As part of the pre-production process for the upcoming film, A Thousand Moments Later, I put together a document for the actors and crew to give them something to think over. The document contained some prose and some reference photos of key moments. What follows is part of that document. (sorry but I cannot use the pic here as they are copyrighted)
WHAT IS NEEDED IS AN EXPERIENCE.
A pithy line of dialogue, a reveal engendering insight, all these cinematic devices are the tools of smarter men and women than I. Indeed cinematic storytelling, for the most part, is not easy. It is not easy because it is a sophisticated medium where hours can be spent frustrated by misunderstanding, or, as is more often the case, a sense of not fully understanding what the hell it is you are doing/watching. Frustrations notwithstanding it is an experience for which one is better off for having regardless of whether or not the filmmaker’s intention was missed or misunderstood.
With the aforementioned in mind, and as good evidence of my point, I want to address the notions of clarity and coherence in cinematic storytelling. Some might argue there is, in fact, a lack of clarity in the very enterprise of filmmaking for cinematic storytelling is inherently abstruse by its very nature—to some degree images are subjective. To make things worse, the ideas we are grappling with here are difficult. Yet is it their importance that renders them difficult, or is it their difficulty that makes them important? I think one could argue it is, in fact both, and for that very reason, it is important for those engaged in the articulation of these themes to make certain the answers are accessible to as many inquisitive minds as possible. If the filmmakers, through artiness, simply add to the abstruseness of their project, thus taking important questions and making them impenetrable, cinematic storytelling turns into the quibbling of vain men and women.
Having said all that, and by saying it in such a way as to highlight my very point, I want to ask the following question: Is misunderstanding the fault of the audience or the filmmaker? Does clarity ensure comprehension? Or is understanding “given” through the art of visual eloquence? This question goes to the heart of a pedagogical dilemma presented herein: how do we get knowledge — the cognitive effect of understanding—from page, to screen, to the heart via the head? Is it the duty of the writer to forge this understanding? Cleaving difficult ideas in plain English even at the risk of cogency. Or is it to the director we must turn in order to lift obfuscated prose from the page? What role do audiences have in this play of wits? These questions seem important to me for freedom from suffering is at stake here—if the opposite of freedom is ignorance.
If cinematic art is to be important to people it must be important for people. And for this to be the case a film must leave the viewer with a visceral experience not found elsewhere. It must speak to them in such a way as to seem important even when the narrative is difficult to grasp. Indeed, I would argue it must be somewhat difficult to grasp as this is what will inspire deeper thought. It will ignite interest to look beyond the ordinary.
This indeed is a difficult task but how could it be any other way?
I believe, therefore, that clarity and coherence is dependent on audience and filmmakers alike. Nevertheless, there is simply no way one could fully grasp the intended meaning upon first viewing because that is not how knowledge moves from one being to another.
This indeed is a difficult point but how could it be any other way?