I’m sure the following situation has happened to almost all of you. You’re watching a film and you suddenly become aware that you’re watching an incredibly difficult (and maybe cool) shot. The first example that came to mind was long, complicated and unedited shots from filmmakers like Angelopoulos. The moments are sometimes thrilling (partly because you’ve actually noticed it). When this happens, I tend to place more value on a film—i.e. these characteristics make the film better. But is that really true? Does complicted filmmaking really make a film better?
I also wanted to bring up another issue related to this. I suspect (although I could be wrong) that filmmakers tend to judge films based on the technical aspects of the filmmaking. Consequently, they tend to give more points to a film that has solved difficult filmmaking solutions in a elegant, satisfying ways. But is this really a valid or good way of assessing films? The non-filmmaker may be completely oblivious and unappreciative of this type of filmmaking, but does that make their judgment less valid? (Maybe valid/not valid is not the best words for this.) Does the difficulty of shot really matter in terms of the artistic worth of a film?
I actually find the collected hand-held imagery and sound design of filmmakers like Frederick Wiseman, and Allan King to be far more difficult than setting up yet another twelve minute tracking shot (which isn’t to discount the work of someone like Angelopoulos or Tarr).
What makes a film artistic is in both the form and content. One shouldn’t be separated from the other. I’m sure McG’s films are actually really tough to shoot. They’re not art; they’re the antithesis.
Perfection in both is what makes film achieve the heights it can as an art.
It would really depend on your definition of “artistry” or “artistic”, I suppose. Brian DePalma’s films are chock full of demanding technically difficult shots (something of a signature for him really); and while this lends itself strongly to auteur theory, I’m not totally certain it makes his movies any more “artistic”. The same can be said of David Fincher. All of his movies has seamless integration of cinematography, art direction, and computer effects. While this is certainly technically adept, he has gained criticism for being a bit cold and even misanthropic. (At this moment I need to point out that I’m not necessarily making any judgements on the quality of DePalma’s or Fincher’s movies one way or the other. They are simply great examples to cite in this instance.)
In the end, it all depends on the utilization of craft. Mastery of technique is only half the equation. To become a truly great artist, the filmmaker must couple it with innovation and inspiration. There are plenty of hollow craftsmen who’s work isn’t incredibly engaging in any way (this doesn’t solely apply to film, as you will find it in most all fields of art). Then, on the other hand, there are filmmakers who have loads of ideas, but lack the technical skill to execute them properly. While both are incomplete (in terms of artistry), I’d be interested to see which one most would prefer…
So you guys don’t think cinephiles and critics sometimes place too much stock on difficult filmmaking?
In the end, it all depends on the utilization of craft. Mastery of technique is only half the equation. To become a truly great artist, the filmmaker must couple it with innovation and inspiration.
Exactly. And this is probably why De Palma’s best film, Hi Mom!, is his most innovative and interesting film in terms of both form and content.
Of course they do (at least some of the time). It’s one of my major problems with most critics.
- So you guys don’t think cinephiles and critics sometimes place too much stock on difficult filmmaking?
I think that people tend to put too much emphasis on it, yes. However, I think there is a higher propensity to discount something simply for the opposite reason, that it’s not a technical marvel. I agree with IPV: in that there is much artistry to directors like Wiseman and King, who manage to create something beautiful out of chaos or a seeming lack of technical innovation.
@Jazz — they do? I don’t know enough about that field to say so…
Read PolarisDiB’s article about sound — he says an interesting thing, that is, that audiences can forgive a less than perfect image, but NOT crappy sound.
I think it is interesting that you mention Angelpoulos because I feel part of the power of his films comes from the way he works with the camera. Angelopoulos’ direction is so powerful that even the most uninteresting things become things of significance.
From O Megalexandros.
Note how something that could have been incredibly uninteresting ( the arrival of Alexander), has been made more powerful by simply using a long take.
Michael Bay proves no.
This happens to me a lot with Tarkovsky and his long shots that very slowly approach the characters. Suddenly I realise all I see is a person’s head, and some seconds (sometimes more than a minute) ago, I was seeing his full body and the landscape behind him.
For me, this kind of technical skills are only useful if their purpose is narrative, to create, or develop the pace with which the story is told. Of course, this doesn’t mean I will like a film just because of these difficult shots.
Let’s say, Tarr’s Macbeth. The film’s got only 2 shots, one of which is only the introduction, and then is cut by the initial credits. The following shot goes on for about an hour, and goes behind the characters through the whole castle. This is a display of an IMMENSE technical knowledge, and an awesome coordination, preparation and direction, and I recognize this; however, I never thought the film itself was particularly good.
It can. Like everything, it depends on moderation and the filmmaker’s skill.
because you could make technically difficult porn.
Lol! The bad boy, as usual, RUS.
Could you? Isn’t the amateurish quality of porn one of the major qualities which define it? If Lars Von Trier (or insert well-regarded filmmaker here) started directing porn (god forbid), I’m pretty sure it would inevitably depart from a pornographic focus (though one could argue that technical overindulgence is, in and of itself, a form of pornography).
“Isn’t the amateurish quality of porn one of the major qualities which define it?”
Then can you name a technically-proficient porn film?
i’m sure a lot are proficient, considering they’re made by professionals. a film need not be technically difficult to be technically proficient.
but regardless if we can cite any, it is not impossible for one to exist.
and since pornography, by definition, cannot achieve anything artistic, it stands to reason that no level of technical magnificence can make it in any way artistic.
Having just seen Inception, I can reply with firm conviction that the answer to the question in the thread title is no, absolutely not.
I do have to say, though, RUS, that that seems like a weird train of logic to me.
Actually, I think technical proficiency in film is less often regarded as artful, and sometimes not appreciated enough, but I do not tend to read many mainstream critics and I run in circles like all us wonderful people on MUBI, who as a general rule do not have that much difficulty sitting through a Paul Morrissey movie where many people would get up and leave after a couple of minutes on the rawness of the cuts alone.
But what the hell, it’s because I LIKE technical virtuosity. It is true that there has to be something else besides a technical achievement behind it—yes, the oft-derided Michael Bay rears his head into the conversation again—but some movies sell themselves to me on technical levels alone:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (no shots are cut back to twice; over 250 visual effects shots; shot on four different cameras film and video; actually changes aspect ratio, a couple times quite subtly)District 9 (seamless compositing; gritty realism CGI)Avatar (On-location shooting in virtual space).
…whether people want to focus more on critical theory behind the movies or not. That said, I still have to at least like it in some way ( Rules of Attraction has an amazing split-screen long take that still doesn’t change the fact that I fucking hate that movie). I agree with a lot of the criticisms against Avatar, but I do not dislike it, so I really do focus on how pretty it is.
And, to be perfectly frank, it’s not reserved to Hollywood or big budget films for a movie to “sell me on technical levels alone”:
Sherlock Jr. (HOW THE HELL DOES HE JUMP THROUGH THAT WALLLLLLLL?!!!!)Pas de Deux (Anybody who has ever touched an optical printer will understand the amount of work that went into this thing)Enter the Void (Seamless cuts and unique visual effects)
Enter the Void is a perfect counterpoint to Avatar. I find little dramatically stimulating or intellectually useful in that movie whatsoever, but I do not dislike it, so I really do focus on how pretty it is.
A perfect midpoint is Children of Men. Whatever anyone else’s arguments for or against that movie, my friend’s argument that, “Never before have I actually felt like I was going to get shot while watching a gun fight in a movie” speaks positively, to me, about the idea of technical artistry. I happen to also really like the story and how it plays out, and though I can agree with the fact that it has a few problems, honestly the technical artistry and storytelling itself override them in my mind.
There’s also Ink for proof that technical artistry needn’t have a budget over $1million. What Jamin Winans was working with versus what he ended up with is incredibly impressive to me.
There is a guy I follow on YouTube named Freddie Wong (YouTube channel freddiew). His movies are short, simple, silly, and basically just show that homeboy loves his guns, but I consider the man an artist:
Agree or disagree with the “artist” statement, any of you want to show me you can do that yourself, please do and I’d like to call you for a project to work on.
As to the subject of technically sound (and, GASP, artistic) porn, I offer up ‘The Opening of Misty Beethoven’
One thing that needs to be considered is, do the “difficult” or elaborate shots fit in?
If a film has a style that comes from consistently complicated shots (Tarr’s monster takes/moves), that is artistic cohesion.
If a film has such shots to offer eye-candy in a film that otherwise is conventional-looking (the beach scene in ‘Atonement’), that is showboating.
“The Secret in their Eyes” is a film that is serious, nuanced, and good-looking in a muted, earthy way. In the middle of it we are treated to a monstrously complex camera move from way up in the sky down to a stadium and on and on through it.
We are aware of the difficulty of the shot from the start (the camera is vibrating while flying in towards the stadium) and the sheer dizzying quality of the subsequent moves takes you to a different frame of mind, a different film. The film resumes its normal look after this, and the story goes on.
The effects crew had a whole webpage talking about what an achievement it was to pull this off; meanwhile as a viewer, I am sitting there processing this, thinking “impressive, but…..why?”
DiB said, “But what the hell, it’s because I LIKE technical virtuosity.” and “…but some movies sell themselves to me on technical levels alone:…”
If I’m not mistaken DiB is a filmmaker (director?) and this is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. My personal feeling is that because DiB is a filmmaker, he’s more sensitive to filmmaking (particuarly the challenges) and appreciates elegant solutions to these challenges and successful execution of difficult shots. That makes complete sense. I think the same sort of thing happens with musicians or any other artists. Because they know the difficulty and challenges of their art—in a way that the layperson cannot understand or fully appreciate.
What I’m trying to get at is the “validity” or weight of this perspective. The layperson—even fairly passionate and knowledgable cinephiles—may not notice or appreciate the kinds of things a filmmaker would. Therefore, they wouldn’t evaluate a film based on these details. Are they missing something significant? Or is the appreciation of these details not so crucial for appreciating or evaluating the film?
I really liked The Secret in Their Eyes and I, of course, remember the scene you’re talking about. It’s a good example. In a way, if a viewer didn’t notice the difficulty, but received the desired effect of the filmmaking and the scene, then that’s all that matters. (I’m thinking out loud here.) For me, the filmmaking techniques did make the scenes more exciting and thrilling—which was the desired effect, I think—so the shots worked and were appropriate, imo. On the other hand, part of the thrill I experienced might have been from watching the filmmakers try to pull off and execute the scene, so I don’t know if that’s appropriate or valid.
I am a newbie when it comes to technique film-wise. I’d imagine that knowing about technique makes you appreciate good technique when you see it more than if you didn’t know, for example someone who has studied piano will appreciate a particularly challenging piece.
HOWEVER, I am not fond of technicians. You gotta have soul too, baby, soul, or you ain’t gettin’ in my book. :)
Odi said, “You gotta have soul too, baby, soul, or you ain’t gettin’ in my book. :)”
This reminds me of something, namely the importance of good content in films (whether a story or ideas); I’m not going to be into a film that is technically great or even stylistically original or innovative, if the content sucks. This idea is sort of related to what I’m talking about. My impression is that some filmmakers and critics get so into the filmmaking that the content becomes almost irrelevant. Examples? Directors like Michael Mann or Tony Scott come to mind. (See the thread on Tony Scott and threads on Michael Mann.)
Here’s the making of for that scene you’re talking about… I always knew it wasn’t a single shot and that there was A LOT of computer editing involved :P
I like how the one guy ducks down for the close up. Ha!
Really fun to watch the camerman with his equipment running to keep up with the running actor.
Gotta respect the guys who have to make this look real! :)
That scene in The Secret in Their Eyes blew me away. At first I was like, “Ok, an air scene, I’ve seen this befo- wait…they chasing the guy now? IS THIS THE SAME SCENE?! Whoa.”
But yeah, I share the sentiments of Odi and Jazzhova. In find, I find the discussion of a movie’s content to be more rewarding than the discussion of the technique, because 9 times out of 10, technique can only be amazing for the amount of time one observes it, while the content of a story can stick in one’s head for days.
Of course, there are exceptions. The visual effects of Avatar and Enter the Void run through my head like a loop, as does the technique and style of movies like Shoot the Piano Player and Children of Men, even though the stories of all four range from pretty engaging to really simplistic.
I love Shoot the Piano Player. Love it.