that they might change their mind in time.

  3. The fact that one hasn’t understood anything from a movie does not automatically qualify the movie as “bad” or of “low quality”. Such a verdict, without sufficient culture, can in exchange qualify the viewer as a snob ignorant. Therefore, some people, being afraid of not being able to argue their own opinions or being afraid of being judged, never dare to express their negative opinions of films, especially in public.

  4. For understanding certain authors or certain film cultures, or film currents, one must have seen other representative similar work within that vicinity, especially when considering authors which are very cryptic or film literates (such as Andrei Tarkovsky, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino). Not being able to understand the work of such authors is normal even for a film literate who starts to “cut his teeth” with such work. Multiple viewings and readings may be required. 

  5. There are currently two large production and distribution systems for national cinematographic industries: Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India). Still, films produced and distributed from the European Union make their emphasis, as do Asian films. Therefore, to really have a film culture, one must have a universal, international culture, from all spaces and all times. There can’t be “too independent” or “too foreign” or “too old” films.

  6. No matter how hard one tries, one cannot see in a lifetime all the movies which are well worth from the history, especially considering each year more movies are being produced than the year before and it’s impossible to even to keep the pace with what’s new and interesting, not to mention the classics that in some cases can even be viewed for free on the internet. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce the number of “bad” movies and increase the possibilities of watching better movies. If someone only watches commercial films and gets used to it as a normality, that person will not be able to appreciate the values of a good quality film. Watching better films (such as masterpieces, classics) makes the bad quality movies obvious like the darkness disappears with the light.

  7. The quality of a film must be judged taking into consideration the genre or genres it can be framed into. Understanding genres and differences between them are key in judging it as a value in itself. By watching the classics of the genre (for example, “The Godfather” for crime, “Gone With the Wind” for love story and “The Maltese Falcon” for film noir), you can have a frame of reference in judging an individual work. Sensible comparison of films is allowed on the basis of genres, authors, currents, storyline and format. Foolish comparison between films happens when someone considers “a drama is better than a music-hall” or “a thriller is better than a horror”.

  8. The quality of a film must not be confounded with the emotions it depicts or instills. For example, some women might dislike horrors because they get scared, but that doesn’t mean the movie is of low quality. A historical drama may instill sadness, as a war movie may instill rage, but calling the movie “ugly” doesn’t make it bad. For example, some people (especially Italians) have the idea of judging the quality of a movie as being “beautiful” vs “ugly”, in terms of the content, not of the quality of the representation. Considering this, it is important to remember that art doesn’t necessarily have to cover beauty. Art can be used to represent truth and truth isn’t always beautiful or pleasant to look at.

  9. There is a difference between film tastes and film opinions. For example, some people might have a taste for certain film culture, genre or author and they will be likely to consider some work more interesting and valuable on that criteria. A film opinion, on the other hand, must always be an educated film opinion of a person owning a film culture. “De gustibus et coloribus non disputandum” can’t be sensibly used as a pretext to avoid contradiction when talking about a specific film.

  10. The informative value of a film must not be mistaken for its artistic value. For example, a docudrama may be a very interesting factual reconstruction of a historical era, and a very boring movie. In the same way, a very exciting history film may be an utterly wrongful mystification of actual truth. One must remember that film served and continues to serve as a means of propaganda, brainwashing and one must consider the value of the representation, not the value of the content. Often (and even more in the last years in film festivals), films are judged exclusively by their daring content and not by the inner artistic value of the depiction.

Which are the advantages of gaining a film culture?

Films offer you the possibilities of voyaging in places and times you haven’t been before. They explain to you how some systems work in order for you to better understand reality. Films offer you the experience of a spectacle, with emotions which you wouldn’t otherwise feel. Films offer you the possibility to learn from the lives of others, real or imaginary people, to find models that are inaccessible directly. Movies also convey powerful, beautiful, abstract messages using audiovisual means of expression that may inspire you, move you, change you. Understanding some movies can also prevent you from being manipulated by propaganda, commercial work. This experience can run as a bridge between you and people who work in art and extend your perception of the conceptual, immaterial world: what lies beyond words, facts and objective reality. In the movie world, one can find the inspiration and the models (s)he could not get in the real world and use them as a stepping stone to success.

What are the consequences of choosing films whimsically, remaining ignorant towards this form of art? Here are some of the common consequences of not truly developing a film culture. These are not life-threatening, but they make for a lesser thrive.

Ignorance in appreciating movies can be manifested:

by overly enthusiastically appreciating what most rightfully consider rubbish

by over criticism of work which isn’t understood

by the inability to give an honest impression based on arguments after viewing a film

by the lack of ability or will to follow the narrative story of a movie, forgetting anything in a short time after watching it

by watching movies as mere entertainment, thus discarding their artistic potential, without thinking of considering it

by watching only films from a certain culture, period of time, genre, author and discounting other possibilities

by adopting the ideas of the majority without thinking for oneself

by saying a general or vague thing about a movie when asked for an honest, in-depth opinion

by overly criticizing the author for not doing the movie the way you wanted it him to (it’s his movie, not yours)

through judging the quality of the movie by its content, its genre or the way one may feel when watching the film

by avoiding to see new movies being scared of not being as good as those you already know

by criticizing the authors of a movie for not doing a good enough adaptation (original literature will in most cases be better than movie depictions)

by being overly attached to or opposed to the value of a movie being “old”. Time creates strange effects for different people: some exaggerate the “timeless perspective” creating a positive aura around a film that didn’t exist when it was released or by unjustifiably comparing it to the modern means.

Psychologists came tot he conclusion that some films are well worth watching because of the discussions they generate for people around day to day topics: what are the views, the perspectives, the considerations of a certain person on the topic of how a certain character behaved? This way, movies can be used as a factor for connection, encouraging debate and knowledge.

How do you relate to movies? Do you have a film culture? How much time do you allocate reading about films before seeing them or after seeing them? How much do you talk about your conclusions about those movies with other people?

Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, 2017-present

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