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Thread: Content, Issues, and Craft

  1. #1
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    Content, Issues, and Craft

    The recent furor in the F9/11 threads has left me wondering... How does one talk films?

    It seems that some people are of the opinion that to talk about film is to talk about the craft, i.e., the direction, the cinematography, the acting, the writing, and so on. Indeed, from time to time, one sees such extraordinary, visionary, or innovative filmmaking that the focus of a discussion has to be on the craft but this seems to me rare... Even, let's say with Kubrick, I'm fascinated more by the issues his movies present than the (certainly superb) quality of the production. For me, there are actually only a handful of movies that would really stir me to write about direction, cinematography, and acting because, in many movies, if these things are done well, then it fades into the background... and instead the content and the issues raised by the film come to the foreground; the movie, in effect, becomes a treatise on certain themes, ideas or issues. And, it is these that I am really interested in discussing...

    However, in the case of F9/11 and the Passion of the Christ, some people here at Filmwurld clearly felt that discussing the issues raised by the film or related to it were not actually fair game for the threads designed to discuss the film. I find this peculiar...

    When I read a book, I generally don't spend much time talking about the author's craft, except maybe as preliminary stuff or for the purposes of an essay. Instead, I want to discuss the points made by the book and the myriad of inter-texts or discursive fields that are related to it. I find the same is true for movies.

    Am I the only one? Am I at the wrong forum? Thoughts anyone?

    I also don't find it necessary for people to have seen the same movies I've seen in order to talk about them. I assume that most people, especially here at Filmwurld, have sufficient intelligence to understand the narrative as presented by someone else and then to draw upon their own film going experiences to make their comments on the issues. For example, when I talk about a movie with someone, I'll tell them what it is about and then give them my views on some of the issues. Those issues are often such that other movies (or books, etc.) become relevant and so they in turn will do the same for me. Before you know it, a complex discussion evolves in which I do not believe that anyone is any worse for wear by not having seen all the movies that are mentioned in any given discussion. Again, is this just me? Thoughts anyone?
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
    Martin Scorsese

  2. #2
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    Craft over Content

    A movie site, like this one, I would presume would be more about the craft rather than the content. If one is interested in content than there are plenty of political science or policy sites on which will in-depth discussions of the substance of such lofty matters can be discussed. But a film site is better suited to discussion of how such issues and topics are transformed and brought into the vivid experience and how they are inter-related. To debate the actual contents seems redundant to me for this site. To discuss such things would be to depart or diverge from the real technical and philosophical contents of the nature of film itself.

  3. #3
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    Knowing full well that I walk a tightrope when engaging you, I will say this:


    Overall, the story is what matters in filmmaking. The editing of images is what actually tells the story.

    Kubrick had this to say about his methods:

    Your first responsibility in writing a screenplay is to pay the closest possible attention to the author's ideas and make sure you really understand WHAT he has written and WHY he has written it. The next thing is to make sure that the story survives the selection and compression which has to occur in order to tell it in a maximum of three hours, preferably two.

    This is very important. But we all know Kubrick didn't write original screenplays- he adapted novels.
    He also believed that a page of a script is one minute of film, and a film shouldn't have more than 120 scenes.

    Films must have a structure that suits the story- Kubrick also said effective balance and effective scenes are not achievable without shifting various elements such as characters, dialogue, etc., and that some things have to be directly expressed.
    (And useless complications eliminated) or as Cocteau called it:
    Shaking the tree and keeping what clings
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I think you'd have to evaluate craft and content when making an assesment of any artistic output. And I don't think that issues introduced by a film need to be dsicussed only within the context of a film discussion. Still there is often a good reason for "topics," "categories," and so on. On this site, they are created to focus a discussion, to give it a framework and to provide a coherent organization to various discussions which makes it easier for participants to navigate. Adherence to the structure (at some level) is important I think...
    P

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    I don't think that I'm advocating a structure-less conversation of films. I'm asking what is admissible and what's not in a discussion of films...

    For instance, if I were to discuss Eyes Wide Shut, I would talk about its views of human sexuality, infidelity and fidelity, and its worldview perspectives. I would ask if Eyes Wide Shut presents a coherent and informative discussion on these topics and then I might draw into the debate other films (or books, etc.) that take a different perspective on similar issues. Would this be appropriate for FilmWurld? Or, am I simply limited to discussing Kubrick's cinematography and direction?

    Same thing with F9/11... why was it suddenly taken as inappropriate to talk about politics, Iraq, and other related issues?
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
    Martin Scorsese

  6. #6
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    I don't know who said it was inappropriate...

    I think there are an endless number of topics that can be related to a certain film.

    As far as locating discussion goes, as there a braod/endless range of discussions that a film can initiate, if the discussion as a whole takes a direction that is more definable on its own than it is defined by the category in which it appears, then it makes sense to put it in a more general category. That's the criterion I would offer. Of course its not scientific...

    But in terms of scope, film can introduce just about any topic.


    P

  7. #7
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    Successful Tightrope Walk

    I'm assuming Johann's tightrope message was undertaken by something I wrote in this frame. If so, I would like to congratulate him for an excellent walk across the trapez. Your walk was well balanced and capture beautifully the navigation between content, process, and the issues.

    What I am concerned with is anduril's having fallen off the rope too many times in his insistence to debate the issues instead of discussing the film. This is not a public policy website.

  8. #8
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    Tabuno: I recognize it is not a public policy website and I don't use the term issues to refer to "issues" in the political sense (except obviously where F9/11 is concerned because there the content is political). I'm interested in the ideas/issues raised by films... isn't this why good films are often made in the first place... to stimulate discussion on what they present (not necessarily how they present it).
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
    Martin Scorsese

  9. #9
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    Anduril,

    From what I've read so far, Fahrenheit 9/11 is the only film you've talked about recently so I am going to use that as an example in whether it is necessary for you or for any one else to see it in order to either appreciate it or denounce it . You are absolutely right in mentioning the fact that in order to talk about the politics associated with the film, it is not necessary to see the film and me or any one else for that matter can easily argue that it adds nothing new to our understanding. I've read that you have had the chance to see part of the script online and elsewhere which has given you a good grasp of the material.

    But, if certain scenes from the film were to be talked about, I am not sure if you'll be able to participate, at this time i am trying my best to leave the politics out of it. There is a wonderful scene in that film where almost out of nowhere we see an Iraqi woman crying, begging, yelling at the people (us) who have destroyed her home. Nothing new, right? But here Moore holds that shot until it degrades into an uneasy silence, it's a sight to behold, a lesser filmmaker or should i say a less caring person would have gone to the next screaming bastard. The exact opposite of this strategy is employed by our media outlets which in the end only ends up disassociating the viewer from the procedings instead of engaging them to the situation. There are other similar scenes in that film that need to be seen, even if you were to listen to the audio transcript of the film, you wouldn't be able to feel the woman's plea. That why the saying 'a picture speaks a thousand words' (or something like that) holds meaning.

    As you've noticed i discussed that scene w/out engaging in any political discussion. I hope it's still okay to be angry about the current situation and not 'love' the film, as is the case with me. I don't believe they are mutually inclusive. Hell, in your case you might actually benefit by watching the film, not only your views will be more respected (if you care) but you might come up with more specific examples where Moore goes wrong and ignores or atleast bends the truth for his liking to make his argument.

    Let me know what you think.

  10. #10
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    I very much appreciate your discussion of a scene in F9/11. I think you are among the first to truly address this, short of perhaps a few more vague comments on scenes of note. And, certainly, to this extent, I can not discuss the film. Furthermore, I certainly would not want to stand in the way of FilmWurld participants discussing scenes in this way. In fact, I'd probably enjoy reading such comments and might even feel pressed to go see the movie myself.

    The question I have about your scene is... what is its significance in the movie? Human tragedy on film can be deeply evocative; Moore is hardly the first nor necessarily the best at capturing it. Especially when skillfully filmed (as I have no doubt Moore can do), these scenes are powerful and moving. But, how is it used? Does it forward Moore's thesis? Or, has he simply captured an emotional outburst, however moving, and used it to play on the sensitivities and emotion of the audience? What is the context of the scene (what comes before it and immediately after it)?

    And, why could we not now discuss this scene that you've presented? I may not be able to comment as one who has seen it--and therefore need to rely on your help--but I can ask questions about it and together we can begin an insightful discussion of Moore's technique. Or, perhaps that requires more time and patience than people are willing to put in?
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
    Martin Scorsese

  11. #11
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    Originally posted by anduril

    And, why could we not now discuss this scene that you've presented? I may not be able to comment as one who has seen it--and therefore need to rely on your help--but I can ask questions about it and together we can begin an insightful discussion of Moore's technique.
    Absolutely, you are right, but as i implied earlier, wouldn't it be better for you to see the film to truly understand my response to any such questions. I say that because in your case it would be easier for you to bring in the politics while discussing the scenes, not appreciating the aesthetic quality which Moore brings. Again, I am still not sure if this film truly represents the disappointments i've had with the current administration and i know not too many have said that. It pretends to be the ultimate answer, which left me a bit dazed unlike say another documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger, also a one-sided encounter (if everything said in that film is to be believed then it might take bush another 5 terms to commit as many atrocities) but the doc left me to find some answers for myself. It was somber, mature and no it didn't make $100 million at the boxoffice.

  12. #12
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    It would help me but I don't think it is necessary. Anybody with half a brain and even a little bit of experience with films should have sufficient background, in my opinion, to discuss the film and import of scenes that are explained to them. But, if no one wants to engage those people... so be it. I just think that's a shame because not everyone in the world watches as many movies as some of the people in this forum and yet the people in this forum could benefit from the input of those people just the same because those people bring to the table other artistic experiences (books, art, etc.) as well as different life experiences. Oh well, I guess mine is just a different take on things and I'll just have to learn to respect the "leading members" of this forum...

    In any case, I do agree with your opinion that Moore doesn't address the real problems with the current administration. I don't know if your beefs would be the same as mine... and, I'll avoid digressing to explain mine here in order to stay on topic.
    http://anduril.ca/movies/

    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
    Martin Scorsese

  13. #13
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    I believe a perfect film combines craft and content and makes it a powerful symbiote that captures the imagination of one's mind. Kubrick was an excellent example to use when explaining this, Johann. I think he always made sure to keep this symbiotic relationship strong.
    "So I'm a heel, so what of it?"
    --Renaldo the Heel, from Crimewave

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    Good topic, Anduril. I think you know the answer to your question, "is it appropriate to discuss content", you just want to bring it out for others to chew on. Yes, it's appropriate to discuss content, but it's important to keep it within the parameters of the film itself. So, a discussion of the Iraq war in a Fahr9/11 thread should try to stick to the topics that Moore brings up in that film. Likewise, a discussion of "Passions of the Christ" should certainly be able to discuss interpretations of the relevent Biblical passages.

    I'm curious as to your comment that "For me, there are actually only a handful of movies that would really stir me to write about direction, cinematography, and acting because, in many movies, if these things are done well, then it fades into the background...". What films are those, if you don't mind my asking?

    I agree with Johann (and Kubrick) that the content or story is king, but a really good film to me transcends the story itself at the same time. It's a work of art, it's not simply a text to be translated literally. I remember hearing an interview with the novelist E.L. Doctorow on NPR a few months ago, where he talked about how writing and the use of words should be musical in a way, it should be symphonic. It's not simply story telling, it's also the beauty of the expression. Same thing with film, it's not simply the "point" of the story that matters.

    In that sense, I think Kubrick was absolutely amazing in that his films mastered both content and craft. Think back on the "points" he's making in Lolita, and Dr. Strangelove, and Clockwork Orange, and 2001. It's deep stuff, as deep as I can remember from any other filmmaker. At the same time, the look of his films is perfect, his films are visually spectacular. The war room in Strangelove, the scenes of Alex's "education" in Clockwork Orange, the spacecraft in 2001, all are some of the most recognizable scenes in the history of film.

    Greenaway is an example of a director who might score more points in the craft rather than in content area. The films of Michael Mann are mesmerizing to me, but his plots tend to crumble a bit if you take a finer look. But story is certainly important, and I always appreciate a straight-forward film that contains an interesting storyline.

  15. #15
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    Originally posted by HorseradishTree
    Kubrick was an excellent example to use when explaining this, Johann. I think he always made sure to keep this symbiotic relationship strong.
    Hey, you stole my example! I gotta be quicker to the draw...

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