What Films Can Do!

All this sequestering has upped my cinematic experiences. I have a tendency to select action films. Action plus historical fact is a guaranteed winner for me. As far as genres, it is only a very narrow slice of what is possible, and I recently took the time to ponder that fact. What is possible in films?

The first thing that comes to mind is Warhol’s film of the Empire State Building. I haven’t seen it, and I’m told that individuals who have seen it, wear a badge of honor. It reflects their hipness to sit through eight hours and five minutes of a silent, black & white shot of the Empire State Building, from 5:00 pm until 3:00 am. Okay, the badge doesn’t really exist, but the mindset is real.

It is a movie with time as the focus. Years later Boyhood was filmed, taking twelve years to film, the same cast ages without makeup. Again, in simple terms it was a film about time, with people passing through instead of a building.

For most of history of cinema, the content of films mimics literature, the media it basically replaced. There is a storyline, filled with characters, locations, and some dialogue. The linear development stretches all the back to stories around the campfire. It is well known, scripted, choreographed, and performed from generation to generation in some dimly lit cavern.

Then it is written down, and read aloud. Then literacy increases, and more words are added, the story is embellished because it can be. Eventually it goes back to theater, and sets are created, standards are met, music is added. In the final expression it is recorded in film. And for the most part it is almost like the story, almost like the book, almost like the play. And yet film can be so much more.

In the same way, I often realize that websites are almost like books or magazines, click and the page turns. I suppose that makes it familiar and comfortable, but the internet can be so much more.

So, what examples do we have of movies stretching the limits of what is possible? At first thought one might say the use of special effects. This is naturally tied to the development of technology. Hanging small models of flying saucers from fishing poles might pass in the early 1950s, but today it is comical, and it really doesn’t change the story, it just makes it more believable. Except for the noisy explosion of rockets in deep space. It’s flashy in space, but it’s actually deadly silent. At some point filmmakers tested audiences, and noisy lasers built the necessary drama.

I suppose that the examples of avant garde genre is the current standard of “pushing the envelope”. I’m thinking of “My Dinner with Andre”, or the 2001 film version of “Waiting for Godot”. Hmm, the play was better.

Some of my favorite movies in this genre are:

1. Un Chien Andalou, 1929, with Salvatore Dali and Luis Brunel, famous for the razored eyeball scene

2. Anemic Cinema, 1926 by Marcel DuChamp

3. Destino, 1946 by Salvatore Dali and Walt Disney

4. Spellbound, 1945 by Alfred Hitchcock

5. El Topo 1970, & The Holy Mountain 1973, by Alejandro Jadorowsky (very weird)

6. Eraserhead 1977, by David Lynch

7. Koyaanisqatsi 1984, by Godfrey Reggio

8. Being John Malkovich, 1999, by Spike Jonze

9. A Field in England 2013 by Ben Wheatley

10. You, the Living 2007 by Roy Andersson

And several more that slip my name memory. And today I’m adding…

11. I’m Thinking of Ending Things 2020, by Charlie Kaufman

Truly, very few directors push the boundaries of what films can do.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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2 Responses to What Films Can Do!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I will have to check some of those out. I have seen only two on your list, Eraserhead and Being John Malkovich (also Dinner with Andre but not really on THE list); all a very long time ago and not sure I remember them very well…

    • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
      johndiestler says:

      I really enjoyed I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix

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