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Pierre Lombard
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Pierre Lombard commented on a post on Blogger.
Hi Martin! I only see now that you replied. Thanks for taking the time to write. It seems that we are arguing with a completely different reference point. I also get a sense that you have a desire to add value to society. If your desire is indeed to add value, allow me to share my journey with the medium of film over the past 5 years, as I believe it may inspire you to make an even bigger impact.

Five years ago when I started Cinemuse, our 20 seater independent, retro style cinema in the heart of Stellenbosch, I made a point thereof to create a Programme, where we screen different films from different countries every month. Recent as well as historic films as far back as the 1920s. Doing this drew quite a few respected film lovers and academics, like Martin Botha (nice name right?!) from UCT. You might know him. It's worth Googling him. I was also introduced to Hannes Van Zyl and John van Zyl who together wrote the first film curriculum for a university in South Africa. I think the first was Unisa and then Wits.
These respected individuals helped introduce me to important films in history that personify quality cinema.

So every month we did a different region, like the Far East, Russia, Italy, Eastern Europe, France, Scandinavia, Middle-East, North America, South America, Africa, Australia. I will list some titles at the end if your readers wish to explore and discover a new world.

As we watched these different films, according to critics, brilliant artistic achievements, my perception of cinema started to change. At first, many films I experienced as a total bore! Many had weird and shocking images. And goodness, most had subtitles! I also didn't understand most of the films at all. And this was a problem, because at the conclusion of every film I had to facilitate a conversation among the audience members! Just as most of the audience members, I saw the films for the first time. I soon stopped to try and 'teach' and sound smart and I started to ask questions and so we tried to discover the themes together and try identify techniques and scenes that helped to amplify the themes in the story. After the screening and initial conversation, we went to the bar and drank lots of wine and socialized until the early morning hours... talking about the film even more, about culture, relationships, our dreams and aspirations.

// The first 'small' revelation I had, was that what we as South Africans call "foreign" films, is not accurate, because it is a title an American uses for a non-American film. In the context of South Africa any American film is a 'foreign film' to us. Including Hollywood.

// The second revelation I had was that the word "art" film has been uncritically imputed to any film that was not produced by the major studios and that did not follow the typical narrative structure or grandiose style of the Hollywood film. In the mind of the general public this created a major abyss between mainstream and independent cinema, which helped the cause of the studios. It pushed the independent filmmakers to the fringe.

It also forced cinema chains like Ster-Kinekor to separate their classic and nouveau cinemas. Though a great day for me, because I prefer smaller and more intimate, it was a sad day for our culture in general. As I will explain below. And important to qualify that Nouveau still focuses on American cinema and to a large extent studio pics with a non-traditional narrative structure and style.

// The third revelation I had was that Hollywood is but one voice in the world of cinema. As I watched films consistently from all these different countries and cultures, I soon discovered, that the Japanese filmmakers have a specific 'voice'. The Russian filmmaker's voice is like this. That Italian director has a voice like that... But... what is my voice, as a South African filmmaker? Do I have a unique voice? It doesn't even represent the true American voice. The independent retrospective at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute is probably a better representation of the true American voice through the medium of film.

Why the infatuation with mainstream American style of making films? Is that because I want to make lots of money with my films? Though this is a very superficial approach, good business practice still holds, a successful product is a unique product with a unique 'voice' that fulfills a unique need. My point is, as long as South African film makers try to copy Hollywood, we will never contribute on an international stage. Only in finding a unique voice will we start to contribute.

Many young filmmakers today don't realize that Spielberg and Nolan are very familiar with the films of Kurosawa, and Bergman and Fellini, saw how their unique voices inspired them to discover their own unique voices and so developed started to contribute on a larger scale.

Another way to look at this is to argue that just like the body needs a balanced diet to be healthy for longer, so does a culture require a 'balanced diet' to grow healthy over the long term. Only watching mainstream American films is like eating only meat. Or eating only McDonald's. If we stick to a diet of McDonald's, our bodies will become corrupted and probably die much sooner. And so it is with our culture. If we don't do something now that is inconvenient, then in future our culture will suffer.

Consider the impact on our teens. They form a large part of our cinema audience. Just imagine... Their diet is only Hollywood. They haven't developed a capacity to question and analyze the messages that are carried by the story, by the characters, and the music. Who will these teens be 20 years from now? What will be their cultural radar and moral values? And will they not be the driving force of our economy?

In the same way consider our poorer, previously disadvantaged communities that are only now discovering the sensational and pompous beauty of mainstream cinema and mainstream culture? Like a child, they don't have a literary and cultural vocabulary and the majority won't question the messages carried by the films. They speak only one language. Maybe a second. But no one taught them the language of media, of marketing, of cinema of art. Instead, the films open them up emotionally and serve a view on their future on a silver plate. They grow older to personify the characters and the icons. Won't they be our country's driving force 20 years from now?

// I had a fourth revelation. Each and every aspect of a film serves to amplify the story. If the technique or music or character draws attention to itself, as apposed to the story, it it did not fulfill its purpose.

After a year of watching these different artistic masterpieces, I found that my response to the typical mainstream films changed. Sometimes, within 5 mins of the start of a film, I can tell if the director is trying to manipulate me emotionally with his music and all aspects of the mise en scène, or if he values me as a person with a thinking capacity and an ability to form my own conclusions. This became quite a problem for me socially. If I was with friends and they were watching a movie, this emotional manipulation would make me so uncomfortable I would just have to leave the room and go do something else... find something nourishing to my soul as apposed to sensational entertainment.

If the actor's performance was so amazing that her performance was louder than the story, then her character did not fulfill its purpose. If the special camera sequence was so spectacular that it drew attention to itself and made me step outside the story, then it merely served to excite my senses and give me a joy ride. It did not contribute to the story.

For this reason I started to realize why people say, I like movies for the music... "the music is the most important part of the film for me." Now, that is somewhat ridiculous to me. If you remember a movie only for the music, the director didn't achieve anything.

This is all totally fine. As sensational entertainment. But then we should critique films based on how it made us feel, not based on whether it was a good film or not. Call it, a sensation or emotional hype rating.

It's like the director is kneeling right behind you in the cinema, tapping you on the shoulder every 30 seconds, whispering in your ear, "Feel sad now. Feel happy now. Be scared now." Evan worse is when she would say, "That guys is a bad guy. This guy is an idiot. That girl has bad intentions." How does the director know this about the character? The truth is, in the language of cinema, she doesn't. If you look at a character's face and he smiles, does that mean he is truly happy inside? This style of filmmaking carries an air of judgement, cultural and moral judgement and audiences just allow it, because they have become accustomed to it and don't ask questions.

With too many mainstream American films, it now even feels like the director is standing in front of you, blocking half the screen, poking you in your chest, saying: "Don't you feel it!? Be happy now! Be scared now! Here it comes, here it comes... Ha-ha, I fooled you there right?!" Okay, I am getting carried away now... I am trying to make a point, just like a typical Hollywood movie.

(Just a disclaimer. I don't feel this way about all mainstream cinema. I also loved The Dark Night and Gravity. Though the Joker was an incredible character, he added to the story and Heath Ledger disappeared behind the character, the story and of course, behind the makeup.

Many film critics argue from the emotional standpoint and not from an objective artistic standpoint. That's because they also don't understand the language of cinema. The problem with this approach is, no one can argue with another's feelings. How a person feels is unique to that person. It just is. There is no conversation. We can only argue what a person does with those feelings. We should be able to discern the argument of the filmmaker, and be able to ask,'Is the argument valid? Are they presented objectively?' Even if it's cheap entertainment, or shall I say very expensive entertainment these days, it still carries a cultural and moral message and the audience should be equipped to understand the moral questions. I do not use the word 'moral' in the context of religious expectations. Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll should indeed be in films, because that is the world we live in, but is it presented as pure sensation and entertainment? I do not believe that this purely entertaining approach to filmmaking is unimportant and frivolous. In fact, it makes it even more dangerous and powerful to an uncritical audience and society.

In closing, and thanks for taking the time to read this far, I wish to ask what is the purpose of reviewing mainly mainstream American films? Because, from the way you structure your well thought through critique, I feel that you have a desire to make a much more meaningful impact on society.

I believe Cinema has the opportunity to hold up a lens to society (not a megaphone), and ask 'who are we?' and 'who should we be, as individuals and a society?'

-----

Some directors I recall from our screening s that were meaningful:

The Far East: Kurosawa, Edward Yang, Park Chan-Wook. Kaneto Shindo
Russia: Tarkovsky, Sokurov, Parajanov, Eisenstein.
Eastern Europe: Andrzej Wajda, Emir Kusturica, Nuri Belge Ceylan, Roman Polanski, Krystoff Kieslowski
Italy: Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio de Sica
France: Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Luis Bunuel,
Europe: Werner Herzog, Michael Haneke (I don't think there is any filmmaker currently that understand the language of cinema better than this man.)
United Kingdom: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Carol Reed, Nicolas Roeg, Mike Leigh
Middle East & Asia: Satyajit Ray, Abbas Kioristami
Africa: Djibril Diop Mambéty (Touki Bouki), Ousmane Sembene, Jans Rautenbach, Oliver Hermanus.
North America: Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson

There are so many more. And the world doesn't know.
Interstellar (****)
Interstellar (****)
johnmartinfilm.blogspot.com
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Pierre Lombard commented on a post on Blogger.
Hi Martin! I am not often on Facebook, but noticed your post about this film.

I had great expectations about it, since I am a MASSIVE 2001: A Space Odyssey fan... and it touched on similar themes.

I also felt awed when I walked out of the cinema, but I have come to know that I cannot trust this feeling when it comes to big blockbuster films. Upon second evaluation I realized that that feeling is typical of what big screen blockbusters achieve with non-stop, emotionally charged music & dialogue, big stars, larger than life stories, and imaginative cinematography. For me, it falls desperately short of what he achieved in The Dark Night (I did not like the others in his Batman trilogy that much). Not to speak of Kubrick in Space Odyssey and Cuaron's direction in Gravity.

I think this review by André Crous identifies some of the underlying flaws in Interstellar quite well: http://www.praguepost.com/cinema/42450-movie-review-interstellar

Roger Ebert also puts it best in his review of 2001: A Space Odyssey... "The genius is not in how much Stanley Kubrick does in '2001: A Space Odyssey,' but in how little." ... the opposite could be said of Nolan in Interstellar and perhaps the reason I think the film failed when one distances oneself from the emotions and asked some tough questions.
Interstellar (****)
Interstellar (****)
johnmartinfilm.blogspot.com
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