Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Cinema as Spectacle

Over the last few months I have heard and read a lot about the latest technological 'advancement' of cinema, aka 3D movies and the Real D process. According to the prophets, in a few years all films will be literally coming at us in all three glorious dimensions. The new process has been variously described as the best thing to happen to cinema since the introduction of colour, the switch to sound, and the spread to widescreen. Personally I find this all rather ironic (and oxymoronic), since the best film ever made is black and white, silent, and full screen. Sure, this is just a personal opinion, but it does raise an interesting question about so called 'advances', and perhaps even the very nature of cinema itself.

While it might all be very well for the money men to be pushing a new process which will help get people into the theatres in a world where the cinema is facing ever increasing competition from alternative platforms, one has to consider to what extent the addition of a third dimension will really 'improve' or 'advance' cinema. In a sense, the answer to this question forces us to reopen the age old debate on cinema as art vs cinema as spectacle. While it's very easy to see how something like
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D might benefit from the addition of the third dimension, I wonder whether the films of someone like, say, Richard Linklater would really benefit. Some might argue that seeing something in 3D, even if that something is just people talking, would add an extra sense of realism to the onscreen world and thus be of benefit to even the more independent-minded works. In a sense, this is a good argument, and until the use of 3D becomes widespread enough for this to actually happen, it's something that we’ll have to console ourselves with only speculating about.

Lest my comments above appear snooty, I want to make it clear that I do believe there are times when art and spectacle overlap, and in a sense this makes it even more difficult to reach solid conclusions on the introduction of 3D. Steven Soderbergh's recent masterpiece
Che is going to be released in so-called 'road-show' fashion, while I recently caught a screening of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg with Maddin performing the voice-over live. Both films are clearly works of art, yet this approach to their screenings brings them into the realm of a rare, special event – in other words, a spectacle. It could be argued that turning these works of art into spectacles in this way cheapens them. But that's not an argument that I would make. On the flip side of this, there are mainstream filmmakers whose work one could clearly describe as belonging firmly in the 'spectacle' camp, but who are also great artists. In my opinion, Tim Burton is a great example of this, and indeed he is already working within the 3D medium. I have yet to see the 3D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas and although I must confess that I am very keen to, even here I remain sceptical as to how much of a difference the 3D will make to my enjoyment of the film; for starters, how can one improve on something which is essentially perfect, and secondly, if the glasses remain as uncomfortable as they were on my last trip to the Imax, I'm not sure I'll last more than ten minutes (to be honest, I find the glasses that I have to wear for sight bad enough, without having to wear a second pair on top).

But if all this makes me sound curmudgeonly or resistant to change then I hope you'll forgive me; that's not my intention. To return to what I was saying at the beginning of this post, although I do believe that colour, sound and widescreen should not necessarily be seen as 'improvements', I do recognise the progress their introductions to film have led to, and some of my
favourite films are in widescreen, have colour, and yes, have sound too. But the thing that makes me nervous and which perhaps spawned this post, is not the idea of 3D films, but the idea of all films going 3D. Not all films being made today are in colour, nor indeed are they all in widescreen. Ultimately, all of these 'advances' should be seen for what they really are: tools that all filmmakers, regardless of their artistic intentions, can utilise, or chose to not utilise, in accordance with their visions.

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