POP CULTURE: What Is Cinema For – Free Ebook

Cinema is the most prestigious cultural activity in the modern world. It is for us what theater was in the age of Shakespeare, or painting was in the days of Leonardo DaVinci. The art form with the biggest impact, the largest budgets, and the most widespread audiences. Collectively, we recognize that film has an astonishing power to induce emotion. But it would sound weird to stop and ask what film was really for, what purpose it serves in our societies, and why we spent so much time in its presence. We don’t generally think of films are serving any very strenuous or serious cause. We ask for a lot of nice but not terribly lasting things of films, to while away the hours of a long flight, to keep the family together on the sofa, to give us a bit of a thrill. This is a great loss for us and for cinema itself. We should try to pin down more accurately what films actually do for us, then make sure we’re reliably making and finding our way to see the best, that is, the most useful kinds of things. We would ideally accept that film, like all the other art forms, best reveals its power, when we conceive of it as a kind of therapy. Let’s consider five key problems and how films can help us with them. We’re understandably prone to self-pity. We get ground down and frustrated by the problems life throws at us, and we tend to react by getting ever more stern and serious. Certain films can beautifully address this natural tendency, when they show us people not too different from ourselves, in difficult situations, except very much unlike us. These films play our pains for laughs. They seek the absurd side, the exact things that really great with excessive seriousness. At their best, there’s nothing trivial about these comedies at all. They take on the momentous task of sweetly etching us towards being slightly nicer people to live around. 2. We’re not careful enough Sometimes in life, an action that seems quite small, goes on to have enormous consequences. You tell a little lie. You steal a tiny bit. You’re a bit dishonest with someone. You get a bit lustful and carried away just once, and then from this, catastrophe ensues. Films can help us by speeding up time, and showing us in a matter of hours, fearsome result of what we might originally thought of as small failings. Film can push the consequences to the maximum. By witnessing horror and disaster it can make us want to be the kind of person, who is a touch more forthright, and little more honest and moral, readier to face an unpleasant moment now and (thereby) head off a distant disaster. We leave the cinema, less inclined to be self-righteous about the failings of others scared for ourselves and more respectful towards things we hold dear. It might sound odd, but it’s usually very healthy and helpful, to feel that one’s life is a bit special, deserving of admiration and respect, a little glamorous. But very often the opposite is the case. Glamour lies elsewhere, in the lives of the famous in swankier parts of town, in activities and jobs far removed from our own. Film has an enormous power to glamorize. It can put in front of our eyes delightful images, many meters in size, shot an extraordinary colors, vivid and immediate. Because so many films glamorize the wrong things, we used to thinking that an element of alienation and corruption is a generic, rather than incidental danger of cinema. But in fact, film is well able to show us the less obvious, but real charms of everyday life. Whereas the worst sort of films eject us back into our lives, full of longing and disenchantment, the best ones leave us ready to re-engage with circumstances, with which we had unfairly grown bored. Cinema can help us love and appreciate what we already have. It’s not entirely our own fault. The media is to blame for much of it. Because it tells us about categories of people we want nothing to do with, places that seem frightening, bizarre, unremittingly depressing. We going to think we’re not at all interested in people in Iran or Venezuela. Our disenchantment make it expressed as racism, arrogance, or just plain coldness. Ultimately, what we suffer from is a denial of our common humanity. Cinema can perfectly compensated for this withdrawal of emotional energy, by showing us the appeal of people far away, we’d otherwise be completely uninterested in. With the highest artistry, we’re reminded of an obvious but so easily forgotten fact. Our membership of the family of humanity. We’ve gone so far down the track of teaching ourselves about the importance of gentleness and compromise. Many of us have unwittingly develop problems around courage and self-assertion. Decent people have learned so well to suppress their own appetite for a fight, their own desire for victory. But in a world where conflict is unavoidable, good people sometimes need to strengthen their willingness to face down opposition, not always to compromise and play it safe, but to take risks, to get out and fight, to relish victory, and to be a bit more ruthless in the service of noble and deeply important ends. Sometimes, it’s not enough just to be right. You also need to win so some of us might well benefit from seeing films, that tell tales of heroism to follow someone who has to navigate the world, kill a dragon, outwit some baddies. The film shouldn’t ideally leave us just in awe at the daring of another person. It should do that for most valuable thing. Educate us by example, so that we too become just a little more heroic and brave where we need to be. Cinema, as we currently know it, is not a million miles away from doing wonderful things. But in order to help with the real business of living, we need this hugely compelling and powerful art form to set out in a more determined and systematic way to offer us the help we really need. The way we categorize films should ideally get a little bit more subtle. Rather than say something was merely a thriller or comedy, we’d put the accent on what these genres might achieve for their audiences. Instead of suggesting that one needs to be above a particular age to watch a film, the government classification board would see its primary task is that of helping a film to reach the audience it could best help. Thus a film might be rated A, meaning that it was regarded as being particularly good at getting us to address and cope with anxiety. Or it could have an MC rating, meaning that it was of benefit to those experiencing marital conflict. Films can do so much for us. They better direct our feelings of sympathy. They offer comfort for our unmanageable fears. They correct an unworkable sense of what is normal. They edge us towards good conduct. They caution, and arm us against our folly and vices. We should, as society, be ready to see them as more than just entertainment. They are, at their best, guides to life and pieces of spectacular applied philosophy.

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