Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thematic Wanderings: The Art Of Getting Away With It

Fellow co-conspirator and book creator E. Hsu, often questions the stuff we watch. Not always the hidden messages, but as a graphic artist herself, the approach. She recently called out the opening shot of Gone Girl, with the head of Rosamund Pike being caressed by an unseen, but clearly masculine hand as the words of Ben Affleck posit questions about his beloved - only to turn ugly in contrast to the hyper-stylized beauty before him.  And suddenly these reminders of what savvy visual storytellers do with their images to let us in came rushing to mind. That cinematic sleight of hand can be employed as a means of drawing in an audience who may not have considered a film's baggage otherwise. Especially considering our rapidly evolving media intake, there is a growing complexity to film that often plays it coy, to occasionally insincere degrees, playing the audience in order to implant conflicting thoughts. Considering the particular filmmaker in this case, it became quite clear that this was a deliberate attempt at playing viewers at their own game. While we have certainly over the past few years seen a few filmmakers over the years employ tactics on the level of a sledgehammer, the hidden, is often the most dynamic, and the style most effective in gathering years of heated controversy. The belief that post-film dialogue is far more constructive than a blunt-forced message (See- The Wachowskis. See- Snowpiercer.). After several discussions regarding the validity of hidden themes in mainstream cinema, the blog seemed to call out for a teensy bit of extra light on this often rocky topic.

Such a contradiction is classic Fincher, where he will often present an evocative visual, but use the soundtrack to offer up either sly humor, or an unreliable establishment to stir matters up. Among his most famous, is the final shot of Fight Club. The slowly pulling image of the narrator and Marla, hand-in-hand while the city's bank buildings topple one after another before them to the almost chorus-like sounds of Pixies' Where Is My Mind?, playing over the devastation. All we had seen up to this point, revealing the ultimate personal revelation of the narrator's journey, with the apocalypse of a confining banking system. Our so-called "villian", is gone, but his plan has gone off without a hitch. Our characters now reside within a new world. The film is asking pointedly about seeking new routes beyond the mundane & self-destructive to achieve our dreams. It's both giddy and harrowing, and ultimately feels emotionally resolved.We have reached thematic critical mass.

"Free yourself".

Chock it all up to your classic scene design and final construction. One can either use the field of vision to convey a clear-cut idea, or mix everything from costume, to set, to lighting, editing, and even music to occasionally blur certain thematic lines. One of the dicier things a filmmaker and crew can do to enhance, and often botch a scene, is with a risky mix and match. Happy music when something sad is occurring on screen, or perhaps a moody voice-over during the scene of a wedding, the means by which films can achieve a complex fabric of emotion is often infinite. But it can also lead to confusion among viewers not savvy to what is happening. And this is often where some critique can diverge between individuals. Mise-en-scène, remains something of a delicate art, and can work wonders depending upon its usage.

So when filmmakers take on more straightforward material, it's pretty easy for the casual viewer to miss elements that are uniquely them. Especially when they are often more adventurous in their projects. It's something that I have witnessed more than ever in recent years, which often leads to many an interesting discussion. Because certain scenes may mean different things to whoever is discussing it, the dialogue can occasionally break down - which can be anathema for some.

A classic recent example is the final montage of The Dark Knight, where a voice-over justifies a cover-up by our heroes, while we witness the fallout from the film's harrowing story. Everything leading up to this moment grants us a picture of an antagonist that has spiritually one-upped the city and it's defenders to the breaking point. And with the last bastion of hope to the community gone, and many dead in its wake, the need to lie to keep his legacy intact is played to the hilt with Batman defending his role as an outsider. What's thematically interesting about this scene, is the score which takes some recurring musical motifs that were introduced in Batman Begins, now take on broken form. They are now in a minor key, mixed with an almost triumphant wail, as if to say that everything we are seeing here is a compromise. Wayne's mission has taken a turn, and is now in an even more morally grey place than he was at the offset. The sweeping camera pans over Commissioner Gordon's speech, flag waving in the background, followed by his destroying of the Bat Signal, all imply that none of this is an ideal outcome. And yet, many a conservative pundit found this ending to be a condoning of certain tactics being used by private entities during the height of the Iraq War. They ultimately missed the part where all of this is proof of how the Joker actually prevailed on a philosophical level. The city will no longer be the same. Criminality may be on the run, but corruption can even ensnare the most well-meaning. It's a psychologically complex, and challenging way to end a blockbuster sequel, and yet it completely got away with positing an uncomfortable truism regarding western civilization.

So for every conceptual swerve a storyteller can dish out, there is always potential for involved dialogue. Which is pretty much a most exciting place to be as a spectator. To drink in the complex, and to have something new to share with another, even if it's a freshly formed idea, is one of the great virtues of art. Problems persist only when everything points to a simple answer. Sure, it can be great to hear something that aligns perfectly with your views, but to experience another's purview is equally as important, if not moreso. As we are consistently evolving creatures, it remains more crucial than ever to allow the exchange to create rivulets, and multicolored fibers. It's what helps us enrich ourselves and each other. But it's especially interesting when we think we are aware of what we are looking at, only to find ourselves stealthily implanted with a vital, impactful new discussion.

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