Spectacle

Gravity

A weird thing happened on my way home from a matinee screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. I cried. Like, actual tears down my face, shortage of breath, no control crying. The pitiful kind of crying you hope nobody else sees. I’m pretty embarrassed to admit it – not because I see any shame in crying, even (or especially) over a film, but because for the life of me I couldn’t understand why on earth I was crying over this film. Gravity is no doubt an impressive technical achievement and an entertaining 90 minutes, but it hardly registered anywhere in the ballpark of emotional profundity for me. I found the trauma that Sandra Bullock’s character must overcome to be both forced and rudimentary, realized through some of the most on-the-nose thematic dialogue this side of Mad Men season 6. And don’t get me started on the 3D tears. I’m not trying to be cynical, but rather am attempting to illustrate the incredible gap I experienced between the character’s emotions onscreen and my belated visceral response to the film. I’ve seen many great films that have left me silent, even catatonic – films far “better” than Gravity that have asked me to walk away from them emotionally shattered or existentially crippled. But no film has ever elicited this type of reaction, and taken me so completely by surprise in doing so. I finally realized I wasn’t emptying myself over emotional resonance, character identification, or poignant thematics, but something a bit more abstract: […]

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Culture Warrior

A little more than 100 years ago, cinema was a deceivingly simple spectacle. Late 19th-century vaudeville audiences would attend variety shows and be introduced to this new technological apparatus that could reproduce moving images of anything, from people arriving at a train station to a prolonged kiss. Cinema could even realize the potential of imagination through practical special effects. So much potential. So much promise. Audiences and filmmakers wondered and debated throughout the next few decades not only what this device was, but what cinema should be or could become. Essays were written, manifestos were signed, and camps all around the world situated themselves within particular “isms” and would fight for the notion that the ideal potential achievement of cinema would be this or that. They imagined futures in which pure expression through the 7th art – that medium that could contain all collective art forms, reproduce and manipulate reality, manifest fantasy, and move masses of captivated audiences simultaneously in a way no communicative form before or since has been able to do – could actually take place, thus allowing us to finally understand what cinema really is. Then came Armageddon. And all these questions were finally answered.

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