Saturday, June 29, 2013

217. How and Why I Love Film

Up until 1982 -- the year I turned 30 -- I thought of films and filmmaking as something which could provide some nice visual entertainment. Like most film-goers, I sat back and let the movie wash over me. Any critical thinking -- even after the fact -- seemed unnecessary, a waste of time.

It was not until 1982 that I came to the realization that I was much more interested in studying the film; trying to figure out how it was made; beginning to understand the individual components, i.e., Director, Producer, DP, Set Designer, Composer, etc. -- and how things got put together.

During my time in Paris, I had been exposed to some Buñuel, Truffaut and others. It was pretty obvious that these types of films had little in common with the typical Hollywood product.

And then that day in 1982 when my wife and I went to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

I walked out of that theater having experienced what seemed like a completely new emotion: Filmic Manipulation Anger Syndrome.

I still had tears dribbling from my eyes from Spielberg's emotional, sappy ending.

And I was mad!

It dawned on me -- gradually -- that Mr. Spielberg had done quite a masterful job at prodding the sodium chloride from my tearducts. Bit by bit, scene by scene, John Williams cue by John Williams cue -- I was being manipulated!

And a damned fine job he (they) did of it. I spent the following months constantly thinking about how Spielberg had pulled it all off.

And for the next decade or so, I always kept at least one of my newly analytic eyes open during Hollywood attempts to lure me into their insidious design.

**

In 1999, everything changed.

I saw my first Kurosawa film (Red Beard). I could not get enough AK and soon had all 30 of his films.

What I noticed in his work (and later Ozu's), after much study, was that these guys used the exact same "manipulative" techniques that Spielberg was using -- but the difference was subtle. Instead of hitting us over the head with a musical/visual "cry now" cue, these non-Hollywood directors were trusting their audience not to need those types of sledgehammer clue-ins.

And it got better. Kurosawa, for example, took the corny old wipes from the 30's Saturday serials, and transformed the dusty old trick into an entire subset of his massive filmic vocabulary.

Ozu went even further, for example, by rejecting the artifice of lens size (he only used one, the 50mm) and set perfection (he loved to move a salt shaker two inches to the left from take to take, just for the hell of it). Some of the "heaviest" emotional scenes in Ozu occur in medium shots with no music or sound. Other times, crucial events in the plot (such as it is in Ozu films!) are completely elided -- leaving the (Ozu-presumed intelligent) viewer to figure it all out.

I soon realized I preferred watching this type of film to most of gunk coming out of Hollywood. Not much has changed in the past 15 years. My Top Twenty favorite directors:

  1. Akira Kurosaswa
  2. Yasujiro Ozu
  3. Zhang Yimou
  4. Andrei Tarkovsky
  5. Tom Tykwer
  6. Takeshi Kitano
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. Terry Gilliam
  9. Woody Allen
  10. Ang Lee
  11. Quentin Tarrantino
  12. Richard Linklater
  13. Alejandro González Iñárritu
  14. Frederico Fellini
  15. Wes Anderson
  16. Juzo Itami
  17. Pedro Almodovar
  18. Martin Scorsese
  19. Powell/Pressburger
  20. Jean Renoir


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