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. 

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