Why I Love Cinema

Cinema Paradiso

I love cinema. I always have, and I believe I always will.

At a very young age, I fell under the spell of a rather particular brand of cinema: the movie musical. My heart would pound furiously when the von Trapp family hid in the depths of the abbey, hiding from the terrifying Nazis. I would cry rivers at the death of the dear King of Siam, but in turn would be consoled by the happiness Dorothy found upon returning home. Even then, the limitless potential of cinema was known to me. Wherever I wanted to go; whatever I wanted to feel – cinema had the power to take me further than I could possibly imagine. I believe it was this inherent escapism common to all great that first endeared me to the world of film.

While escapism – a certain detachment from one’s reality – is arguably an intrinsic element of all art forms, nowhere is it more apparent than in film. If music is the art of the ears, and painting of the eyes, then cinema is undoubtedly that of the mind. Cinema, in so many ways, is an instrument of illusion. This can be interpreted as the mere projection of images in quick succession creating the semblance of motion.

On a deeper level however, the narrative film is the complete immersion into an altogether different world. There are only two kinds of characters which a viewer will respond well to: that which he is; and that which he hopes to become. The reason for this is simple: we must, if we wish for an effective and engaging experience, have someone whom we can slide into the shoes of; we need to be able to walk around in his world, and understand the life he leads as if it were our own.

Great cinema gives us this rare and wonderfully intimate gift: the ability of seeing the world through another’s eyes. We realise also that we are not alone, but that others share our same fears and trials. Because cinema mirrors so well the workings of the mind, we often unconsciously superimpose ourselves onto these characters. The heroes of the movies do not merely teach us to be the best we can possibly be, but actually allow us to live extraordinary lives for an hour or two.

Movies can pack such an emotional punch because they are so inextricably linked to the real world. Almost all other art forms require the artist to create “from scratch”. The raw material of cinema however, is the very world in which we live. There is little difference between an object’s representation on film, and the object itself which is being filmed.

And yet the art of film is obviously not the exact imitation of the world. Rather, I like to think of cinema as the precise and rigorous dissection of our chaotic and contradictory realities, and then, with the filmmaker’s dual tools of montage and mise-en-scène, its careful reassembly into an artistic and universal truth. It is this that distinguishes film and makes it absolutely unique.

Through the eternal battle between reality and illusion, as well as the twin components of the artist and the real world, we gravitate towards a greater understanding of the human condition. Using the likeness of the world we know, film illuminates our paths and teaches us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going to go.

42 Comments

  • beetleypete says:

    A great article Rachel, summing up the real lure of the silver screen. An inspired choice of using ‘Cinema Paradiso’ as the header too. Perhaps the best story of the love affair with film and cinema ever made.
    Very best wishes, Pete.

    • Rachel T says:

      Thank you Pete! Yes, the still from Cinema Paradiso goes very well with the ideas of the article. No other film quite captures what it’s like to go through one’s life loving cinema.

  • Caz says:

    I honestly felt like I wrote this post myself! I am with you on the movie musical genre! I have a nice big box set of some older ones to catch up with!

  • jdubfla says:

    Always have felt that the greatest of movies crest a magical feeling… A distancing from our own reality as it takes us in.. David Lynch said a “classic film” is one we are compelled to revisit over and over again.. I believe that is said perfectly.

    • Rachel T says:

      I believe Ebert once said something quite similar: a great film we will come back to time and time again because each viewing reveals something new, something previously undiscovered. That’s the beauty of the movies; the level of detail of this medium is rivalled perhaps only by that of the novel.

  • alexraphael says:

    Lovely piece. Great picture too.

  • It is hard sometimes to pin down why we love movies or really to explain why we love anything you love. This is a great article doing just that and gave me plenty to think about regarding my own film love.

    • Rachel T says:

      Thank you for your kind comment! And yes, you are very right about how difficult it often is to write about the things we love. Ironically, criticism spews out at a rather alarming rate, so for the most part I try to refrain from it, devoting time instead to the films, ideas, and people that interest me most and have had a positive impact on me.

      • I completely agree. I could write pages about all the things a film does wrong but it is much harder to explain why something is good. Devoting time to the positive is harder but way more worthwhile.

  • “There are only two kinds of characters which a viewer will respond well to: that which he is; and that which he hopes to become.”

    Quite possibly one of the most accurate statements I have ever read. Great article, bravo!

    • Rachel T says:

      What lovely compliments – thank you! By the way, I enjoyed immensely your recent article on the wonders of 16mm. It is fantastic to hear that shooting on film is far from a dying art.

  • Rick says:

    A lovely article about your love of film! Film also differs from many other creative arts in that it’s a product of collaboration. Even if you believe in the auteur theory (and I do), would PSYCHO be PSYCHO without Herrmann’s music or Tony Perkins’ performance?

    • Rachel T says:

      A very good point! Also, didn’t they used to say that only in Hollywood did one find such a diverse group of people – talented artists, regardless of race, religion, political persuasion, often ended up in Hollywood. I think even at the very dawn of American cinema, the moguls already knew that successful movies were the result of careful cooperation between many disciplines, as well as the mixing of artistic cultures to create truly memorable films.

  • BTW07 says:

    “Using the likeness of the world we know, film illuminates our paths and teaches us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going to go.”

    Wonderfully said! :) Your article is exactly one of the reasons why I don’t necessarily see film as a form of escapism, but rather like a gateway to another world for a while, where we can take away something and apply it in real life. Musicals were also a movie genre I fell in love with at a young age. As I’ve gotten older, I think some of the best musicals showcase themes, concepts, and messages that directly reflect life. And I recognized that picture from “Cinema Paradiso” right away! Great image for this type of post!

    • Rachel T says:

      Thank you Brittany! I agree completely – although often referred to as the genre which requires the biggest suspension of disbelief, the musical world is actually so easy to immerse yourself into precisely because of its countless similarities to real life. Musicals may not be like the literal world, but they speak emotional truths (or rather sing them!) very beautifully.

  • Betty-Rose says:

    Great post and long live the musical – everything from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to Baz Lurman’s Moulin Rouge to an Elvis film!

  • Phil says:

    Great article Rachel. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve visited and I gotta say, love the new look blog!

  • I never cared for the Von Trapp family (one of my least favorite musicals ever), but I did cry rivers when the King of Siam died…

  • Bill Hayes says:

    A great little article on the magic of cinema. I always find that moment between the end of the song and the continuation of the action a bit uncomfortable. Something that great musicals managed to overcome like Guys and Dolls and Singing in the rain.

    If you have a moment, there’s a little cinema story for you to read.

    http://matteringsofmind.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/28/

    • Rachel T says:

      What a lovely story Bill (and of course, you tell it very well!). It’s always so great to hear how invested people can become not only in a film, but also all it represents. I look forward to browsing through more of these marvellous little anecdotes soon.

  • iheartingrid says:

    Movies saved my life when I was young by letting me escape my reality and have film friends that understood and accepted me. Your article brought all this back in a flash and I thank you for that!

    • Rachel T says:

      Thank you for sharing this. I too remember what it was like to find solace in the characters on the big screen as a kid. Even now if I’m having a bad day, I know I can always go back to these heroes and heroines – these people I practically grew up and who have, to a certain extent, shaped who I am today.

  • kbobmoney says:

    Great post, I’m always happy to hear about someone else who was raised on movie musicals. I may have watched The Sound of Music a hundred times during my childhood.

  • Wonderful post! Thank you very much for liking my How to Train Your Dragon 2 review! Have a wonderful week, and God bless you! =)

  • I love your post, Rachel, as it beautifully details the parameters for creating a story. As an author, we’re constantly advised as to the importance of developing “relate-able” characters. If your audience (in my case, reader) doesn’t care, they won’t turn the page.
    I love film for the fact that the art of story making is so important to me. I can think of nothing more enjoyable than getting pulled into someone else’s head and life–even for a short while. It’s magic.
    Lovely article!

    • Rachel T says:

      Very happy to hear you enjoyed it :) ‘Getting pulled into someone else’s head and life’ – that’s a marvellous way of putting it! I think that’s what all of us are looking for when we watch or read a story unfold – it’s a rare thing to find oneself so completely immersed in the life of another, but when it does happen it really is a wonderful experience.

  • hikikomori78 says:

    It’s absolutely that emotional connection and communication that drives me to make film and enjoy the great ones that hooked me in.

    Great post!

    • Rachel T says:

      Thank you :) You are so right in saying that emotion is the very core of the film. I thought you might enjoy this quote from Bergman: “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”

  • realmaven18 says:

    Beautiful writing to describe a bit of the magic of film. A great film is something we dive into to simultaneously escape life by using life. We love great stories. They redeem us. Enchant us. Inspire us. And we can never get enough. Thank you.

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