On the Philosophy of Film

I have been reflecting on this piece for a while. I did not want to put finger to keyboard till I had chewed on things a little and I was wondering how I would justify the heavy title I had thought up for it even before I was completely sure of what I would say on the blank piece of screen.

But I guess it’s true what people say about the stuff you really want to say coming out in ways you did not expect it to. Like when you are angry but more eloquent than you have ever been. Or when you are in love, or thinking of love.

The Deleuzian statement about film being the philosophy of the 20th Century is today, as commonplace an assumption as is the McLuhan statement of the medium being the message. And it is also true that philosophy does not mean just a Left-Liberal understanding of the Universe. It is plural. And we should say philosophies. So, the “Philosophies of Film”. And in an attempt to not go the other way and be completely Bourgeois, we should not create grand theories and therefore say “a reflection on the philosophies of Film as a medium”. And now that we are being inclusive, plural and class sensitive and I may go on, I want you to say this word over and over again, till it doesn’t make sense to you. Like the simplest of words, when stared at make no sense at all: ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT. ENTERTAINMENT.

And now that it has stopped making sense. Think of another word. Here it is: PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE.PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE. PASSIVE.

No medium is passive. Not even Television. It never can be passive. Because the word passive is so alien to the human mind. Even if we want it to be with all our concentrated will, it won’t stop thinking. For even a millisecond. Even repeating the word ENTERTAINMENT is a veritable explosion of cognition.

Therefore, we reflect on everything. Our navel, when we will leave office, how good those ankles look next to the glass. On why I secretly like Manet’s paintings. On the shuddering reflective shots of the wronged wife in “Balika Vadhu” or the pretty girl who cannot speak English crying in “Roadies 6”. This is why SMS votes are all the rage. The state of media is that it is active. We create media because we want to communicate. And we want to elicit responses. Remember the AIDA model? So in our reflection, we have come to the first conclusion:

(1) Film is not a passive medium. It is designed to elicit certain responses.

Are these responses desinged to combine as entertainment? The other word we repeated over and over. Slightly harder to answer that one. Aamir Khan seems to think so. So does Quentin Tarantino. So what is entertainment?

en·ter·tain·ment // (ntr-tnmnt)

n.

1. The act of entertaining.
2. The art or field of entertaining.
3. Something that amuses, pleases, or diverts, especially a performance or show.
4. The pleasure afforded by being entertained; amusement: The comedian performed for our entertainment.
5. Archaic Maintenance; support.
6. Obsolete Employment.

//

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

I could go a little further, ignore most of the circular/archaic definitions and focus on Number Three. So it is something that takes away from reality or amuses. It is not something that makes on think about the heavier stuff of life i.e. if you think amusement is light. I do not think amusement or humour are things to be taken lightly and therefore I do not believe that entertainment can be taken lightly. And it needs to be treated in the right context. Meaning that it must be subject to the same value judgements as other texts. Like other texts which are biographical, reflective, painful, sad or just plain beautiful. As a human text, entertainment needs to be ethical or have a damn good reason why it isn’t. And a circular argument of how it is entertainment and therefore above those value judgements do not apply.

So we have our second conclusion of the day:

(2) Entertainment is a not outside the value judgements we measure other texts by.

Lets move on to more difficult stuff. In a post-modern reflective world, which I love being a part of, there is a recognition that all is not right with the world. But that does not make it any less beautiful. There is a recognition of the fact that sometimes life is better and more importantly, more original, when we re-invent the rules. When we rewrite the value judgements that texts are supposed to apply to. Where the rejection of a full-stop is a rejection of centuries of generations told that reason and order are the bed rocks of our society.

But the difference between us and Anarchists is that we do not use the liberties given us to destroy the society we live in. Because we believe that most things are beautiful. Or can be. And that there is no high-class or low-class. But that does not mean that the Mother is something we mock. Or that sensitivity is something that no longer needs exist, because we can survive on virulent mental orgasms of loud sounds, knives, flames, pain and revenge. Nor do we enjo watching active media manipulated and broadcast to disburse the propoganda of sadism.

Propoganda is a powerful thing. For it uses active media to evoke dictated responses. To make us machines. Zombies. Trained, like the Rome of old, to forget the truth and feast on blood. As the Arts improve, and as craftsmen are born who understand the media of film better and better, who are concious of the texts that have gone before and the ingredients needed to subvert them, there arises a need to understand that famous line:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Mr. Tarantino,  I want you to reflect on that pop culture reference you grew up on. And I want you to know you are a Nazi. And more people should understand that. While it must be a terrible high to know that you know the audience’s G spot; and like sex, no-one will die because of your film, you are creating a culture. And a religion. And while we love the music, that is always a dangerous thing.

Brad, I thought you knew better.

6 responses to “On the Philosophy of Film”

  1. Ok, i guess you were waiting so here goes…

    A lot of thought has been given behind writing this and it’s wonderful to know someone who takes cinema so seriously that before coming to a conclusion, he makes sure that he reads up and forms an opinion that not only is based on partial logic, but also and perhaps more importantly, consistent. Others might think it’s a way of intimidation, but i think its wonderful, and tarentino, if he had read this, would have understood that his cinema is taken seriously, and not dismissed as “someone who is supposed to make these films” and i think that is the quintessence of constructive criticism. Kudos for that.

    Now, certain things i observed about myself that i dont think i fathom, because when i read these words, i see they are written with a lot of confidence that has a kind of finality. In this world that is against absolutes, one ought to take them seriously, and that plants a seed of confusion in my novice mind. I read out ENTERTAINMENT as many times it has been asked to be read out, but by the end of it, it still carried the same meaning and sense. The same package of fun, sensitivity, awareness, sorrow, exhileration, and for the grounded, not to mention money and box office ticket stands, with card machines that dont work with it. So yes, passive is not really our forte. (Didnt speak out passive as many times though :))

    But then, any work of art, unless it is carelessly done, comes with a sense of planting discord in the minds of its audience. Simply because, it by itself is a reflection of someones mind. So in my opnion, and of course i might be wrong, all films, like paintings, can invite different opinions. SOme might say that Guy Ritchie is just razor sharp editing mocking mannerisms of the British underground with a story line that is written to support the graphic novel like effect that he wants to inject in 2 very fast hours. So they call it hedonistic cinema, which he throws at us knowing fully well, that many of us will have orgasms. Would it have soul? Not necessarily. Would it have panache, well, thats the point, and thats why we will go and watch it. But then, one would come and say “you are not supposed to LOOK for soul in Snatch, you are supposed to watch it, and have fun because thats the point.” So when Brad Pitt nonchalatly gets up, and says “I wanna take a shyte” in Irish accent, it doesnt gross us out, and neither do we diss him, because we LOVED when he said that. We didnt take the fun and amusement seriously there, not in my world.

    When Norton puts the gun on his temple and kills himself to kill Brad Pitt (Fight Club), and then rises up again, we make ourselves to find sense in it, because the film from the start, very start gives us an idea about the nature. So what do we remember, other than Norton’s performance? Philosophy? Perhaps, but not most of us. The superficial and over the top sexuality of Pitt, perhaps, for most of us. Detailed camera work, and a different take on psychoanalysis that has been made wierd for the sake of it? I remeber it by that. And here, its not fun and amusement anymore, its playing with people’s mind with violence that is more in the mind, gore that is intrinsic, less blood but more thought. But, its still entertainment. And we mentally conditioned ourselves, to not take the gore seriously

    Of course tarentino knows audiences G spot, and may be he is a Nazi (for argument’s sake). BUt so does Scorsese when he makes the audience believe that violence can lead us nowhere, AFTER he shows a three hour film where he not only packs in violence, but gives it charecter, film after film, one oscar nomination after another. And so does Speilberg (and you know how) and well, Ritchie.

    My point is, that you have good points to dislike Basterds, but it is important to remember the very same points when you watch another film which makes you wonder “is this the correct veiwpoint to watch the film with?”

    And if Brad DID know better, and this is my opinion so you can just abuse me, then he wouldn’t have done Snatch, 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, or for that matter, Meet Joe Black either. Because violence is not the only act that exemplifies a person as being a Nazi, i think making a film whish crosses or flirts with the line of an interpretation that can be antisocial, also shows the same. But the point is, that they do that because its an interpretation to begin with- their own, and they go ahead and take the risk.

    Irresponsible? probably. Immoral? to a certain extent. But if you are going to tell me, that since history, every bit of work of art, is a product of ethics and morality, then i have no arguments for that. I think it was the communist government of former USSR that tried to put a censorship to inject ethics and morality in cinema. Rest as they say is history.

    Sorry for the bullshit. But i love it how you make me come with so much crap that dont make sense. 🙂

  2. Took a LOT of effort to fathom what you’ve written. Seriously, daunting. But, here are my two cents…

    But I have a contention to make. Doesn’t your point on ‘entertainment’, reduce the term to ‘amusement and fun’, before clarifying to us that entertainment resides in a larger meaning? Do let me know if I’m wrong.

    Plus, establishing that the audience isn’t passive and then referring to ‘active media’.. sort of threw me off flow… cos when we aren’t passive…

    Anyway, as one blinded because of distractions to sound tracks.. I wouldn’t know about alleged propaganda or lack of ethics.

    • @Such: I was trying to make the point that something that amuses or distracts is not necessarily outside value judgements. I was trying to show how the dictionary meaning is a reflection of how society sometimes views entertainment i.e. incompletely.

      Your point on the activeness of media might be fair. I shouldn’t have shifted the objects around. But I do feel both are active.

      Thanks for thinking enough about it to make those two comments. Feels nice that people read all of it.

      @Neel: Dada, whatte comment. Amar post theke more detailed. But I cannot contend most of your points except on one thing:

      My issues with Tarantino and maybe I should have spelt it out was not just on violence, but the context of that violence, which makes it altogether different. For e.g. Tom & Jerry is perhaps the most violent thign out there but…Its more about the propaganda.

      I love your take on Fight Club. But I also love American History X. But there it is…We all have our secret issues.

      K.

      • hi k, n and s,

        I cant possibly draw up a case history like k did and argue it out like neel did with all the shyty movie names and don’t even properly get wat s said, but all i can say is this – have you ever lost a loved one / family member / entire generations to a thing like the german annihilation of the jews? or in the Taj/leopold attacks in mumbai? i guess not – which is why this movie is a blasphemy, a blasphemy so insensitive so banal and scary (in the way it has become so cool and pop and liked by almost every person i know apart from me n k) that i shiver just thinking about ow tarantino thinks or better yet thot abt this one – the inglorious basterds…
        when brad says ‘ i want to shyte’ or watever, its just that – he wants to take a dump – dats it – how in the world r u wiling to cmpare that to this gigantic piece of insensitive imagination, n?
        and just for the record leme say here that i am not discounting the fact that there were briliant actors and performers in the ‘film’ – the main guy – the detective – is an actual jew by th way – god knows how he did this – & trust me i’m not condemning him for his actions – he is a brilaint actor – every scene where he had lines i was on the edge of my seat…
        this movie was like making fun of th war on iraq – tel me n will u stand for that sometime in the near future? or when they cook up a fun edgy carefree version of 911? do tell me s, ur coments on the same…

        i know its a formula, even if i havnt watched all mr.T’s movies – i know theres a formula – jazz, lipstick, gunfire, murder, beautiful blood – u call that entertainment? well, bless u then.
        k, i hope one day our kids agree with us on this,or at least dnt refuse to see our point of view… i’m not lonely in this coz of u K. mwah…keep wrting and keep feeling. love

  3. When a french man risks his entire family to give refuge to a few people who have nothing to do with him…..

    when he cries because of his helplessness and realization that after all, it is romantic to think of oneself as a hero, and eventually, the weak has to give in, even if to the inhumans…

    when a jewish survivor takes refuge under a false name and silently falls in love with a black in the era of slavery, and becomes content to end a life as long as he is there with her….

    when a girl, runs for her life, leaving behind everything that she had, knowing that they arent there anymore, and yet she keeps running for she chooses to live, only to find out that the world that she has run into, is only more cruel…..

    when a group of people comes and treats human beings like insects and thinks they contaminate the world, and when suddenly, those very human beings rise up from the gutter and treat those people as they have treated them, but within the contraints of their weakness……

    when there is a pristine marble floor of a theatre which is bathed in sepia, and a tiny rose is shown fallen desolately even as the wearer of the rose is taken away to a future that is all but predictable…..

    when a german becomes ready to sacrifice her life, not to get adulation, but more as a redemption about what she has realised about her own compatriots, and doing it nonchalantly….

    THOSE were things that showed that the film was more than ridicule….. THOSE were the things that showd that the film had heart in the midst of showing blood as beautiful….

    someday, wen my children grow up, i would wish that they would stop and appreciate the soul of the film that screams to the world as being soulless….

    or i cannot imagine what will they do when they watch a man beating a woman to the point of her being a vegetable in Schindler’s List….. only thing is of course, the act was not been mocked at, the act was been shown….. i dont know what they will do when they see a nazi official practicing his aim as he killed the jews…. coz they will be told that the film was made with a lot of heart….. that the film didnt ridicule and show blood as being beautiful….. and they will try and fnd heart in it…. and may be they will, but then if they do, i only hope that they also find heart in something that doesnt cry out loud and ask us to sympathise….

    you are telling me that a very violent fantasy about the end of the Nazi rule, is like making fun of the War on Iraq? no, i will tell you what it is like….. it is like taking a bunch of palestenians, and writing a story about how they entered Israel, and successfully managed to bomb and kill each and every official who had once killed their friends and family….. Its never going to happen in real life, like it didnt happen with the film, but its like that…..

    be consistent…. thats all i ask you for….. coz wen that man in the taxi in pulp fiction was killed because one of the protagonist pulled the trigger by mistake…… DONT tell me that there is someththing more than that in Pulp Fiction….. because there is something more in everything that we see…..

    I didnt think that basterds was fun, or carefree…. i took it seriously….. every frame….. every emotion and yes there were emotions…… every dialogue uttered….. i took baterds seriously….. and i NEVER take anything that has something to do with the holocaust as fun……

    and thats why i cannot dismiss basterds as jazz, lipsticks and gunfire…… i will not want my child to watch cnema and read books, keeping in mind that they follow a pattern and simplify the entitre thought process that goes behind it…. but of course, its not in my hands….

    but before we dismiss people and their thought processes based on a work of art (or the lack of it) as being insensitive, it is important to know that sensitivity is personal, and how we see a piece of work, depends from person to person….. to generalise something as cruel, and expecting others to think the same and dismissing the people who dnt find it cruel as belonging to a particular category, is no less insensitive than hitting the head of a nazi general repeatedly till it smashes…..

    • Wow. I’m still struggling with where to start this. Its obvious that this argument has gone on for longer than it should have…But I seem to be dwelling a lot on the shouldnt’s. And who I am to decide when a debate ends anyway.

      I zipped through your reply Neel. But I haven’t seen Schindler’s List. And I couldn’t finish the Pianist. And the reason is what you say. It is difficult to sit through those depictions. Especially since we have read/seen so much about it.

      But I dont think the equation is if you like the film you are insensitive. I don’t think anyone is saying that. It did not seem to me that this film said something completely different from what we thought it was saying (or as I was pointing out…doing). Its possible that it was. And its possible that it was as someone elsethat it was cathartic. But like you said, and I’m so glad that it is happening, people are reacting to it differently.

      But my fear remains. The fact that people find this film cathartic is to me, scary. I feel that it is a rhethoric, which as Anjuri said, is more like the extremist rhetoric we hear today.

      I think the way you described the Palestinian story sounds, well normal. One-on-one revenge. This film was not about that. At least I don’t think it was that. It seemed more like propaganda to me. And i think that is exactly what he meant it to be. To do a Goebbel on us. I think the argument is there. Not on how sensitive we are. But on how, like you describe it, these different sensitivities are being coerced. And by what means.

      K.

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