Notes on a Unified Film Theory

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What follows is not likely to be novel. It is surely naive.

The most interesting question to ask about a film is "IS IT AWESOME?"

Comic films are underrated compared to dramas. Or to put it another way, dramas are overrated. Great dramas are fine, but Good dramas are often mediocre, and sometimes bad. Compensate by assuming that critical opinion is tilted against comedy and toward drama, and act accordingly.

Film is a visual medium. Based on that fact alone, the Wachowskis' "Speed Racer" is a minor classic. More generally, there seems to be a sort of high art (what I think of "photos composed by a cinematographer") that are praised excessively, while visually creative films often end up regarded as somehow lower forms of art.

Movies about movies are the laziest of lazy settings. But I cannot deny the greatness to be found in the subject. "The Player" and "Sunset Boulevard" nearly justify the genre all by themselves.

There's a trope in many art forms of "a X's X", as in "a comedian's comedian," or "a musician's musician," or "a filmmaker's filmmaker." I think this is about making a work of art that fits the aesthetic and sentiments of specialists in the field: "a comedian's comedian" knows how to tell a joke that can still suprise a jaded comic, but may shock or annoy a non-insider audience. Holding such work in high esteem is tricky. Never forget that while Shakespeare winked at insiders, his stuff was loved by the punters. I have a high suspicion of work that can't appeal to a mainstream audience.

I crave novelty in films, possibly too much. But I think "make it new" is a reasonable request.

Good-bad movies: "Point Break" is true to itself. It knows what it is, and it is masterfully made.
Good-good movies: "The Incredibles."
Bad-good movies: "American Beauty" (good at pretty moments, but I can hardly believe a single human interaction in this film. You can learn more (vastly more) about human relationships from "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" than you can from this movie).
Bad-bad movies: "The Big Hit." A lot of bad acting (except by Mark Wahlberg). A lot of bad plot. Cardboard characters. A lot of bad film-making. A lot of bad jokes. And an example of a self-conscious movie about movies that is utter trash. Also, I can't stop watching it.

Animation (by which I mean the production of imagery other than photographic live set action) is eating all movies. Less so via obviously animated movies, more so by the ubiquitous use of CGI and other extraordinary manipulation of images. The end state is where on-set performances are optimized as motion-capture sessions rather than the primary film-making. It's not a question of "if," but only "when," and inside of ten years seems a conservative guess. Conventional film-making will persist as a stylistic choice, much as some modern film-makers take on deliberate constraints like black and white, or using film.

It is interesting how "television" now encompasses shows that are not televised, and that are both longer and shorter than "movies." The disintermediation of moving pictures is nearly complete, and at some point the Oscars themselves will be demonstrably obsolete. This will be an interesting benchmark, and I am fascinated to see how the Oscars respond. During the Oscars was maybe a decade ago, an official, probably the AMPAS president, gave a brief speech extolling how movies were still best on the big screen rather than the home TV. This was illustrated with some clips from visually compelling movie scenes, rendered with superb sound and excellent high-definition picture on my home TV. I found the demonstration convincing, and have watched very few movies on the big screen since then.