Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Importance of Influence: The Moving Pictures

I’m going to take my queue from Mark while I still can and take a minute to talk about what inspires me as a writer and as a person. After all I’ll be damned if I miss out on the chance for some good old-fashioned navel-gazing. 

It’s impossible to identify everything that inspires and moves me as an individual, but in the context of The Arts and content creation, my inspiration is the cinema. I realize that this is a fairly broad term so let me explain more exactly what I mean by that. 

I am not talking about the studios, the money, the politics or any of the other necessary if cumbersome machinations of the movie industry. Nor am I talking about celebrity worship or the box office, although I am interested in these things on a different level. 

I am talking about the byproduct of all those things, the much less tangible moment in a film that moves me to an emotional reaction that sticks around long after the credits have rolled. These moments are lasting and memorable. They get a hold on me (not the other way around) and by way of some mysterious alchemy they become part of who I am. 

The Moment is something that comes together against all odds, when film writing, editing, cinematography, direction, acting and sound come together in a moment that transcends the increasingly cynical business of movie making and reaches at some higher truth. It is mise-en-scène at its most successful and effective. I am not overstating this: I believe movies can make you a better person, and it happens in moments like these.

And I’m not just talking about the good old days. You don’t have to go back to the era of Grace Kelly and James Stewart, although you can find it there too. The unlikely and transcendent moments of cinema history are still being made today, and don’t trust anyone that tells you otherwise. 

Take 2011, for example. There is a sequence in Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir Drive that comes together in such a way. It is a quiet moment in an often ultraviolent film when Ryan Gosling’s cool and impenetrable character spends a day with his neighbor (Carrie Mulligan) and her young son. As they return to the apartment complex Gosling carries the young boy who sleeps on his shoulder. The film speed slows down and the boy’s arm swings like a pendulum across Gosling’s shiny embroidered jacket. Mulligan, walking behind them smiles in a way you suspect she hasn’t done in a while. It is a moment that means little in the broad scheme of things but it is shot, framed and edited to near-perfection. College’s track “A Real Hero” pounds on the soundtrack and asserts dreamily that “You have proved to be, a real human being, and a real hero.”

The sequence is fleeting and audiences talking about the movie certainly won’t mention it later. But it stuck with me as a moment which said more to me about the film and its characters than the scenes of jarring violence that occurred after. It was a moment that made me think, even in the dark of the theater: this is what other movies try to do. I had that same feeling watching The Coen bros. No Country for Old Men in 2007, and again in 2008 with The Dark Knight

Moments such as these are why filmmakers make films, and why we watch them. They succeed because and in spite of the messy business of film production and remarkably, unexpectedly: an emotional truth is found. It explains why a true story need not be one that actually happened. Because in this medium, story is king. And in that context fiction can ring true, and maybe even tell us something about ourselves. 



  1. Your thoughts remind me of the quote about reading from C.S. Lewis - the concept is true also of cinema, "We read to know we are not alone."

  2. I think I know what you mean, and I agree that there are moments in film that allow one to break through the veil, so to speak, and see life in a radically different way. Personally, I sometimes (rarely) find them at the climax, but more often I find them somewhere in the middle, after the initial character intro and exposition and before the the plot sets into the final push for resolution.

    Also reminds me of Zahedi's bit in "The Waking Life":