Monday, December 18, 2006

The Modern Film

This weekend, amongst other things, we spent a lot of our time discussing film.
Try this quotation from the mouth of Herr Maximilian Hien, which I would love to set as an essay…
"Spiderman is the most historically accurate film ever made" (discuss…)

The other reason why we were discussing film was, however, far less amusing. Modern film treads far too often the line between being "artistic", "original", "thought-provoking" etc and being quite simply very disturbed. Moral messages are no longer politically correct, nor are they in vogue, and are therefore non-existant, even in situations where their absence leaves a gaping black hole into which any kind of developing mind might fall never to emerge again.

Thus it is that, while reading the bbc news on saturday, Mylene and I began to discuss the films we had seen recently. Beginning with Le Parfum, film of the book by Patrick Suskind. In my mind, this film just about keeps its balance on the arty side of the line, it's a very well-made (if slightly tacky historically) film, that is not violent, just bizarre, despite containing the murders of not five but twelve women whose essence is needed to make the most incredible perfume in the world (and who, incidentally, are left naked…).
The second film we talked about was Scoop, one that I haven't seen but that Mylene and Jeremie went to around a month ago, and came back with good reports of. It's a comedy, but apparently somewhere in there (one of the sub-plots?) there is a serial killer bearing striking similarities to the one we've been hearing about much closer to home. Maybe someone can fill me in on its role, but Mylene was definitely in agreement that there was no kind of condemnation of this, that it was almost treated as unremarkable, the kind of occurrence one hears about all the time…
This led us on to talking about Match Point, which we'd all watched together a couple of months ago, and which is a decent film up to half way through at which point it becomes unbearable up to the end, and which deliberately leaves you unclear as to whether or not the murderer was ever caught (the stronger indication being that he wasn't, and that one is invited to be happy for him as a result).
Three films in three months–not representative of a high proportion of modern film, admittedly, but still a higher proportion than one would like to see treading that very fine line between thought provoking and simply disturbed.
And one asks oneself this: how many disturbed people does it take to make such a film? Script writer, producer, director, and probably a few other people who have to approve a big budget affair, they all have to think it's a good story, or at least an appropriate story for the cinema screen. As well as one that will sell to the modern world, clearly. It's unlikely that filmmakers are very disproportionately disturbed compared with the rest of society, so if there are that many in the film industry it doesn't bode well for the rest of us, especially when they're swaying us in that direction.

Personally, I find it hard to watch violent films anyway. Things of the nature of Ocean's Eleven or Bond don't bother me in the least, but while my friends get excited about Kill Bill, I can't watch it at all. That, I admit, is a personal dislike. What I don't think is a personal dislike is being disgusted by films that are, as I say, simply disturbed. My flatmates genuinely enjoyed Match Point. That worries me.

Now, I'm not trying to say film is the cause of all our problems, nor am I saying all modern films are like this, but it seems to me that when we look at the problems of a few individuals in society and ask ourselves, how could anyone even think about doing these things, or when we say "oh, they are mentally ill" we should perhaps stop to think about whether it's not them but the whole modern society that is psychotically disturbed, and whether it might be a good idea NOT to make feature films that require an intelligent, rational, stable audience. Because all it takes is one individual to miss the artistic value or misunderstand the fiction of the film slightly and you could be getting far more real-life chaos than we currently have.

What a depressing post. We had a good weekend really!! Must go and teach…

Since writing all that, Mark has quite rightly pointed out that what I say about Match point isn't really fair on the film, nor is it really what I wanted to say. Here is Mark's opinion, with which I agree…(hope you don't mind me copying direct!)
"its actually a very brave and honest film which acknowledges that real life stories don't generally conclude in an hour and a half, or have a positive moral lesson to take away from them. despite that, i'd be very surprised if anyone had fallen into any kind of moral abyss as a result of watching match point. i personally found it quite morally affirming to watch the remorse and hysteria he started to develop and which would only get worse. he's a tragic hero not too disimilar to macbeth - the reason you empathise with the character is that he has a lot of good qualities - it wouldn't be of interest if he was just some cackling villain who would obviously never exist. he's just a realistic character with some good and bad qualities, who allows himself to get into a position where the bad qualities overwhelm the good ones, and that's the tragedy of the story. and in any case its not as if he really escapes punishment - i would personally much rather go to jail than start seeing visions of people i'd murdered. its much like macbeth or crime or punishment, if anything its a study of morality - its all about how most people cannot do terrible things and not feel the moral consequences of them."

Yes–absolutely, and it's a highly successful very well made one at that. I think what I wanted to say before, using Match Point as an illustration, was more about what our making of films about these realities tells us–that is, that . I think it's a good sign that we can make intelligent, meaningful, speculative studies like this one, and that we are introspective, capable of seeing the weaknesses in ourselves and our lives. But I don't like the fact that this is praised as us acknowledging the brutal realities of modern society and yet no one stops to talk about the fact that this necessarily requires that *being* realistic. We love studying it but there's no one saying wait, this shouldn't be reality. It's almost like we take these people, these behaviours, for granted.
While I admit that Macbeth is the same sort of character and that clearly these kinds of stories are not limited to modern film, it seemed to me that the frequency with which we encounter such things these days and the extent to which they are regarded as nothing out of the ordinary was worth raising an eyebrow at? But perhaps I am wrong…

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