Film Just before Christmas I was chatting electronically to a friend who is paid for his opinion about things about the crutches that we use in our writing, repeated words and phrases which crop up and we have to remember to check back through for before it's either printed in something people want to buy (in his case) or on this blog (in mine). Turns out even professional writers suffer from the same hang-ups as people for whom such things are a fantasy, which was comforting because I'd assumed my persistent use of "clearly", "to be fair", "so" at the start of a paragraph, "what this means is" and "anyway" are what's been holding me back when it's clearly (oh god) something else entirely.
Some of my repetition is in reference, comparison and allusion. You might have noticed that whenever I'm faced with something pop cultural which is at least vaguely challenging I'll start throwing film directors names around, notably Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Malick, Fricke, Godart and especially Resnais, perhaps even including the odd title like "Last Year at Marienbad" for good measure. It's where I went after seeing Gravity and Inception and There Will Be Blood. It's how I coped with Doctor Who's Heaven Sent. On each occasion I slightly winced as I typed the names and titles again knowing full well that I was taking short cuts.
Partly it's because these are important works within the film canon and history and little seen or cared about outside of academia and cineastes these days thanks to rarely surfacing on television or streaming services. If film studies was more widely taught in schools and treated, as it should be now, on the same foot as literature, these are the works which kids would be shown and would potentially help them to understand where more challenging contemporary cinema comes from. Which isn't to say a fair number of people who have seen slow cinema didn't notice that Gravity was essentially Koyaanisqatsi in space with special effects with hints towards plot and character.
Mostly it's because they're examples of directors able to create films which have transcendent moments which almost seem to exist outside their medium, in which, if you're involved to the degree in which you're supposed to, the gap between knowing that you're watching the film, appreciating its beauty and also emotionally encounter it become indivisible. "Last Year at Marienbad" for all its frustrating obfuscation and obscurity, is unable to leave the memory once it's lodged there and in such a way that it's almost as though the protagonist X's experiences, fractured and incomplete and dreamlike have become our own through osmosis.
Except, I know this is rotten hyperbole. I know that the first time I saw Marienbad, on a colour portable on the balcony of our flat, none of it really sunk in and I largely dismissed it as slightly pretentious and befuddled and that I didn't really understand that I wasn't supposed to understand it until the second or even third watch. I also know I watch these kinds of challenging films out of a sense of wanting to be the kind of person who watches these kinds of challenging films. Many, many hours spent in front of screens filled with disconsolate wretches barely tolerating their existential crisis, in black and white, in Slovakian, attempting to prove this point.
But so many of these films represent a kind of Platonic idealism and although I appreciate that film and television is a business and that for the most part it's about trying to attract as large an audience as possible and however much I'd hope it would be Marienbad is not something everyone would want to watch (see last week's discussion) whenever I see its DNA or a familial connection in a contemporary work, it should be acknowledged. It must be, even if it has the implication that I'm only doing it in order to demonstrate that I've seen these films, which is in no way the case, at all. Not at all. So that's my excuse.
Which is I'm happy to notice that there's something fundamentally odd but nevertheless extraordinary that Star Wars's The FA, which seems as though it will ultimately become the new biggest film of all time, looks in places, like a Terrence Malick film, notably in the sundrenched Jakku at dusk, has a dream sequence clearly influenced by Marienbad and unlike the prequels has an almost Tarkovskian approach to exposition in the way it infers rather than explains (albeit in the way of Abrams's The Mystery Box) whilst still being a fundamentally mainstream concoction. Same as Inception. Same as Gravity. Same as Boyhood.