Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Cinematic Merry-Go-Round and why I am no longer just about film

There was a time when all I could talk, think and consume was film. Indeed, the cinematic medium comprised the majority of the first two decades of my life. Right up to about the age of twenty-three the celluloid and binary code of cinema ran through the veins of my body... and then, I didn't so much as grow up, but, rather, I grew outwards, I realised there was more to reality than the cinematic medium's presentation of it and I expanded the focus of my perspective accordingly.

Film was once the whole of my reality, it was the bedrock on which I built everything else and considering I was largely illiterate until my early teenage years, the cinematic medium offered me a means to direct my thinking in order to visually understand the world and express myself in it. 

I often refer to film as being my first education, an education my formal education had a habit of getting in the way off, hence why my formal education suffered. I never thought much of the formal curriculum school taught, I always proffered being at home watching films. 

Ultimately, if I were to sum up my initial fascination with film it would be that...

films offered me a clear perspective on a complex and uncertain world which did not make sense. 

My exploration into film from the age of five upwards offered me many insights to film form, filmmaking and human performance, but, far from gaining a deeper understanding of reality, I now realise that I had been actively avoiding reality in a cinematic realm of blissful nostalgia. 

"McLuhan provides the model here. He famously said that he didn't try to predict the future as anyone could do that: he tried instead to tackle 'the really tough one' - he tried to 'predict the present'. One reason why we don't see the present, he says, is the sensory closure that accepts our dominant environment, placing it beyond perception... McLuhan describes us as living in 'the rear-view mirror' - like being in a car, travelling forwards whilst looking backwards, interpreting what we see according to older experiences and categories that we think still fit. Hence 'what we ordinarily think of as present is really the past.' As McLuhan says: 'People never want to look at the present; people live in the rear-view mirror because it's safer, they've been there before, they feel comfort." 
- William Merrin, Media Studies 2.0, 2014:144

If you do not believe this statement, then you only have to look to the present cinematic medium and its continual onslaught of rebooted franchises and paths already treaded to realise the reality of our increasing tendency to live in a rear-view reality. 

Why do I frame this rear-view action as a bad thing?

Simple, how can you safely and successfully drive the car if you are always staring into the rear-view mirror?

You can't, extinction is a certainty if you are always looking backwards and this is why I am increasingly troubled by humankind's inherent nature of doing this, not just within the cinematic medium, but in human action as a whole. Ultimately, no good can come of it.

I spent the first two decades of my life staring into the rear-view mirror of our world. It was not all bad, I gained a great deal from that indirect vantage point, from an eventual interest in reading (about film related subjects) to my appreciation of reading people's body language and how it can tell you a hell of a lot more about the true intentions of their personalities than their verbal proclamations (that's silent cinema for you).

However, I gained it at the expense of actually ignoring the reality around me and how I was going to direct my place within it. 

This conclusion came when I wrote my BA (Hons) theoretical dissertation, Ways of Being: The Spectator and the Spectacle, a paper all about the complacency inherent in cinema and our very limited studies of it. 

Increasingly in the final two years of my BA (Hons), I began to see that any study of film was extremely ineffectual without reference to the larger media and experiential human landscape beyond it.

An oversight I have come to refer to as...

just focusing on the two-dimensional images on the screen. 

And by the two-dimensional images, I am referring to precisely that, the images on the screen and what meanings can be inferred from those images through the process of textual and critical analysis. 

However, the two-dimensional images on the screen are only one part of a much bigger picture. A focus on the textual and critical readings of the two-dimensional images on the screen ignores the other larger technological, cultural and experiential elements which contribute to the spectator's reception of a film.

A bigger picture.

Accordingly, in Ways of Being I very intentionally avoided a focus on two-dimensional images as much as possible; instead, I focused on the other aspects of cinema via a process of beginning my study with the spectator, from their point of view, not a disembodied objectified observer of the two dimensional images. 

Increasingly, in Ways of Being, I looked at the science and technology behind what makes the two-dimensional images possible and in a variety of different forms, which (like IMAX presentations, a key focus of my dissertation) have a huge impact on how those two-dimensional images are received by the spectator. 

However, the two-dimensional images and their textual and critical analysis are still the primary and obsessive concern of the Film Studies field; a complacent habit which is causing the Film Studies field to become increasingly redundant as a result.

And it has a knock on effect, something I have come to refer to as...

the Cinematic Merry-Go-Round.

In Film Studies you are taught about Film Theory... and that is pretty much all you are taught. A selection of pre-determined theories and ways of thinking, talking and writing about cinema... then you are let loose out into the world where you regurgitate those same theories and ways of thinking, talking and writing about cinema in relation to the films you gravitate towards... which are usually the ones Film Studies has taught you to gravitate towards.

Are you beginning to see the cycle?

Film graduates and film-centrics love to talk about the same films using the same theories and ways of thinking about cinema over and over and over and over and over again... and ultimately they never actually get anywhere new with their discussions because they are having too much fun chasing their own tails in an unending loop of regurgitation - that's the Cinematic Merry-Go-Round.

Cinema is just an attraction at a fair (and this is a surprisingly apt metaphor because that is precisely how cinema started its life), but a crucial point to realise is that cinema is not the only attraction at the fair, just as cinema is not the only form of media in the world.

And there comes a point when you have to step off of the Cinematic Merry-Go-Round and try something else out.

Certainly, Ways of Being and its blog extension, Ways 2 Interface, signifies my shift away from a focus solely on Film Studies to a focus more broadly concerned on Media Studies as a whole. 

Film Studies as a pretentious (and it is very pretentious) solo subject is completely useless, there is a hugely complex cinematic-media-ecology which exists beyond the two-dimensional images on the screen and which - crucially - makes those two-dimensional images a possibility in the first place... and Media Studies possesses a curriculum better suited to explore that wider ecology. 

It's not that I no longer watch films or that I no longer enjoy films or appreciate their discussions. However, like a first romantic relationship learned from and now moved on from, I realise now I do not need to obsess about and be uncritical towards films in order to have their presence and my own validated in the world. 

While still appreciating them, I can exist independent to film in relation to a larger frame of reference and experience. As a result, I am no longer shackled to a very limited comfort zone.

As my self-directed MTA Portfolio in Global Citizenship, Mass Communications and Business Administration demonstrates, my perspective has widened to apply my appreciation of cinema in relation to a broader field of application, as I am endeavouring to do with my Breaking Cinema podcast project.

Before films offered me an indirect perspective on a complex and uncertain world which did not make sense, but now I want to understand that complex and uncertain world head-on.

However, sitting on the Cinematic Merry-Go-Round and talking just about films as the two-dimensional images on the screen will not allow me to do that. If anything, the Cinematic Merry-Go-Round has just become a new form of idle small talk.

And small talk is not something I relish indulging in too often. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Breaking Cinema: The Point of the Podcast

Point of view is very much at the heart of the focus of the Breaking Cinema podcast I have been developing since the beginning of 2015. It was originally its own project, but I have since incorporated it into my MTA (Masters of Transdisciplinary Application) portfolio and, after many false starts, as expressed in the 17 test episodes already recorded, I have decided on a limited-run of 10 feature length episodes which will utilise an experimental documentary storytelling format to constructively explore the subjects of film, media and psychology from a lucid and lateral, but highly entertaining and quirky perspective.

I even have a very large episode outline document written for the 10 episodes and, alongside the study component of my MTA portfolio, I am currently in the process of recording the material for these episodes.

The episode outline document.

It is called Breaking Cinema, but ‘Breaking Blindness’ would be a more accurate name for what I am really trying to achieve with it. Ignorance was a topic I explored in my BA (Hons) theoretical dissertation and ignorance in general is something which has always bothered me about human beings and the world at large. 

However, I more so have a problem with the lack of education on the subject of ignorance and how to go about identifying it and then constructively producing a positive outcome from it – this is what I am aiming to achieve with this podcast and cinema just happens to be a very good means of handling the topic. 

My own issues with ignorance are tied up with my passions of cinema – hence  the name of Breaking Cinema - and in order to thoroughly outline the mechanisms which produce ignorance, you have to unravel human psychology and confront the individual and/or collective point of view which can produce ignorance in the first place. This is the subject of Episode 1: My First Education in which I present a very personal presentation of my biases and my prejudices and how these are reflected in my preferences of cinema. 

This podcast is actually a very personal project in which my point of view plays a strong role and is heavily critiqued over the course of the 10 episodes. However, the point of overcoming ignorance is to see beyond a singular point of view, which is precisely why I am exploring and presenting other point of views as a part of the project.

Like my MTA portfolio, the podcast is very diverse in its focus of topics and it very much ties into the various concentrations of my MTA portfolio. Each episode has a different focus and format presentation, but all the episodes build on one-another and all come together to present a constructively unified exploration of how cinema and media as a whole play a very revealing, strengthening and defeating role in the human psychology of ignorance. 

The podcast draws heavily on the thinking of Marshall McLuhan, a man who was ahead of his time. I have just finished reading Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in which McLuhan proposes that every form of human invention from the blade to the television is a form of media and that all media are extensions of the human being. In short, this is a ground-breaking work in which McLuhan puts his finger on the pulse of every technological reformation and automation we are experiencing today… and he wrote this back in the 1960s!

The podcast is very much tied up with my endorsement of Constructive Film Studies and the podcast itself is called Breaking Cinema, i.e. breaking away from cinema, so it is studying the subject of film, but starting with the spectator, not the film, and examining it from their point of view, so as to expand the scope of the discipline to include a broader psychological and subjective perspective, because it is in the psychology of human beings that we can find the underpinnings and deeper correlated complexities of the collective entity we have come to refer to as ‘cinema’. The films themselves can only tell you so much, the films plus the spectators can tell you a hell of a lot more... and this is when you start to see a bigger picture forming.

“Films are not 2D images on a screen, they are not isolated entities, they are us. They exist through us, the expand through us and they are everywhere now. They are much broader, bigger entities and if you want to study them, if you want to create them, if you want to do something with them, you can not ignore that. That’s the point of this podcast, that’s at the heart of Breaking Cinema.” 
– Me, Breaking Cinema with a Selfie Stick

Ultimately, it is about presenting an entertaining and informative presentation which will enrich and, hopefully, widen the point of view of the listener. This is precisely the reason why I am doing this project as an audio podcast, opposed to a series of YouTube video presentations, because presenting this topic - as well as the visual topic of cinema - in an audio format makes you think and visualise it in a completely different way! 

As I have discovered from the many podcasts I have listened to, it makes the brain of the listener work harder and will force them to use their own imaginings and life experiences to illustrate the presentation of the episodes. As a result of this, it will be a much more subjective and relevant exploration to the point of view of each and every listener/spectator. 

"Radio is provided with its cloak of invisibility, like any other medium. It comes to us ostensibly with person-to-person directness that is private and intimate, while in more urgent fact, it is really a subliminal echo chamber of magical power to touch remote and forgotten chords. All technological extensions of ourselves must be numb and subliminal, else we could not endure the leverage exerted upon us by such extension. Even more than telephone or telegraph, radio is that extensions of the central nervous system, that aboriginal mass medium, the vernacular tongue? The crossing of these two most intimate and potent of human technologies could not possibly have failed to provide some extraordinary new shapes for human experience.” 
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1966:263-4

There were a lot of loose threads left hanging in my theoretical dissertation and the first 10 episodes pick up those threads and tie them up as a collective entity, in regards to the wider concerns of my MTA portfolio. 

There is a lot of potential to do more episodes, but, for the time being, the 10 already outlined more-or-less cover what I want to cover. I am just focused on getting these 10 episode produced. 

Slowly, but surely the Breaking Cinema podcast is coming together!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Breaking Blindness: The [unfinished] Vision Video of Lateral Thinking

Developing the Breaking Cinema podcast is proving to be an ongoing and expansive process. I am currently finishing up writing a "master" document, 

Pulling Teeth & Breaking Blindness: The Detailed Overview & Vision Document for the Breaking Cinema Project

that is now well over 50,000 words and which details various different topics and ideas in an attempt to outline the focus of what I want the podcast to be.

I have briefly hinted at the direction of the podcast in a previous and concise blog post: Breaking Cinema: 1 blog post & 20 key points of the focus...

However, the process that has led to writing the Detailed Overview & Vision Overview master document included a first and unfinished document, 

Breaking Blindness: The Focus Generator and Vision Document for the Breaking Cinema Project 

(most of the material therein I turned into my personal website followed by a little video essay, 

Breaking Blindness: The Breaking Cinema Vision Video of Lateral Thinking, 

that built on and visualised some of the contents of that first document.

“Logic is the tool that is used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place. No matter how obvious this may seem to every digger, it is still easier to go on digging in the same hole than to start all over again in a new place. Vertical thinking is digging the same hole deeper; lateral thinking is trying again elsewhere.”  
– Edward de Bono, The Use of Lateral Thinking, 1972:22
Lateral thinking is very much key to understanding what I am attempting to achieve with the Breaking Cinema podcast and, as such, I have gone about illustrating a lateral process of enquiring within and as the film formulaic structure of the Vision Video.

Like the similar and equally spontaneous, Breaking Cinema with a Selfie Stick, the Vision Video greatly assisted in clarifying my ideas and focus in regards to the podcast and in regards to my larger aims.

However, I will not go into too much detail about the Vision Video here, as it is very self-explanatory on its own, even if it is unfinished and very rough around the edges, I present here what I managed to make out of it.

It still needs a conclusion and I had intended to film a great deal more cutaways in order to better visualise what I was getting at, but there are still some interesting points in this very spontaneous and cobbled together thing.

It is mostly just me blabbering, but 7:12 to 13:47 is quite funny.

I might finish it at some point or make something else out of it, an idea is certainly brewing, but, we'll see...

I will keep breaking away at cinema until I get at the idea I am looking for.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Film Studies 2.0 a.k.a. Constructive Film Studies

"If the study of film just becomes film history, then film will be history!" 
- Me, Breaking Cinema with a Selfie Stick
Film Studies 2.0 a.k.a. Constructive Film Studies is my endorsement for a new discipline that can best be summed as 'Film Studies with a leg to stand on.'

If you look at my BA (hons), my A-Levels and my general interest in films, I come from a traditional Film Studies background, but I have always had a nagging problem with the field of Film Studies which I touched upon in my award-winning theoretical dissertation, Ways of Being: The Spectator and the Spectacle, and which I think many critics of Film Studies can agree with - it's a discipline that does relatively little, if anything at all.

Film analysis, criticism and appreciation, that's basically its primary purpose and that is pretty much all it teaches. Now in and of themselves, on a personal basis, film analysis, criticism and appreciation are very fulfilling things to do, if you are so inclined, as indeed I am myself, they can make for a very good blog, such as this one.

“A focus on the meaningful and socialogical side of Media [and Film] Studies also means that we are required to discourage the self-indulgent and pointless textual analysis which was once central to the average Media Studies textbook. Occasionally some commentators do manage to make interesting observations about the composition or meaning of a particular culturally significant text. But requiring our students to make pretentious statements about trivial aspects of unimportant bits of media content was always a silly idea, and bound to draw sharp and reasonable attacks from critics of the discipline. The defence that this activity is parallel to what they do in Literature Studies was correct, but its often a waste of time there too. Our students should at least have an ambition to be on the front line of creative activity – not following along behind, making comments to an audience of no one” 
– David Gauntlet, Media Studies 2.0 and other battles around the future of media research

However, times have changed, we largely no longer need professional film critics, theory is only half the story which makes employment in film-related sectors next to impossible if you lack any practical experience and Film Studies as a whole has a terrible tendency to just repeat theories that were originally orchestrated thirty years ago!

Where's the innovation?

Where's the validation for the continuing existence of the Film Studies discipline?

Film Studies has accumulated a great deal of film-centric knowledge, but for what end?

I believe that Film Studies is a discipline that can do more and should do more, it's a discipline that examines an art-and-business form that is consumed by all and influences all - likewise Film Studies should be obligated to be vastly more constructive in its approach.

Ultimately, I feel that the concerns of the Film Studies discipline, which currently exists, should no longer be a discipline in its own right.

What it should be is a single module component of a much broader and proactive discipline, which for lack of a better name I have termed Film Studies 2.0 a.k.a. Constructive Film Studies...

"The Constructive Journalism Project aims to innovate and strengthen journalism by developing methods for journalists to bring more positive and solution-focused elements into conventional reporting. We equip journalists, media organisations and students with the knowledge and skills to practice constructive journalism – enabling them to produce engaging and rigorous reporting that presents a fuller picture of the world." 
- Constructive Journalism

Very little originality aside, Film Studies 2.0 is Media Studies 2.0 combined with Constructive Journalism, but with the focus starting with film.

neuropsychocinematics 4
Fancy a Piece?

Film Studies 2.0, as with the growing manifesto for Media Studies 2.0, will have a strong focus on:
  • learning through doing and personal reflection, so there will be a lot of content creation, i.e. filmmaking, not just essay writing and discussion, the students will get their hands very dirty, theory and practice in equal measure;
  • film being brought out of its comfort zone and studied in relation to the broader media canvas of other forms of audio-visual content and the world wide web, because films now exist through extended pieces of content interspersed throughout an extended network;
  • teaching by active experience, so all of the tutors will be active practitioners and creators of their own content in order to enable and nature a culture of collaboration between tutor and student, opposed to an authority and subordinate relationship, this is how you eliminate the passivity in students;
  • fusing a relationship with other disciplines, such as business and emotional intelligence, in order to produce Constructive Film graduates who can market themselves as a brand and a service to be engaged with in whatever way they decide to use their expertise as a career;
  • be open to transdisciplinary approaches by fusing a study of film with other disciplines, such as big data, psychology and neuroscience in order to uncover and correlate the larger implications of film culture and cinema...
I have always been fascinated by films, I mostly adore them, but do you know what has always fascinated me more?

Two things...
  1. Other people's reception of films and their experience of film experience (film experience encompasses an experiential understanding larger than an individual film) and not just the film experiences of film-centrics, I mean everyone! It's amazing how unoriginal film-centrics can be in their reports of films and their film experiences, a non-film-centric will give you a truly vibrant report, precisely because they have not been saturated with the dusty conventions of Film Studies.
  2. How films are embodiments of human consciousness...
Amazingly, human consciousness is still something we do not know that much about and the study of what a human consciousness is has gained considerable attention thanks in no small part to the advances of neuroscience and brain imaging technologies, but even so, it is still a mystery.

If you look at my research interests, human consciousness is top of the list and I think all audio-visual content, as embodiments of human consciousness, has something to say about what human conciousness is, how it arises and how it operates.

I also think that all those Film Studies theories that have built up and gathered dust over the years may also prove to play a part in the uncovering of human consciousness when they are actually tested and produce empirical data - that would make Film Studies into a very constructive discipline.

That's my theory and very much what I am working towards, see Breaking Cinema and my Masters of Transdisciplinary Application.

Just a thought, but something that I think is worth pursuing!