Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Film As A House

It's been a long while since the last entry. I'm not sure how much Susuk has collected so far, but I suspect it should be a rather substantial amount. I've been trawling the Net for some reviews of the film, and funnily enough, most of them praise Susuk for its "non-linear narrative," and its many homage and references to other films and filmmakers.

Well, I love homage and tributes as much as the next guy. I even made a short film that was a tribute to Bela Tarr, although it was nowhere near the artistic intelligence of Tarr's films. I'm humiliated to admit.

The problem of homage was largely the problem with Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang, the winner of Best Film at this year's Festival Filem Malaysia. I enjoyed the first half of the film, but I hardly think it's best-film material. There's nothing wrong in paying tribute to a style and convention of the past; but to do it just for the sake of doing, just because you can? It was the same problem I encountered with Thailand's Tears Of The Black Tiger. The novelty wore off just after 15 minutes. Thankfully, KMBM had more than 15 minutes of an interesting and comedic story. Still, the novelty wore thin after a while, when the story seemed to head nowhere, or rather, it wasn't hurrying to get anywhere.

I must add that somewhere someone loves this film very much, and has championed it in every corner of available space, virtual and physical. But it's still a mystery why, because there has been no explanation forthcoming from the person who believes there is much to study within KMBM. I say this without an ounce of sarcasm: I really would like to know. Seriously, I think it would be interesting to explore another viewpoint - an alternate view - just because such a conviction exists.

Instead, it led me to a discussion of the function of film theory and the true nature of a film review. The conclusion was that film theory is essentially building blocks for the filmmaker, and a point of interest for the academic to scrutinise how a filmmaker has used various techniques to enhance, animate, construct, hold together the working parts of her/his film. But once the film is made and "released' to the audience, it becomes text and the only relevant references should strictly be philosophical, historical, psychological, cultural, and all other aspects of humanity that the film should reflect.

Unless, of course, a film was made solely for other filmmakers and academicians, which would then validate the use of film theory as reference in discussing the film. But who makes such films? Isn't cinema a "democratic" art?

I've used the "beautiful house" analogy before. But lately, I've realised that that could easily lead to further complications. A beautiful house can be constructed but with a lousy foundation. It could serve certain aesthetic purposes, but would eventually fail in its basic function as a house. An ugly house could be constructed from brilliant materials and craftsmanship. It serves its basic function but other aspects of it would be thrown into question.

So then, isn't film theory a construction manual rather than the building blocks? If you follow it well, but you cheat on the materials or building blocks, things will still fall apart. And a construction manual instructs you on how to build a house but it doesn't tell you what colour the house should be painted in. Even the choice of windows - lattice or grill or sliding glass - is entirely up to you.

In this way, film theory alone is inadequate for a discussion or a review of a film. A filmmaker who follows film theory to the letter isn't going to end up with a great masterpiece. As such, thou shalt not judge a film by how many semiotics there are, nor by the presence of such things as gestalt, millieu and whathaveyou.

OK, I shall stop now, because I'm at the edge of the freezing water, completely naked.

What I shall tell you next is that Woo Ming Jin's award-winning The Elephant And The Sea opens tomorrow in Cathay Cineleisure, at The Curve, and will be on till Sept 3.

Remember: The Elephant And The Sea at Cathay Cineleisure, The Curve, beginnig tomorrow till Sept 3.

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