is it the title that caught your attention? which part of it? filemaking? it couldn’t be a typo, could it? since countless books and umpteen websites have already told us all there is to know about digital technology, does adopting a new moniker for filmmaking really make any difference? or was it the idea of resurrection that intrigued you? to be sure, the word connotes both the notion of a cinema in dire trouble and the possibility of breathing life back into it.
either way, you extended your arm and are now flipping through the pages. you can tell pretty quickly that there is no tech talk in it: nothing about sensors, resolution, exposure latitude, sensitivity, frame rate, or shooting raw. and the book’s general appearance is rather odd. what is it then? in truth, no more than a bunch of reflections on the state of film practice: what we are doing that is no longer working and what we could possibly replace it with.
what i’m saying in this book is controversial, sometimes even radical. but am i to be trusted? let’s face it: there is no way for you to know for sure. so the text will have to speak for itself. my hope is that you’ll learn to trust my voice over time. what’s more, i would like this book to be not just a bridge between us but a catapult for your own creativity.
writing this book is thus not unlike enclosing a message in a bottle, throwing it into the ocean, and counting on fate that it will end up in the right hands, your hands. you, because you are still reading this. you, because i’m certain by this point that we have something in common: we don’t follow the crowd and we share a passion for the art. but let there be no misunderstanding: i cannot tell you how to make great films. no one can. what i can do though is clear up the creative space surrounding movies from the hype that has cluttered it through the years. most of all, in the following pages, i want to convince you that there is still an open field out there where everything remains possible. your job will be to venture in this uncharted territory and forge the bold projects that will bring the spirit of cinema back to life.
rules and conventions
two kinds of film books are relevant for filmmakers. first off, there are the quintessential textbooks which, unfortunately, take for granted all the conventions found in ordinary filmmaking. in these books too, the protocol stipulates that nothing should interfere with the smooth transmission of the informational content. to achieve this, the writing must not only be straightforward, accessible to all, but also impersonal. put differently, the words on paper must appear to have no origin and no destination. they should present “facts” alone. these must stand by themselves, cogitations cut off from their human roots.
then there are the film criticism books. in this case, the author typically attempts to position his or her ideas in relation to the existing critical paradigm. after a point of contention is introduced, he or she proceeds to unravel the issues at stake. to bolster the argumentation, as well as the importance of the text for the field, support is marshaled from various influential scholars. inasmuch as it is addressed to academics, the intellectual content is appropriately a lot more demanding than what is found in textbooks. the phraseology too tends to be more abstruse, even forbidding. in fact, coined or cryptic words have come to epitomize the genre. when a neologism is particularly illuminating, it spreads indeed as mantra as every other academic goes about exploring the implications made possible by the new concept. although there is much that is valuable in these books, the jargon disenfranchises anyone not privy to it.
the writing in such essays must also follow conventions mandated by this or that manual of style, say, the chicago and the mla guides in the humanities. authors have no choice in the matter: they must abide by the guidelines if they have any hope to be published by academic journals and university presses. the formal protocol is meant to reassure potential readers in academia that this is a serious piece of writing worthy of their attention. albeit the guides’ editors would insist the directives are solely concerned with the presentation of manuscripts, they nevertheless uphold a single path for the generation of ideas. beyond this, to impose a mode of writing on authors who attempt to push the envelope in their essays is paradoxical to say the least.
one last point: despite addressing films from various angles (cognitive and psychological processes, social and political sciences, art and literary theory, linguistics, philosophy, marxism, feminism, etc.), film criticism books are not fundamentally concerned with filmmaking. they consider films only after the fact. they also take them as they come, good or bad. in fact, mediocre films can be used to spawn the most fascinating propositions about this or that aspect of our culture. in other words, critical writing is produced for its own sake rather than to help revitalize the medium. it is not concerned with cinema’s welfare.
despite these drawbacks, the great advantage of scholarly writing over the more colloquial type is that it elevates the discussion. readers must give full attention to the text. when we talk to one another or read a newspaper for instance, the attention is on the gist of the communication. words and sentences are mere carriers that are disregarded as soon as we access the information. moreover, each new message or utterance quickly displaces the previous one. little if anything sticks. the march forward is what matters. in short, plain-speaking is unlikely to produce epiphanies. by contrast, the language in academic writing forces for us to stay with the text, to go over it again, whether to elucidate its meaning, figure out its ramifications, or cross swords with it. it also makes us think beyond the text, for instance in applying elsewhere the ideas just encountered. put another way, academic writing helps open a world of thinking.
having been groomed in this way of writing in college, i wrote a book and many essays in accordance with the expected mandates. over time though, i began to suspect that the academic style was not value-free after all, that the formal presentation tended in fact to neuter or stunt whatever liveliness would otherwise emerge from the text. right or wrong i felt this style of writing kept me from engaging the topic of film production more directly and the reader more candidly. i also felt it would be incongruous to wrap in academic prose a text that celebrates the revolutionary nature of digital technology. on top of that, it would clearly be antithetical on my part to comply with rules and conventions while suggesting that you do away with them.
in this book i will not only delve into the muck of production, i will strive to overhaul it from the ground up. to help focus the attention, i have altered the text’s formatting. my fixes include no capitalization in the text, no indentation at the beginning of paragraphs, and a casual use of syntax and punctuation. i adopted this way of writing years ago in my emails so i feel comfortable with it. i also decided to forgo quotations, notes, and bibliography as they are too closely associated with academic writing. this said, i have used boldface to alert you to a critical or philosophical name, concept, or issue that you might want to explore further. finally, i have borrowed from bresson the idea of chapters made up of discrete issues as opposed to a long, continuing argument. all together, i end up with something that is neither a textbook nor a film criticism book. it is, for better or worse, a hybrid book, a book that uses the tools of critical theory to make sense of and, hopefully, to rejuvenate film production.
to forsake the decorum of a stately style however is not without danger. despite my best efforts, the writing is likely to miss the denseness and gravity one expects from serious film books. it may very well be also that my little fixes may be perceived as mere gimmicks that you, readers, will soon tire of. can the more personal tone demarcate itself sufficiently from the colloquial style one encounters everywhere? will you brush off my project as more of the same or will it surprise you enough to pay attention and stir you into action?