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The Torch: Idealism in film — or how to generate a visual message

27 May 2008

The Torch: Idealism in film — or how to generate a visual message

All of us who are avid movie-goers and turn up at film festivals large or small (and maybe even travel for that reason), we are bound not just by sitting through a projection, but more significantly so by the gathering event that is a vital part of the experience, which throws the cinematic detail into large print lastly.

thetorch1.jpgThe Q&A (if there is one) can be a painfully dragging extenuation of something which should better have ended long before, but it can at times be very engaging and insightful. Crowds do have their own dynamics, and you yourself may not be of the type to speak up and produce themselves, just prefer to listen carefully instead, which still might be a worthwhile experience. And then there is the ultimate killer question, the one we’ve come to dread the most and at the same time cherish for its wonderfully easy foolishness: “What is the message? Can you please explain?” – “Of course not!” would be the only line of rescue here, but politeness forbids for obvious reasons. And why shouldn’t you ask? Or try to answer, if not explain? Myself, I have changed my mind of late on this particular count, and reckon the challenge such an exchange provides to be a potentially healthy procedure for all involved, filmmakers and audience alike.

The idea, the concept that bites, and bites back with a force to be remembered, this kind of idealism which is a little rough around the edges, it can really affect people and make a difference; instead of further antagonizing an already established conflict. Whoever is in the field and looking for innovation, a cinematic rendition that is challenging and imbued with the power to provoke the imagination (and some programmers among them) — they would know that it is not the ready-made surface perfection film that will deliver, but probably something rather edgy and raw instead.

What counts and will ultimately be acknowledged as an achievement is the authentic impulse behind any given film. If it is audacious rather than ambitious, audiences will notice and give their respect, even in spite of some technical flaws. What distinguishes art from mass production is not a decision to make a film but the necessity for it to come out and be as it is. And to me, film is first and foremost an art form which allows for a unique and very powerful way of self expression of an idea or concept that someone (or a group of people collaboratively) feel passionately about.

It is ideas above all else, which revitalize our systems, and hold and give the power to re-engineer our societies as they must, before growing numb and rigid. Even as films, just like any other works of art, would rarely bring about change just by themselves, they do contribute to that lively debate which keeps the human element forever vigorous and future-bound, making dreams reality. What inspires people to give their best and overcome an obstacle in real life — it always has to start with the idea that this is possible; it will never come about without a vision and the trust in its attainability. As a filmmaker it is your choice to either simply feed consumer appetite and keep all things as they are (happy affirmation), or to provoke and call to action, as much as give the awareness which precedes it (the responsible rebel who refuses to appease their conscience easily). What will earn you the kind of credit you deem worthy of your best employment (what task you set yourself), or what ambition spurs you on (your inner guidance) — find it out about (and for) yourself, then make your movie in accordance.

To make a point and to further an argument, in short, the high art of rhetoric in all its three thousand year glory has a story behind it, and it is in words. If spoken or written, those words as much as any school founded on their backs want to put us on a page — the same single sheet of paper to subscribe to if possible. But what about the screen? Trans-media adaptability of strategies and techniques always is a tricky issue, and not very widely nor sufficiently well understood. This is because such a translation means making a leap from one ground and its conditions to reach for another, genuinely different level. And film clearly works according to its own distinct rules, apart from writing, separately. Therefore the framing of a message in film (if it was to be pursued deliberately) has to come about on separate terms.

With any powerful visual account is like an expectation similar to the one you have with a present just before unwrapping: you have already been enriched — even before knowing exactly how. Compare this to the balance inherent in an electric charge that can spark a consuming fire, or enter an organized circuit to set things in motion. A momentous import is contained in memorable images that pierce your perception, images that linger right behind your eyes for the longest time and reform themselves in your dreams the moment before coming fully awake. Picture the idiosyncratic irritability of a wound, susceptible to even the slightest movement in the surrounding air — such memories form what lasting quality a film can have. Obviously, the way to achieve this is not in the explication but the synoptic totality of a visual imprint: revelation never occurs in the atrium, but is reserved to a sanctuary (its first wonder).

On top of this, a film’s message should never be defined by its ending. I put this to every filmmaker who is driven to their craft by an ideal and true passion: What meaning you invest your movie with — it has to be embedded and expressed within the visual body proper; and the punctuating imagery needs to be consistent. Even if there is a choice for openness, it fails the instant it becomes an arbitrary meandering through swamps and undergrowth that ends you nowhere (or in just a puddle of oblique wisdom). But do ferry us through a landscape of your devising, and let there be a current to carry onwards and with sights that resonate because they can reflect and give back what we as viewers send out continuously with beams of that inner search light which compelled us to flock to the cinema in the first place: our personal yearnings and guarded secrets. Then your movie’s message doesn’t require to be heralded by pomp and circumstance, but will find its way and make an inconspicuous deposit in our hearts. This is how you invest a meaning!

Generally speaking, you can identify an agenda best by making a broader assessment and by taking in a picture in its entirety, instead just pecking at isolated bits and parts; this goes for the works of artists and professionals of every persuasion. In fact, you have a good example for this right among your local talents if you take a look at the documentaries by Lynn Lee and James Leong. Films like “Aki Ra’s Boys” or “Homeless FC” are implicit and simple in making their point of highlighting what is essential and of core humanity in all of us with full respect. They manage to discover the most telling drama on the margins (the best of being alive and fallible) by establishing an argument through close observation; an idealistic approach which works particularly well for doing all of this so undemonstratively.

But this much is true: good intentions alone will not pave the road to Good Films Heaven, and preaching is a lousy entertainment. Images have to appeal to the imagination first and work their way to affect the intellect thereafter more profoundly. The suggestive power used with honesty to service an ideal is a powerful argument when it is free flowing, natural and not exalted for the cheap effect — humility is in simplicity, and beauty too.



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