I will be delivering this manifesto after screenings of my answer print of PALMS My 16MM Movie . Enjoy!
DOUGLAS GRAVES - email@example.com
1. YES, MY 16MM FILM “PALMS” IS A PURELY CINEMATIC NON-STORY NON-CHARACTER ABSTRACT MOVIE WITHOUT ACTING AND WITHOUT DIALOGUE
I love cinematic technique: montage, camerawork, and sound design used for its own pleasure, excitement, and emotional impact, not in subordination to literary and theatrical ends, but pure and free and strong as an autonomous art form, a sight and sound experience that is uniquely thrilling.
Cinema can be so much more than another way to tell a story. Movies can be so much more than another way to see a play. Pure Cinema creates a special film-space in which I can enjoy feelings and sensations I could not experience through literature, theatre, music, dance, graphic novels, digital video, still photography or any other art form or in any other place.
2. ORIGINS OF THE EXPRESSION "PURE CINEMA"
The first known use of the term "pure cinema" was in the 1920s in France by the filmmaker Henri Chomette. He used this term, which in French is "cinema pur", in reference to his 2 abstract short movies "Reflets de lumiere et de vitesse"(1925) and "Cinq minutes de cinema pur" (1926) in which he employed rhythm, light, motion, and composition in a non-representational way to create a unique aesthetic experience. He envisioned motion pictures as a independent, autonomous art form that could create new visions inconceivable outside of the union of the lens and motion picture film.
With his films and his statements he founded the "cinema pur" movement in Paris which encompassed the movies of many Dada artists such as Man Ray, Rene Clair, Fernand Leger, and some of the films of the feminist filmmaker Germaine Dulac. In their avant-garde visual shorts such as "Entr'Acte", Emak-Bakia", "Ballet Mecanique", and " Disque 957", they created exciting, kinetic cinematic experiences that transcended storytelling, narrative, character, and theatre. They made non-narrative movies with innovative montage, tracking shots, camera angles, slow motion, fast motion, double exposures, and various experimental techniques like directly exposing objects onto the negative film stock. They screened these ground-breaking experimental works at soirees, salons, and cafes throughout the 1920s in Paris.
In my mind, this is the valid meaning and etymology of this expression. But there also was a later, secondary use of the term which I believe was originally started by Alfred Hitchcock. Sometime in his career he began using the term "pure cinema" to describe his use of montage in order to create emotions and convey ideas within the context of his storytelling commercial features. He appropriated the term to describe his method of subordinating cinematic technique to illustrate literature in a derivative and representational fashion. "Cinematic storytelling", "visual storytelling", and "telling a story with a camera" are the other expressions for this kind of filmmaking. In many of his statements to Francois Truffaut in particular about "Vertigo" and "Psycho" he strongly advocated the idea that the visual impact of his films was more important to him than the story and that the technique was more important than the content. He loved to arouse emotions through the cinematic art and he loved for the camera to take over in his films. But he still stated that he always used cinematic technique in subordination to the dramatic effect of his screenplays.
The original, more exact meaning of the term "Pure Cinema" is what I am referring to and it is what I am concerned with in my own movies.
3. THE INLAVID USE OF THE WORDS “STORY” AND “NARRATIVE"
My favorite movies are non-narrative photo-chemical experiences that have nothing to do with storytelling. “Man With The Movie Camera”, BARAKA, 21-87, Jordan Belson’s abstract 16mm movies, James Whitney's "Yantra", Bruce Baillie's first 2 reels of “Quick Billy”, Will Hindle's "Billabong", Ed Emshwiller's "Thanatopsis", Pat O'Neill's "Water and Power", Slavko Vorkapich’s montages and films “Moods of the Sea” and “Forest Murmurs”, and many others are all non-story non-character driven cinematic experiences.
All anyone has to do is look up the dictionary definition and etymology of the words “story” and “narrative” to understand their real meaning. The words have simple definitions and easy to understand etymologies in Latin.
Here is just one dictionary definition of "story", from the Oxford Dictionary :
' ' 1 an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment:
an adventure story
I'm going to tell you a story
a plot or story line:
the novel has a good story
a report of an item of news in a newspaper, magazine, or news broadcast:
stories in the local papers
a piece of gossip; a rumor:
there have been lots of stories going around , as you can imagine
informal false statement or explanation; a lie:
Ellie never told stories — she had always believed in the truth
2 an account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something:
the story of modern farming
the film is based on a true story
a particular person's representation of the facts of a matter , especially as given in self-defense:
during police interviews, "Harper changed his story"
Middle English (denoting a historical account or representation): shortening of Anglo-Norman French "estorie", from Latin "historia" (see history) ' '
Now, here is the Etymology and Definition of the word "story" from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary -
Middle English "storie", from Anglo-French "estoire", from Latin "historia" — more at "history"
Date: 13th century
1 archaic a : history 1 b : history 3
2 a : an account of incidents or events b : a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question c : anecdote; especially : an amusing one
3 a : a fictional narrative shorter than a novel; specifically : short story b : the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work
4 : a widely circulated rumor
5 : lie, falsehood
6 : legend, romance
7 : a news article or broadcast
8 : matter, situation
Here is the Oxford dictionary Definition and Etymology of the word "narrative" -
a spoken or written account of connected events; a story:
the hero of his modest narrative
the narrated part or parts of a literary work , as distinct from dialogue, the practice or art of narration:
traditions of oral narrative
late Middle English (as an adjective): from French "narratif", "-ive", from late Latin "narrativus" 'telling a story', from the verb "narrare" (see "narrate")
Now, here is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Defintion of "narrative" -
1 : something that is narrated : story, account
2 : the art or practice of narration
3 : the representation in art of an event or story; also : an example of such a representation
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Etymology of the word "narrate" is -
Latin narratus, past participle of narrare, from Latin gnarus knowing; akin to Latin gnoscere, noscere to know — more at know
And the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "narrate" is -
: to tell (as a story) in detail; also : to provide spoken commentary for (as a movie or television show)
Referencing any other dictionary will provide the same definitions and etymologies as these.
From actually looking at the real definitions and etymology of the words "story" and "narrative" it is apparent that they have nothing in common with the etymology and definition of the words "music" and "melody", for instance. Any art that is abstract automatically can't be referred to as narrative-story - to do so is erroneous, an oxymoron(for the real meaning of the word "abstract" and how it applies to art, see my article "ABSTRACT CINEMA AND ART" ). A "literal representation" of literal, physical events and characters in some kind of concrete "time and space" setting are really the only thing that those words ever describe, going by their etymologies and definitions. It is obvious that they were never meant to encompass abstract moods, feelings, emotions, ideas, or the abstract use of qualities like light, color, movement, sound, rhythm, texture, and visual composition. The words “story” and “narrative” can only apply to some kinds of representational-referenti
I don't care about storytelling, characters, or acting, and I don't have to. I prefer cinematic technique. I love using editing and the camera with abstract stylized sounds to create emotions, sensations, and moods that would not exist if the technical mechanism of cinema did not exist. That’s what I love about movies and it is why cinema is my favorite art form.
Now I would like to deal with a few common misunderstandings of the words “story” and “narrative”. I believe that an objective analysis of the definitions and etymologies of the words makes it apparent that they do not mean just any kind of :
X temporal quality, such as any progression in time, any succession, sequence, development, or any pacing
X structure, construction, form, pattern, series, or just putting anything in a order and in a context
X any referential content, such as any content, meaning, subject matter, theme, topics, metaphors, symbolism or ideas
X any design, composition, arrangement or orchestration
X cohesion, coherence, organization, harmony or purpose
X statement or communication
X subjective interpretation, viewpoint, polemic, argument, or thesis
X any rational comprehension of life or of our sensory input
X that different parts or sequences begin and end and play out together in a certain sequence or order
X any pre-planned, pre-conceived, staged, directed, fictionalized or scripted approach
X anything that has a beginning, middle, and an end
X any kind of journey
X anything with a dramatic effect
X anything that is linear
X and they do not just refer to any piece of art wherein things change and become different
I have no idea where these misconceptions came from but I do know they are all baseless and invalid.
It is important to understand that these 2 words are not abstract descriptions of some general quality that can be found in any kind of art or in life. They are not attributive abstract nouns. They do not just describe a attribute, quality, feature, characteristic, or trait by itself in the abstract. They are actually concrete nouns, that is, literal words that have a concrete meaning; in the context of arts and entertainment, the only thing they describe are some representational referential forms of art, ones that fully develop events and characters in some kind of physical space that is taking place in a literal period of time. Again, a "literal-representation" of literally physical "events" in the context of some kind of physically literal "spatial-temporal" setting(and which are almost always about human beings or "anthropormorphic characters") - that’s all those words mean when they refer to the art of storytelling/narrative. A work of art has to have all of these 3 elements together at the same time in order to be properly described as storytelling-narrative.
There are other valid uses of the word story in other non-art contexts like describing different levels of a building, or the factual contents and background of something like a news report or a police report, or it can be used casually as slang for “a lie”. Those are the other valid uses of the word story that you will find in its real definition and etymology.
I'd like to point out 2 other misconceptions and oxymorons that are common when it comes to these words:
The false division of the words story and narrative, as in mistakenly saying that a story can be told in a non-narrative way. The two words actually mean the same thing in their etymologies and definitions, to divide them would be invalid, a oxymoron.
And sometimes there is a misconception that a film can have a story but not a plot, as in a plot-less story or narrative. This is a blatant oxymoron. A story in a movie may have a very sparse plot - the sequence of incidents and events may be incoherent, weak, or unimportant to the effect and the meaning of the piece but it is still there. If a film doesn't have a plot then by definition it doesn't have a story.
These 2 words "story" and "narrative" refer only to "particular", "specific", "concrete", and "material" events and characters that are literally represented in a literal physical setting and context, which means, in a particular time and place. They do not refer to universal, transcendent, abstract, general, or metaphoric concepts, ideas, qualities, experiences, or other such subject matter and contexts.
It should be understood that abstract works of art with no story/narrative like my film can have "dramatic construction". They can create dramatic tension, suspense, progression of emotions, foreshadowing, emotional resolutions and climaxes. They can still be "fictionalized" in various ways. They can also contain "referential" content, subject matter, and themes and that by itself is not story/narrative, whether "implied" or otherwise.
Another misconception is that of a work of art "implying" a story-narrative. To imply something is not the same as the art "being" that which it implies. Many abstract works of art such as my movie don't imply anything as singular, simplistic, and literal-representational as a narrative-story but even if such a work does, it still is a non-story/non-narrative experience, one that implies things by non-narrative/non-story means. And whatever an abstract artwork might imply is always secondary to what it is as an aesthetic formal experience - an experience which is by definition non-story/non-narrative.
I know there are open-minded people who are honestly curious about what storytelling and narrative actually mean and I will always welcome a patient friendly discussion with mutual respect where both people listen to each other in a mature and rational way. That is something I will make time for in my life.
On the other hand, there is also a silly overblown use of these words by people who believe they refer to everything in life and in art. Of course this is a baseless assertion and I believe that in a small harmless way it is fascist, like a religion or a political ideology of life that a few people will irrationally defend without any honest objective basis in facts. And just like with any fanatical believers of an irrational religion or ideology there is nothing I or anyone else can say to make them see the light. I have learned that it is pointless to try to disprove a negative such as "this movie or artwork is a non-story/non-narrative experience". I don’t know where this misconception came from but I am not going to waste any of my time going around in circles with people who are determined to argue evasively and dishonestly about this subject. I have unfortunately had this experience before and I definitely have better things to do in my life.
Most forms of art, and most subjects and experiences in life and in this world, are not described by, nor included, in the real definitions of the words “story” and “narrative”. Watching a beautiful sunset or a sunrise, listening to a piece of music and dancing to it, reading philosophy, or just enjoying the beauty of flowers or anything in nature, all have nothing to do with storytelling/narrative. There is so much more to life and to art and to enjoying this world. A cinema that is free of stories, characters, actors, and dialogue, which instead creates a purely cinematic experience of montage, camerawork, and sound design, is heaven for me, it is nirvana.
I would assume if a Gallup poll of the world’s population could be taken about this subject that most people do understand what these 2 words “story” and “narrative” actually mean. Obviously, majority opinion about something does not always turn out to be correct but I think in this case it is just the common sense understanding of what the words mean and refer to.
It has always appeared to me that most artists working in abstract film, including“visual music”, also know that their own movies are non-story/non-narrative works. I know that George Lucas describes all of his 16mm abstract movies which he made in the 1960s as "pure cinema" : non-story non-character driven "visual tone poems". I know that the British experimental filmmaker and painter Peter Greenaway understands his motion picture work as non-narrative, non-story experiences.
All of these brilliant cinematic artists - Slavko Vorkapich, Dziga Vertov, Jordan Belson, Ron Fricke, Ed Emshwiller, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jim Davis, Richard Myers, Alfonso Alvarez, Patrick Halm, Pat O’Neill, Phil Solomon, Larry Cuba, Jon Behrens, Malcolm Le Grice, Godfrey Reggio, and Kerry Laitala - to name a few, all refer to their work, or at least some of their works, as non-story non-narrative movies.
But there are a few artists in abstract cinema, and “visual music”, that I have come across, who call their works narrative-storytelling and I have always been surprised and perplexed by them.
For instance, the designer Charles Eames made an obviously non-story non-character driven visual film set to Mozart called “Blacktop” but he inaccurately put on it the subtitle “a story of the washing of a school play yard”. It is obvious that the movie is about how his camera visually studies the light and colors reflected in the water washing over the blacktop asphalt and those qualities have nothing to do with the real definition of the word “story”. For all I know Mr. Eames may have just thoughtlessly applied the word to his film in an invalid way and that he would have even admitted as such if it had ever been brought up with him.
Another instance of this was Charles Sheeler’s description of his city symphony film from the 1920s “Manhatta”. It’s obvious to me that it is a non-story non-character impression of New York but Sheeler once said that New York is the story and that the city was the character in the movie. Again, he might have been using the words story and character loosely and thoughtlessly. Instead, I think he should have said that New York was the “visual subject” and then maybe called it “the star” of his film.
Narrative does not mean any pre-planned structure or order or form in an artwork. Many non-narrative films like mine are scripted, pre-visualized and have a designed sequence, structure, and form - images, sounds, and different parts can appear in a specific order and they can have context or meaning because of that order and still have nothing to do with story-narrative. All those qualities by themselves in the abstract have nothing to do with the real definition of the words “narrative” and “story”.
By the way, there are many stories and narratives in literature and in the theatre that are loosely structured and formed, some are non-linear, some do not have the traditional structure of a beginning, middle, and an end, some have only 1 or 2 acts instead of 3 and some have 4 or 5 acts or even more, and some do not have a meaningful or purposeful sequence and order of their scenes, but regardless of all that, they are all still defined as stories and narratives.
I completely agree with literature-lovers who always complain that movie adaptations of books are disappointing. I believe they have a very valid and profound point. Any movie maker who is honest knows that well written books have much more space and detail in which to tell stories and develop characters than any movie ever could. Any honest actor knows that acting and dialogue when seen live in a good play is much more entertaining and absorbing than on a movie screen. I do personally like storytelling, characters, and acting but I could do without them. What I love about cinema are the techniques of sound and cinematography and montage which I cannot get in books or plays or anything else. Anyone who cannot appreciate reading books and watching plays can stay home watching TV or they can look at graphic novels and comic books. There is no reason for them to watch movies or make movies.
I know that cinema can be so much more than a illustration subordinate to literally representing other things in a derivative copying of other art forms. Movies can be so much better than just an inferior form of storytelling or theatre for people that are too impatient and lazy to read books and watch plays.
I love what is cinematic and storytelling inherently is not cinematic; it is literary, oral, verbal, text. Acting and dialogue is not cinematic; it is theatrical. For my movies, I will only use material that is inherently cinematic.
I know that some view movies as nothing more than a synthesis of other arts and I disagree with this view in many ways. Most importantly, movies cannot come close to synthesizing the best of the other arts. Ultimately these attempts at creating a synthesis only make films a diluted, half-baked mix of other arts, in other words, a compromised hybrid as opposed to a real synthesis. I also believe that this is why the idea of combining both cinematic technique and storytelling doesn’t cohere and make sense as a goal; in reality it is always nothing more than a truncated, watered-down mix of the two. And the worst thing about that kind of supposed synthesis is that it gets in the way of the most important and special part of watching a movie: the pure enjoyment, emotional power, and entertainment of cinematic technique that cannot be experienced in any other medium.
The only tension I feel about “pure cinema” is the issue of whether or not to use music in a motion picture. I’m not exactly sure about this issue. I do know that “visual music” movies that only exist to illustrate a piece of music are definitely not “pure cinema” but a secondary form of cinema that is derivative and illustrative, not “pure”. Certain poetic cinematic movies like many of Stan Brakhage’s are silent and purely visual, others are all sound effects montages like a lot of Jordan Belson abstract movies, and others are mostly scored with sound effects and have almost no music in them like Arthur Lipsett montage-collages. I probably still think that almost all abstract non-narrative visual cinema should be considered “pure cinema” even if they have music scores in them, either because the music is used as a sound effect and becomes only a part of the cinematic sound design, or because the music is such a subordinate part of the abstract movie that it doesn’t detract from the purely cinematic experience in the way that other things like stories and actors would. I’m not sure if either of those 2 ideas are valid or good enough but I do think that music should be enjoyed by itself as its own art form to be truly, deeply appreciated and experienced in a way that can never happen when listened to as part of a movie or TV show - something inherent in the full emotional effects and pleasure of the music is always lost when it is combined with other things. As for Pure Cinema, I probably still believe it would be an essentially true and valid concept even if music scores were the one exception to the rule. But I am not exactly sure about this point.
I have also heard a small group of “visual music” celluloid artists, digital video artists, and computer animators, a dozen or so in number, refer to their films and video pieces as a form of storytelling. I think they are usually referring to the fact that there are certain symphonies that are “programmatic music” and are based on a story. This ignores the fact that those are only one of many kinds of symphonies. Even programmatic music includes pieces that are based on other kinds of extra-musical subjects that are not stories, like places in the world(an example would be Felix Mendelssohn’s masterpiece “Fingal’s Cave”) or some are based on philosophical concepts like Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and Beethoven’s 9th, or other subjects like Gustav Holst’s “Planets”, or some are just inspired by certain kinds of images generally-speaking like Beethoven’s 6th “pastoral” symphony (Beethoven was inspired by images of beautiful peaceful country life). But all other kinds of symphonies, the majority, are pure music, absolute music. They are not supposed to refer to anything outside of themselves; they are just a musical experience of melodies, harmonies, and orchestrations of instruments for their own pleasure and nothing else. Whatever feelings, emotions, and moods from his life that the composer may be inspired by are transformed and translated into the unique language and form of music that creates an emotional experience that would not exist, and could not be felt in this life, were it not for the existence of the man-made, artificial sounds of the instruments and the orchestra.
It is obvious to me that all music is first and foremost a direct sensory experience that is about emotions, moods, and sonic effects. All music is pure and absolute and whatever extra-musical basis there may be is neither here nor there for the audience while they experience it. The only way someone would know about the extra-musical inspiration would be by reading about it and that is just reading about the music, not listening to it. Reading about the extra-musical information can only give the listener something else to think about it, it doesn't create the actual emotional experience of listening to the music itself. It is at best a superfluous supplement to the aesthetic experience, not an integral part of it.
Most symphonies and classical compositions, and I would even say most other forms of music too, are not based on a story. As for the minority that are based on a story, I still believe even they are enjoyed for reasons that are not described by the definition of the word “story”. It is clear to me that programmatic music that is based on a story-narrative is always a transformation of that inspirational basis into a non-narrative non-story musical experience.
I believe that these are the main misunderstandings that these “visual music” artists have.
I think it should be kept in mind that words themselves are not absolute and definitive. They are man-made, largely subjective, culturally-derived, and they are just a limited tool used to communicate and describe things to others. They change their meanings throughout time and some become obsolete. Reality is not contained nor created by verbal analysis. Reality is not fully perfectly described nor determined by the words we speak or write or by the thoughts in our head that we put in the form of words. Before any of us learnt how to speak any languages or learnt how to think in the form of words - when we were young children - we still saw, felt, heard, tasted, smelled and experienced this life and this world. I believe this is why the old saying “a picture speaks a thousand words” is fundamentally flawed and invalid – the picture came first before any words or languages were ever invented by humans. The picture doesn’t speak any words, let alone the arbitrary number of “a thousand” of them.
Reality and our sensory/visceral/emotional
I would like to make one more point about this subject: in a abstract movie like mine a viewer can bring their own emotions and ideas to it and subjectively interpret abstract metaphors from the juxtaposition of unrelated shots and sounds but none of that has anything to do with forcing something as literal-representational, reductionist and simplistic as a “story” onto the abstract film or onto any kind of abstract work of art for that matter. That would be just as invalid as someone labeling a symphony as a form of painting because they want to think about paintings instead of listening to the symphony and enjoying it as a musical experience which is of course different from the experience of enjoying a painting. When making my movies, I am not inspired by anything as reductive and limiting as a story-narrative and my movies deserve the kind of viewer who does not try to force them down into that kind of literal representation. This kind of mis-interpretation of non-story non-narrative art is nothing more than a arbitrarily selective, incomplete, and shallow "distortion" of the work and as such, it is invalid.
Enjoying and feeling a great piece of art in the moment on its own terms is all that really matters. I know that sometimes there are viewers who have enjoyed an artwork for what it truly is but then afterwards while they talk or write about it, they can still falsely describe it, using invalid labels and miscategorizations for it. As long as a viewer of my film experiences it emotionally and finds it exciting and moving, they can call it whatever they want afterwards, even if it’s absurdly false, like calling it story-narrative which would be just as invalid as labeling it a building or a painting or a symphony or something else obviously erroneous. All that truly matters in the end is that a piece of art is effective, mesmerizing, entertaining, fun, interesting, powerful, or whatever else it set out to be.
4. THE UNIQUE IRREPLACEABLE ART FORM OF PHOTO-CHEMICAL MOTION PICTURE FILM
I love photo-chemical celluloid moving images and I will always shoot on real film. If film ever became obsolete and was replaced by digital I would not shoot on digital video, I would instead concentrate on other interests of mine like painting and possibly architecture.
I believe film and digital motion pictures are two distinct art forms that should co-exist as different languages and mediums of the moving image and that they should not be confused as the same thing just because digital is recently developed technology that came out after film’s invention and happens to share the quality of visual motion.
For anyone who is not technically knowledgeable about this issue I will give a quick overview of the technical difference between film and digital.
Film involves capturing individual, separate pictures that are exposed one after another 24 frames per second. In the case of black and white, each frame is made up of countless separate “silver crystal halide” grains that are suspended in gelatin on a film base and are exposed to light for a fraction of a second. In the case of color film, each frame contains 3 layers of “color dye coupler” grains: a blue, a green, and a red layer, one on top of another and the combination of these exposed dye couplers create all of the other colors. These small physical-chemical bits are what make up the whole image that is finally processed, printed, and projected onto the movie screen.
Digital imagery on the other hand consists of an electronic sensor that relays its recorded visual information in the form of numbers. These numbers are what determine the color and look of all of the small pixels that make up the final digital picture. It is a electronic simulation of the colors and shapes that are recorded as opposed to film’s real physical material-chemical process, whereby silver grains and dye couplers are exposed physically by light to make up a whole image.
Both the film camera and film projector also are different from digital in that between each projected film frame that the audience sees there is a “flicker effect”, meaning that there is a quick moment of black in-between the frames. The audience is actually sitting in a dark theatre half of the time but because of the phenomenon of “persistence of vision” the human eye cannot see this and interprets the projected images as continuous motion.
Those are the technical differences between the mechanical-chemical process of filming and the electronic process of digital recording.
Now I am going to speak of the aesthetic differences and I will mainly be referring to my kind of cinema, which for me is the best and most valid form of filmmaking, abstract sound-visual Pure Cinema.
But before I do I would like to point out that in most instances in commercial-theatrical films the film camera has been treated as a subordinate recording device, a slave that just records acting and dialogue and every once in awhile illustrates literature. In this kind of mainstream filmmaking very few sequences or moments are even creative enough to subordinate photo-chemical film to what is usually referred to as “visual storytelling”, “cinematic storytelling”, or “telling a story with the camera” and while I do like it a lot more than the usual “photoplay” approach to movies, it is still a derivative, subordinate, mimetic, and illustrative use of cinema that I believe is ultimately limiting and should be considered a secondary form of cinema along with other secondary forms like “visual music”, “cine dance”, and scientific, educational, industrial, and architecture films.
But I think that in the more cinematic and creative narrative films there are incredible images, visual-sound moments, and cinematic sequences that are exhilarating and can be taken out, abstracted out of the context of the story and enjoyed for purely cinematic non-literal non-story aesthetic reasons. These special few narrative features like JFK, Apocalypse Now, 2001, “Blade Runner”, “Eraserhead”, “Vertigo”, “Sunrise”, “The Conformist”, "Days Of Heaven", “Once Upon A Time In The West” and many others, are powerful and effective for me because of their use of the unique dynamics and aesthetic qualities of photo-chemical movie film, regardless of the manufacturer and the era of the film stock used for them. It would be a sin to have shot any of them on digital, regardless of the type of digital camera and digital technology that would be used.
But especially regarding the use of motion pictures as an independent art form with no story and no acting in my kind of Abstract Filmmaking, I believe the old paradigm of digital being the same art form as Film is totally invalid and wrong-headed.
One of the fathers of digital motion pictures, George Lucas, has made an analogy about this subject which I totally disagree with. Mr. Lucas has compared the invention of digital to Renaissance painting when canvas, easels and oil paintings started to be employed in 16th Century Venice, freeing painters in Europe from being limited to timely, expensive indoor Frescoes and wood panel painting. I believe this is a fundamentally misguided analogy.
For me a better analogy and comparison is the invention of still photography. Painting images with oils, acrylics, watercolors and other techniques were not abandoned in the 19th Century. Still photography did not replace anything just because it happened to be new technology that was invented after painting was. It was a technology that became useful for many different purposes and eventually became a fine art in its own right with the pioneering work of artistic photographers such as John Edwin Mayall, Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Man Ray, existing alongside different kinds of painting and image-making as its own independent and separate art form.
For a few reasons, I disagree with the paradigm that assumes that digital is a new step or addition to the art of photo-chemical filmmaking, just like the addition of color and sound to cinema, and that digital should replace photo-chemical film.
Firstly, this viewpoint negates and short changes both art forms, film as well as digital. To me the more valid and creative ambition of digital art would be the goal of creating looks and techniques and experiences that Film has never achieved and could never achieve. The real valid art of digital should also be to get past story, character, acting, and dialogue and concern itself with purely digital motion-sound experiences instead of just trying to “look like film” - whatever that would mean.
Film has many different kinds of looks, 35mm 16mm 70MM and IMAX, Kodak and Fuji stock – all of these kinds of film can be exposed, filtered, lit, composed, processed, timed and color corrected in so many different ways based on a filmmaker’s style, intent and aesthetic. And I believe digital should not foolishly try to copy any of these unique looks in a hopeless attempt to look the same as film as if there was only one kind of simplistic look that film has – in the first place the visual quality of any art is largely subjective and determined by each individual viewer.
In the second place, regarding this purely technical way of simplistically comparing "visual information storage" - that is, picture “quality”, “resolution”, “sharpness” and “acutance”, “contrast”, and the amount of “visual data” recorded by film, as opposed to digital, no form of digital video has even come close to large-format film stocks like 70MM and IMAX. A 70MM film like BARAKA and an IMAX film like CHRONOS contain unparalleled images that are spectacular, beautiful, and powerful.
But much more importantly to me, even if a form of digital motion pictures could come close to 70MM and IMAX as far as this simplistic technical comparison of “visual information storage” goes, there are so many different kinds of irreplaceably unique artistic qualities and aesthetic effects of film stock, qualities that no other medium or process can have, no matter how hard they try to mimic and copy it.
For instance, I loved shooting my film on 16mm for so many reasons that are much more subtle and truly important to my film’s moods and impressionistic visual effects than any crude simplistic concern with getting the best “high definition” picture quality that I can achieve. While it’s true that high-end digital cameras can record more visual information than 16mm film, the unique qualities of film are what I love and were inherently fundamental to the whole intent of my cinematic concept for “Palms”.
All different kinds of film, whether it be the different film stock formats - 16mm to 70MM, or the 2 different brands - Fuji and Kodak, or whether it be the different film processes and materials from past eras and from different manufacturers throughout the whole history of photo-chemical filmmaking, still generally speaking I believe there are certain aesthetic qualities and effects that remain consistent and unique to all these.
I would like to now list the most important of these basic qualities and features that are unique to all photo-chemical film :
X THE LOOK
The visual texture, warmth, depth, and three-dimensional quality of the different looks that can be achieved when film is handled artistically with technical skill.
X CAMERA MOVEMENT
The amazing kinetic forcefulness of dynamic moving camera shots and the graceful beauty of camera movement when shot on mechanical film cameras is one of my favorite things about cinema and I have never seen anything on digital that has any of the exhilarating energy, force, or beauty of camera moves and camerawork when shot on real film.
The quality of motion within the frame on film stock is totally different when compared to digital. On film, motion can be choreographed and arranged to amazing effects that I have never seen in any digital moving image.
X SLOW MOTION IMAGERY
One of the most sensual, pleasurable and graceful things that can be achieved on film is slow motion imagery when shot in camera, that is when normal “24 frames per second” film is shot at higher frame rates in camera at the time of shooting, like at 48fps or 200fps, and then projected normally for the audience at 24fps. There is so much amazing grace and beauty in this kind of cinematography and I have hated most of the digital motion control effects that I have seen. These digital slow motion shots have looked very different and very weird to me and I have not enjoyed watching them at all.
Also even when films shot on 35mm are transferred to digital intermediates where motion control effects like slow motion and fast motion are applied to the film originated images – as opposed to shooting them at higher or lower frame rates in camera at the time of shooting - I think those are some of the worst looking and boring images I have ever seen in a movie. Particularly the quality of slow motion that is created in the digital intermediate glazes over me and appears flat and inauthentic and lacks any beauty or energy or excitement.
If for no other reason than this unique irreplaceable effect of slow motion when shot in the mechanical camera on film stock at the time of shooting, I would for no other reason stick with film and not shoot on digital.
X THE CUT AND MONTAGES
I also feel that the visual effect of montages and the cut are totally different. On film powerful cuts between two images and whole montage sequences are uniquely thrilling and exhilarating to me and I have never felt these kinds of effects on digital. I believe film has its own language and grammar when it comes to combining and juxtaposing moving images that has to be different than digital motion pictures.
THE EMOTIONAL AND SENSORY EFFECTS OF SOUND DESIGN WHEN COMBINED WITH FILM IMAGES
On film when sounds are used in a abstract emotional way that is creatively stylized and non-literal, it is a totally different kind of experience for me than when sounds are creatively used with digital images. There is something totally different and unique about how sound plays off of film images, working with them to create mood, atmosphere, and sensory experience.
For all of these reasons I will always shoot on film. I believe real film stock will always be available and I will do everything I possibly can to support its production and availability into the future. It is a special independent form of art that is different from digital video, it has its own language and grammar, its own looks and effects and techniques, and it is my favorite art form.
Real photo-chemical cinema is only 118 years old and that is nothing. Compared to music, literature, theatre, painting, and other graphic arts, it is still a relatively young, fresh art form that deserves to be available to artists as a form of expression forever.
The historical fact that film was invented before digital video is to me arbitrary and incidental. If things were the other way around, if film had been invented just now after digital imagery had existed for the last 118 years, I would still be shooting only with film after not having had any passion for digital motion pictures.
I believe digital video should be a separate, exciting, new art form that is completely valid when it is being used for its own unique textures, looks, language and grammar to create special moods, effects, and experiences that nothing else can create, experiences that could not be felt if digital video did not exist in the first place.
To me, the real new step in the evolution of motion picture film is the 48fps process known as SDS-70. SDS-70 is a spectacular new large-format 70MM process with its own special cameras that can shoot 48fps in addition to 24fps. Each frame is then printed twice and a special computer-controlled film projector projects the images at an astonishing rate of 90 frames per second(which by the way completely makes up for the supposed "quality loss" of the flicker effect of traditional film projectors where a moment of black appears in-between every film frame).
This exciting new process SDS-70 is the next horizon, the next step in filmmaking technology, not digital. It is what I believe can be truly compared to adding sound and color to movies.
In summation, I am an abstract movie maker.
I love to express myself through camerawork and editing, to show the world in a way that only photo-chemical motion pictures can.
I love to create sound-visual cinematic experiences that transcend story, narrative, and character. That is a good thing and I am proud of it. I get pleasure from using the cinematic art to create emotions, sensations, impressions, and moods.
In this kind of film, cinematic style comes first - it does not serve anything, it is not subordinate. The filmmaker's visual style, his cinematic imagination, his cinematic concepts are what matters before all else. The art form, the medium, the texture of celluloid itself is the most important thing. To fall in love with a cinematic concept is the most truthful reason for making a film.
In the modern state that cinema finds itself in today, generally speaking there are 3 kinds of moviegoers:
The majority, who only enjoy moronic garbage like Adam Sandler’s toilet humor or Michael Bay’s mindless action films or cute children’s films. This majority of mainstream filmgoers have no love or appreciation of cinematic techniques. They don’t see the art form nor are they even aware that these techniques exist and they do not experience them emotionally at all. They also have no interest in any kind of meaningful or well developed storytelling, characters, acting or dialogue. They just treat movies as an “okay” luxury, a form of TV that allows them to leave their house and eat popcorn.
Then after the majority, comes the second largest group of filmgoers: the literary-minded and theatre-minded ones who only care about story, character, and acting and dialogue. They only want photoplays and maybe a little bit of illustrated literature now and then. They have no real love of the cinematic art. Some of them may be able to think about montage, camerawork, and sound design, analyzing them intellectually, but they don’t really experience them in any emotional and sensory way. They don’t feel any pleasure or excitement or mood from these uniquely cinematic techniques and so they don’t truly understand them in any honest, valid way. These are the moviegoers who are usually into things like Oscar-winning movies, foreign and so-called "independent" narrative features, and they can’t see beyond their own deficient, invalid view of movies as a subordinate, illustrative, imitative, derivative copycat of other art forms. I pity them. It's their loss and they are missing out on the true beauty of film, the real magic of cinema.
Then the smallest group consists of the real cinema lovers like myself who truly value and appreciate cinema as its own autonomous art form. We love the special techniques of cinema. We feel them and experience them directly and aesthetically. We have our own personal tastes and enthusiasm about different kinds of cinematic style and cinematic concepts and while our tastes are very individual and esoteric, ultimately we all share a passion for the special language and art of motion pictures and we are the true cinema lovers with the most valid viewpoint of the art form. We have the most fun, pleasurable, and powerful experiences at the movies.
One of my goals is to start an international and local community of my fellow Pure Cinema enthusiasts. I want to have a weekly club meeting in my town made up of fellow filmmakers where we can support each other and help each other out with our films. We will screen our works-in-progress for advice and tips. We will help each other with equipment, technical support, and creative ideas.
The requirements are that the members shoot only on photo-chemical film and are making purely cinematic non-narrative movies without stories, without characters, and without acting. With the internet and phone we will stay in touch with other members from around the world, sharing our thoughts about Pure Cinema, film technology and techniques, and recommendations for great films to see. We can also mail each other DVDs of our latest films. And we will coordinate conventions and meetings every year so we can watch each other’s works the right way: film prints projected on big screens with great sound.
An enthusiastic community like this is necessary for the cinematic art to thrive. And participating in it will be very stimulating, extremely inspiring, and a lot of fun.
COPYRIGHT 2009 DOUGLAS GRAVES