It’s art. Anything is anything – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
My good internet friend, Corey Atad, just posted a blog entry about what he wants from a movie. It’s called Tell Me a Story, Dammit! and I think you can tell what he’s talking about from the title of the post but you should go read it anyways because it makes some good points. Movies have been about storytelling for most of their existence. They’re a medium that does work particularly well to get a story to the viewer. The combination of sight and sound and motion makes a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster of books and music and photography. All of those mediums (media?) can be used to tell a story, though that is not a requirement of them. Music must have notes, books must have words, and photography must have images, and these elements are usually employed to tell a story. But must they? And must movies tell a story?
If you’re reading this you’ll probably agree with my statement that film is an art. It’s a way for an artist – or several artists – to get their point-of-view to you, the audience. Generally, that happens through a combination of the story the movie is telling, the words used to tell it, and the visuals and sounds that accompany the words and the story. But only one of these elements are essential to film as an art form. Take away one and the others remain to carry the slack. Film started as a silent medium, where the sounds were provided in-house and therefore not a permanent part of the experience. Each version of the film was different because the accompaniment was provided by a different musician and therefore the audio element cannot be taken as a a part of the art at that point. After sound became a standard feature it has stuck around, though this year’s silent film The Artist has been getting a lot of buzz. Maybe it will revive the silent film as a cultural force, though that’s probably just wishful thinking on our part.
Take Fantasia as an example of a film that doesn’t use words to get its point across to the viewer. Sure, there are a few bits of dialogue in the interstitial element where the conductor sets up the next section of the film, but those could just as easily be cut out of the film and we’d still understand exactly what’s happening in the film. Dinosaurs and demons are pretty self-explanatory.
So that leaves us with a story and visuals as the remaining elements of film. I think you might be able to guess which isn’t essential in my estimation. Almost all movies have a story. This is undeniable. I can’t think of a movie that lacks a story, save for experimental films like the ones Corey uses in his article. There are movies that are made of visuals and sounds and nothing else. Pretty colors on a screen do not tell a story. But they do present a point of view, a way of seeing the world. They must, because they are an artist making a work of art. That’s the whole point. They need not wrap their worldview around a story. And it is still a film. It’s still light captured and then projected in quick sequence. That’s film. That’s movies.
In the end, I’d twist Corey’s words a bit. I think movie makers owe us movies that mean something. Movies that share with us their point of view so we can see if ours is changed or affirmed. So we can understand a different way to see the world. So we can experience different things. It should have images that move, even if they are simply juxtapositions of stills – I’m looking at you, La Jetée – and anything else is icing on the cake. Maybe all of the movies I like have stories in them. Maybe most have a dedicated soundtrack and words. But I’m not going to limit the medium and say that they must include those elements. What if the next movie to enter my Top 100 List is a silent, wordless, characterless, storyless sequence of pictures? What if we missed out on the greatest film of all time because we demanded that all movies have a story? Wouldn’t that be sad.