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Filmism.net Dispatch April 18, 2019

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Here's a funny thing not just about movies, but art in general. We don't really know what to call it.

The definition of art and the terms and phraseology we use to describe it and its various elements are very fluid, interchangeable and imprecise. They simply add up to a quality we inherently know as artistic or creative. We have a very instinctive and reflexive response to it, one that's older than mere language can adequately capture.

How do I know this? I got to thinking about it awhile back when I reviewed a great little documentary about the art of movie music called Score: A Film Music Documentary. Apart from being a quite beautiful tribute to a cinematic art form, it also made me realise the phenomenon described above. When even writers (let alone directors) struggle to come up with a word that describes the "____" of a piece of film music, there's probably no such term.

A random look back over the last few months of reviews on Filmism.net bears this out. I'm by no means Gore Vidal, F Scott Fitzgerald or George Orwell, but after writing over 4,500 reviews for this site I've had cause to use words meant to indicate something artistic plenty of times.

It's been variously called - by countless other writers and reviewers as well as by me - 'tone', 'aesthetic', 'mood', 'spirit', 'mis en scene', 'ethos', 'philosophy', 'register', 'milieu', 'style', 'approach', 'soul', 'cadence', 'feel', 'texture' and a million other words.

They all mean something that's impossible to grasp linguistically, like trying to catch wind with a net, they all refer recursively and endlessly to each other and they mean nothing at all in equal measure.

And that might be what's beautiful about art altogether. Something that informs us, delights us, terrifies us, distracts us or can literally change our lives, outlook and the world (here's scientific proof) can't even be named. it's like a sprite or a fairy, a magical mythological creature who makes us rich and beautiful if we capture it, but which is constantly too clever for us.

In altogether more practical news, I had an experience recently that fits right into the 'sanctity of the theatrical experience' files, something very much in the news lately with Steven Spielberg's perceived war against the streaming services over theatrical exhibition and windows.

A note comes up in my calendar every Monday morning to look at the showtime listings for my local blandiplex, and while the pickings are often slim, the recent Twilight Zone time of year between awards season and the midyear blockbusters seemed as inviting as being kicked in the shin.

One day a few weeks back I took one look at it, scowled to myself in disinterested disgust and called up my Netflix queue to see what I had waiting for me. With absolutely nothing compelling me to go to the cinema I had enough enough hours of what looked like fascinating viewing online it looked like I wouldn't have to go to a cinema for months.

And there in living colour seemed to be the problem with this whole theatres/streaming conundrum, of old Hollywood's carping about streaming services, awards and theatrical windows. I'm a cinema devotee who indeed loves the movie theatre experience those dinosaurs are always on about, not a teenager watching torrented movies on their phone who can't get out of bed much before midday. If they can't even get me in the door, what hope do they have?

Usually I talk about stuff I've recently enjoyed, but this edition I wanted to make special mention of Captain Marvel, the billion dollar con job I can't believe so many people are falling for. The story was dumb, the acting terrible, the effects like a technicolour yawn and the script abysmal. Marvel seems to have the same reality distortion field they used to say about Steve Jobs. I can't explain how every movie they make is the same and yet critics and audiences react like Christ has returned to Earth.

Much, much better is a slick little horror movie called The Haunting of Sharon Tate, starring a surprisingly great performance by former teen star Hilary Duff as the doomed actress in a very inventive story that has a fantastic command over the mood of its genre.

I also really enjoyed Maniac, the remake of the grindhouse classic. It had much more to say and said it with much more cinematic quality than the sludgy original.

If you're a fan of classic (ie pre Star Wars) sci-fi I strongly urge you to seek out Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. It has a gorgeously charming hand tooled sci-fi feel and it's about a big idea rather than thrills and laser guns.

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