kinocow

film

or the lost art of watching cinema

Cinema Amnesia

I recently watched a two hour movie over a period of a week, decimating it to the point of watching single frames at any given moment. It didn't help that the movie was not interesting, but still I took it upon myself as a challenge. Such a viewing misery would have been unfathomable a few years ago, when I trained myself to watch four movies a day without losing steam. I find this similar to my book reading habit that fell off the cliff with the advent of the internet and I do not find these behaviours to be an anomaly but a sign of things to come.

We have forgotten how to watch movies. We have forgotten the very act of seeing. It has been normalized now that we always have a screen where we can see something, all the time. This continual engagement demands that we are not bored at any given instant. Along with this came the idea of constant choice where we can customise what we want to watch and when. Scroll through a video to get where we want – the action bits, the money shots and the tugs of aggression and emotion. Social media became more interactive, delivering dramatic sequences that have been keeping us engaged for more than a decade now.

Watching a movie now is a matter of singular occupation for two hours. We are not watching one movie, our choice always has another on backup. The economic cost of streaming the next movie on Netflix, YouTube or your favourite pirate viewing site is next to nothing – unlike watching a movie in a kino, where there's a high entry cost and we are left with only one perspective of choice made by faceless humans. This leaves us with the question, is a trip to the kino worth the 8 euros I am paying for a movie?

With endless choice also comes the problem of endless selection. Gone are the days of a singular recommendation or a collective euphoria over a show. Content has become disposable and goes stale faster than your average news cycle. Netflix's early proposition of endless choice came with its own pitfall – the moment it stops offering its consumers the choice, they will leave the platform. This spin of choice has to be constant or even overwhelming to lull a customer into a state of constant monthly spending. This is in contrast with earlier iterations of film viewing where one had to go to the kino or buy physical copies of films or even pirate them online, which gave access to content one piece at a time. This attached more value for a movie, which results in a more concentrated approached to the act of viewing.

”(1925?) The TALKIE opens its doors to theatre which occupies the place and surrounds it with barbed wire.” – Robert Bresson

I am not complaining that cinema is in some kind of post-capitalistic fugue, it has always been the balm of the industrial masses and it is here to stay. This does not mean that the current form it assumes is immune to criticism, it serves the same function as stress shopping or yoga does after a long day's work. It makes one forget about the immediate reality and gives the right amount of dopamine ping to work for another day and then another. In this respect cinema loses its status as an art-form and becomes a crutch to escape from everyday reality. This crutch is formless and shapeless, except that it has to have a moving image that ticks the right boxes. An extreme form of this manifestation can be seen the status end-titles are given on Netflix: they are an afterthought in the production mill of content. The hundreds of faceless people are stripped off responsibility for the convenience of speed. The byproduct is that most movies on streaming platforms come and go without having any effect on us whatsoever. The yesteryear cinematic spectacle is now transformed into an endless looped GIF to be shared on a social media site of your preference.

This is not saying that cinema is in danger. It is – the pandemic disrupted our very act of collective gathering before an image on the screen. Content is now hyper-individualized, once we get a taste of this it is hard to go back. But I see hopeful signs as kinos around the world open up and new releases slowly make inroads into our colloquial language. The days of the art-house cinephile might be coming to an end as the theatres can only host big-budgeted Hollywood crowd pullers to sustain their revenues. Though I hope a self correcting mechanism will rise organically which helps bring the art of watching back into vogue. Distanced from capital, cinema is one of the truly collective meditative experiences that creates a sense of community without demanding anything in return. Or maybe dream will never manifest and Tik-Tok becomes the fractured reality model we want to consume. Cinema becomes the bastion of a few, sinking in a sea of choice.

#film #philosophy

A film by Aki Kaurismäki

Pay for the flat two months in advance, cash. File all notebooks and books, seal and pack them. Put them in the street corner where the free clothes and old books overflow from an ageing hippie's window. Be unseen, make no friends. Have a tape for company, singing John Yager's “Benson, Arizona”.

Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I

Remember the idea you once heard on the U-bahn? The idea that the easiest way to die is to drink two bottles of high grain Finnish vodka and sleep naked on a cold street? The alcohol will easen the hypothermia and one dies in the hotness of the cold. Have no papers what so ever, they are shattered and scattered all across small rest stops in Sweden and Norway. Cancel all accounts, stuff all your pockets with small change and feel rich. So much paper, maybe give some homeless guy a 100 and a bottle of champagne. Talk to him (or her), ask how he moves. Friends receive post-dated letters, cryptic enough to validate a disappearance but not distant to accommodate the fear of death. Burn all certificates, flush them down the toilet. They are a chain – a tether to concepts sold to you, and us. Ridding of all official documentation is the destruction of the social self, home is nothing but an illusion. There never was a home outside of us, just a constant search for one. The tape recorder creaks the same song on loop.

Buy tickets with your spare cash. Be kind to the clerk, be kind to anyone you meet. Give them a genuine human interaction, that is to say don't be an ant. No fake hellos and goodbyes. Drink with merry in bars with bad music and worse patrons, let the beer overflow in preparation for the vodka singes. Bathe in cold water, soak but don't dry. Every experience is in preparation for the final one – know that you are time and time projects the whole universe in you, 13.6 billion years if the current view is to believed. A name is the first employ of funneling personality. Name yourself anything else, Fish is a good suggestion. Dry on the Nordic shores, salted through frozen waves. There's the mermaid Ice Queen sitting somewhere in a costume. Go out to find her, in places where the language is the final diffusion of silence into emotion. A long dinner table covered in red tablecloth, plastic flowers wilting. Cook your chicken in the embers of your accumulated love. One final dusk, reds, dark violets and pluming clouds. Fall in love at every opportune moment. The cadaver if eaten by a wolf will bear the little symbolism of your existence. If there is luck the body will not be incinerated in some drab Norwegian morgue. Make paperwork easy, talk to the Syrian refugees. Dip yours fingers in sulfuric acid just when the drowsiness from the vodka is electrifying your nerves. You will pass out in the cold, dark night of the winter.

Why are you on this journey? Physical desires can be within reach but what about when searching for something that is not there? Where to reach out to if there is only stale air from previous attempts? Questions ask questions in infinity. There is peace in the silence of the mind. A nameless alcoholic that has be duly disposed off. This is the end of an animate story. Do not be afraid, shut your door behind you with no afterthought. Remember, there is no light in the polar shadows.

The tape recorder creaks with the stuck cassette:

Now the seasons flick on by
like seconds on this ship.
An' I take another pull
from the flask that's at my hip. The mighta-beens and the never-weres can drive a man insane. So-I think I'll stay out in the Void 'cause Benson's not the same.

#film #philosophy

Music is essential from scene setting, it enhances and adds a solid landscape for mundane things like a person walking to the profound matters of the heart. Great music when merged with a good visual story can alter the non-film reality because music is more subconscious than the way we perceive narrated information.

Living through the day is a narrative experience, one that involves conversations, transience and the Hero journey. We walk into stories and continue existing ones. It is in this perspective that music comes in, it creates a richer alternation to the one that already is. It changes the view without changing the context, so that the execution of the story is not botched.

It is in this indelible context that music can change how we look at life itself. Having periods of time attributable to a certain shape and form of music. It needn't come from speakers alone, the birds, the sound of tires, rustling wind and jackhammers all lend the same aesthetic quality as well tuned studio production.

Music, when viewed through film also juxtaposes multiple asymmetric visions into one – it's almost invariable to not imagine the opening scene of Apocalypse Now when I see a ceiling fan while while lazing on a hot Indian summer afternoon, the images of cinematic violence flash along with Francis Ford Coppola's visions of Vietnam – a feat unified by the dreamy mix of The End by the Doors. I also associated this montage with my dreams of Varanasi, where I sat by the Ganges and saw the sunrise after wandering in the nights with the outcasts and the holy drunks. It was the same intro piece of music that I first heard in a friend's apartment in Bangalore, while going through a rather hard breakup. The song now has travelled with me for years, along the way accumulating film and real history. In my mind's eye it has its own progression – a movie of its own. When I watched Apocalypse Now in a Parisian kino last year, the opening had the same profound effect as the first time I watched on my computer a decade ago.

In this sense, music helps build a dense world of references where the images inspire further moments but are still connected by the same, unchanged beat. The experience of seeing the opening of Apocalypse Now has my own progression as a person etched onto it, effecting the rest of the film and what happens when I come out from the kino. A world where city scapes are painted by Vangelis' score from the Bladerunner and the Metro tunnels are haunted by Thomas Bangalter's Irreversible urban techno trauma.

Music in film helps forming a complex image through an additional layer of stimulus that also works the other way – images have their own musical composition hidden in the folds of their action. This meshing between both the senses bridges the border less world between film and reality, making the world an extension of one's mind's eye. As long as there is music and there is a will to dream, we are all making movies beat by beat and frame by frame.

#film #music

A cinema plays in the background as someone cooks in the kitchen. A TV show fills in for company at a dinner table. Videos on Youtube incite anger while travelling to work on the bus. Watching movies in a theater takes you away from yourself and attempts to dream you into a world not so different from yours, yet so different.

Which one of this gives the best viewing experience? Film in itself is a very dictatorial art process, more dictatorial than say, writing. When a person writes, it her thoughts alone that play on the paper. There will be outside influences, sure, but they are all blended into the writing process where they are indistinguishable from the author's. In the case of film, it is the director who calls the shot at the end of the day or it is the producer by the virtue of having money or it is the actor, for having a face that can sell. In this case, the power is centered in a few people while the work is of hundreds of technicians, craftsmen and administrators. This gives film a far more central perspective than other works of creation. The second person in the hierarchy of making a film is far removed than the first who calls the shots, creating a huge imbalance of power that in fact presents the best idea forward: it can be money, it can be stardom or it can be the auteur who rules the roost.

The counter-argument to this could be that only a few writers are published at the end of the day. Writing however is more universal than filmmaking, making a film is a labour intensive process that demands a high level of skilled technicians across various domains, meaning your ordinary person on the street has very little probability of making a film that can act as a thoughtful Whatsapp forward while the same person can embed a pdf file with a 20 page story.

Youtube videos, personal videos, news, TV shows all of them fall under the category of perpetually made media where one can consume an inexhaustive variety of content that seems to emanate from a bottomless pit. We as audience can always distinguish between a film and a TV show or a YouTube video. Part of the reason is that “cinematic” look, while the other is also the level of intense detail that a film has to carry in its duration unlike a TV series that has the benefit of a few to many hours of time at its disposition.

Films are one-off projects that takes years in gestation and require to tell an effective story in the time allotted, which makes them also very pregnant with information and substance. Even a bad film can be evaluated for its demerits, say an actor's ego or the simple lack of technical finese but the same cannot be said about TV or a random video on their internet even though all the media's primary aim is to engage and at some level, entertain. The overall complexity involved in making a film and then bringing it to the people is multiple hoops farther than the average TV show. Though Netflix and Amazon are trying to bridge that gap by making cinema disposable, they have the same net effect as say television before them or pirating. A movie is made for the big screen and the eyes cannot be lied to even though the wallet has feelings of its own.

I keep asking myself this question, why movies? Over the course of the last fifteen years I must have watched thousands of movies in different settings, to the point I know the tropes, what to expect and a general immunity from being immersed into the medium and still I find them compelling. They could be termed as an addiction but sure I can let months pass by without watching a movie but when there is the possiblity to watch one, I give it a shot. It could only be seen as an interpretation of a sort of reality, the closest I have to get into someone else's skin and watch their fabricated world from behind their eyes.

In this respect watching a movie is a very personal act, it is not something together with someone rather going alone and having an individual experience of seeing someone's world from through their head while being in yours. It feels like I am finding another narrative to understand Being John Malkovich, but watching a movie is what it is, going to floor 1.5 sandwiched in the very world with moving people and experiencing what it is to be another person/s.

The fact that movies are also made for theaters primarily and not for computer or television screens tells a lot about the focus demanded while watching a movie. Watching video on a laptop screen or a cellphone is a very passive form of demanding attention, there will be always other real world scenarios that demand attention – the real world scenarios of being in a bedroom, in a kitchen, in a train or waiting in a hotel lobby. These spaces also allow someone to observe the reality that exists outside the synthetic reality of the video and by the virtue of being real it demands more attention. Whereas the primary viewing place of a film is in a theater is a synthetic space made for the consumption of a synthetic reality, which demands that nothing else in that room is more interesting than the happenings on the screen.

Film is the ultimate culmination of all the previous forms of art – what can be a better emulator of reality than an interpreted reality? Livestreaming could give more insights to our human condition but that is boring as it does not have the necessary drama to keep us engaged. As a story telling and mythmaking device, cinema is one great expressive medium. Check out your local kinos for movies that are being played and buy yourself a ticket and treat yourself to a movie without judgement. Try to find as many details as you can or just allow yourself to drown in a new world, but use the medium as as meditative tool. Come out and see the world around you and see that for a fraction of a second has become cinematic. And there you are the hero of your own story.

#film #appreciation #reality