One of the things I have noticed, in at least a significant amount of film enthusiasts, is a somewhat hostile reaction to certain films/filmmakers perceived to be too stylized. In particular, I am reminded of films like Last Year at Marienbad and the work of Wong Kar-wai and the later films of Kieslowski (though I believe, in both cases, is too simplistic.) Of course, film can be used to address moral and social concerns, but should a filmmaker be criticized for simply going in another direction, even when that direction is more authentic? It seems absurd to ask that of any artist.
Well you won’t find that here… there’s abounding love for Marienbad, Kar-Wai and Kieslowski.
A film can address moral and social concerns in a stylized way.
^Z, par example.
Some film fans are like Cartesian dualists. Instead of separating mind and body, however, they separate style from content. I don’t count myself among them.
A film’s style IS a part of its content. This is not to say that all content is created equal but that in the hands of a great filmmaker the mise-en-scene is as important at tranmitting information and evoking feeling as the dialogue.
^ Hellshocked — check! :D
I totally agree. You can’t separate style from content. It’s part of the deal, it’s the method of communication.
“This is not to say that all content is created equal but that in the hands of a great filmmaker the mise-en-scene is as important at tranmitting information and evoking feeling as the dialogue.”
Gosho’s Dispersed Clouds, par exemple.
I really wish Gosho were a more well-known filmmaker because of his use of montage inside of narrative. In the first five minutes of that film I don’t think there’s a shot longer than 4 seconds, in the entire film I don’t think there’s a shot above 15 seconds. That sounds like the description of an action filmmaker of the early 00’s, but the manner in which Gosho uses emotional and narrative suggestion through the rapid collection of images is… almost indescribable. Anyway…
Actually, I think stylized cinema is beloved almost universally. Take the entire nation of Japan. Can anyone think of a group of filmmakers more stylized than Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa? And let’s not even get into the genre masters of the post-war years…
It’s not often I see people getting too bothered by stylized filmmaking of Kieslowski, Resnais, et al. I see the word “stylized” as a pejorative usually around filmmakers such as David Fincher (one reviewer: “I’d like to see what movie he could make if he got rid of his digital toys”), Darren Aronofsky (one reviewer: “Layers slickness and gloss into music video and advertising techniques to make a plot”), and Quentin Tarantino (me: “At the heart of Inglourious Basterds is a really good movie, if he wasn’t too busy being Tarantino to throw in his other pet stylizations.”) (all parentheticals paraphrased, even my own).
There is a larger film subculture, of mostly Hollywood-normative filmmakers and critics, that focus on the “invisibility of the storyteller” to the extent that they see the storytelling as so much more important than the visual effect of the experience, that if they become aware of the visual effect taking place they see it as a bad method of telling an appropriately compelling story. I don’t really understand that because if I just want a straight-up story with no visual style, honestly and literally I’ll just read a book. I know that argument itself is in a way disingenious, but honestly now, when I’m watching a movie I’m looking for something visual, and I care not whether it’s in service to the story or some other effect. There is a limit to that, as always — special effects films in and of themselves can become boring, and interestingly enough the critical rejection of stylized filmmaking in art films sometimes derives from a fatigue imparted by special effects popcorn movies, but my own personal movie tastes are much more directed to stylized filmmaking.
Like Hellshocked, I don’t try to create some dualistic divide between style and content. However, I do focus a lot of energy into looking into the structure of movies and how they impart narratives or other meanings, so my favorite stuff I would say are those ones that are stylized to fit their content, like L’Eclisse, Performance, and Tetsuo: the Iron Man.
Hellshocked wrote: “A film’s style IS a part of its content”
There’s the separation right there (rather than emphasizing is, I would emphasize part): style is one of many things which goes into building a films substance/content. Just as theme and plot and character etc. are also things which go into providing substance/content.
The distaste for style, in general, is not, I believe, a distaste of aesthetic beauty, or fast-paced editing, or expressionistic lighting, or whatever else, but a distaste for the attrition of all other components of the substance/content because there has been too much focus on the style.
Of course, “too much” relative to everything else can be subjective (hence, why some would say Wong Kar-wai or Wes Anderson or John Woo are style-over-substance film makers, though others would not), and in some cases, too much focus on style can actually be seen as a strength, if the stylist is especially talented/persuasive (e.g., Tarsem)
such as David Fincher (one reviewer: “I’d like to see what movie he could make if he got rid of his digital toys”)
The case of Fincher is an interesting one. He is a master of cinematic language (it seems like every single shot in his films has been carefully thought out) whose choice of material is questionable at best. I’ve seen 2 films of his I’ve enjoyed without reservation. The rest of his output is such a waste of talent that it depresses me.
There’s the separation right there (rather than emphasizing is, I would emphasize part
Perhaps I should have said style IS content. It’s more along the lines of what I meant. It is inseparable from the film so I don’t agree that someone can focus too much on style and too little on content. A film how pretty a girl’s hair is is, ultimately, a film about how pretty a girl’s hair is. It doesn’t lack content, its content is simply not necessarily worth sitting through.
There are films such as Dinner with Andre which are so stylistically minimal that they force the viewer to focus on what’s being said instead of creating a stylistic self-awareness. That isn’t to say, of course, that the film lacks style, but the filmmaker’s approach is to not draw too much attention to that style.
Caravaggio is a great example of a film that exudes style to such an extent that it almost overshadows the protagonist and becomes a looming character of it’s own. I actually love the film for this very reason. So, it’s not so much a question of is an emphasis on style a better approach than an emphasis on substance, but rather what works best in a particular context. An overly elaborate style would distract from the point of Dinner with Andre, whereas an understated approach to Caravaggio would miss the entire point of a film based on such an outrageous character.
No film has only substance or only style, but (as previously mentioned) emphasize them both differently – this mainly comes down to the filmmaker who can go all “Greenaway” on a film or “Ozu”. It’s all about execution and the director’s ability that determines the level and type of aestheticism (though of course there’s also an entire crew that have an enormous input into that as well).
Style doesn’t necessarily equal flash. It is simply about where you place the camera, what you reveal, what you don’t reveal, and when you do or do not reveal it.
That is true. Here I’m reminded of Bresson. The severity, asceticism or whatever you want to call it, is really a style, and it works because its sympathetic to his themes. I would also add that this could be seen as one example against the same dualism you mentioned.
Which is why Melville is stylish, and makes more interesting gangster pics than the scripts really oughtta result in.
Ha. Tongue twisting aestheticism vs. asceticism and boy are those different words.
Is the word aestheticism really used in reference to film style? It seems odd to me. I don’t know, I’m don’t write about film but just wondering what the terminology is (if not that) when talking about the emphasis and development of a film’s look…
And now I know, if the answer is not straightforward, that I’m going to potentially encourage a discussion that’s probably going to go waaay above my head, and be very typically Mubian…
I used to have a quite ascetic aesthetic but then I lightened up a bit by accepting more burdens.
^ HA HA HA