I have long been looking for something that can best describe an interesting yet not always pleasant phenomenon in film studies (or literary studies). And I find the word “conviction” in Gerald Mast’s Film/Cinema/Movie useful to my purpose. The example Mast gave is his reaction to some work done on Citizen Kane. Mast claimed that he had no conviction for the discussion the anonymous scholar brought to him, or he has great conviction in the scene, but not the kind of conviction that the critic claims that one ought to have. Basically, the argument in question is that Rosebud is not relevant to the story of Kane but to the search for that story by the newsreel reporter, that there is a tension between the newsreel boss (named Rawlston) and the reporter Thompson. The critic justifies his point by comparing the scene of the projection room to some other films of the newspaper-genre such as The Front Page and His Girl Friday, in which a similar tension is admittedly perceived.

In the paragraphs that follow Mast explains in great detail why he has no such conviction and what is in fact his conviction of the scene—that is, instead of putting on any emphasis on this “tension”, Orson Welles minimizes the presence of these two figures and literally covers them with the darkest shadow so as not to obstruct his main focus of the narrative. In other words, if such a claim were indeed valid, then Welles and Gregg Toland must have “made a terrible error in shooting, lighting, and recording the scene in this manner.” (75)

I have no intention to reiterate the actual substantiation here. I find that they easily make sense. What is interesting for me, however, is that I find the experience Mast described can be applied to the majority of scholarly criticism that come into my knowledge everyday. Their common problem, as Mast says, is that “it smells too much of the lamp.”

What is the “lamp” we are talking about here? Mast explains, “the analytic conclusion is not the product of direct experience with the work, of personal conviction in it, but the product of study with the ‘text’ (except the ‘text’ of a film is even further from the actual aesthetic experience than the text of a play). Such criticism is more like fiddling with the pieces of one of Susan’s jigsaw puzzles, rather than observing and delineating the careful configuration that the artist has ‘locked into the picture’s form’”. (76)

I find the word “conviction” extremely appropriate since it implies both the intellectual and the sensual aspect of a cinematic experience. A true cinematic moment can not be said to exist unless both of these two aspects work hand in hand. A musical experience, for instance, can be transcribed into an adjectival description. Yet this description only mimetically reproduces the musical experience and leaves all the kinetic movements outside. This description, once achieved, can then be imitated in another piece of work. But will this new work if the author/composer do not have the talent to create a new set of kinetic movements and furthermore, to make these movements independent yet inseparable from the mimesis?

In the contemporary filmmaking scenario, it is easy to observe that many filmmakers are equipped with strong theoretical articulations. Their films are not designed to entertain, but rather, to provoke thoughts. However, will the audience be willing to be provoked in that particular way the director presents? It seems to me that either they do not give it enough thought (which is bad) or they are simply not capable of doing it the right way (which is unfortunate).

Take two examples: Catherine Breillat and Bruno Dumont. Both are highly articulate and radical intellectual-turned-filmmakers; both tend to show disturbing sexual and violent scenes. Their efforts, if literarily described, are indeed quite comparable. Yet in regards to my actual viewing experience, they are in totally different categories. To put it simply, Breillat is a bad filmmaker while Dumont is a good one. Why is that? (to be continued)


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