‘How can I fall in love with movies?’
I think you will find it a bit hard to believe, but more often than not, this is one of those persistent questions which I am plagued with in almost all the comment sections of every cine-related article I have ever written on the internet. And even after taking into account the bountiful trouble the process of answering such quaint questions are inscrutably bound with, I have ascertained this aforementioned query to be my favourite question ever, period.
Why? For a cinephile to understand, all he has to do is look at his sprawling commentatories on cinema and think to oneself ‘Why take all this trouble? Who cares?’ and if his love for his cinema is true, I believe the heart echoes ‘You do stupid.’ Isn’t everything we do a way to be loved a bit more? In that way, every film passionate (I abhor the term critic) writes because he loves cinema and wishes others start to as well. Cinema is introspective, yet all the written word about it is didactic, serving at its crux only one true purpose – to make people fall in love with movies.
So when one asks, straight-forward, how he/she can fall in love with movies, I believe it makes my job a hell lot easier than hoping them to anatomize my written word so as to find the underlying purpose behind it all. For one to love cinema, or for that matter anything, one has to content himself with the realization that nothing in this world can ever be perfect and cinema is no exception to this. But believe me, imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you have tumbled on the heartstrings.
For a better comprehension of cinema as an artistic medium than sheer entertainment, I have to get into some nitty-gritty of film theory which might seem taxing and boring on the surface, but believe me; I won’t wade in these waters so long that God forbade we come across stuff like mise en scene (and by the way, French isn’t a language you shouldn’t mind getting the gist of if you want to explore the expansiveness of film studies) and all. Just a few basics, which will make you understand why cinema has shaped out to be like you see on the silver screen.
Cinema is divided into three branches: – realism, which was the first to come into inception, swiftly followed by formalism, which eventually merged to form classicism. Realism’s illusion is an objective mirror of the actual world. For eg. Take movies like Ship of Theseus or Pather Panchali, where it becomes hard to ascertain whether what you are seeing on the screen is a fragment of someone’s imagination or a documentary.
Formalism on the other hand is expressionistic in nature, where visual presentation is heavily stylized. Take works like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which is about a man who realizes his ex-girlfriend has erased him from her memories) or Inception (about a gang of dream-stealers who specialize in obtaining information for clients by entering the subconscious of other individuals), where only the very naïve would assume the affairs of the movie for the real thing.
The third style of cinema is where majority of the works you see in the theatres fall into – classicism. Classicism is a mishmash of realism and formalism, where there is a plot which has at least a surface plausibility and a style which rarely calls attention to itself. Take even the recently released Bareilly Ki Barfi or Shubh Mangal Saavdhan for example. The affairs both of them concern themselves with are a slice of real life, yet you know that what you are watching is a movie, or more implicitly, you are made aware of it, by say routine dance numbers which are precisely choreographed. It is also one of the reasons why you only see those who ooze of sex appeal even at their most distressed in leading roles. Most of the times these stunning beauties like Rita Hayworth or Patrick Swayze (or more closer to home, Katrina Kaif or Siddharth Malhotra) are never much of actors or actresses, yet their beauty provides a gradually imposed realization that what are you watching is a work a fiction, and on a more obvious note, keeps the ticket counters ringing, for the allure of the carnal and the aesthetic has always been and will be a compelling aphrodisiac to any art. As Kenneth Clark rightly points out, even in painting and sculpture, eroticism is fundamental to an appreciation of the nude.
Bringing these concepts back to the point, the reason why most of us cannot love cinema is because all we are exposed to are the cheapest form of classicism. Just take a look at the recent money-minters like Badrinath Ki Dulhania or Jab Harry Met Sejal. In the true cinematic sense, they belong to a niche of their own, called the personality star genre. What is it? These are the movies which are tailored for popular stars to highlight those qualities that made them the stars in the first place. These traits are recycled and repacked to basically give the public what it wants, always following the same generic pattern. Such movies kill creativity; for they put the director and writer (the actual visionaries) in the backseat and let the actors drive the project.
So, the first step in loving cinema is to evade these works. Instead, delve into director-centric movies. For the initial viewer, I would suggest the works of masters such as Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Christopher Nolan (The Prestige), Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love), Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) and Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity). These directors have one leg in the formalistic world and another in the expressionist world. What results is the perfect blend of both, appealing to the mind as well as the heart. They are masters of the moving camera, with spontaneous eruptions which destabilize the visual materials, infusing the action with a surge of energy, almost a kinetic high. Among these, Scorsese and Tarantino have often been attacked for the coarse nature of their movies, yet what these critics fail to understand is that a sanitized version would be a form of aesthetic dishonesty, totally at odds with their subject matter’s nasty edge of realism.
Once neck-deep in the beauty of classicism, wade the waters of formalism and realism. Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) are the masters of the former, while Satyajit Ray (The Music Room) and Michael Haneke (Amour) are the masters of the latter. But at the end of the day, what bugs most of the viewers of pure cinema is I suppose the pace of such works. What one has to realize is the intention behind it. The works of these masters are on surface about a certain theme, yet once you look beyond them, their style deals with ideas – political, social, religious, philosophical – beyond the façade of the plot they put up, as if these themes remain privy to only those who truly seek it. What one can do in those moments which appear plodding is to introspect on what has transpired before. Film, at its purest, isn’t just entertainment. It is an experience, and for the time the projector and the screen establish a relationship, the objective is to drown out the viewer from the squabbles of his life and warp him or her in the world of the movie which is set into motion before him. The pace is slowed deliberately, for plodding is the very nature of our own existence, so as to synchronize the world of the movie with that of the viewer’s, than run parallel to it. In an abstract work, I would suggest not to attribute a final meaning to what you see, but rather try energetically to figure out what the director is asking you to experience than understand.
Loving movies, dear reader, is a glorious experience, for the love seems to be truly one’s personal discovery, never before apprehended in quite this way. What one has to keep in mind is that the medium of motion-picture has an extraordinary range of expression. It has in common with the plastic arts the fact that it is a visual composition projected on a two-dimensional surface; with dance, that it can deal in the arrangement of movement; with theatre, that it can create a dramatic intensity of events; with music, that it can compose in the rhythms and phrases of time and can be attended by song and instrument; with poetry, that it can juxtapose images; with literature generally, that it can encompass in its soundtrack the abstractions available only to language. To summarise it, what I mean to say is that cinema is the culmination of all of art, and to love cinema, is to love art in its entirety and as you know, Earth without art is just Eh. I hope you have a glorious time with movies, knowing and loving yourself more and more with every passing movie you see. I guess I will see you at the movies.
P.S. How will you know that you have fallen in love with movies? Just remember, people who like movies have a favourite. People who love them couldn’t possibly choose. When you are that stage, you will be sure.