Monday, January 16, 2006

Filmic Reality and Actual Reality

A recent discussion on the film philosophy group H-NET posed the question: What are the differences between filmic reality and actual reality? By the time the chat died down, it was evident that some of the keenest minds in the film philosophy business couldn't fully wrap their arms around an answer to that question. And yet, I think that Alfred Hitchcock's films inquire into that very question. Regarding Lifeboat, for instance, when asked how he could justify a musical score for a boat adrift at sea, (i.e. where is the orchestra?), H replied, "what is a camera and crew doing at sea?"

I think that when it comes to the implausibles, the audience is willing to accept them if the director honors it by respecting its intelligence in other ways, such as by first-rate filmmaking, good dialogue, etc.

If a screenplay plays fast and loose with the facts or the plausibles, I feel insulted. But if it's treated in such a way that I feel "let in" on the joke by a wink and a nod, then I'm much more willing to suspend my disbelief.

I just saw Sin City last weekend on DVD. What a film! And the self- consciously comic book cinematography made it a visual treat, ala Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It put me in mind of Marnie, which, like Sin City, also used obviously fake sets, and (I beieve) deliberately poorly executed process shots (Marnie's equestrian scenes, Sin City's car scenes). In Marnie, like Sin City, the fakeness seems to be the point, in much the same way that faux marble is a legitimate decorating alternative irrespective of the availability/cost of real marble. However, Sin City, -- like Caligari -- lets the audience in on the joke early on, whereas H failed to do that, dropping his audience into an experimental, arty style without any warning. And so, Marnie's cinematography comes across as flawed.

What I'm getting at is that there seems to be a contract between the audience and the filmmakers that, if honored, gives the filmmaker freedom to break rules of logic, narrative -- and realism. In my opinion, Dial M's supposed flaws regarding the key are excusable, because the movie isn't about that anyway. The key business just gives us an excuse to see the bad guy get caught and to get the "happy" ending we paid to see.

Besides, obtaining a conviction on the evidence of one clue that can be second-guessed any number of ways has a history as old as Sherlock Holmes and as recent as the O.J. Simpson trial.

If H had been a member of H-NET, how would HE have answered the question regarding the differences between filmic reality and actual reality? And how did he explore that question in his films?

Joel Gunz

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