Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kvikmyndafræði: Film theory

I have always tried to stay away from film criticism, mostly because my top 5 favorite films include Home Alone 1 & 2. So what the heck do I know? In fact, I have a feeling my analysis of movies will fall well short of these two geniuses:

The two articles assigned for this topic, written by Jeffrey Geiger & R.L. Rutsky, and by Robert Stam, and they emphasized two important points for this theory: First, that films should be "read" like a text. But that, secondly, and importantly, films are both more complex and completely different than an "original" text. It becomes very fluid, and frankly very subjective to critically analyze films. Can I watch Home Alone as a text? I mean, this film is meant for giggles and good, old fashioned family fun with catch phrases and bonks on the head! But, as far as artistic value, you are going to come away fairly empty handed. Unless, of course, you appreciate the perfect physical comedy of the great Daniel Stern...but I digress.

Reading a film as a text can sound like a contradiction, especially when viewing a film through adaption theories. But as Robert Stam points out, a film adaption is often less of a resuscitation of an original text and more of an ongoing intertextual dialogue. For instance: Nobody asked for a Ghostbusters remake. The original and sequel should have been more than enough for everybody to get along with bustin' ghosts. Then everybody got up in arms because the "remake" was casted as all females. While I do have some personal thoughts on this topic as a whole that will not be addressed here, the point is that the most recent Ghostbusters should be seen as an ongoing intertextual dialogue, not a remake--a continuation, if you will, of the joyous tradition of catching spooks and spirits.

The issue, however, is that a text is a single body, albeit only in written word so that the imagination has to work to create things like settings and costume designs. A film throughs at you music and shot selection and transitions. So it becomes much more three-dimensional. And so you can have films with a great story but terrible acting (Star Wars prequels) or perfect music but kind of a dumb execution (Godzilla [1998]). On one hand, you can have one of the worst James Bond films (Goldeneye) that spawned one of the best video games, and on the other hand one of the most iconic video games that spawned a terrible (yet fascinating!) film (Super Mario Bros.). And so, as Geiger and Rutsky say, film analysis examines every little detail of the film in order to create a better understanding of the meaning.

Of course, not all films have a deeper meaning. It would be difficult to apply a Marxist or post-structuralism theory to Dude, Where's My Car? But, on the other hand, the difficult images in The Dark Knight Rises, not to mention the horrors attached to the Denver theater shooting, creates a much deeper meaning for Americans who have seen part of the population at odds with law enforcement in recent years.

One of the biggest issues plaguing film criticism is the idea of adaptions. I have read a little bit of adaption theory, mostly through Jón Karl Helgason's work on English translations of Njáls saga. And while it doesn't totally apply to what I am doing, there are still some interesting insights into how adaptations are viewed. Stam says that some things must be cut, otherwise the film adaptation of War and Peace would be 30 hours long. Is this being unfair to the "original" text? Who chooses what to cut? Your idea of what a character should look like is different than my idea. Did Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger make a better Joker, and who is to say? Some have argued that film adaptations can offer very little as far as cultural contributions. They are high on action, low on introspection. Case in point: In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film adaption, Ludo Bagman was cut out completely. This makes sense on a budget/time constraint, yet without his character's suspicious past and his attempts to assist Harry, a huge part of the mystery and Harry's inner thoughts go missing. Likewise, in the following book, The Order of the Phoenix, Harry's absolute terror of what is going on inside of him, his connection to Voldemort and his learning to face his destiny is almost completely absent from the film. Yet, what a wonderful interpretation of Delores Umbridge, and of the Weasley twins' escape. The film version of Goblet of Fire, too, presented a darker and much more intense series of events from the maze to the graveyard that I myself anticipated.

Nevertheless, it becomes a sticky business, attempting to sift through these decisions of interpretations and adaptions, editing and cutting, or adding and manipulating. The best option, according to these articles, is to view a film in a new light, as a separate entity, with the "original" text as a sort of guide, rather than a source of inspiration. This is nice, in theory, but tell that to the die hards.

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