The silent film heuristic

2020-04-15 @Arts

I hardly ever view films nowadays. Compared to reading or even something like an online educational clip, I find them generally boring.

Or maybe unstimulating is the better term. I don’t enjoy what happens within my head as I experience the film. And the occasion having become so rare, I’ve grown awfully sensitive to the phenomenon.

So what happens you might ask? Precisely nothing. It subjects the mind to some mode of hibernation; a disconnect; a state as distant from the mindful as I can fathom.

On my international flight yesterday I viewed The Joker, and not without some exercise of patience to endure to the end.

I’m aware the film encompasses a quality character study. It’s a gripping motion picture, one of the few that so prolifically adapts a thematic of comic origins within a very applicable contemporary framework. [I’d probably use such words if fabricating some film review.]

And yet I felt bored; not hopelessly bored, as the initial instinct lured me to write. But boredom of notable irritability.

No longer habitually wired to the cinema experience, meta-cognition triggered every five minutes: why is the mind entering hibernation? Why is it not taking active involvement as it does with a book?

And be it the quality picture, there was nothing singular in it that I couldn’t imagine acquiring in paper form. Or was there?

Sometime after my initial viewing and between sleep, I’d occasionally glance at a neighbor’s monitor, who happened to also be viewing the same picture. I found the silent viewing far more pleasing.

Sometime two-three years back I recall also having written on my liking for viewing films in silent. Back then I’d half-entertained the idea of imaging my own plot development and dialogue in lieu of the prescribed track.

This sudden remembrance led me to an interesting heuristic:

If I don’t enjoy the silent feature, the film doesn’t contribute anything unique to the medium that couldn’t be represented in, say, literature. Consequently, I’d rather not dedicate the time.

Would I face bitter regret at the culmination of those two hours? No. Nothing can recover them. All we really have is the present moment.

But given the preemptive choice, I can not rationalize such spending of the two hours. So what caused the handful of silent bits of The Joker to be enjoyable?

The picture does indeed contribute something unique to the screen, and it in no way relates to the character study.

The picture exhibits a series of absolutely beautiful shots. I’d only noticed them in silent mode, the mind less contextually encumbered, more flexible to identify artistic contribution.

Seeing a wide-view frame of the character in the rustic dress room, I thought to myself… this could very well be a painting.

Or the police car ride along the decadent streets of nighttime New York; fire, destruction, chaos amidst, the glimmering tints of the greens and the reds.

Elements of visual bliss are abound. Granted, the Taxi Driver influence felt strong and throughout much of the picture. But no matter.

I found myself genuinely mesmerized by the visual - a visual that might escape the viewer’s appreciation when overshadowed by the character ark of the story (which I didn’t care for) and accompanied by the unfiltered audio.

This reminded me of why I genuinely enjoy the cinema of Tarkovsky, or the more modern Terrence Malick: severe emphasis on the visual; visuals that grip us viscerally; visuals that engage the mind, not submit it into the clutches of hibernation.

Questions, comments? Connect.