Sunday, February 27, 2011

#UsGuys - "What Don't We Learn from the Movies" #UsBlogs Article Series

#UsBlogs Weekly Article Series. Week 4 Theme in honor of the 83rd Academy Awards is What We Learn from the Movies.

Middler year in college, I took my first screenwriting workshop. My professor said early in the course that people go to the movies for two reasons:

  1. To be entertained
  2. To learn something

I had not till then considered the validity of the second reason. Entertainment factor had been my sole criteria when judging the worth of a movie. I had absorbed the "TV Rots Your Brain" attitude and had tried to believe that if you really wanted to learn something you had to go to books, go to class or pay attention in real life to what was going on. That movies were mind candy, for relaxation, for a laugh or a cry. A mindless activity.

But I've since turned this position over in my mind, have changed my thinking and attitude. For I was not being very truthful with myself. To believe a significant amount of learning does not take place when watching a movie is self-deception that precludes a great opportunity for personal growth. Learning is in fact a value that folks maintain in their movie-going, consciously or subconsciously.

The Learning Factor feeds the Entertainment Factor most. We want to learn. When we do, we are delighted. Dopamine pops like a champagne celebration in our mind and we are wide-eyed, trained on the screen, taking it all in. In reverie, approaching revelation. What moves across the screen is there to be thought about, emulated, improved upon, and passed forward through the mind spacelanes of our daily interaction with others in real life.

Avalokitesvara or Padmapāni ("Holder of the Lotus")
I've traveled so far along this train of thought, I've gotten to believe, by this medium, we have given ourselves the ability to make little Buddhas of each other--igniting a learning curve fostering true Enlightenment at accelerated rates. Imagine yourself sitting there, Indian-style, nearly lotus, trained and focused in thought, your mind wandering the cosmos of  Ethos, Pathos,  and Logos, seeing examples of a balance of order and an embrace of chaos, witnessing the fall one's reason or the rise of one's emotion, and feeling vicarious wonders in the climax.

Movie information is highly accessible. The minds of all screen creators--artists, writers, actors, designers, musicians, directors et al--travel into your mind at high speed. There's little opportunity for distraction, as when you are reading and even a door mouse or a floor creak can stir you from the page. In 24 hours of movie-watching, your mind can capture the aesthetics of at least 12 creations. And have complete, start to finish tomes, to chew on and draw insight from.

Intact is the validity of a movie as a medium for learning. But what is it that we can learn from the movies?

We come to the same drinking well carrying variable weights of knowledge in our saddle bags. Historical facts, such as some movies portray in a time piece, may not necessarily improve our knowledge base. We may not need to be illuminated on morality or ethics. We might be tired of revenger tragedies, jaded by reluctant heroes who overcome obstacles by the third act, and could hold already full cups of anti-hero stories or big twist plots.

A cynic, backed by a wise man, might feel right to say there is nothing to be learned from a movie because it is all regurgitation. The ancient Philosopher-King, Solomon writes: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9

Judgment of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin
Who am I to argue with Solomon? It is true the energy of every atom in your body is as old as the universe itself. But I happen to think, and this may or not be a departure from Solomon's wisdom, that for the first time in the entire history of the universe, its energy and all its atoms, here is You, a singular behavior of atomic energy. You are you and there has never been a You here before. Not exactly, perhaps some close but never quite. And that's You. And there are others with same singular Them-ness going on.

When you witness comedy or drama in movies, close ups, panning, montage, you witness the singular behavior other human minds. And never just one human mind, many all at once.  You have the opportunity to study delivery and framing, all the controls that artists employ to encapsulate chaos with a segment of order.

Any one sentence can be said a million ways or more--and draw as many or more reactions from an audience. Consider the delivery of one line within one scene and you'll be asking yourself, consciously or not, many Why questions about that line. Why questions that open your mind for discovery of aesthetic value and the art of presentation.

(The Line-up Scene from The Usual Suspects)

And with these questions buzzing your mind, you soon become its answer. A change in your demeanor, probably imperceptible, occurs. Your own art of self improves. There may be no accounting for the full impact even one movie can have on your learning curve. For certain though, as you acquire the voices of other artists, which is what you are doing when you watch a movie, as when you read a poem, listen to a song, or stand before a painting on a wall, you improve the power of your own voice and the art of your self.

Self and Other
To download the mind of genius into your own mind so that you can feel its influence, experience the agony, be thwarted by and then be usurper of, apprentice first and then master--is the artistic tradition. I do not find value in subordinating one medium to another. To say, for instance, music is better than a painting and a painting is better than a poem is a trivial affair. All the light of any day is held within each form regardless.

I do recognize though that movies (or film if you want to wear an elitist hat) is mixed media that utilizes and overlaps all the forms of story-telling and story-showing. And that as you sit there, in lotus (Reclined in a Movie-chair Holding Popcorn may be the 20th Century's lotus position), you experience an art that blends music and words and picture with evangelistic technique that draws origin from the Ancient past.

The original title of "The Wasteland" by T.S. Eliot was "He Do the Police in Different Voices." We encounter the variations of authority on a daily basis. Learning how to become a master sailor on the sea of these variations comes in part by interacting with them. When we watch a movie and have the opportunity to perceive multiple authorities at once, the writer, the actor, the composer, the editor, the set and costume designer, the filmographer, the director, we allow ourselves opportunity to experience nuance of behavior and subtlety in interaction. We can pick-up new voices, lay old ones to rest, or to achieve hybrid of the old and the new.

And in a movie, unlike in real life, we can experience this learning curve in a Utopia, in a No Where Place. There is creator's mind and your mind. Consequences following the meeting of these minds are minimal compared to real life meetings. And perhaps because we know there is minimal consequence, we are more relaxed and open to receiving the signals of the other's mind than we are in a real life situation.

So to the question "What Do We Learn from the Movies?" I ask simply "What haven't we learned?" I know I do the police in different voices. Have gone swimming in the human psyche at the midnight hour. Have seen my mystic form change its display, having been quickened by the wonderful spells I've been held under by the casters of the silver screen and their coterie. I have learned there is a No Where Place in this world where I can go to enhance my understanding of what it means to be human. I have learned how to bring this understanding back to real world. And so far it seems that doing one enhances the other. That's why I go to the movies, even before I know that was why I was going to the movies.

(The Opening Scene/Anthony Perkins from Orson Welles, The Trial)


1 comment:

  1. "The ancient Philosopher-King, Solomon writes: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9"

    Wow--I feel a rich kindredness...I think we have to settle for a "fit audience though few"--I remind myself of Solomon/Qoholeth to "curb my enthusiasm." An artist works with 3 primary colors; the writer works with one story ('The Hero's Journey'...and 31 or so tangential plot arcs).

    With Aristotle, I thin we also have a valuable comparison to Plato. "The Cave" is both a metaphor for the theater and a reminder that we are looking for a "corporate ritual." We've become disassociated with the power and wonder of myth, and settle for movies as "mind candy"--as a way to whet our hunger to be part of the Monomyth (J Campbell).

    I'm so glad you brought in Eliot, Solomon, Aristotle--it's hard to go there, and still find an audience.



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