To be clear, I’m employing the term ‘scenario’ in such way as to encompass everything from ‘events’, to the mood of a space, or the sound of a space. Or, for the sake of this argument, people (being characters) and places (being scenario).
So does your definition of scenario leave out story and plot (the word “place” doesn’t really include story and plot, imo)? What about concepts, themes and ideas—that aren’t necessarily related to the setting or mood (which is how you seem to be defining scenario). These aspects of a film can be very important—to the extent that a film can be about these things—while not really being about character—and still be quite good, if not great, imo.
However, for me, I find often times that the characters in his films leave something to be desired.
I want to say two things about this:
1. Sometimes a film isn’t really about the characters—or at least the film doesn’t intend on creating characters that some would find interesting. This leads to point #2;
2. What makes an interesting character can be vary quite a bit—and I’m not sure if you’re acknowledging this. For example, some people might find Bresson’s characters as interesting as Casavettes’. Now, we can speak in generalities about interesting characters, but I do think there is some degree of subjectivity that we should account for.
Now, after reading several of your posts about this subject, here is my impression of your position, particularly with regard to CCC. Basically, you don’t like a lot of CCC films because these films either a) aren’t interested in developing characters and/or; b) they aren’t developing characters according to your preference. Neither a nor b make a film bad, imo—you may not personally enjoy a film because of A and/or B, but that’s not the same as saying a film is bad film, imo.
BUT I would argue that characters and scenario are always the point, regardless of what you think you’re doing. And when both of those elements fall into place, that’s when you get a real movie.
Now, I’m still not clear on what you mean by scenario. (Here it sounds like you mean story, themes, setting, and who knows what else.) Having said, I don’t think a film must have both to be a “real film.” To me, you’re mixing up a [personal preference with some essential quality of a “real movie” (whatever that means; I assume you mean a really good or great film). Some films never intend to create good characters—and some films don’t even have human beings in them. Using your formula, these films wouldn’t be any good. But that doesn’t seem right, does it?
“Some films never intend to create good characters—…”
One of the oldest traditions in studio systems is to use genre tropes to expound upon prejudices and biases in the genre and even on the side of the audience (Gosho, for example, would use the comic ‘buffoon’ to point societal hypocrisies). These characters are defined by their lack of definition. The ‘reality’ of their perception, contrasted with the reality of their action.
Take womanizers in Lubitsch.
Take ‘real men’ in the western’s of Ford, Boetticher, Wellman, and (especially) Peckinpah.
The entirety of the noir (and its revisionist cousins of the 60’s (in France and Japan) and the 70’s) is built upon this idea. The dynamism isn’t in the building of character (i.e. development), but in the breaking of it down.
Films without “characters” can still be good and even great, but I think that if you took that exact same film and added in quality characters, there are very few cases in which it would not be a net positive. I’m saying a film should always be about it’s characters and a film should always be about its scenario.
Despite the title, I would not call a CCC filmmaker a “lazy hack”, I think there are those who are defaulting to this style of filmmaking because they realize it is a relatively “safe” way to make films and achieve some sort of international acclaim, (however small), or at least be accepted by the critical community and therefore have a chance to continue making films…. Having said that, very few filmmakers working in any genre would I go so far as to call them “lazy hacks”. Maybe Tim Burton, or Guy Ritchie… if you twisted my arm.
And yes, this all both a “broad term” and hugely subjective.
@ Wu Yong
Still, for all that… I would just as soon take a Bergman film, which is loaded with interesting concepts and ideas, has a slow-ish pacing, untraditional narrative structure, “silence”, subtleties galore…. and wonderful characters, who speak occasionally.
I think getting into “humanity” without words is very difficult. Not impossible mind you, but you have to be very skilled to navigate a sea as dark and unknowable as that.
See, to me, all you’re saying here is, “I really like characters that I find interesting.” You prefer films with quality characters. I get that. But I don’t see why a film “should always be about its characters.” Maybe if you’re strictly talking about the typical Hollywood movie, these comments make some sense. But this is because the typical Hollywood film does depend on character and story. Quality characters and a good story are what teh films are about and what they’re trying to do.
But to make the broader claim that all films should do this is going too far, imo. Films can be about concepts, ideas, emotions, moods and themes, more than the characters or story. You may not care for these films, but that doesn’t mean these films are inferior to character driven ones, and I strongly disagree with the conclusion that “a film should always about it’s characters.”
In addition, is the key there I think. I’m not saying all films should be exclusively or even primarily about their characters, as plenty of great films are not, but I think to be a truly all-time great film… you have to be at least somewhat about your characters.
“Characters” and “Scenario” are very important. Disregard or undervalue either one at your own extreme peril.
I agree—if you’re making movies for people with your preferences.
Characters (and I still don’t know what you mean by “scenarios”) are important to certain types of films, but not so much to other types. It’s like the way a catchy melody and a good beat are important to many types of songs (i.e., pop music). Disregard or undervalue either at your own peril—at least if you want to good pop song. Yes, many people love a catchy melody and a good beat; and, yes, many truly all-time great songs have both. But many types of all time great music do not. There’s a world of music outside of pop—just as there are a world of films outside of narrative or character-based films. Just because the popularity and audience for character-driven films are greater and larger, doesn’t mean that films must be about characters or story.
“Still, for all that…”
So, basically after making this ridiculous claim you’re just giving up defending it.
Yeah, that’s what I thought…
I’m not saying films should all be “narrative” or character-based, I’m saying that almost any given film would be better off with good characters, regardless of personal preference, and regardless of what type of film it’s “trying to be”.
To expound upon your music vein, It’s like saying all music would generally be better off with a good melody (don’t know about this “catchy” business). Not an infallible truth, as some songs the music is so great that it doesn’t matter if the “melody” is a little weak, but if you changed that “weak” melody into a strong or interesting one, I think that in 90% of the cases it would improve the song overall.
I just don’t buy into this “that’s not the point” cop-out excuse. It’s like good cinematography, a film can look shitty and the filmmakers can say “Well, the film looking good wasn’t the point… we wanted it to look bad for _____ artistic reasons”. …Who gives a shit, at the end of the day the film looks shitty, and would probably be an improved experience overall if it had been shot by a real cinematographer.
And you could easily flip that and say to the more mainstream film “OK, you hired some decent actors and had some moments, but your pacing and your tone and the script were just god-awful”. And they might say, “Well that wasn’t the point, our target audience just wants to watch these celebrities bumble around in completely implausible scenarios for 2 hours.” To which I would say, "Fuck you, your script is the point, I don’t care about your intentions or what you’re “target audience wants”, you should always strive to have a good script, just as you should always strive to have quality characters (even if they are not the focus of the film.)"
^That is the most absurd rambling mess of a post I’ve seen on here in a long, long time.
At least you’ve moved beyond the means of my deconstructing it with logic… Mainly because it has none, but yeah…
I agree with others that the filmmakers mentioned in the OP are too different to be clumped together into one style. But I also think the fixation on definitions and semantics in this thread is beside the point.
Those filmmakers may be quite different but they all have one thing in common: pacing. So instead of us trying to define contemplative cinema why don’t we discuss that particular type of pacing? Is it overused? When is it successful? When isn’t it?
Personally I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it as a technique, but I believe that like any technique it has to be justified by the film. I’ve seen just as many films where it’s used poorly as films where it’s used well.
As someone else pointed out most films aren’t good, but I think the difference is that critics and festivals seem to be more forgiving of films that use this type of pacing, even the ones that are less successful in their use. So I’d say the fault lies with the critics more than with the filmmakers. I’ve noticed the same thing on this board — there’s a lack of critical discussion about when the technique is successful or not — and whenever a thread like this comes up it gets mired in silly semantic debate and name calling. It’d be nice if we could have a thoughtful, pleasant discussion about this. I’ve only read the first five pages, though, so maybe the thread takes a turn for the better.
@ Kate – Unfortunately, it doesn’t, I’ll save you some reading… and I agree with you 100%.
But doesn’t “better off” and “improve” simply mean that people who have a strong preference for melody will like the songs more? The fact that you acknowledge that songs can be good without a “good” melody suggests this, imo. I’d be interested in hearing how this isn’t the case. Because if all you’re saying is that you would like a song more if it had a “good” melody, I have no problem with that—just as I don’t have a problem with you saying you would like a film more if it had “stronger” characters and a “better” story. But that says very little about the artistic worth or quality of the art, imo.To me, if you want to make your argument more compelling, you need to show how your argument isn’t primarily based on personal preference.
Now, I also find your notion of “good” (as used in “good melody”) problematic. You seem to be thinking of “good” as an absolute quality. In a way, we can speak about “good melodies,” “good acting,” etc. based on generally accepted ideas about these things (i.e., intersubjectivity). But, ultimately, doesn’t “good” depend on the context and nature of the artwork? For example, consider the acting in Airplane!, Faces, A Man Escaped and The Godfather. Which film has “good” acting? Which films have the best acting? Don’t we have to answer these questions within the context of the films—i.e., the type of movie, what it’s about, etc? Or what about the acting, dialogue and production values in a John Carpenter film? They’re not very good, if we go by generally accepted notions. Do you want to yell at Carpenter for bad acting, dialogue and cheap production values, too? To me, these things are important part of his aesthetic and make his films “good.” To make them “better,” in the way that I think you mean, would diminish his films, imo.
“Those filmmakers may be quite different but they all have one thing in common: pacing.”
That depends on what one means by pacing.
To me, Denis’ piecemeal (and now almost completely hand-held) aesthetic gives a very different ‘pace’ when compared to someone like Tsai’s single, wide-angled, and completely static takes. Even if they both get rid of expository emotions and narrative elements, and that gives them a comparable feeling.
If you do read through this thread you’ll probably find the single largest issue with any criticism or defense offered is that they’ve both relied on either vague or nonexistent definitions (hence why the discussion has been so poor).
Someone cites a ‘problem’ and then refuses to define what that problem actually means (you could read the last page and check the utterly nonexistent definition for ‘scenario’ and ‘character’, for example).
There are exceptions Jazz, like your Carpenter example. Sometimes a thing can become SO “bad”, it comes full circle back to “good”. Sometimes something on paper that is “bad” can certainly work in a specific circumstance, so, there are no actual “absolutes”, ect. ect.
An easy example though is to think of a film that you personally thought was overall decent or even good, but had some dodgy acting / characters in it. Then think… what if it had good characters and/or acting in it instead, would the film overall be better?
I think the answer to that question would be 90% of the time “yes”, and maybe something like 10% of the time “no”, as in the case of your Carpenter sample.
Maybe slightly romantic, but I don’t actually believe that it is all “subjective”. I think there does exist something along the lines of a “universal truth” that all human beings are at least able to catch glimpses of every now and again, and relate that experience with each other. The subjectivity comes into play with all of our “personal” baggage and bullshit that we all carry around with us, which most of the time keeps us blinded and separate from each other, and this “eternal truth”. But, that’s what is so great about films and about art to me is that every once in a while, regardless of who you are and what your personal experience/existence is, we get to catch a glimpse of something pure, we get to be on the same page maybe just for a moment, and we get to step outside of ourselves and just relate to/with another person. It’s rare, it’s very difficult, but when it happens… kinda what it’s all about, for me at least.
First, given what you’ve said, I would recommend checking out page 17, where Axel begins a discussion about Meek’s Cuttoff. We later bring up comparisons to paintings and John Cage that I think was interesting. (Full disclosure I brought up those comparisons, so I’m biased. ;)
I’ve noticed the same thing on this board — there’s a lack of critical discussion about when the technique is successful or not…
To be fair, though, this is a really tough question to answer. I believe most if not all these films depend heavily on active viewing of the individual. Determining whether a CCC film works or not requires a lot of interpretation—and this takes a lot of time, and it’s not precise. (In a way, evaluating CCC films reminds me of evaluating a lot of experimental music.) Unlike a Hollywood film, for example, it’s not obvious if a CCC films fails or succeeds. I guess the conventions and tropes Hollywood filmmaking and genres partly help us know if a film works or not. I suspect CCC films don’t have these type of conventions. CCC films also abandon or minimize the important of narratives and characters, so that eliminates another familiar anchor point to evaluate the films. What we’re often left with are ideas, images and sounds, often moving at a slow pace—creating the sensation of looking at paintings or photography. Because of that I’m wondering if understanding when and how paintings work would help us better understand CCC films. (Hence this thread.)
Please excuse me for barging into this thread, I enjoy Kate’s focus on “pacing,” which probably has a rather large and vague definition—so be it, some great words or concepts are somewhat non-specific, as long as we’re all speaking of the same general idea.
It may be helpful to add examples of the concepts we throw around, as Jazz has above, rather than undocumented pronouncements (one of my rather conspicuous blunders).
I’ve only just stumbled upon the thread, and so find it’s theme exciting. Watched Lav Diaz’ Melancholia last week and was amazed at being engaged through all of his long takes with little or no action taking place. I’m sure it would be another’s form of exceptionally torturous tedium. I’m not sure it was merely the pacing, or the CCC trope, but the director earlier had built my faith in his technique so that I’d come to realize that there was a payoff, it may take time and some mental effort, however the fugue-like themes and the slowwwwwwwwwww action gave me opportunity to spend some time in that particular town or jungle, for longer than a 5 second cut. When my mind finally calmed down because it was accustomed to quicker cuts, of dissimilar views on the same situation (say dialog: close-up/reaction shot/medium shot of both/close-up of fingers fidgetting with coffee cup/close-up for diaglog/reaction shot etc). Instead Diaz may plop the camera down ten feet from the table where both sit and view the whole interaction from there in one take, pregnant pauses and all.
Wu Yong, don’t you think we all use pacing in a similar way, without stringent definition? As someone said, it’s a tool, but in CCC it’s a rather standard tool. Does this tool reflect anything which is counter to modern life, and that’s why it’s being utilized by so many critically popular film makers?
Oh, I should say that I don’t enjoy all CCC films or autuers’ work, and may agree that some critics have fallen into a rather non-critical acceptance of the technique since it was written about to satiety in the last 5 years.
In before Wu nickel and dimes us all on the strict definition of “pacing”… oh wait.
Wu you’re like the ultimate left-brained logician, how does that generally work out for you in the world of art?
And again. We say critics fall all over themselves for CCC films and it’s now become cant (hyperbole on my part) for critics, but is that true. Cannes’ nominees are usually a decent place to look at the most common and popular critically examined films of a particular year. Here’s this year:
Do we find the majority or even a sizable percentage utilizing CCC-ish pacing? Certainly a percentage, but not a large grouping. The narrative which goes back to D.W. Griffith and Eisenstein is still very much alive. Though I haven’t seen most of these titles, I’m guessing from some past films by the directors which I have seen. A rather established bunch these Cannes choices.
First of all, “dodgy”—like your previous use of words like “good” and “better”—is problematic. What exactly is “dodgy” acting? and can you answer that outside of the context of the film? Suppose you think “good” acting is exemplified in the films of John Casavettes or Mike Leigh. Now, when you come watch a Mel Brooks or Robert Bresson movie, would you call the acting “dodgy?” This would be inappropriate, imo.
Second, I think your claim that “better” characters/acting would improve a film only makes sense with character-based films. Most Hollywood films are like this, so, for example, if I saw a Hollywood drama, and the characters were one-dimensional or unrealistic, generally speaking, making the characters more complex and realistic would enhance such a movie. But this only applies to these types of movies.
Earlier you said that not all films need to be character or narrative-based. I have to wonder if you really believe that. Because if you really believe that, I suspect you wouldn’t say that 90% of the time a film would improve if the characters were “better.” Btw, have you watched a lot of non-character based films? I ask because if you mostly watched character-based and/or narrative-driven movies, then what you’re saying makes more sense.
“…don’t you think we all use pacing in a similar way, without stringent definition?”
I think Denis, Hong, Lav, Hou, etc. all pace their films differently. Which makes sense. They’re four filmmakers from completely different parts of the world, with completely different aesthetics and approaches. They started in the business with different experiences in different eras. Thus they’re films look very different, even with the obvious comparisons that can be made.
Even followers of these filmmakers… Lav’s countryman Sherod Anthony Sanchez’s Imburnal, for example, has (as probably its most famous sequence) a nine-minute sequence with image and no sound (almost a mini-short film within the film), followed by a nine-minute sequence with sound and no images (a slow-burn guitar drawl over a color leader). This kind of deletion of narrative trope, this slowing of the pace of the work (almost to a crawl) probably owes a lot to Lav (who has admittedly almost singlehandedly ushered in a renaissance in Philippine cinema)… But would Lav ever insert a section like that into one of his films?
The filmmakers are comparable in country, approach, aesthetic, influence, even runtime (Imburnal runs at a paltry 212 minutes, compared to Lav’s behemoths), but the ‘how’, and not the ‘what’, of these filmmakers are completely different. The effect may do the same thing (i.e. both filmmakers use long takes, among other things, and stripping their films of obvious narrative elements), but it doesn’t make them the same thing. In fact, they’re extremely different works.
If that’s the comparison of ‘pacing’ one wants to have, then that’s a very interesting conversation, for sure. But I’m just saying, let’s set-up the definition first.
“…you’re like the ultimate left-brained logician, how does that generally work out for you in the world of art?”
At least I’m able to defend an opinion beyond saying, “songs should have melodies.”
It’s difficult to progress a discussion when we can’t even move past what “dodgy acting” and “slow pacing” mean.
I think Kate summed this whole “debate” up nicely… a bunch of petty, useless semantic quibbling.
The trouble clearly is that you can’t lay absolute definitions down on things of this nature because a lot of is subjective, so to get caught up in the “definitions” and all that BS semantics is an exercise in futility. When someone says to me “bad acting”, I don’t know exactly what they mean, but based on my own personal definition and the general “consensus” definition I can largely infer what they mean. If we have to lay down strict, unwavering definitions for every single term or idea not only is this impossible, we will never get anywhere.
Yes every film has “slightly” different pacing Wu, thanks for pointing that out. However, if we wish to discuss “slow pacing” as a broad stroke, can you wrap your mind around what that might entail, or do we need to list every single film of all time that has ever held a shot for longer than X seconds?
That Cannes breakdown is interesting but I’m not sure how much it tells us. To be sure CC films are still a minority of the films produced, even in non-American markets. That could easily be the reason they represent a minority of the selection at Cannes. I think it would be hard for us to gauge how much critical acclaim CC films get, unless we somehow had access to the acceptance rate of CC films vs. the overall acceptance rate of films at Cannes. We might also look at a site like metacritic that assigns each film a number by aggregating critical reviews from major publications. I don’t have the patience to do this… :P
@Wy Yong, My reference: “…don’t you think we all use pacing in a similar way, without stringent definition?” was merely speaking of conversational definitions as opposed to lexiconographers or semanticists’s use of definitions. When I saw “he breathed a sigh,” you fairly well know what I intended by my use of “breathed.” There’s no reason to define every word which we use, since the given language is built on the assumption that we all use basic definitions properly. If we’re all to become Heideggers merely to write on a film thread, I’d say we’ve pushed the discussion into a rather limited area of possible participation. Sure different film makers (the four you mentioned are a good cross-section of rather contemplative filmic time-based techniques) will use pacing differently, and yet embody the same tools for technique. Interesting to me, is the intention of their use of this technique. As you also mentioned, each one of these filmmakers came from a different film education and apprenticeship, or even earlier mastery of a somewhat different technique. I’d cite Claire Denis’ Chocolate, though dreamy, with Friday Night which has taken dreamy to somnamublism, but for very interesting effect. In -Friday Night_ she simultaneously choses a story with limited barriers of time (night to morning) and yet stretches time within that parameter, by utilizing long takes, scenes without dialogue and limited action, dialogue that fades into silence which becomes the actual form of language sympathetic to the tone and timbre of the quietude and reprieve from worldly care. Premeditated, and a good use of technique with which to isolate these two characters.
So, how to define pacing? Certainly on one hand it’s time related, getting from A to B in temporal ingredients. Then there’s the implied use of editorial technique in slow pacing as opposed to fast or quick pacing. Slow using longer takes, minimum of cuts, reliance on dissorlves and fades for an effortless and languid feel for the audience. Faster pacing uses quick jump cuts, shorter cuts, many different camera angles for those quick cuts to incourage a feeling of frantic, synapse-jolting action. Little time for the viewer to think about the film unfolding, but rather, engaged in the action, or sometimes the appearance of action. Could we take a long jungle scene from a Lav Diaz film, use the same 5 camera set-ups, but use 100 cuts going back and forth as a man stumbles through the foliage and jungle growth. The pace would certainly change, the continuity would somewhat change as well. The viewer would probably have different reactions, merely by editorial changes. We shouldn’t overlook sound tracks, music, silence—all a factor in pacing.
So how to begin a definition?
re: Pacing. I offer Andy Warhol’s Empire State building as one bookend of pacing; perhaps a trailer for car crash movie, or ttrailer for a testosterone -fueled action movie, being the other bookend.
@Kate, I was suppose to be at work 3 hours ago. Yes, the Cannes Festival roster is merely a place to start. But it brings up another time chewing investigation into lumping critics into one big pile of dirty laundry. Too many dissenting voices (after all, it’s their job to uncover the NEW or OVERLOOKED) are involved, each with an opinion and a full set of biases, backed by personal reason and rationalizations. But, still merely an opinion. I’ve always liked the page in FILM COMMENT in which 8 or so reviewers from large film magazines or text outlets give a star rating to new movies which have been released that month. No one agrees, they vary widely and the general view from this reader is that reviewers (and many times critics as well) have no common ground in regards to qualifying movies, or the people who make those movies. Becomes something of a dragon chasing its own tail.
“There’s a lack of critical discussion about when the technique is successful or not — and whenever a thread like this comes up it gets mired in silly semantic debate and name calling. It’d be nice if we could have a thoughtful, pleasant discussion about this”
Kate is a breath of fresh air. :)
In regards to Jazz and Axel’s debate on acting, I think they’re both right.
Jazz certainly has a point here:
“But, ultimately, doesn’t “good” depend on the context and nature of the artwork? For example, consider the acting in Airplane!, Faces, A Man Escaped and The Godfather. Which film has “good” acting?…Or what about the acting, dialogue and production values in a John Carpenter film? They’re not very good, if we go by generally accepted notions. Do you want to yell at Carpenter for bad acting, dialogue and cheap production values, too? To me, these things are important part of his aesthetic and make his films “good.” To make them “better,” in the way that I think you mean, would diminish his films, imo.”
In this case, intent is key. If the film requires something specific and this is achieved, it’s great. In the case of a Carpenter film, he’s going for a specific style of acting and it works in the context of his film. So I agree with Jazz – if you put Marlon Brando in Assault on Precint 13, you might have a problem.
But Axel also has a good point too:
“An easy example though is to think of a film that you personally thought was overall decent or even good, but had some dodgy acting / characters in it. Then think… what if it had good characters and/or acting in it instead, would the film overall be better?”
In this instance, yes, absolutely. I think we’ve all been here before. We give a pass to certain elements that may be weak in a film because other elements are strong. The first movie that came into my head was the new Star Wars films. Of course they suck for a lot of reasons but let’s just say they’re great. And a lot of people do actually think they’re great. But let’s say you agree they’re great but admit the acting is terrible (or more specifically, the writing and dialogue). Now in a film like Star Wars, it’s not dependent on having bad acting (or to go back to the Carpenter example, a specific style of acting). No, I think we’d all agree that had the acting and dialogue been better, it would’ve made the film better. I think this is what Axel is alluding to and he’s definitely got a valid point.
@ Jazz -
“To be fair, though, this is a really tough question to answer… Unlike a Hollywood film, for example, it’s not obvious if a CCC films fails or succeeds. I guess the conventions and tropes Hollywood filmmaking and genres partly help us know if a film works or not. I suspect CCC films don’t have these type of conventions. CCC films also abandon or minimize the important of narratives and characters, so that eliminates another familiar anchor point to evaluate the films.”
Very true. This is why I often wonder where the judgement is? When I respond or not respond to a CCC film, how do I know if I’m doing it honestly? How do I know if I’m doing it objectively or because I’ve been brainwashed by conventional narrative cinema? It’s a difficult question. Just because I love 35 Shots of Rum, Wendy & Lucy, and The Turin Horse doesn’t mean my critique of Werckmeister Harmonies is any more valid, does it?
@ Axel -
“When someone says to me “bad acting”, I don’t know exactly what they mean, but based on my own personal definition and the general “consensus” definition I can largely infer what they mean.”
What you’re talking about is intent, which is actually what acting is (directing too). The problem with this discussion, as you and Kate have pointed out, is that semantics is rather the “catch of the day.”
My question is, if you figured this out ten pages ago, why do you keep going? haha
“If we have to lay down strict, unwavering definitions for every single term or idea not only is this impossible, we will never get anywhere.”
Which is why we’re having the same discussions now that we’ve been having on Mubi for three years.