Cinema, Film Criticism

THERE IS A FILM APPRECIATOR IN EACH OF US

Nancy H. Kleinbaum, the iconic American writer, once said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” Indeed so! Imagine humanity sans poetry. Imagine a life when your deepest feelings are not resonated by poems, when your darkest desires are not expressed through tepid poetry. Life would be so monotonous, so dull and so darkly emotionless.

Now, let us extrapolate Nancy’s thought to the remarkable field of cinema and it would make perfect sense. We don’t watch cinema because it is cute. We watch cinema because we are members of the human race.  The celebrated French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, one of the pioneers of the experimental French New Wave, couldn’t have been truer when he said, “Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”

This fraud keeps us alive and makes us tick. This is true in so many levels in the contemporary world. A relatively newer art form, cinema embraces all the other art forms for its own expression and this is exactly where it becomes so unique. Indeed, as members of the human race, we can’t but appreciate cinema not just as a storytelling platform, but as a manifestation of humanity in itself.

What Is Film Appreciation?

There is an oft-repeated term called ‘Film Criticism’. This term is problematic on so many different levels. It somehow suggests that we see a movie to criticize it, to find faults with its fundamental premise. Hence, the term ‘Film Appreciation’ is much more acceptable – much more democratic, so to say.

Now the obvious question arises. What is Film Appreciation and who are these Film Appreciators? Well, the first question is rather simple to answer. Film Appreciation is the process of analyzing the various elements of cinema and evaluating the same using some standard benchmarks. The answer to the second question is a bit tricky. There are people who appreciate cinema professionally. These are people, who write and speak on specific movies in order to give the prospective audience a clear idea about what the movie qualitatively stipulate. On the other hand, each one of us, who watch and admire cinema are film appreciators in some form or the other.

While cinema is a creative art and there can’t be any set parameters to analyze it, it makes us better film appreciators if we start understanding some of cinema’s ingrained elements. This process makes watching cinema all the more enjoyable and meaningful. Cinema is a chronicler of contemporary history. Thus, it doesn’t hurt if we analyze movies against the backdrop of time.

Now, let us take a sneak peek into those elements that we need to understand in order to appreciate cinema in a more fruitful way:

  1. Theme: To put it in simple words, theme is the fundamental premise on which a given movie is based. Some examples of themes could be romance, power, control and the likes. Let us take an example to understand the concept of theme a little more clearly. If we take up Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish masterpiece ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006), the theme would be death. The movie is all about the infallibility of death.
  2. Message: While all movies do not necessarily have a central message, there are instances when the filmmaker wants to convey something to his audiences. There are other times when a film is left to the imagination of the audiences. If we take the example of Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘3 Idiots’ (2009), the central message would be the redundancy of streamlined and process-oriented education, one that kills the creative sparks among students.
  3. Metaphor: A metaphor is a literary figure of speech. These are commonly used in cinema to enhance the experience. A metaphor is an element that means something different from their literal meaning. Metaphors acquire fresh dimensions when used in cinema. James Cameron’s blockbuster movie ‘Avatar’ (2009) could be considered to be a metaphor for the exploitation of indigenous people all over the world.
  4. Subtext: A movie creates multiple meanings and conveys numerous messages. Some of the meanings and messages are intended and some are not so. Meanings and messages that are conveyed beneath the visible surface of a movie are known as subtexts. We can take the example of Satyajit Ray’s timeless classic ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955). The death of Durga could be a subtext for the deplorable condition of women in the Indian society.
  5. Motivation: There can be several elements in a movie. At times, the presence of some of the elements is justified in the movie itself. This justification could be construed to be motivation. We can take the example of Ritwik Ghatak’s masterpiece ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ (1960). In the movie, there is a scene where there is a juxtaposition of classical music with the sound of a train. This is representative of troubles that might befall in the protagonist’s life.
  6. Motif: When an element is repeated in a movie in order to create a symbolic meaning, a motif is created. We can have a motif in the form of a dialogue or a piece of music or a technical element or an object. Let us take the example of Sam Mendes’ critically acclaimed movie ‘American Beauty’. Here, rose is a motif that represents lust.
  7. Point of View: At the end of a day, a movie is also about a certain perspective or a point of view. Is the movie neutral? Is the movie objective? Is the movie biased? Whose point of view does the movie represent? The answers to these questions determine the point of view of a movie. We can take an effective example here. John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ (1956) is essentially told from the point of view of the European settlers in America.

While the above mentioned elements are critical to the deconstruction of a movie, there are other elements as well that require critical examination. However, we can reasonably make sense out of movie if the mentioned elements are dissected.

Let us all become active movie viewers rather than being passive consumers of cinema. Not only will it enhance our creative cognition, it will also make us better human beings.

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