To answer this, or at least examine with detail, we must delve into film history. We've discussed the divide between the Grand Theorists of Europe, and then the Post Theorists of the US, most famously the Wisconsin School. These challenges to the old, more philosophical guard, lead into the re-evalutaion of the work of the first Theorists from cinema's first 60 years of existence. Within come the questions: what is film (ontological), what is its knowledge (epistemological), and what are its values (ethical)?
We took a look at the 1944 propaganda short film Springtime In An English Village, which is exactly what it sounds like: showing country life, as well as the crowning of the May Queen. Of course, there's a little bit of a twist, as the May Queen is a black girl, and she is chosen by popular vote of her young peers. The message is pretty apparent: it paints Britain as a tolerant and progressive society, and it sends out a positive message to the colonial peoples about their masters, and thus, is pretty clean cut in how it corresponds to the three questions above.
Next up, and more explorative notions, are The Five Propositions (five different theories to examine the nature of film and what it does):
- Films are Documentaries
- Films are Ghostly
What's more, in Death 24x a Second (2006), Laura Mulvey states that 'The New technologies work on the body of film as mechanisms of delay - most obviously the pause and rewind facilities'. In essence, through film, we master time and can even turn it back. Certainly puts a new spin on pushing a button on the remote, doesn't it?
- Films are Sublime
- Films Directly Represent the Real
- Film Stages Desire
Then, in the seminar, following some technical difficulties, we viewed Le Pleasure (1947), a short tale of prostitutes in 19th century France going off to attend the Madame's niece's first communion. The point here was to look more at 'visual emotion', and how film can communicate ideas and themes without dialogue (Ontological/what is film: a visual medium).
The film does play with the contrast of these city women vs the country life, especially when it comes to space: director Max Opphels really emphasizes in his direction and cinematography how much bigger the country and the house are compared to the smaller, more intimate brothel. He achieves, not just through larger sets and more wide shots, but also a camera with lots of movements, gliding around the sets to create that sense of size. Furthermore, despite the religious connections, the film is not so much about faith or redemption, as much as it is about generosity and being good to others, be it through the dress they give the young girl, or the renewed energy with which they return to work.
This was a pretty hefty discussion, and while it doesn't drastically break new ground when it comes to what I know and think of film, it is always interesting to just go back to the basics and what what something is, irrespective of what it may have become since. It's always interesting to revisit the origin point and see how something evolves or changes, or perhaps simply adapts and, for all the whizzbang and polish applied since, does the same fundamental job it did over a century ago.