Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cinema is a bird, or something.

Tonight I attended a program of short films by Ernie Gehr, a filmmaker whose work I hadn't seen before. I was a little drowsy and for a while I had the sinking feeling that I would nod off, but it never quite happened. All in all, an interesting first glimpse at an unfamiliar filmmaker whose work definitely warrants further study. But I'm not going to write about the merits of Ernie Gehr films, a topic which I'm fairly ill-prepared to discuss here. Instead, I'd like to take this opportunity to come clean about what kind of movie lover I am, and more to the point, what kind of movie lover I'm not.

I suppose I started thinking about this during the Q&A that followed the Gehr program. We were fortunate enough to have Gehr in attendance, which naturally brought the serious art-film contingent out of the woodwork. Now, I like the idea of these Q&A sessions, since it allows the audience to interact with the filmmaker and sort of pick his brain about the directorial choices he made. But I find that more and more often lately, a lot of the questions that are asked sort of set my teeth on edge.

It used to be that I was cool with most of the questions that people would ask except for the really stupid ones- what was it like to work with so-and-so, etc. But lately most of those audience members have disappeared, replaced by knowledgeable (or at least silent) moviegoers. I'd guess that the recently-launched Film Studies department has a lot to do with this. But what makes me uneasy is that the questions that end up getting asked tend to be of a strictly technical nature, asking the artist to illuminate the conscious processes behind the making of his films.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think directors just haphazardly throw images together and voila, out pops a movie. But to me, trying to gauge the effect of a movie simply on the basis of the director's technical prowess isn't something that interests me. Maybe this makes me a lightweight cinephile, but I'm much more interested in gauging a film's effect on me, and the reasons behind it than I am at cataloging its component parts. To me, appreciating a movie strictly for the technical stuff is a lot like the story of the child who cut open a bird to see what made it chirp. Yes, you see the various organs that cause the sound to be made, but the sound you were curious about in the first place is lost.

As for me, I like the chirp. In cinema, the chirp is the soul of the filmmaker, who doesn't just make the technical decisions, but puts himself- his ideas, his fetishes, his eccentricities- right up there on the screen. I've never fancied myself an auteurist, but one of the things I value most in a filmmaker is the ability to refashion the world in his image, and to show the audience the world as seen through his eyes. I value a filmmaker who shows me interesting worlds much more than one who tries to wow me simply by virtue of his cold filmmaking skill.

I realize that it sounds gauche to say this, but even with all the studying I've done on cinema over the years, I still prefer to experience movies viscerally and psychologically rather than intellectually. It's not that I'm confused or intimidated by those would would intellectualize the moviegoing process, but it simply isn't for me.

1 comment:

M. Lieberman said...

I recently went to a Gehr short films/Q&A as well. Liked this post alot, as it's often difficult to really describe what kind of movies you like, the experiences in film you prefer, etc. But this was great.

What did Gehr screen by the way? He showed Still, Table, Rear Window, Essex Street Market, and Glider in Bing. Man, Table and Rear Window are masterpieces.

Talk to you soon,