9.12.2008

Worth a thousand words


OK. I'm going to have to weigh in on this. Emily recently wrote a post in her blog about story and its role in filmmaking. And while Emily makes a completely valid point in comparison to her friend -- whose opinion also baffles me, but for reasons slightly different than it baffles Emily -- I think there's a deeper issue here. And as I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine on this matter, here goes:

I have to argue that everything has a story. You see a picture, a piece of sculpture, a piece of visual-based theatre, you read a poem -- all of these things will or can present a story. That's partly because all of these things are created to communicate, and partly because it's a natural human reaction to see stories in everything around us.

So arguing that a film can exist without a story doesn't hold water for me. And I've long been troubled by the separation of "story" and "pretty images." You often hear things like "everything needs to push the story forward," as if all of these elements are separate from the storytelling. Images, music, editing, costume design -- all of these and so much more are there to help communicate the story. And nothing else.

The idea that one can have story (or not), and then have some pretty pictures (or not), is really problematic for me. All of these elements are moving towards a common goal. And when it's perceived as otherwise, that's when you get empty popcorn films with anemic stories, or art house films that look like shit.

It's one of my problems with mumblecore films. I can't stand this subset of semi-recent "indie" movies. In Search of Midnight Kiss is the most recent example (though this film itself is way behind the curve and already dated in its approach). My friend (P) and I were talking about these movies -- also often referred to as bedhead cinema -- and wondering who in the hell watches them. We don't know anyone who does, and I'd have to say that P and I would seem to be part of the ideal demographic for these movies. They're those films everyone always assumes someone else is watching. Funny Ha Ha. The Puffy Chair. Hannah Takes the Stairs.

They're just ugly movies that seemed to have tacked on the image -- the entire medium of filmmaking -- as an afterthought. You could even go further to take on decent movies that just look like crap (You Can Count on Me is a prime example).

I guess my point is that story can exist anywhere. In a novel, a cave painting, a poem, a photograph, or in a piece of music. In my comment in Emily's post, I point out that I personally find more story in a Hopper painting than I do in most modern horror movies.

But in movies in particular -- a visual medium -- one can't disconnect stories from the image and the editing and whatever else. I believe there's story in all movies. In Mike Leigh's films; Dali's work; David Lynch; Maya Deren's experimental films; in someone mainstream like Speilberg; hell, even in that obnoxious shit Matthew Barney's stuff. Some are classic approaches, some aren't, and some are in between.

And it's not about the other elements pushing story or about how story supports the amazing visuals and sweeping score -- it's about how all the elements work together. I don't want to see a film without a story, but I also don't want to watch something that looks like crap.

I think in a great film, nothing is secondary. And nothing is extraneous.

ps. And, by the bye, there's no difference in my mind between a "film" and a "movie." That's all merely confusion of the historical context. It was originally a "moving picture." Then it became a motion picture. You hear a lot of older filmmakers still refer to them simply as "pictures" (personally, I love that -- there's nothing more cinematic than hearing Scorsese referring to "a great picture"), and the terms film and movie later gained popularity. For all we know they'll come to call them digitals or pixels. They're all stories projected on a screen. If it makes you feel better to classify -- hey, whatever wets your whistle.

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