Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Film as Faith

Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew

In her excellent piece on Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew in this month's Sight & Sound magazine, Hannah McGill writes the following:

Christ's miracles are rendered not with smart special effects or coy evasions, but with crude cuts; somehow the refusal to attempt to fool us emphasises rather than reduces the sense of magic. The sheer scale of what the Gospels ask a true believer to accept is rendered unavoidable.

This eloquent passage got me thinking about how, in a sense, filmmakers ask their audience – their true believers – to accept as true what's on the screen before them. If miracles, by definition, ask us to believe in the impossible, is then cinema itself a miracle? Or, to put it another way, is cinema an art (an act) of faith? Is it, in a sense, inherently a 'religious' medium?

Just as all these thoughts were flying through my mind, a friend posted this on Facebook:

'It is as though movies answered an ancient quest for the common unconscious. They fulfil a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory' – Martin Scorsese

The idea that films fulfil a spiritual need seemed to chime exactly with the point I was trying to grasp. I Googled the quote and found it to be from A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. Pulling the book off my shelf, I located the quote, and found this preceding it:

I don't really see a conflict between the church and the movies, the sacred and the profane. Obviously, there are major differences, but I can also see great similarities between a church and a movie house. Both are places for people to come together and share a common experience. I believe there is a spirituality in films, even if it's not one that can supplant faith. (page 166).

Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ

With this in mind, I wonder how much of a leap it is to see a love of cinema as a faith. If we can acknowledge that holy leaders and filmmakers alike ask us to believe in the impossible, that both film and religion fulfil a spiritual need, and that they are both practised in houses of worship, am I really going too far to posit cinephilia as a form of faith? Of religion?

Throughout all of this, there is but one image burnt into my mind: the resurrection in Ordet. Where else has the act of the dead returning to life been rendered with such heart-wrenching believability? With such straight-laced conviction that the figures on the screen seem more real than reality itself? We don't just believe in the miracle, we believe in miracles, the miracle of life – the life of those on screen, our life, life on earth. Cinema made flesh, flesh made spirit. Transcendence.
Dreyer's Ordet

Back in 2007, I wrote the following in my Director's Journal for Life Just Is:

Reading Kazantzakis, I think I've realised why I'm interested in religion: it's because religious people have blind faith. They believe unconditionally. To believe in anything that wholeheartedly must be comforting.

Six years later, I realise I do believe in something that wholeheartedly. I believe in cinema.

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