What is cinema?

January 03 2017

I'm a film critic and aspiring filmmaker from Barcelona, so today I want to talk about cinema. From my experience, cinema is something that everyone is familiar with as a movie goer or spectator, but only a few people really know what it IS. I'm serious: it's like there's a big secret hidden behind the screen that only real film buffs, students, filmmakers etc... can access, and that regular spectators are completely blind to. I'm not talking about HOW movies are made (technicalities...), but rather about WHAT they are or WHY they are that way. Imagine that your experience of painting or art history was that in the Renaissance they liked to paint Christian scenes and the Impressionists liked to paint people in the park (so, only stuck to the themes, the stories), rather than that the former introduced perspective and achieved perfect harmony and the latter introduced a completely different way of thinking about light (so, a knowledge related to form, to the essence of art). This is what happens with cinema.

As a film critic, I try to write about movies from the perspective of form, which means trying to understand what decisions the author took in terms of framing, composition, color, sound, camera moves, music, etc...to make his film more powerful (meaning tell his story better amor convey the feelings he's trying to convey more intensely or effectively). If you speak to any (good) filmmaker, you'll realize that these kind of questions are their main artistic concern, and this proves that here lays the key of the art of film. And this is the big secret I was telling you about: everyone loves a good movie, but no one (not even cultivated people who may know a lot about other arts, be well-read, etc...) pays attention to these questions which are the base of the artform, and they tend to disregard them as "mere technical stuff". It's like saying that the perspective, compositive harmony, color use, brush technique, space disposition, etc...of Da Vinci's "Last Supper" are all mere technicalities, and that the importance of the piece lays on the fact that it shows Jesus and his peers having their last supper.

How does someone start to discover this secret? Well, the first step is probably recognizing that no matter how many movies you've watched, you probably know nothing about cinema. The second step would maybe be to watch some of the widely considered all time masterpieces of cinema with the humility to take for granted that they are masterpieces, and that it is you who has to discover or acknowledge why. There's some books you could read, but it's probably best to stick to watching better films with better eyes. That's what I did at 14 when I started to feel that there was a secret, and it's taken me this far.

If anyone wants to discuss this, has any thoughts or questions, or needs help/recommendations or whatever to get deeper into cinema, please don't hesitate to drop me a line :).

Cheers and happy new year (I'm writing this on Dec 30) !!!

Miguel Faus
[email protected]

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