Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Thoughts on the Problem. of the Film

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Thoughts on the Problem. of the Film

Article excerpt

THE FILM HAS ASSUMED colossal proportions. It gives the impression of something firmly established and constantly growing. It penetrates so deeply into the life of the entire populace, and often produces such unfortunate consequences, that one is forced to give it serious consideration.

The critic of culture and art is often repelled by the movies. And he tends to exaggerate the urgency with which the movies are seeking recognition. It is necessary that the critic realize he has some responsibility in the matter.

He might try to do away with the problem by saying: I do not take films seriously. They are of inferior value and will remain so. They simply provide an outlet which our restless age requires. Therefore, I expect the movies to do what they can in a somewhat tasteful manner, and not try to inflate themselves into something of cultural significance, which they are not.

Something of value could come into existence in this fashion, something intellectually satisfying, ethically powerful and esthetically enjoyable. But this would be only a peripheral phenomenon; an esthetic measuring rod is not suitable for the film as a whole.

One might conjecture that this esthetic criticism occasionally disquiets the apologists for an artistic mission of the film. They are taken aback by the fact that early in its career, the film became an affair of the masses. The drama, which it resembles as a spectacle, arose from a quite exclusive origin: ritual. It has an ancient and rich history, and for a long time after its removal into the secular theater, it remained bound to the upper social stratum. The film, on the other hand, is an upstart, and has always been in the province of the multitude. Quite early in its development technical science and commerce saw that it contained something responding to universally operative instincts, and therefore had great possibilities. Soon afterwards its possibilities for influencing the masses were realized.

Movies, then, dismissed very early any pretension of measure and restraint and gave themselves over to large numbers: large numbers of performances daily, large numbers of movies on a grand scale, immense capital, and a whole world of people and organizations, machines and technicians. The result was an enormous rate and quantity of production with all its consequent efficiency. Men of pretension to higher culture were thus compelled to feel that the film was a matter of no special merit. There are indubitable symptoms of this feeling. While the theater demands form of the theatergoer: a more select manner of dress, a somewhat solemn deportment, the moviegoer feels exempt from this sort of obligation. He comes in street clothes; on entering, he often keeps his hat on his head. In Latin countries he smokes away during the performance. A certain contempt is manifested here which does not stem from principles and intentions but rather from the certainty of an instinctive perception of quality.

The Phenomenon

I

We must first ascertain what is the source of the inferiority of the film. This will provide an opportunity of illuminating the negative aspects of the movies with some exactitude. I beg of you to take this criticism as it is intended. It is not expressed for its own sake, but rather with a positive purpose in view. One must also seek the possibility for a more positive and constructive analysis with regard to better execution of the film.

The critical point seems to lie in the relation between reality and the artistically imaginative presentation as it emerged in the film from the very first.

Art is not reality. (1) Art fastens on one aspect of the world, works through to its essence, to some essential thing in it, and presents it in the unreal arena of the performance. Naturally there are elements of reality in a work of art: the color, the weight, the tone, the spoken or printed word and so forth. …

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