Can we study the effects of cinema on individuals or culture? Such a study requires an assessment of individuals and a society both before and an analysis of the subject of the study for an extended period after a particular film is viewed. Although, this may seem a difficult task, it is an enlightening way to describe what happens in our brains when we expose it to any kind of media, so, why not cinema?
Recently, I viewed Oliveira’s Belle Toujours, Jacque Breckers’ Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and an American screwball comedy called, Syriana. The choice was random—I picked up a dozen DVDs at the public library in San Luis Obispo to see what I hadn’t seen or don’t remember and at home, these three films drew my attention first. Isn’t that the way life is? Who chooses the films producers decide to make or that exhibitors show? Because of the phenomenon described in the opening statement above, I viewed these films in light of each other, and although I saw them consecutively, the timeframe allowed me to hold them all in focus, simultaneously. This is critical for otherwise, biases from the bombardment of conditioning disguised as news, etc., would likely have prevented me from seeing how and why Syriana is a screwball comedy even though it’s makers were in absolute earnest in thinking they were “making a difference”. Have they?
Manoel de Oliveira drew some useful distinctions between film, theater and literature: his first premise is that each of them employs the total range of art, using words, sounds, images and, music. His distinction between theater and cinema is enlightening; actors in the theater are part of the experience as they present their characters, while in cinema, the actor is not present, he is a phantom, there is only the image of the character. Literature, he said, is a private medium vs. the public nature of cinema and theater and Oliveira said he admired Luis Buñuel for the respect he showed for the private nature of experience.
I watched Belle Toujours last and Grisbi first with Syriana stuck in the middle like the round of baguette taken between flights at a wine tasting and though, I reviewed a few scenes in Grisbi out of curiosity about framing, sequence and camera, I was compelled to watch Toujours twice and not just because Oliveira’s comments in an interview on the DVD aroused my curiosity. I also viewed interviews of Clooney, Gaghan and Damon and Ventura, Gabin and Truffaud on the DVDs of the other films. (Only Oliveira’s comments were more than anecdotal or promotional, i.e., they are substantive.) I had to watch Toujours again for the same reason I find it hard to take my eyes off a beautiful Vermeer or a woman I find attractive, for that matter. Something in my brain seeks to know qualities about which my mind has not the resolution to distinguish. There, you have it.