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Ideology of Romance in Film

LeeRoy Turtled​ove

over 1 year ago

A quick search brought up a couple of good past posts about the most romantic movies ever made and tragedy versus resolution when it comes to romance in movies but I’m curious more generally about the extent to which romance in movies can present a position on what it means to love another person.

This (http://notsoreviews.com/2012/07/16/why-hollywood-romance-is-cancer-for-the-soul/) piece of commentary on the cancer of typical Hollywood romance and a recent re-watching of ‘Before Sunrise/Sunset’ got me thinking about this. It almost seems like ‘Before Sunset’ is a film that explores how an ideal romantic encounter can negatively reverberate throughout someone’s life in the sense of reframing all other relationships. It’s both honest about the difficulty and frailty of real connection but at its core also deeply idealized and romantic.

What are your thoughts about the ideology of romance in film? Can cinema say something about love that no other medium can? Which film do you think most accurately expresses what it means to love someone?

Juan Perez

over 1 year ago

“Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne” (1945) -Robert Bresson

“Beauty and the Beast” (1946) -Jean Cocteau

“A place in the sun” (1951) -George Stevens

….and many more!!!!

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

Cool thread.

Can cinema say something about love that no other medium can?

That’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure about the answer. I’m assuming we’re talking about specifically about romantic love, but even that can be defined in many ways—and none of those definitions would be easy to define. Maybe answering the next question is the best way to approach the medium question:

Which film do you think most accurately expresses what it means to love someone?

When Harry Met Sally is the first film that comes to mind. For me, when I think of romantic love I think of the feeling one has for a best friend—and adding physical attraction. And I think the film does a good job of showing that. I really like the way we see Harry and Sally become best friends first and then move into something romantic. This is very different from the love-at-first-site type of romance, which I don’t want to discount, but “best friends” resonates with me more.

ZED

over 1 year ago

“a position on what it means to love another person”

mother love

BALISTI​K

over 1 year ago

I think romance is something very difficult to portray authentically in film because :

1.it has now become a cliche

2.based on our subjective experiences we have different opinions on what genuine romance should look like

The conflict between realism and idealism is probably greater here than in any other area of storytelling in film.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Balistik

Why is romance more of a cliche than popular storylines in action or horror films?

2.based on our subjective experiences we have different opinions on what genuine romance should look like

But couldn’t we something similar about family dramas—that is, relationships between parents and children? People have different opinions about parenting and relationships between parents and children as well. Do you also think authenitc portrayals of families are also difficult?

Personally, I think authentic romances are depend on two things: 1) the chemistry between the actors; 2) the skill and time filmmakers take in establishing the relationship. My sense is that films mostly try to rely on #1, while ignoring #2. This can be a successful approach if the chemistry is really great between the actors.

The conflict between realism and idealism is probably greater here than in any other area of storytelling in film.

By “realism” and “idealism,” you mean the way romances are in real life versus the way people would like them to be? And you’re suggesting that a tension exists between these two things and that makes it difficult for romances to work on screen? I think many moviegoers watch movies looking for fantasy, not reality. They know what they’re watching isn’t realistic, so the difference between reality and fantasy doesn’t hinder the effectiveness of the films.

BALISTI​K

over 1 year ago

Why is romance more of a cliche than popular storylines in action or horror films?

Because it’s pretty much everywhere, across genres, styles and levels of artistry.

The difference between romance and parent/child love is that the former is portrayed a lot more often and with greater emphasis than the latter, so when you watch a scene portraying love between parents and children you don’t have that same “oh here we go” reaction as when you watch a romantic scene.

But that’s my point, romantic chemistry is probably one of the most subjective things out there because it’s not just about how good both actors are, it’s about that X factor, that thing you can’t put your finger on.

I think many moviegoers watch movies looking for fantasy, not reality. They know what they’re watching isn’t realistic, so the difference between reality and fantasy doesn’t hinder the effectiveness of the films.

Actually I think they also look for things they can relate to, things that can help them identify with either half of the romantic couple. But of course they also want to be swept away, hence the conflict.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

The difference between romance and parent/child love is that the former is portrayed a lot more often and with greater emphasis than the latter, so when you watch a scene portraying love between parents and children you don’t have that same “oh here we go” reaction as when you watch a romantic scene.

To me, the “oh here we go” reaction signifies that I’m expecting a cheesy or dumb depiction/scene—this can be romantic situation, but it can easily be one involving a parent and child (or any number of things). Now, perhaps, there are more bad depictions of romance than anything else, but that’s a little different from saying it’s more cliched.

But that’s my point, romantic chemistry is probably one of the most subjective things out there because it’s not just about how good both actors are, it’s about that X factor, that thing you can’t put your finger on.

Yeah, but this applies to chemistry in general—not just chemistry between romantic leads. I just watched Seven Pscyhopaths and I didn’t think Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell had great chemistry, which they needed to make the film work, in my opinion.

Actually I think they also look for things they can relate to, things that can help them identify with either half of the romantic couple. But of course they also want to be swept away, hence the conflict.

Viewers have to relate to or buy certain aspects of the story, but I’m not sure I’d call this realism per se. Like other films, romantic movies have to allow viewers to suspend disbelief. If you want to call this a tension between realism and idealism, I guess I could go with that, but I wouldn’t use those words. But I don’t think this is a bigger issue in romance films than any other type of movie.

lenke

over 1 year ago

@ Jazzaloha

“To me, the “oh here we go” reaction signifies that I’m expecting a cheesy or dumb depiction/scene—this can be romantic situation, but it can easily be one involving a parent and child (or any number of things). Now, perhaps, there are more bad depictions of romance than anything else, but that’s a little different from saying it’s more cliched.”

I think the problem with films is the same as with the camera/stage in general. Namely: certain things have to be exaggerated to appear “natural” on it (I am always stunned at how thick and striking make up has to be put on there, so that the spectator can percieve), whereas other things have to be reduced somehow, for the same purpose (camera does add a few pounds!) So you can’t simply take a real life romance – or the one suggested so magically in a book – and put it on screen. It just wouldn’t work. To save themselves the trouble of having to come up with just the right way to depict emotions and desire in a believable situation, most directors choose to play it safe: either turn it syrupy (counting on the millions of emotionally unsatisfied housewives to make it a profitable option), or show lots of skin and leave little to the imagination in erotic scenes (knowing that there will be enough physically unsatisfied men to fill up the cash registers). I would compare this to the inability to make someone look naturally beautiful and seem not wearing any make up on screen/stage, so let’s pick: eyes or lips. Put on a truckload of make up on either, so you can create a highlight on the face and problem is solved. A part of the spectators will moan – but there will be plenty of them pretty pleased to make it work.

PABS

over 1 year ago

It’s more common for women to feel emotionally unsatisfied than it is for men?

It’s more common for men to feel physically unsatisfied than it is for women?

?

Just asking.

Real love? Try this…

lenke

over 1 year ago

Pablo, I wouldn’t know which is more common, as I have never studied the aspect in any trustworthy way. All I know: an average woman, if unhappy, is most likely to watch soaps, syrupy romance and dissect with female friends every tiniest aspect of everyone’s life, whining about the lack of love she is experiencing – whereas the average guy, if unhappy, wants (to see) action. Of any and every kind, if you understand what I mean.

But again: I’m talking here about the average people.

PABS

over 1 year ago

I think you’re right. I fit the bill, in any case.

BALISTI​K

over 1 year ago

most directors choose to play it safe: either turn it syrupy (counting on the millions of emotionally unsatisfied housewives to make it a profitable option), or show lots of skin and leave little to the imagination in erotic scenes (knowing that there will be enough physically unsatisfied men to fill up the cash registers)

The good old gender stereotypes. There are many physically unsatisfied women and emotionally unsatisfied men out there.

conedus​t

over 1 year ago

Yeah, I’d be thrilled if could go through the rest of my life without hearing another guy make some casually disparaging generalization about “housewives”. Ain’t gonna happen though. Guys are way too attached to that crap.

Anyway, I don’t think that film can say anything about love that’s denied to other media. Film can quickly immerse us in narrative experience, but its world is largely exterior. It shows us what things look like, so it has efficiency going for it, but I don’t think it’s able to express the subtleties of subjective experience anywhere near so well as literature. And romance dwells within the subjective.

I think that’s why cinematic romance tends to cliche and genre, shorthand, fantasy, and peak moments. These approaches allow common subjective experiences to be rendered in broad brush strokes. A man and woman see each other, see that they are beautiful. Their faces assume expressions communicating desire and devotion. They fall into one another’s arms…

lenke

over 1 year ago

@Balistik

“The good old gender stereotypes. There are many physically unsatisfied women and emotionally unsatisfied men out there.”

No doubt. That’s why I immediately said that I hadn’t studied the question in any trustworthy way. Still: is there any way we could otherwise explain the figures when it comes to the gender-specific audience of soaps and tear-jerking love stories on the one hand and wrestling and (sorry, I have to say it) porn, sex tourism or even topless or striptease bars on the other hand? Yes, yes, I know, there are plenty of exceptions. But the tendency is overwhelmingly gender specific. We are talking here about a Gauss curve – and I do understand the frustration of those who don’t count as the average, in any subject discussed.

@Conedust

I’m really sorry if my post irritated you. The problem is that we can’t talk about generalities without generalizing. And market researchers do their homework and clichés materialize in their hands in sales figures, that we may disagree with, but on a long run and economically speaking this generalizing does work… even in literature for example. I work(ed) in the domain and it really annoyed me that while one was having trouble selling poetry for example, the dime-a-dozen romance books were bought by the truckload. By women. Generally. And while the theatre and opera hardly makes a living here, the football games have no problems filling up the arena. The audience is in this case about 70% male.

Again: I am generalizing!!! sorry, if particular people feel offended by it. I was only trying to explain the tendencies of reflecting romance in movies.

LeeRoy Turtled​ove

over 1 year ago

@Conedust

Maybe (almost certainly) I am naive but I feel like what truly extraordinary films can do is express something that language cannot. Literature can explore subjectivity in a certain – and often very powerful – way, of course; but in my experience most of one’s subjective world is not bound up in words but in images and associations and vague emotions and moods and all these things that are nameless but relentlessly felt.

I feel like movies have such potential to explore something as onerous as love precisely because it cannot deal well with subtleties. It is forced to express an inward cause as an outward effect. And love, being what it is, is such a thing that no one can spell it out on paper. No one can subjectively conquer what it is or wrestle it to the ground, or follow it back to its source. Maybe I am blinded by hyper-romanticism but I think the connection between two people can be so mysterious and incommensurable that it can only be properly expressed when passed over in silence. I think about certain sequences in ‘The New World’. One could certainly argue the images are exploitively pretty and objectifying and maybe they are but I see at certain moments in this film something close to what I mean: the unique equipment of cinema, moving images and sound spliced together, trying to express a more situated truth – one that couldn’t be translated into language without all its meaning being lost, that a single photograph or a piece of music on its own couldn’t articulate. Maybe it has something to do with not focusing on what it is to feel in love or what one thinks when one is in love but on what it is to be in love. Being is the thing.

I don’t know.

lenke

over 1 year ago

@Conedust

Risking to go off topic here, let me explain why I used the “housewives” cliché. The problem is that these women can get their feedback and emotional supply only from family and friends. If a woman has a workplace and out-of-the-house activity, it’s relatively much easier for her to reap all the compliments to make her day. A nice outfit, a new hairstyle, or (why not) any good work solution will result in pleasant words from those around, which – even if unsincere or clichéd – will help her feel appreciated.

I know: her family and friends do appreciate her ten times more than a random colleague or a stranger who smiles at her. But they might forget to actually say it to her. (I know, I know!!! a guy has the same need for being appreciated. But we all know that while a man in general is less word-oriented, and can take a touch or any kind of nice thing done for him as appreciation, women in general are more verbose or how to say it and can’t fill in the gap of the missing verbal appreciation with something else. This is why soaps are so talkative… They have this target audience. Should I even remind anyone why they are called “soaps”?)

I was off topic and overly generalizing here, and I’m sorry for that.

conedus​t

over 1 year ago

eh, don’t sweat it. i regret being so pointedly critical. the internet allows us the ability to engage in what feel, from any one side, like semi-anonymous conversations, and that sense of anonymity sometimes inclines us to forget our social graces. i could have been more tactful.

conedus​t

over 1 year ago

@ leeroy turtledove

that’s a fair point. my favorite romantic films (e.g., bande à part and chunking express) vicariously simulate the inchoate rush of emotion that characterizes new love at least as well as any novel i’ve read. this is what i meant when i referred to film’s efficiency in representing peak moments. the lives of attractive people begin to revolve around one another, lights flicker and race, there is laughter and music, exchanges witty or tentative. we are seduced into a sympathetic emotional state. this is an area where film excels: in compression, exaggeration, in capturing the giddy sweep of things so as to induce a secondhand experience that feels almost as real as life itself.

film is also very well suited to more distanced, even documentary observation of human couplehood as a social phenomenon. thinking here of scenes from a marriage and the films of john cassavetes, though this doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing we mean when we talk about cinematic romance.

BALISTI​K

over 1 year ago

@Lenke
is there any way we could otherwise explain the figures when it comes to the gender-specific audience of soaps and tear-jerking love stories on the one hand and wrestling and (sorry, I have to say it) porn, sex tourism or even topless or striptease bars on the other hand?

A combination of evolutionary predisposition and social conditioning that doesn’t say anything about your level of emotional or physical satisfaction.

@LEEROY TURTLED​OVE
I would say that both art forms can express things about love the other can’t. If that wasn’t the case, cinema would have killed literature. Films can express things that cannot be translated into language but on the other hand words are very powerful, they can make you visualize images that are more beautiful than anything you’ve seen in a film and they can convey emotion on a deeper level. They’re both vehicles with their own advantages and limitations.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Lenke

I think the problem with films is the same as with the camera/stage in general. Namely: certain things have to be exaggerated to appear “natural” on it (I am always stunned at how thick and striking make up has to be put on there, so that the spectator can percieve), whereas other things have to be reduced somehow, for the same purpose (camera does add a few pounds!)

The issue for me isn’t that films have to exaggerate or conceal in order to have an impact on the audience. I accept the artifice of filmmaking and for me the bigger question is, does it work? If it does, then I have no problem. Unfortunately, the romance in romantic films often do not work well for me.

So you can’t simply take a real life romance – or the one suggested so magically in a book – and put it on screen. It just wouldn’t work.

I’m not sure I agree with this—depending on what constitutes “real life” in your view. If “real life” means actors without heavy make-up, I don’t really think this is a standard that films need to meet. A romance can work even if the actors have a lot of make up. I recently watched Casablanca on the big screen, and I noticed the heavy make up, but it didn’t make the romance less effective. Indeed, without the make up the film might not have been as effective.

On the other hand, “real life” situations make not be dramatically interesting, and so a filmmaker might have to make changes to make the story interesting for viewers. However, I don’t think they have to sacrifice realism—at least the realism that counts—in order to achieve this.

To save themselves the trouble of having to come up with just the right way to depict emotions and desire in a believable situation, most directors choose to play it safe:…

This probably happens quite a bit, but I also think finding the right balance is difficult. So romances fail just because it’s hard to pull off.

@Cone

Film can quickly immerse us in narrative experience, but its world is largely exterior. It shows us what things look like, so it has efficiency going for it, but I don’t think it’s able to express the subtleties of subjective experience anywhere near so well as literature. And romance dwells within the subjective.

I probably agree that literature does a better job of getting at the interior world of characters. At the same time, good filmmakers (read: actors) can get at the interior world of characters. I think of something like Robert Duvall’s performance in Tender Mercies.

Leeroy said, …but in my experience most of one’s subjective world is not bound up in words but in images and associations and vague emotions and moods and all these things that are nameless but relentlessly felt.

Good point.

MICHAEL

over 1 year ago

Can cinema say something about love that no other medium can?

I forget who I’m paraphrasing with this but mediums don’t differ in what they can express but only in what they can express easily.

Probably everything can conceivably be expressed by any medium, but there are facts about each medium that make some moods, styles, and subjects more easily expressed with a particular medium than by another.

For example, if we are to compare cinema and literature, I think cinema can more easily express the outsides of things while writing can more easily express the insides of minds.

BALISTI​K

over 1 year ago

And let’s not forget that most films have a literary component.

MICHAEL

over 1 year ago

And let’s not forget that most films have a literary component.

Definitely. I’m assuming we’re speaking of a generally conventional cinema and a generally conventional form of literature. It’s hard to think of laws dictating what a medium can express without there being any exception to the rule.

jupiter​41

over 1 year ago

A film that comes to mind is the recent Weekend by Haigh which depicts in a realism/naturalistic style that intangible point when a casual relationship evolves into romance. The piece reveals truths about love unlike any other lgbt film or romance film in general that I have seen in a long time.

I feel that cinema is more inclined to explore the more subtle, silent aspects of love.

Think of the wordless exchanges of strangers in Wong Kar-Wai films, the gestures that end City Lights, the distance between Barry Lyndon and his wife, the young face of Yang-Yang kindled with a strange desire…

The examples go on and on.

lenke

over 1 year ago

@Balistik

I corrected myself in the moment I felt I was too sloppy in the expression, but in rest I bolded out a couple of times that I was talking in general. If that’s not good enough to suggest that it wasn’t meant as absolute and undeniable truth, without plenty of other cases, I apologize again.

@Jazzaloha

If “real life” means actors without heavy make-up, I don’t really think this is a standard that films need to meet. A romance can work even if the actors have a lot of make up.

The make up thing was just suggesting the fact that they have to exaggerate. I mean: c’mon, they have to tell the entire story in one hour and a half! Of course, they reduce things to archetypes. (If you please: stick-men, caricature or kitschy colour-parade instead of the Mona Lisa.) I simply doubt it that a real relationship can be reduced to so few elements. I will give you an example. In Police, Adjective for example (2009, Corneliu Porumboiu) there is a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, although they DO love each other. What we see: she tells him once how attractive he looks in a certain pullover – and he hardly ever wears anything else again. I see it as an attempt to be attractive to her… In the meantime she makes him listen to a song which talks about the emotional aspects of love, somehow like “listen! this is how I feel! please, pay attention!” etc. (Sorry we are back to the stereotypes again…) It’s not me saying that their marriage (or the problems they are experiencing) is to be reduced to merely this aspect. It’s the movie. Can an entire relationship be realistically summed up like this? You tell me. As for me: I don’t think so.

On the other hand: of course, everything can be suggested by a few brushstrokes or a few words. So why couldn’t a movie tell in 90 minutes an entire life, let alone the story of a love. But as I said: when doing so, it will be necessarily highly symbolic, not realistic. Suggestive, not descriptive. And before somebody misunderstands, I quickly add: I didn’t say this as if it were a fault or negative thing. I only stated that not-so-great directors tend to simplify their job and make the romance too cheesy/syrupy or too action/eroticism centred, without bothering with any complexity of the subject.

That was my original point and I still stick to it.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Lenke

I mean: c’mon, they have to tell the entire story in one hour and a half! Of course, they reduce things to archetypes.

But do you feel this way about all types of movies—or just romances? I’m sure you would agree that films that deal with characters and relationships—without using archetypes, one-dimensional depictions, cliches, etc. Why couldn’t the same thing happen in romance films?

Can an entire relationship be realistically summed up like this? You tell me. As for me: I don’t think so.

First of all, why does the entire relationship need to be realistically summed up? I don’t think this is a requirement for a satisfying romance. A believable and compelling relationship—and characters—is critical—but I’m not sure you need to completely capture the entire relationship. But maybe I’m not fully understanding what you mean.

And before somebody misunderstands, I quickly add: I didn’t say this as if it were a fault or negative thing. I only stated that not-so-great directors tend to simplify their job and make the romance too cheesy/syrupy or too action/eroticism centred, without bothering with any complexity of the subject.

But are you saying that using short-hand is tantamount to being cheesy/syrupy? I don’t agree with this. In a way, all films take short cuts—even most great realistic films are still representations of reality—using short-handed expressions and symbols to capture and present reality (or realistic chararacters and situations). The filmmaker’s art is found in the way they use these representations. But these represents can be cheesy, simplistic, overly-sentimental—or they can be nuanced, sophisticated, profound, etc. I think this can occur in romance films as well.

lenke

over 1 year ago

@Jazzaloha

I’m getting dizzy trying to explain what I thought… :D

But are you saying that using short-hand is tantamount to being cheesy/syrupy?

No. Absolutely not. I said (at least tried to say) that when having to “short-hand”, “not-so-great directors tend to simplify their job and make the romance too cheesy/syrupy or too action/eroticism centred, without bothering with any complexity of the subject.” That is: forced to depict the situation using symbols, the not-so-talented directors (and only they!!!!) oversimplify it by either making it syrupy or they show too much skin/eroticism.

About reducing things to archetypes:

But do you feel this way about all types of movies—or just romances?

Absolutely. All films do that. And nothing wrong with it whatsoever. It requires talent to do it right though.

First of all, why does the entire relationship need to be realistically summed up?

It doesn’t. You got me there…

conedus​t

over 1 year ago

jazz: But these represents can be cheesy, simplistic, overly-sentimental—or they can be nuanced, sophisticated, profound, etc. I think this can occur in romance films as well.

sentiment gets a bad rap. some of my favorite romantic films are quite simplistic and sentimental: take, for instance, cocteau’s beauty and the beast. it’s an artistic triumph, but the central romance is as syrupy and simple as they come. for most of the 20th century, the fairy tale has been closely tied to the romance genre, and i don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. many romances are presented not as examinations of reality, but instead as escapist fantasies. a movie like dirty dancing has more in common with star wars than with scenes from a marriage. it’s a dream, a fond wish.