Thursday, July 11, 2013

Art, Movies and Philistines

I envy people who can express their thoughts clearly and crisply. A couple of years ago, I wanted to write a post on how people do quite a few things they imagine to be cool just to be accepted by their peer groups. I started writing a longish post, as is usually the case with me, filled with almost unending sentences, and punctuated with commas at the most inappropriate places, like this one. Before I could complete the post, I came across a random tweet that surmised everything I was attempting to say far more effectively than I could ever do. The tweet went like this..
"I Don't Smoke . I Don't Do Drugs . I Don't Sleep Around...Because I'm Not Gonna Lose My Self Respect Just To 'fit in'."
Isn't it amazing how people can stuff in so much wisdom within 140 characters? Thus having abandoned the idea of ineffectually repeating myself, I started to concentrate on more important things - such as movies. I pondered deeply and tried to define my taste in movies, which was admittedly puzzling. On one hand, I could see just a couple of scenes directed by Jafer Panehi and remark here is a work of a genius, and on the other hand, I wouldn't think much of critically acclaimed movies such as Mouna Ragam, Nayagan or Avatar. On one hand, I would despise movies like 7am Arivu or Avengers for their complete lack of coherence and on the other hand I would be watching the Nagarjuna starrer Ratchagan or the Rajnikant starrer Baba for the 100th time, thoroughly enjoying them. I finally arrived at some sort of opinion sometime last week and started writing a convoluted blogpost about it, when I came across this Woody Allen interview. I strongly suggest that you read the full interview (and like me, get infected with his nihilism), but in case you do not have the time to go through it fully, I will quote Woody Allen's thoughts on art, which mirrors the opinion I myself have arrived at :
I hate when art becomes a religion. I feel the opposite. When you start putting a higher value on works of art than people, you’re forfeiting your humanity. There’s a tendency to feel the artist has special privileges, and that anything’s okay if it’s in the service of art. I tried to get into that in Interiors. I always feel the artist is much too revered--—it’s not fair and it’s cruel. It’s a nice but fortuitous gift—like a nice voice or being left-handed. That you can create is a kind of nice accident. It happens to have high value in society, but it’s not as noble an attribute as courage. I find funny and silly the pompous kind of self-important talk about the artist who takes risks. Artistic risks are like show-business risks—laughable. Like casting against type, wow, what danger! Risks are where your life is on the line. The people who took risks against the Nazis or some of the Russian poets who stood up against the state—those people are courageous and brave, and that’s really an achievement. To be an artist is also an achievement, but you have to keep it in perspective. I’m not trying to undersell art. I think it’s valuable, but I think it’s overly revered. It is a valuable thing, but no more valuable than being a good schoolteacher, or being a good doctor. The problem is that being creative has glamour. People in the business end of film always say, I want to be a producer, but a creative producer. Or a woman I went to school with who said, Oh yes, I married this guy. He’s a plumber but he’s very creative. It’s very important for people to have that credential. Like if he wasn’t creative, he was less.
Alan Light / Foter / CC BY

In a short screenwriting workshop I attended at Chennai, acclaimed film academician K.Hariharan made an interesting point on whether film-making is an art. I parapharase him, "art is something which you do using minimum tools. A painter uses a brush and paper to create art, a dancer uses his/her own body to create art, a singer uses his/her own voice to hold the attention of the audience. A filmaker, on the other hand, uses sophisticated tools manufactured by others, such as a Camera. Further, a film is usually a collaboration of multiple individuals. A film is a mixture of art, science and industrial process".

Of course I would be making a mistake if I categorically state that no movie is artistic. There is a separate auteur based genre of movies that are commandeered by a single person, and serve a sole purpose of being "artistic". I once tried watching the much renowned director Fellini's 81/2, and couldn't make head or tail out of it. A little research made me realise that it is indeed a film with layered themes, and the movie is a source of inspiration for so many modern directors. Such avant-garde movies do exist, and they are extremely important.

But, All movies are not art and all filmmakers/actors are not artists. In the recent past, I have often seen people talk about how someone "takes a whole movie industry forward", or how a movie is "ahead of time", or how the standard of our movies "should evolve with time". Evolution is not getting better with time. When a popular Tamil director announced that his movie will be simultaneously released direct-to-home and in theaters, his fans immediately hailed him as a  lone warrior fighting to take the industry "forward". The very idea that his move was financially motivated was drowned in the ocean of praises showered on the director. As a side note, his movie has had a successful run in theaters, and is yet to release direct-to-home. Filmmakers are also praised if they are "loyal" to the industry and put the money they earn out of making movies back into the industry. Seriously, loyalty? I am afraid there are too many things to be loyal too these days. Country, state, city, area, the school/college you studied in, the subject you studied, the language you speak, the company you work for, so on and on. The only thing that deserves loyalty is other people.

What kind of movies I really like then? I simply like movies that engage me, be it on a basal level, visual level, emotional level or intellectual level. I liked the movie Rashomon because it was gripping. I like Alfred Hitchcock's movies because they keep me rooted to my seat. I like Baba because Rajnikant is one of my most favorite actors. I like Attakathi because it is colorful. There is no thematic similarity in all these movies. They just appeal to me at some level. Let us not get others' opinions, be they of the masses or of the critics, to decide if we like a movie. We like it if we like it, we hate it if it repels us in some way. Let us not be ashamed of the movies we like. Let us not try to like movies that do not appeal to us, just because they are highly-rated. There are movie critics to do that.

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