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New Additions and a Q

I’m pleased to announce there’s been several new additions to the Bang2write Household this week… No, not cats or human babies – I’ve learned my lesson on those – but a Tamagotchi called Susan. My son is the proud father and despite a bad start (poor Susan had diarrhoea – sp?? – on sunday and was ROBBED on Monday!), she has already made Alf a proud grandfather by giving birth to baby Keith yesterday. Mother and baby are doing well and Keith is already at secondary school. They grow up so quick nowadays.

The lovely MA David emailed me on Friday: I call him this since he’s asked me about courses a number of times now, though I don’t think I’ve read for him… He’s also not David Bishop or indeed any other David I know, including Him Indoors because his grammar and spelling are too good! Also, he doesn’t ramble about bushcraft, fishing or crisps, his fave pursuits, so I can be pretty sure it’s not my spouse. Would be a bit weird for him to email me when he could just ask me. Mind you, the husband IS a bit weird, so MA David, if you’re not him, let us know more about you!

But I digress. MA David is applying for a course and one of his questions on the application form is this:

What makes a film cinematic in your opinion?

This is an interesting question, because to me it immediately throws up a multitude of others over what the word “cinematic” actually means: can a low-budget film be “cinematic”? Or does “cinematic” inevitably mean high budgets, big arenas, CGI, big loacations, scenery and costumes? Is a “cinematic” film one with less dialogue and more action: does genre play a part in the decision (ie. an action/adventure is more “cinematic” than a drama)? Does the term “cinematic” link to the idea of story = ie. if it makes a big franchise, then is it more “cinematic” than a single, stand-alone film?

What are your thoughts on the matter? Over to you…

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19 thoughts on “New Additions and a Q”

  1. I tend to think of a cinematic film as being something with a big plot (the world’s in trouble – again) and something which uses the big screen to full effect; sweeping landscapes or special effects, something which looks great on the big screen.

    Conversely, I think a lot of dramas, films which deal with internal problems, are wasted on the big screen and I often resent paying to watch people talking about their lives. I’d rather see that on TV.

    I guess I’ll accept more true to life stories on TV and want knock down, blockbuster fantasy in the cinema. If there’s one word guaranteed to keep me away from a cinema, it’s ‘gritty’.

    So to sum up: CINEMATIC – big, splashy, beautiful, spectacular.

    NON-CINEMATIC – small, gritty, grim, intricate.

  2. Well, the definition of ‘cinematic’ is: having qualities characteristic of motion pictures – which isn’t really that helpful. I suppose it is a term we tend to use more for things we see in real life that look like they could come from a movie. Or not.

    In terms of films, although you mention high budgets, big arenas, etc…, I think one word missing is grandeur. There are directors who get a shit load of money and still make shit – or barely adequate – films. They haven’t got the eye for it.

    Some filmmakers look through the viewfinder and simply see the contents within the frame. Others see a canvas. As a canvas it creates an illusion that there is so much more of the world the story inhabits outside of the frame. (It may not be relevant but I’m reminded of Turner’s Giudecca or, more obviously, The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken in terms of cinematic art).

    However intimate the story is, it’s played out on an epic scale. Canvas guys, in this respect, include David Lean, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Michael Mann and Peter Jackson (with The Lord of the Rings).

    Obviously there has to be content as well as pictorial quality. With some films it comes with an additional kinetic, almost hyper-real, energy that infuses the film. In the way that there are action films and then there are action films. (Michael Bay?)

    Good dialogue is always good. But it’s the least of the elements needed in cinematic movies.

  3. At the Right Brain scriptwriting seminar I went to last week, Jurgen Wolff mentioned a book called The American Eye (which he said may be out of print now, and I caught the author’s surname only – Bernstein. I’ve googled and can’t find it though) – the author argued that cinema appeals to audiences in 3 different ways:

    The Voyeurs Eye – allows us to peer into another world

    The Vicarious Eye – we ‘live through’ what the characters onscreen are living through because they echo our own lives

    The Viseral eye – this is emotional and ‘beyond language’.

    Bernstein argued that American films are so popular worldwide because they engage the visceral eye most frequently – they can go beyond cultural differences because they are beyond language. Jurgen argued that the ideal is of course to engage all three in some way.

    But using those terms, I would say – broadly – that cinema tends to engage the viseral eye more, whereas television is more inclined to engage the Vicarious eye. I haven’t read the book though, so I may have made a pig’s ear of that interpretation!

    I think it’s a very difficult question to answer, particularly if you look at the British film and television industry. You have TV shows like Spooks with a big arena and high, glossy production values. And then you have highly sucessful cinematic releases like Calendar Girls and The Full Monty, which, in my view, could both have been made as television films – they both deal with issues that frequently crop up on television soaps and neither one features a particularly huge arena. I’m not exactly sure how I personally would answer such a question but I’m just throwing that out there, it might help David!

  4. Intriguing my pretties.

    Phil – I tend to go for this idea myself. I can’t remember the last time I watched a drama on the big screen, yet I love dramas. If I am going to the cinema though, I want BIG stories, though not neccessarily “the world is in trouble”: stuff like the DAY AFTER TMW, DEEP IMPACT, THE CORE etc does nothing for me. I tend to go towards stuff like I, ROBOT, ALIEN VS PREDATOR, CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK for big, cinematic entertainment value, even if they aren’t the greatest of films I still want CGI, S/FX, big sound, etc etc.

    Good Dog – Michael Bay?!?!

    Lianne, if it’s the same Bernstein I’m thinking of and I’m pretty sure it is, then he’s primarily a linguist which may be why you may not have found his book about movies. Interesting stuff tho!

  5. Oh crap, and I forgot to mention Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They certainly knew how to produce cinematic cinema.

  6. Sure, Michael Bay.

    Kinetic… Hyper-real… We’re talking the Rock, baby. An outstanding example of super-duper action movies.

    And Armageddon.

  7. i agree with good dog, asking what makes a film cinematic is somewhat redundant, but basically i believe it means how much does a film use the specific film tools available to it?

    anyone can set up a camera and perform a play in front of it – that might technically be a film, but it wouldn’t be terribly cinematic.

    to the degree a film employs film techniques such as angles, lighting, editing, forced perspective, etc., in the telling of the story, it becomes more cinematic.

  8. What’s the first name of the Bernstein you’re thinking of Lucy? I searched for the name of the book but Jurgen said he thought it could have been changed slightly with subsequent editions, which doesn’t make it easy!

  9. I automatically envision a grand, sweeping canvas and a plot that sucks me in like a nuclear powered vacuum cleaner

  10. I think it also has to have an intangible something that stirs the emotions – whether that’s Michael Bay appealing to my “blow more stuff up!” pleasure-centre, or whether it’s Baz Luhrmann making me cry at the unfairness of Christian and Satine’s doomed love affair.

    Not just telling the story, but sweeping the audience member away – the death of Boromír, anyone? – by using the visual, aural and emotional immersive experience that good cinema can be when it’s on top form.

    This doesn’t necessarily have to apply to big, sweeping landscapes and panoramic vistas and heart-tugging swoon-fests. The first Matrix film flexed its muscles and blew us all away with its fresh take on the tools that cinema could employ to tell us a story, but the stillness of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation’s hotel room is, in my humble opinion, cut from the same cloth, juxtaposed as it is with the longeur shots of Japanese urban life with which he’ll never be able to connect.

    Powell & Pressburger – A Matter of Life and Death. Still a jaw-dropping work of genius after so many years…

  11. “The first Matrix film flexed its muscles and blew us all away with its fresh take on the tools that cinema could employ to tell us a story”

    Actually, as I’ve written before on the old blog, I WASN’T blown away by the MATRIX, not ‘cos it didn’t look cool (tho so-called “bullet time” was a technique employed by documentaries for 20 yrs before the Wachowskis did in fictional stuff), but because its story – and the philosophy behind it, phenomenalism – were not new concepts for me. This lends the belief that for me, story has to go hand-in-hand with the idea of what is “cinematic”…CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK looked cool, yet again it did nothing for me ‘cos I found its story ultimately dull.

  12. Lianne,

    The book was called “Hollywood Eye” and it’s by Jon Boorstin which is out of print but he has an updated version available here

  13. bullet time was in docs 20 years ago?? i don’t think so. there’s a difference between bullet time and high-speed photography which can show a bullet in flight.

    but for many folks, the imagery had already been seen in the gap commercials before the movie came out. that’s the problem with pioneering vfx in films – they take so long to make someone can make a commercial with it before your film is out.

  14. Looked the same to me and at the end of the day, the filmmaker’s appealing ultimately to the layman, not the specialist. But that’s just my opinion.

  15. Always found Derek Jarman’s films very self-indugent – a bit like boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer: his self portraits, especially the one of him as Satan with the whip hanging out of his ass, seemed so arrogant. And he didn’t look a bit like me either.

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