The heading of this forum doesn’t quite ask the right question because this topic takes the following entry to explain thoroughly:
I’ve always adored great content and dialogue; Dr. Strangelove, for example, is my favorite film largely because of its exuberant wit (“You can’t fight in here this is the war room!”). Its satire is brilliant, its content deep. However, if I were sick and bored, I would rather watch a film like, say, Godard’s Breathless. Breathless has, obviously, excellent dialogue and content, but I wouldn’t quite rank its script with Strangelove.
I do not mean to compare these two films or even discuss these two efforts specifically, but I use them as examples to bring to light a paradox I continually encounter: I often find myself (or, my emotions at least) drawn to films with a very specific style or tone over films with superior content. This seems backwards to me, but it happens nonetheless. Lost in Translation, for example… All style, so-so dialogue, but I adore the film. The Departed is another example… It maintains a specific tone throughout, and this becomes more important than individual great moments.
So, here’s my question (I hope this makes sense) to whomever it may concern: what is this X factor that draws one into a film so thoroughly even when it does not manifest in specific, great moments? Is it simply style? Or is it some intangible ability to “feel” human or believable? Is it subtext? And, is this overall spell a film casts more important than great moments and/or dialogue? I’d say they’re of equal importance, but I’m curious nonetheless…
To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body—both go together, they can’t be separated.
I think “yes.” You can’t divorce the two in film, not emotionally, not intellectually. They will both want in, no matter how much you try to be ‘analytical.’
Trier’s “Mandalay” used next to no sets in favor of the most minimal staging, yet that then became part of the “message”, regardless of what else the script said.
I just watched Ousmane Sembene’s 1966 “Black Girl” and that was his first feature, done on a small budget.
The horror of the giirl’s story wouldn’t have had the same almost dream-like quality if the film had had a “better” look and more sophisticated sound.
What helps “Black Girl” be what it is, for good and bad, is a combination of Sembene’s script, directorial temperament and shot selection, combined with the physical limitations of his production.
Ideally, style should always be a choice, like all other elements in a film. Sometimes, however, style comes from the limitations of reality while shooting.
Lots of thoughts here.
Content vs. FORM, but, still, similar discussion where you might find some good stuff.
At what point do the two become indistinguishable or inseparable? Anyone think of any good examples?
If you define style as the cinematic aesthetics and content as the tradition non-cinematic values associated with storytelling, the standard answer would be that the aesthetic should support the storytelling. Special effects are now regarded as everything in a film that is not characters, setting, dialogue, or props. But realistically, all cinematic aesthetic are special effects. If you ever take a Film History, and go chronologically through the history of film the first few weeks you will get used to the practice of stationing the camera in one position and having all of the action occurring in the mid-ground with nothing obscuring your view of the actors. You might admire how the Lumiere Brothers carried a painterly eye to their aesthetic; utilizing all spacial dimensions on screen and even incorporating a little temporal composition. But in general all cinema was either on the street documentary or recorded theater. Then when you get to D. W. Griffith and start to see close-ups and movement into close-up you will be astonished and understand how superfluousness modern aesthetic has become.
Acting to is simply an aesthetic whereby a person places on display a series of facial gestures that are commonly associated with know emotional states:
Combined with body language, intonation, diction, action, and context you have all of the aesthetic characteristics of acting. All of these things are elements of style that the storyteller uses to tell a story. Even the non-inclusion of these elements can dictate the content of story. The Kuleshov Effect is the classic example how context effects content. Though one interesting variation of this effect I can think of right now, that many people may not associate with the Kuleshov Effect because the film is so sterile in its approach, is in Bresson’s Pickpocket. Bresson was known for draining his actors of all outward emotional gestures, in one scene of Pickpocket a voice over indicates what the character is thinking, and that he is thinking of the right moral choice. The character then does the complete opposite. There is a good example of how style dictates content.
Style IS Content.
I’ve never really cared for aesthetics, content is where the substance of the film is for me.
I agree that style is content to some extent. For example, if I see a film that’s all style and no content, I’ll probably enjoy it. But if I see a film completely devoid of style, I’ll probably be bored out of my mind. I need atleast a little style. But then again, there are those that will say that every movie has a style. Even “no style” is a style.
I care immensely for aesthetics. That could be the deciding factor in whether the film is pretty good or if it’s excellent to me.
I think that’s an excellent Godard quote by the way.
I agree with Hans Lucas (salut Jean-Luc) and i will say the content direct the style. In the same mouvement, the style light the content, focus keys elements and the point of view of the director on the content.
Isn’t “style” doing a lot of work here? Is content nothing more than dialog and plot? What about, say, composition? There are a lot of elements to a film that I wouldn’t describe as “style”. I suppose you could say that style is how all the bits come together and get used, but then it wouldn’t really be a concept to put in opposition to content.
But perhaps more in the spirit of this thread, many of my favorite movies have relatively little going on in terms of dialog or plot so they are not films about a story.
Consider the following two sentences:
“The boy in a blue hat sat on the mat”.
“The boy’s hat, coloured as it was with shades of blue, sat atop the boys head. He, in turn, rested upon the mat”.
Do these two sentences have the same content? I would say no. The fact is that no content actually exists outside of style. In order to send you a message about a boy and a hat and a mat, I have to stylize it in some way.
So, as David said, style is content.
If you take away the extra details you added then, yes, they do have the exact same content.
Content is what the story is about
Style is how the story is told
Ideally there is synthesis, but this happens rarely. People’s inability to make this very basic distinction is troubling.
Personally I am a big fan of content. All the films I love is especially because of the story or the mood. But style is just as important if not more so. It’s hard to say what is most important.
The distinction comes from praxis not poiesis.
Elston: “Personally I am a big fan of content. All the films I love is especially because of the story or the mood.”
Would you say the two sentences I wrote have the same mood?
Keep in mind also that there is no actual boy, hat or mat. If anything, the content doesn’t actually exist, only the style.
I love the above Godard quote… Perhaps it’s futile for me to try to distinguish between style and content. I really enjoy screenwriting, and if I get lucky and write a decent line of dialogue often the line’s quality comes from an insight into a character or a situation (the content, I suppose) AND from the voice and tone of the script and/or character (style).
There’s no mood in that sentence (obviously). I mention mood because content could mean more than just plot/theme (mood, for instance in Inland Empire).
Yes, cinema is an illusion. As many art forms are. A movie consists of tricking us, when we’re actually seeing individual pictures moving very fast. BUT, that whole process is not style. It has nothing to do with content or style as we’re discussing it. Style is the organization and placement of the basic elements in a work.
All arts cannot recreate life, but they can replicate and represent (or transport to another world). That seems like a whole nother topic altogether. Why bring it up?
“The essential point to keep in mind about the opposition of Form and Content is that the content is not formless, but has the form in its own self, quite as much as the form is external to it. There is thus a doubling of form. At one time it is reflected into itself; and then is identical with the content. At another time it is not reflected into itself, and then it is external existence, which does not at all affect the content. We are here in presence, implicitly, of the absolute correlation of content and form: viz., their reciprocal revulsion, so that content is nothing but the revulsion of form into content, and form nothing but the revulsion of content into form. This mutual revulsion is one of the most important laws of thought. But it is not explicitly brought out before the Relations of Substance and Causality.”
-Content is what the story is about
Style is how the story is told-
By defining both in terms of story, though, it sounds like you’re saying that story is content. I tend to agree with downbylaw that this is not adequately accounting for all the content in a film.
You ever speak for yourself?
I don’t mean to give dogmatic definitions and I agree with that notion. All I wanted to suggest is that: Content is what happens. Style is how it happens (or how it’s expressed).
-You ever speak for yourself?-
You mean because I quoted Hegel or because I’m agreeing with what someone else posted? There no point in ignoring useful things that have already been said and rechewing the whole meal out of some misguided sense that one needs to “speak for yourself.”
What about editing? A cut is a “what” (content, if I’m following your line of thinking), continuity cutting, for example, is a “how” (style). Reciprocal revulsion.
“There’s no mood in that sentence (obviously).” I totally disagree.
As an example, let’s look at other ways I could say “I totally disagree”:
That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
I respectively disagree.
Obviously each of these has a different style. So is the content the same? No way.
If I said “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”, your response would be far different than if I said “I respectfully disagree”. In one case I’m showing you respect and in the other I’m looking to start a fight. It’s not just that I’m saying the same thing in a different way, I’m saying something completely different. Style is content.
I’m referring to your obsessive use of quotes. Quoting someone else doesn’t show you understand or have thought about the topic at hand. I too have read other thinkers and am influenced by what they say, but I digest it and apply it to my own perspective. It doesn’t help that you often quote academic thinkers who express themselves in rather inaccessible terminology.
Editing could go either way yes, I never protested that.
The sentences you wrote are way too simplistic and lacking any sort of context to carry any mood at all. Am I wrong? They were written off-hand and are just an image of a boy in a blue cap sitting down.
Furthermore, you completely prove my point. Because – you ARE saying the same thing! In both cases, you’re disagreeing. Except in one way you’re doing it emphatically. The other way, you’re doing it politely. The difference is in the style, not the content.
Let’s say, we have the same 2 sentences. A person says, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” Except, the first time they say quite matter of factly and calmy, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” Second time they say it with an emphatic voice of indignation, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” There you go. Style vs. Content.
As said above, I think that style and content are equally important, but need to be in balance.
BUT, what I think is far more important than both is Heart and Deep Honesty on the part of the participating artists.
Not sure why this is a problem for you Elston. For the record, I have posted over 5000 times in these forums, and have not quoted anything in the vast majority of them, so it’s hardly obsessive, but when I have it’s a way to introduce something other than random, unsystematic (and somtimes ill-informed) individual opinions that are a pervasive feature of so much of the discussion here. Sorry if the “inaccesible terminology” offends your sense of folksy, homespun-ness, Mark Twain.
Mark Twain was a saint.
Elston: “Let’s say, we have the same 2 sentences. A person says, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” Except, the first time they say quite matter of factly and calmy, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” Second time they say it with an emphatic voice of indignation, “Oh, I don’t agree with that at all.” There you go. Style vs. Content.”
Sorry, but I’d still say these have different content. :)
If they say it calmly, they’re sending these messages:
- I am calm.
- I disagree.
- Although I disagree, I’m not going to get worked up about it.
If it’s emphatic, there might be these messages:
- I strongly disagree.
- I can’t believe anyone would believe what you’re saying.
- I’m certain of what I’m saying.
- I refuse to listen to your arguments.
So when the style changes, the content (or the message being sent) is also altered.
-So when the style changes, the content (or the message being sent) is also altered.-
^ reciprocal revulsion
Style and content will always be inextricably linked — after all, the style defines how seriously we take the content. For example, if the dialogue of a Tarkovsky film was implemented into a Michael Bay directed blockbuster, that content would not seem as important as it does in a Tarkovsky work. Now, you may disagree with me on that point, but it’s always been my belief that a director shapes his/her style around the content to best get their vision understood.
We could delve further into this topic if we decided to bring tone and rhythm into the debate, but all we would end up concluding is a pretty obvious point: that art is comprised of many components and they are all equally vital to the effectiveness of the work. You can’t say that content matters more to you than style because without that style, the content would fall flat.
Unless we go ahead and define these terms, at least provisionally, for the sake of this argument, questions about content versus anything (form, style, etc) always spin off into inane semantic arguments. Now, I don’t mind arguments over semantics, but I think they need to be constructive, rather than contrarian (which eventually gets repetitive and masturbatory).
Here are some provisional definitions. If they sound good, maybe we can return to the OP’s actual question, which understandably but unfortunately presupposed a consensus on these terms.
I’d like to suggest that CONTENT, for a fiction film, is anything that happens hypothetically within the film world. It’s things that could happen even without a camera being there; things that could be described in words (in a script or an adaptation), or shown in visuals, or in animation, and that would remain the same no matter how they were represented to the audience.
Following from that, FORM is the technical apparatus used to represent the CONTENT to the senses. Forms include novel, epic poem, film, video, painting, radio programme, script, etc. There are certainly formal sub-categories… like, “moving image” is a top-level form, and “movie” is a subcategory, and “live-action movie” is an even deeper subcategory. These all have to do with the physical means of recording and reproducing the content.
This would leave STYLE as the creative decisions, made by artists and craftspeople and technical advisors, that bridge the gap between FORM and CONTENT. Because once you’ve settled on a form (i.e. film?), there are certain innate decisions that have to be made (i.e. black and white? What angles? Studio or location? Tripod or hand-held?).
The lines between these are obviously blurry. Like, you could call “B&W vs. Color” a matter of form, or a matter of style; you could call a certain actor’s body language a matter of style, or a matter of content. But to facilitate the discussion, we’ll just have to try to stay away from those borderline cases and just talk about major aspects. We can take it for granted that in terms of film, FORM is generally decided ahead of time (by the director and/or producers) and CONTENT is usually crafted by the director and the writers; STYLE is guided by the director, and placed in the hands of the technical specialists and craftspeople.
How do these sound for definitions?
They sound pretty good in a general way. But actual film practice doesn’t always work out so neatly, eg. Sternberg, Bresson, Godard, Dreyer, Ozu (to name but a few.)
Jesse: I agree with those definitions. But then it has to be acknowledged that, as it’s only ever hypothetical, content does not exist.