Monday, April 12, 2010

Finding Meaning In Cinema or How To Do Your Cinematic Homework

I asked my goddaughter once if she ever used a physical encyclopedia to do research and she looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. When I mentioned "wikipedia", her face lit up and she knew exactly what I was talking about. Now of course, a discussion about this could venture out on a number of topics that stem from that conversation, but when it’s all said and done, the simple point that really does come across is that no matter what means are used, the act of research is still alive today.

Lately, I've found myself, more and more, researching films long after their credits have rolled. I discover new intricacies that went into various aspects of production. I uncover hidden meanings proposed by other fellow viewers. I can even find a list of all the inaccuracies that appear in any particular film, if I wanted to. When you think about it, this is actually an extraordinary practice that wasn't readily available to cinema fans liek myself, even as long as a decade ago. Before the world wide web, when you wanted to learn anything about…anything, you had to turn to those books my goddaughter knows nothing about ... the encyclopedia. And they weren't updated often.

In the age of the latest iGadget, it's a privilege that we have access to so much wealth of information, and not only is it easy to find out additional information on a particular film, it's practically a shame to not take advantage of technology to further one's understanding of a film or cinema in general. Not to mention, it’s rewarding to simply extend the enjoyment of a work of art ... if the opposite was true, we would never stick a painting inside of a frame for display purposes. True, some films may not seem to warrant prolonged study (a good example off the top of my head would be any of the Final Destination films, with all their “deep” meanings) but even for the casual viewer, there can be enjoyment derived from researching, at the very least, ideas presented in these types of films.

I've made a habit, for better or worse, of going to or similar websites after I watch a film to learn facts or trivia that I didn't get from the actual viewing of the film. A good example from my recent "cinema" outings is the film Watchmen. I was ignorant to all things Watchmen before I saw the film, and it intrigued me so much that not only did I do web research to learn more about the concept of bringing a graphic novel to screen, but I also took it upon myself to read the graphic novel Watchmen to better understand the ideas presented within the story. I had no real intention of doing this before I watched the film but the ideas and the overall experience of watching the film drove me to find out more about the story because it was so different. And I have to say, I appreciate the Watchmen lore and the journey of bringing Watchmen to the silver screen much more than I preciously had because of my “research”.

Recently I suggested David Lynch's Mulholland Dr to a friend of mine who would typically not be a fan of such surreal cinema. The movie freaked him out, as I had predicted, but it was a "positive freak out" in that it inspired him to go the web and read up on all the theories and the back story of the film. His appreciation for this absurdist film grew because he took the time to do his own "homework" and answer his own question about the movie he had just watched.

Anyone who seeks to appreciate cinema can learn from this example; the most difficult things to appreciate in life, can sometimes be the most rewarding thing because of the journey taken to truly discover them. And this doesn't mean that encyclopedias or internet connectivity is needed to study what is beyond the images on the celluloid. Sometimes, all it takes is talking, discussing or merely contemplating the ideas expressed through cinema. Some of the greatest conversations about film no doubt took place over a cup of coffee in a brew house in early 20th Century France; not on chatrooms or in film journals.

So find your proverbial "coffee house" and make a truly enjoyable film experience last longer than you thought possible by continuing the film in your head, on paper, on the internet or with another person in discussion. I know I am looking forward to the day when I can have an adult conversation with my Goddaughter about her favorite film.

I just hope it's one I've seen.


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