01/10/2016

Singin' In The Rain - Faux Cinematic Realism

Thoughts On: Singin' in The Rain

Probably the most famous musical of all time.


As should be predictable, I love this film. It forms a purely joyous coalescence of music, plot, narrative, dance, the non-narrative and the utterly entertaining in a space bred of cinematic magic, in a space abstracted from time, that suspends and truly captivates. But, for all my pretentious lyricism, this is a film with an inbuilt fault - one that works in its favour, and so is probably best referred to as a nuance. Singin' In The Rain holds at its core a blatant artifice. This is inherent to any musical as bursting into sing-song just doesn't happen--never successfully--in real life. More than this, there is a clear manipulation of the audience throughout this film. We have a very emotive score and soundtrack, as well as comedy that, at its most subtle, leans on the fourth wall, but to the other extreme, bull dozes through it and tries to drag you through to the other side. And there's room for conjecture on this forefront. It's easy to consider film under realist terms, terms that, in short, would have you laugh at the idea of a musical as something no better than....


... stupid bullshit, but also a look at realism that'd have you immediately jump to say something like...


... the Dark Night Trilogy holds the best kind of films. (That is not to say that they aren't great, or that they can't be a person's favourite film). What I mean to say by this is that musicals are up there as the most hyperbolic genre or form of cinema. With The Dark Night Trilogy we see a hyperbolic world of people dressed like rodents grounded and forced into realist realms. And, under this basis, Nolan found a key to three great movies, movies heralded for their move toward realism that have become very influential over the comic book genre as of now. But, it's this movement towards realism, towards darker, grittier narratives, that is seen in the Marvel and DC universes, seen across a vast swath of blockbusters, that marks the high-rise of cinematic evolution - an evolution that is, in some respects, deeply faulted.



From '52 to 2010s a general philosophy of film, as presented by blockbusters (the most popular films of a time) has changed somewhat paradoxically. We have come away from the classical Hollywood style, we have digitised, injected vast possibilities with CGI and computerised post-production, but we are moving away from fantasy. This is an arguable point with the proof of a modern indulgence in fantasy being the comic book genre, but, there's a core idea of fantasy that I believe has waned, pushing us into new places that have consumed the style of modern cinema almost to the point of suffocation.

  

Two completely different films, two movies that seem far from Marvel movies and Singin' In The Rain (as if they were in any way alike to begin with). But, there is a deep rooted connection between all of the modern films mentioned thus far on the grounds of one word: belief. Whether it's in action, horror, sci-fi or fantasy, modern films endeavour to trick you into believing they are real, into having you experience a movie, feel the nit and grit of everything. I of course don't object to this, but, it is a widespread and very recognisable trend in modern cinema. The handheld, shaken cam and in built mistakes of the Bourne films (the good ones) percolated through many action films as a way of inciting verisimilitude, of manipulating the way an audience sees a fight or action as to invigorate. Found footage movies. Yeah, we all know about them. The styles of these pictures combines nicely with one more film:


I loved this film and it is far from conventional. But, at the same time, it's quite clear that a huge factor of what got this film made was the style of comedy people gravitate to today. It's Deadpool that sits at the height of breaking the fourth wall as to comment on how bad other movies are, or how the plot is predictable and screenplay formulaic. You see this in a lot of blockbusters that were clearly written by people, who like me, like CinemaSins, but almost as an excuse not to write less formulaic scripts (like that of Deadpool). What we've then touched on are major pillars of entertainment. There's atmosphere as presented by horror, pacing and directorial style as presented by action and then there's writing style as presented by the comedy of the times. These have all worked their way into the biggest blockbusters of recent years

      

And as you'll notice, these films have been built over the last 40/50 years from past sci-fi films, action pictures and fantasy movies. But, there's something missing from all of them. And it's here where we come back to the idea of belief. These movies, whilst fantastical, have clear caps in place. There isn't a boisterousness or confidence in these pictures like we would see in something like...


This almost lack of confidence is apparent to me in the filmmakers trying to construct a believable film, not trusting an audience to recognise the cinematics, to accept that it's a movie. I've touched on points like this in discussing how blockbusters aren't really films anymore (link here) and realism in a dogmatically human cinema (link here) but I wouldn't dare say that all movies should stray away from the discussed styles, instead, would say we've walked away from the Singin-In-The-Rain-esque style of cinema - maybe walked too far. This seems detrimental to the climate of blockbusters as they are often monetarily dictated by the push and pull of accepted popularity. And because blockbusters are seen by so many they are important to cinema, they can control were things go artistically, and, because of the millions, billions, of dollars injected into them, showcase technological capabilities - which can, if used right, seriously change an idea of cinematic fantasy. With CGI we can create impossible worlds and creatures to fit in them...




... which should be giving us the means to create the next Terminator, Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars and so on, not just continuing their legacy. The reasonings for why this doesn't happen though are obvious, so we won't dwell. Instead, recognise a contradiction: technological capabilities are expanding our horizons, but filmmakers (not just capitalism) are shrinking them.

Why this is happening to films can be best answered by the films themselves. We've already touched on 2 major ideas of cinematic change: belief and fantasy. These two ideas fuel each other as an audience not willing to indulge somewhat frivolous cinematics is an audience unwilling to let creative muscles be stretched - or at least puts strain on the process. It's here where Singin' In The Rain becomes pivotal to my argument. However, it seems I'm wanting all movies to recede into the most ridiculous aspects of a Fast & Furious film...



This is not the case. I'm talking about tone and a philosophy of what a movie is allowed to do. On the grounds of tone, when we look to Singin' In The Rain, we see an advocation of a very intimate lie. To understand the lie you only need to assess the satirical commentary of the narrative. It dislikes, shames, even ruins the lives of the vapid, mean-spirited and obtusely selfish.


It does this on the grounds of artistic intent being manipulated by...


... money, facade, material consumption and self-indulgence. The film essentially urges that if you gotta dance...


... then you best be ready to brave the storm with a smile as to keep doing that.


A great message, one that is commendable and irrevocably relatable. However, the film says one thing and does another. It looks down on the faux in search of truth - all whilst being blindingly artificial. Whilst this contradiction, what you might call a lie, seems like a major fault in the film, I rather see it as a cinematic commentary on fantasy. Not only is the message that we should live in our own fantasies...


... not someone else's...


... giving reason as to why the movie is artificial on its own terms, but, there's also an affirmation of truth in respect to the audience. The film knows it's a film, it doesn't try to suggest otherwise to the audience. It says 'oh, you want to see a musical? Well, just wait, you ain't seen nothin' yet'...


...

Anyway, the point was that the fantasy, the magic of cinema, is put into the hands of an audience. They are trusted to believe in the film, to see the movie as a bunch of crazed entertainers pretending to be other people whilst huge cameras watch, but still find joy. And there's a respect in this idea of film - both from the audience and filmmaker. The audience respects the filmmaker enough to accept a movie, not demand one, and the filmmaker respects an audience enough to unbrazenly try to entertain them, to shamelessly try to make a good movie with an undercurrent of self-confidence and style.

And this is the crux of my argument. With Singin' In The Rain, we see a confident and flagrantly try-hard picture. With something like Star Wars The Force Awakens, we also see a group of filmmakers trying their utmost to produce something great, but also a group of filmmakers scared to fail, to try something new...


This means that everything about Singin' In The Rain screams artifice so much so that it takes on a kind of faux cinematic realism. The realism transcends an idea of a film trying to imitate reality, and becomes a film trying to be a film, to imitate a movie (but still be original). This is the core difference between the fantasy seen in blockbusters today and movies best represented by Singin' In The Rain. Singin' In The Rain accepts it's a movie and works towards creating a great fantasy for the audience. Many modern blockbusters deny they're a movie and then, in spite of this, try to conjure up great fantasy. This is detrimental to many narratives in my opinion. With films such as Deadpool or Star Trek Beyond, their blockbuster-ness works with their fourth wall breaks and joyous self-deprecation. (Though, it must be said, Deadpool works much better than Star Trek). But, if Star Wars or the Mission Impossible films pushed the fantastical elements beyond pointing jokes at themselves, and towards accepting them as part of the movie people paid to see, we'd see a greater concentration on narrative and character over plot - which makes films timeless, which imbues them with a capacity for multiple watches. If Captain America: Civil War or Batman V Superman stopped taking themselves so seriously beyond the odd quip, again, we'd have better narratives with greater fantasy, a much larger entertainment value.

Through and through, Singin' In The Rain represents a philosophy of fantastical cinema, of great entertainment. This philosophy frees it's narrative, allows for the avant-garde sequences that not only push the form, but also entertain. The paradox of modern film is that this philosophy has lost its poignancy, has devolved into safe pseudo-fantasy that means not to pull a rabbit out of a hat and call it cinematic magic, but tells you, without showmanship, that it's got a trick up its sleeve and dares you to figure out how it's going to pull it off. Ultimately, the stress of this paradox leaves art, artist and audiences jaded, full of angst and incredibly pessimistic, sullying the atmosphere of the cinematic market, but furthermore poisoning the films we watch. So, in the end, I call not for a stop to all realism, but suggest maybe things relax a little, and despite the rain, smile know they've...







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