Love and Film

The art and reason of film examined.

Editors’ note (posted in 2010): This essay was to be the introduction to a column by Chris Harring entitled “Love and Film.” Despite this strong start, there were never any subsequent installments.

I studied film at college. That’s right. My major was a form of entertainment that everyone sees every day. Movies, pictures, cinema: they can all be reduced to the concept of “film,” a simple word engaged in a horrible struggle to encompass a massive and spiraling phenomenon.

Where to start, then? Pragmatism? Film is chemicals dripped on special paper. But after four years of study, I know next to nothing about chemicals, special papers, or the delicate dripping process that marries them.

The philosophical alternative reads something like this: film is the collective achievement of anyone who has ever wielded a camera in awe, frustration, anger, love, or curiosity. But after four years of study, I know I can’t possibly intellectualize a throbbing, living history of constant artistic endeavor.

These two most obvious definitions seem inaccessible. Cold science, I know nothing about; intangible history, I can’t begin to fathom. Only now, after almost half a decade, do I realize that these two conflicting realities are the basis for a much deeper understanding and appreciation of film.

It’s a sweaty and precarious relationship between art and science. Behind every audience sitting in a theater, the science of film labors under fluorescent light, pulling its intestines through a series of gears and spikes. And because of this, art — science’s glamorous and ethereal lover — can float unhindered into the real world. Machines and amplifiers and individual frames fade into a prolonged orgasm of light and sound.

The two depend entirely on one another. A loud, spinning but stationary machine provides only marginal entertainment. Imagine the device itself trying to hold the attention of paying patrons, thoughtlessly banging one functional aspect of itself against another in an awkward attempt to be appreciated. After 45 seconds, boredom sets in.

But this ugly, robotic beast can shoot images through the air and fascinate hundreds. Light without sound, motion without form: on a porous tile in a cool, dark room, the art and science of film merge in a semi-sexual ballet of tender underappreciation.

No art without science. No interest in the science without the art.

This column is about film theory, not film criticism. Humans are by nature subjective, and therefore by nature critical. My opinion is no more valid than yours, and I don’t have the right, regardless of the forum I am provided, to impose it on you.

Many people will say that the ability to think critically represents true intelligence. However, while my comrade slurring, “Hannibal fucking sucked,” while scrawling a pattern in urine on an alley wall could be said to have a critical mindset, he fails to establish recognizable intelligence.

Through the things I am calling film theory, which is mainly objective and analytical writing about a wide variety of films, I want to express a reverence and awe for the medium. I’m tired of the callous disdain that covers the entertainment sections of newspapers. Dismissal is too easy and limits the degree to which we can apply our intelligence.

It’s just like the title of this column suggests: I closely associate love and cinema. Just like love, there’s that kind of attraction, or fixation or fascination. Whatever you call it, the emotion remains irrational and difficult to explain. It is sensation: something that bubbles in your stomach, tickles your brain, and gives you an erection all at the same time.

The first time you see a film is like the first time you make love to someone. It may be a magical swirl of light, heat and fluid: a perfectly ecstatic exercise in sexual cooperation. But probability dictates that once in a while, the experience will be utterly routine if not painful, demanding focus on one or more of the following in order to coax yourself to orgasm: a recently perused and highly pornographic magazine, your golf game, or that girl from high school you wanted to fuck, but never tried because all your friends said she was ugly.

The first time is an experiment in impulse. It’s a temporary submission to a narrative procedure with unscripted results.

But love is more than a happy, tingly mind and the world of whim. Love leads to an interaction that can be and is constantly rationalized. Lovers enter into a carefully-scripted agreement whose rules, regulations and expectations are completely unrelated to the original emotion.

This is the relationship. A developed understanding; an architectural schematic of pleasure points and weaknesses. The films that you find truly great remain experiences that bring you to your knees, panting for more. The interaction becomes routine because you participate. You willingly commit a portion of your emotional self to making the experience consistently rewarding.

The films we dislike, on the other hand, fade into the past. The only potential resolution is an awkward chance meeting in Blockbuster.

As this column progresses, I’ll try to capture both aspects of my love for cinema: the horny and unrestrained excitement along with the practiced intellect. In the long run, the point is and will always be to think clearly, intelligently and passionately about the most complex combination of media ever reduced to a single word: film. I look forward to sharing pixels with you, and remember: open your minds and your legs to one another. Life is just more fun that way.

Next time: Examining cyborg heroes and villains in T2: Judgment Day and The Matrix.

Article © 2001 by Chris Harring