I’d like to take time today to discuss something different than planned, which was to be a resource list I’d created of the best-of-the-best self-help/inspirational materials that’ve gotten me on my feet the past four years, but decided instead to table that until next week. Today I feel so moved to discuss my primary passion, beyond that of healing and making a positive difference in the world; that is the nature of cinema – this is a discussion of why I do what I do (as a filmmaker/visual-artist/film professor):
First of all, I’d like to address something about the medium of film: it’s the most powerful medium within the arts by virtue of combining ALL other media: sculpture (set design), theatre (the proscenium framing, the lighting, blocking, and acting), music, editing (unique to the form, but based on written grammatical concepts), dance, fictional archetypal storytelling, singing, drawing and animation, computer arts, et cetera.
Film is powerful enough to have both started and quelled riots, saving many lives through informing, teaching moral lessons, and inspiring masses onto greatness. It even helped spark World War II when Hitler (whose favourite films were Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) ) recognised that the medium was such a consequential tool that he, through Joseph Geobbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, established the film division in order to sell a brand of propaganda that would brainwash millions of the new Nazi Regime’s significance in the world.
If one studies the artistic triumph of the Nazi’s use of the art-form, young female filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), you can see it’s a textbook case of how subliminal the medium is in effecting an emotional response from the viewer: camera angles, screen direction, the way sound and music is manipulated, the style and choice of edits, et cetera, all collaborate to have convinced so many that the next world villains had a legitimate, and worse, pressing cause, as a prime example of film’s ability to infiltrate our very core.
Brain science tells us that our subconscious mind, which is responsible for our dreaming, repressed memories, and unconscious motivations, cannot differentiate between reality and the dream state. In effect, to become absorbed in a film is to have lived it. Eastern Orthodox Christians, rather than believing in the Western Catholic concept of transubstantiation, wherein the bread and wine during communion actually transmutes into THE physical manifestation of Christ’s body once taken into our mouths, believe in something similar in that they pray to hand-crafted icon-paintings of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and/or the saints. They follow that during intercession to these images, it temporarily opens a direct portal to these individuals to hear and receive the prayer, much like an open frame to another dimensional reality.
What does all this have to do with inspiration, shining, and healing? I’ll hit upon that in a bit, but first a bit of clarification: I tend to follow the more spiritual concept of both creating and receiving in the filmmaking/viewing process. Some filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky specifically make movies to serve as a spiritual experience. Film for me is vitally-important as a communal experience; every time you watch the same film in a different setting, it takes on a different mood or sensibility, and how an audience’s collective energy builds around a film’s moments has much to do with our enjoyment of it.
There’ve been films I’ve hated upon release in the theatre, only to give them another chance at home on a small screen and instead loved them, and vice-versa. And like those within the Christian Orthodoxy, I believe that allowing our subconscious to interface with the projected archetypes on screen is a form of spiritual meditation. Some people meditate while sitting in a lotus position, eyes closed; some by running, some by driving; some by gardening or hard labour or exercise routines.
I do all these, but the most important to me is meditation via the experience of getting lost in the manufactured world of cinema, which unlike the harsh video-ness of television (running 30 frames per second), has traditionally been captured at 24 frames per second, which is most akin to replicating the way we “see” while dreaming. By watching waking dreams, we are able to consciously explore our reactions to events and archetypal themes and characters (those common to all people and cultures throughout history); the ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed there were only roughly seven stories in existence, replicated time and again in differing ways, and 20th Century psychiatrist Carl Jung identified 32 character types that appear time and again (the mentor, the hero, the wicked stepmother, et al).
How we react to these situations and characters gives us much to ponder, about our selves, our world, and those we interact with. Our relatively new medium of cinema is not unlike Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which described everyone’s uniquely-different reaction to the same ancient shadow play on cave walls since the dawn of civilisation.
So what does all this have to do with inspiration, shining, and healing? While wars, revolutions, and riots have been stirred up by this tool, think of all the good, and the potential for good that exists within its framework: inspirational films have set people onto new and higher paths; socially-conscious documentary films have changed the landscape of politics, repealed hurtful old regimes, and brought awareness to the masses of an injustice or unforeseen danger.
For me, the films of the aforementioned Jodorowsky changed my life in late Dec. 2007, and the film John Rambo (aka Rambo IV) (2008) was so inciting in its imagery about the horrors of present-day Burma that it brought me to such tearful emotion I began to volunteer my time, efforts, and money to assist the persecuted peoples there; who’d have expected that from a typical entertainment “blockbuster” film designed mainly for entertainment? Film can entertain surely, which is its primary-existence, but it also informs, serves as artistic expression for visual-artists, and lastly, and just as importantly, serves as a sort of spiritual intercession on our behalf whether we know it or not – use its power responsibly!
And be sure to check out Spiritual Cinema Circle for a Netflix-like rental service that specialises in uplifting, healing and inspiring films.
I learn more and more from you about media arts all the time! You and I can watch the same movie and see totally different things! Your trained eye notices everything in the background and the angle of the camera. I watch movies to be entertained. At the end of the day my brain is tired and I’m usually not in the mood for a documentary or some deep, soulful, foreign film where I actually have to read subtitles. I just want to relax and not think! Entertainment is my key goal in the movies. I know that I’m not alone in this – make me laugh, crash-land on another planet, blow something up….whatever it is just make it interesting and take me out of my normal world.
There are so many great movie lines that span time. I could quote a million of them from hundreds of my favorite, witty, movies. When I watched The Notebook, I cried for two days. Two days! Some movies just stick with us and change who we are. I love how well you’ve outlined this fact. I’m glad that you took the time to write about one of your greatest passions, for following our passions makes the world a better place.
So, next time we watch the same movie, please don’t think me ignorant for not noticing every little detail, such as the floral arrangement on the back wall in the middle of a fight scene!
I love how brilliant writers have given us so many lines that speak of how we are, how we feel, and how we want to become. We are many times drawn into a film because we see ourselves in it. On that note, in the words of Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”