Some Thoughts on Film Today- Eric Boshart
I really shouldn’t get into this, because who knows where it will take me. I don’t want to sound like those ranters who get nowhere as they endlessly chase their own tails. The thing about ranters is that no one wants to watch or listen to them chase their tails. But the ranters are blind to it, as they can only see what they are so fervently trying to capture.
Yet here I am, observations of film tugging at me so vehemently that I have to somehow express them in a meaningful way. And as the chief editor, I am allowed to express them here.
This is a ridiculous thing to say as a man of 20 years, but after watching thousands of films from nearly every decade in film’s history, the greats and the not-so-greats, the award winners and the incompetent failures, I can’t help but feel as if film is the one art that has least filled its full potential. Surely, no art has reached its full potential, but there have been radical (and I mean radical) shifts in the way other arts have taken form. You have different styles of drawing and painting, ones that were frowned upon but now hegemonic. You have different sounds in music, from tribal to classical to rock to rap and everything in between. These are distinct, and each new sound is advancement in the art. You have dance, where new ways of looking at motion and space alter the way we feel about dance in its entirety. There have always been these great leaps of faith in these arts where artists say, “That’s great, and I respect that, and I’ve grown up learning about that, but let’s shift the way we think about it.” And then you have a momentous revolution where other closeted artists respond with a brilliant high-five and go about changing the way humans are able to feel.
It’s easy to argue that each genre in film is the advancement in the art, and it’s not as if that isn’t true. But we have a duty to go beyond portraying primal emotions of fear (horror), surprise (thrillers), joy (comedies), and love (romance). The genres are fully developed, and as they should be, but the techniques in which the genres are being developed aren’t. That’s confusing, and it’s confusing in my head too, but allow me to explain. Genres are types of film that allow you to feel a certain way. They’re styles of making a film. You can mix genres, but they’re still going to incorporate similar emotions to each genre standing alone.
Within genres, there are a number of ways you can do things. The genre is the room, and the filmmaker is the person in the room. The person in the room can walk around the entire room without restraint. That person can explore every corner, every little spec on each wall, and every piece of the floor. And if you’re stuck in a room long enough, you’re going to want to do that. But historically, the person in the room doesn’t. He/she stands in one corner and briefly browses over the other three corners while focusing on the one he/she is standing in. And that corner is mastered.
Every so often, the person will take a step towards the other corners and make a great film. Others will analyze even three corners and make an even better film. Very rarely does the person notice that there’s a door on the other side, and the door leads to something undiscovered, a new frontier. That’s how genres were created, and it’s simple to make the case that that doesn’t happen often enough. The people in the rooms don’t really care about looking at the other parts of the room, for the corner they’re standing in contains piles of money.
Is this because filmmaking is a relatively new art, and the people in the rooms haven’t been in the rooms long enough to be curious? Maybe, but that’s blaming something that we can’t control, and that’s honestly too easy.
Taking it a step further, there are only a handful of filmmakers that have discovered the most important part about being in the room: the room doesn’t matter at all. Even if you analyze two corners, or three corners, or if you scope out the whole room. Even if you walk through the door and create new rooms. They still don’t matter. What matters is the person in the room. What matters is how the person views the room, how the person’s thoughts and background and philosophy and religion and ambitions affect the reality of the room. I think if you’re in the room long enough, you’ll scope it out entirely. But if you’re there even longer, you’ll stop caring about the room or rooms and start thinking about yourself, your ethos.
I explain it in terms of time, but really it’s about self-awareness, no matter how quickly you reach it. And isn’t that what art is? Art is nothing without the human experience, so why is so much emphasis being put on the room and not the human? I worry that a mental shift is not coming anytime soon.
With Hollywood now entirely focusing on its international audience, its filmmakers are setting their movies in different continents and incorporating ethnically diverse characters with more universal themes. This is discovering a new corner of the room, and great films (and even more money) are going to come out of analyzing that corner. Great. Well done. But all that’s really doing is putting more priority on the room. Who cares who the characters are in the film: how they talk, what they aspire to be, what their fears are, what they believe in above everything else? We should, but we aren’t requiring the filmmaker to look inside his/herself and discover what characters he/she is able to create.
I think the art will make a major advancement when the emphasis changes from the events to the humanity, from logos to ethos. It’s time for more filmmakers to say, “Yes, this room is here, but who cares about the room if I’m not in it? This room is nothing without me and my baggage.” When filmmakers start inquiring about themselves and realizing the importance of their own personal experiences over the corners they’re standing in, film will be that much closer to reaching its full potential.
No other art has focused more on the non-human aspects of itself than film. Accordingly, no art has ever made as much money as film. And there’s no reason to be angry about that. But if it’s going to continue to be an art, and if the money-makers want to keep profits high, there have to be improvements; and I think there’s going to come a time when there are no more rooms to create and no more corners of the existing rooms to be discovered.
P.S. The handful? Woody Allen, Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and only a couple of others.