Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts on Film Writing

I'll catch up with my recaps sometime this week. But the thing is that I'm snowed under with my grad school homework.

Which includes a lot of reading, which has gotten me thinking.

You see, I like film as an art form and as a storytelling device for one main reason: the way it resonates with so many people. A good film is one that crosses gender, racial, and social lines to appeal to a large number of people. Not in the same way, of course, but people of all shapes and sizes pull something from the film. It relates to my personal answer to the question "what is art."

I believe that when an artist takes something of themselves, some truth they're trying to attain, some piece of their own puzzle, something about their life or belief, and they put that into the work, then they are a "real artist." And I believe that when someone, anyone, other than that artist looks at that work and takes something from their own lives, some piece of their own truth, and they pull that FROM the work, when they see something of themselves in that piece created by a person they likely did not know, then that is art.

In other words, art is something that speaks. But the important thing here is that the piece itself speaks to the audience, not the creator. If a writer, artist, or filmmaker must explain their work, or they feel that the only "real" interpretation is the one they provide and anyone who doesn't see that doesn't "get it" then it no longer really inhabits the real of "art" and it's just a recitation. Art must live on it's own, and it only lives with an audience.

To me, the beauty of filmmaking is that it is so far reaching. I attribute that to the fact that filmmaking is really art by committee. I consider this a great thing, before you get upset. Filmmaking is an art where each person is taking something from their lives, from their beliefs, and they are putting it into their part of the film. Yes, the writer, director, editor, lead actors, and producers are all known to be putting their vision to film. But at the same time, so is the art director, the wardrobe designer, the extras (if they're good), and everyone else involved. When everyone really believes in a film and puts at least a part of themselves into that film, then that means there are a hundred little truths sprinkled throughout, and those truths all have the potential to reach someone in the audience. Perhaps I don't agree with or buy into the director's truth. But I might believe in the art director's vision and that might draw me in and make me think of the film in my own way, thus elevating it to art.

Which leaves me with a very unpopular opinion that is going to get me into trouble soon. I believe that one of the worst things that you can do with film is write about it in the "academic" vernacular. To take a film or set of films and create a work where you explore it in a way that is inaccessible to most people is against the very nature of the process. I have read so many essays and papers about film that could easily have proposed the same ideas, the same thoughts, the same conclusions, but in a more easily read and accessible way, but because of the strict standards of academia and "higher learning" they're written in a way that most of the American population can't begin to understand or care about.

Film is not an art form that is about being selective, exclusive, or that has anything to do with an ivory tower. Exploring film in that way is counter to what I believe, to what I feel, and I'm tired of being expected to write about it that way myself. I can't write that way because it's not true to myself and how I feel.

You can disagree with me, that's the point of this blog having the word "opinion" in the title. In fact, I think it's important to note that for some people who are steeped in academia they likely don't know any other way to write. If they are indeed scientists or philosophers, that will just be the way they express themselves. But I think that in the places where we're teaching people to think critically about film, teaching them how to really write about film in order to leave their observations for future generations, perhaps we should be teaching them a way to write that is both persuasive and understandable for a much larger segment of the population.

As they say in one of my favorite films, "an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure."