Cinema as art

There is something unique about cinema – the seventh art – that sets it apart from other forms of art. It is the ability to recreate life. To be more precise, it is the ability to recreate human experience. The remarkable Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky called it ‘capturing the passage of time’, which means the same as recreating human experience, for there isn’t an experience without the passage of time. He wrote, “One cannot conceive of a cinematic work with no sense of time passing through the shot, but one can easily imagine a film with no actors, music, décor or even editing.”

Music deals with sound. Painting, photography and sculpture deal with visuals, and literature and theatre deal with scenarios. Cinema uses all of these elements – sound, visuals, scenarios – but its authenticity as an art form lies in recreating human experience while using these elements as tools.

For Tarkovsky and many other filmmakers, mainstream cinema has diverted from exploring this unique aspect of cinema. An average film consists of shots of a few seconds put one after the other to narrate a story. In this manner – called the montage ­– cinema becomes filmed theatre, losing its distinctiveness as an art form which lies in its ability to capture time.

The other major possibility that filmmakers have – something Tarkovsky, Tsai Ming Liang, Hou Hsiao Hsien, and others have explored – is to take longer shots where the camera lingers as a witness, concerned more with the mood of the moment rather than telling a story. Here, the point is to explore certain experiences – loneliness, intimacy, nature, or even boredom – with the help of a particular kind of cinematography, music, acting, and script, and thereby string together a film based on long shots, each of which is an exploration of these experiences. Tarkovsky expresses this with the phrase ‘Sculpting in Time’, which is also the title of his major book on the philosophy of cinema and the philosophy of art in general. From this perspective, cinema becomes much more than a means of entertainment, and often not entertainment at all, just like Beethoven’s music is moving, but not entertaining.

Andrey Tarkovsky

This link below is an excerpt from Tarkovsky’s film Solaris. The main character, Kevin, is on a space ship that hovers on the planet Solaris. On the space ship he has met his wife Hari, who is under much emotional stress. Yet, Kevin is happy to be reunited with Hari. In this scene, the space ship experiences a few seconds of loss of gravity. The scene explores the theme of intimacy using J.S. Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ as background music and a painting by Pieter Bruegel. Not all cinema that deals with capturing time has the mystical, magical, non-rational qualities of Tarkovsky’s films and this is perhaps an extreme example of the ‘cinema of time’.

Over the years, I have slowly accultured myself to appreciate such cinema and this has involved letting go of my habit of expecting something new to happen on screen every moment, of always asking the question “what next”? But watching this film was my first exposure to this kind of cinema and even though I was not used to such films then, it made a deep and lasting impression on me. Perhaps for the first time, I realised that films can be spiritual and understood what I had been looking for in my explorations of different forms of art.

Such films bring us back in touch with our own feelings in the moment, instead of hooking us to a particular feeling being portrayed on screen. Perhaps you feel a bit bored, perhaps you want more action, perhaps you remember the issue you are worried about – this is you, and the cinematic experience is a meeting of what is on screen with what is in your heart. It is not a temporary effacement of what is in your heart, so that you can escape into what is on screen. For Tarkovsky, a film takes one deeper within oneself, rather than away from oneself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcglyhUre4w&feature=related

The next link is a scene from the mainstream Hindi film Khamoshi, set to beautiful music, captures some of the same elements, but in a much more accessible manner.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH3UyGkqM9A

“The goal for all art, unless of course it is aimed at the ‘consumer’, like a saleable commodity, is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question” – Andrei Tarkovsky

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~ by tdcatss on October 2, 2011.

4 Responses to “Cinema as art”

  1. true

  2. Thank you for teaching me about cinema today! :)

  3. “Over the years, I have slowly accultured myself to appreciate such cinema and this has involved letting go of my habit of expecting something new to happen on screen every moment, of always asking the question “what next”? But watching this film was my first exposure to this kind of cinema and even though I was not used to such films then, it made a deep and lasting impression on me. Perhaps for the first time, I realised that films can be spiritual and understood what I had been looking for in my explorations of different forms of art.” — Yes, that’s the point of everything in a way.

  4. you are welcome debbie!

    anonymous – i don’t understand, but thanks for the comment anyhow

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