The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

Talking to people who don’t love film as much as I do, I get asked this question by nearly every single one of them: “why do you like movies so much?” This is usually followed by statements such as “they’re just a form of entertainment,” or “there’s no hidden meanings behind film – it is as you see it,” and usually after these statements, I no longer consider these people my friends. All joking aside though, honestly, I give most of them a very incomplete answer, something like “because they’re the most expressive form of art.” But, I’ve never truly thought about the answer in depth – to the extent to which I’m going to explore it now.

When film was first created in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, it was purely an observational art. People flocked to theatres for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to experience moving pictures; no sound, no dialogue, no story – just moving pictures. And yet, that same fascination is still held now, after 100+ of evolving, individuals still flock to theatres to experience the revelation of moving pictures. And though times have changed, styles of film have changed, and films all around have changed, one thing hasn’t, and that is the reason we love them. It’s true that we love film because of the acting, the sound editing and the cinematography, but that’s not why millions of individuals flock to the theatre every Friday to catch the latest film. The reason is that film is a completely spell bounding experience – one capable of removing us from reality, gluing us to a seat for 2 hours, and convincing us that we’re a part of the experience. Whether you go to the cinema by yourself, with your friends, or with your loved one, film is designed to be an experience that’s memorable.

Yet, films weren’t initially designed to have enthralling car chases, or engaging dialogue – it started out with a train leaving a station, and workers leaving a factory. Though this stuff doesn’t seem necessarily thrill us now, it’s all about relativity. Back in 1895, when The Lumiere Brothers shot their famous 50-second clip titled “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” audiences were stunned at this newly founded revelation. And from the point, film only continued to grow, until one day in 1902, a genius named George Melies created the revolutionary “A Trip To The Moon,” commonly regarded as the first Science Fiction film ever created. It was groundbreaking – it featured special effects, coherent story, as well as the concept of actors. Audiences sat down for 12 minutes to watch what is now regarded as the pivotal moment for film, and they were thoroughly stunned by the uniqueness of this new art form; George Melies’ A Trip To The Moon was the first true example of film as an alternate reality.

Then, in 1903, audiences were handed their first narratively structured film, Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, a film that’s title blatantly tells you the plot of the entire film. And though it may seem like a step back rom the grandiose scale of Melies Science Fiction films, there was something even more important with Porter’s film – it enhanced the idea that in order to truly immerse an audience in a film, it had to be relatable in some way. And though this film’s realism factor laid on the margin, it still featured a situation that was definitely plausible and applicable to real life – the Great Train Robbery which the film is featured about represented an event which could’ve easily happened to those siting in the audience, with their eyes glued to the screen. Yet, though the film is relatable, there was still a sense that Porter was taking the audience out of their normal, conventional lives and taking them to a show that was exciting, and exhilarating beyond their normal conception. This set up the future of film: though a film needs to take the audience away from their normal lives, the audience still had to be able to relate to the characters on screen in some way, so that they could truly feel as if they were the one in the film.

And after that, film really started to change, first with an important wave of comedy. Throughout the 1910’s-1930’s many of the world’s finest comedians started to work their magic. Most notably, classic comedian Charlie Chaplin made his first notable film; A Dog’s Life in 1918. This was one of the first times that Charlie Chaplin thought of the Tramp as a likable character, who would become a comedic star with the release of The Kid is 1921, which is also Chaplin’s first film over and hour. With this, Chaplin ran. He went on to make several films starring the tramp, most notably City Lights, and Modern Times, two of his most famous films to date. But behind this huge comedic star were smaller gems, such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, who lived under the shadow of Chaplin’s grandiose shadow.

Keaton was a star himself, starring in films such as The General and Steamboat Bill Jr. These 3 men, pioneers in the genre of comedy proved something else to the evolution of film – films didn’t have to purely rely on the big sets of science fiction, or the dramatic storylines of other films, they could entertain through evoking joy out of the audience. This is an essential development in the field of film. This proved that though a film may not be expertly made, it can be loved because of its heart; because of the soul behind the filmmaker that made it, because of the joy that the film brings to individuals.

And during the time of the development of comedy in Hollywood came the development of “talkies,” film that featured synchronized dialogue with their pictures. This was an absolute revelation to the future of film, proving that dialogue was a necessary, and effective way to convey ideas through films. No longer were the days of using pictures solely to convey ideas – it was all about the sound. The score, the screenplay – it proved as a defining moment in film evolution. And yet, it provided yet another reason for us to love film. Through dialogue, we could relate further to these characters, through the intonation of their voices, and the powerful dynamics of the scores. No longer did we have to rely on facial emotions (though extremely effective in The Passion of the Joan Of Arc) alone to relate to the emotions of the characters. Now, the audience could listen to their thoughts, as well as feel emotionally swayed by the score.

Knowing this, a film made in 1939 revolutionized and perfected the concepts and techniques of the art itself, driving films that came after it to strive to become as epic as it was. This film is Victor Fleming’s 238 minute historical epic Gone With The Wind. Though epics had been made before (notably The Birth Of A Nation, Intolerance, and many of D.W. Griffith’s other works), Gone With The Wind effectively perfected everything that was available in the realm of film at that time. At the beginning and ends of the film, Fleming provides an overture that radiates through the audience – exemplifying the power of music in film. Along with this, he designed magnificent sets, as well as magnificent acting for the film. The themes are well polished, and spectacularly conveyed through the incomparable screenplay. Fleming set the bar high for films to come, but little did he know, though he expected his masterpiece to be Gone With The Wind, a film considered flawless by many, his other film released a few months prior proved to be arguably even more influential; that film was The Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz was influential in its amazing visuals, it set the standards high for the visuals in film. What started as a purely visual art, film had never transcended to these levels. The Wizard of Oz featured beautiful colorization, amazing sets, alongside a catchy score. Fleming brought to the screen a fundamental reason for why we love film – because it’s an immersing experience. Yes, though films that came out prior to this one were equally as entertaining, The Wizard of Oz, albeit about a fictional world, took viewers to another realm – one drowning in color and creativity. Though I loved Gone With The Wind technically, I believe The Wizard of Oz to be his masterpiece, though both are extremely influential to the future of film.

And throughout passing years, many masterpieces came out, though there was nothing particularly revolutionary in film. This includes films such as Casablanca, The Browning Version and other films of the sort. And though there was nothing notably revolutionary about these films, they were excellent, and they drove film to be what it is today.

It wasn’t until 1960 that another revolutionary movement in film occurred again, much like it did with the films of the early years. This movement was known as the French New Wave, which feature filmmakers such as Francois Truffaut (my personal favorite of the moment) and extraordinary filmmaker Jean Luc Godard, who’s film A Bout De Souffle proved that there was even more to be seen in film. Through editing, Godard was praised as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, with his magnificent techniques being transferred into films nowadays. He further pursued his techniques with Une Femme Est Une Femme, Le Mepris and broadening his niche with the 2014 release of Adieu Au Language. And though his films may not seem that influential, Godard embodied what was necessary for the next movement to occur – the drive to pursue the evolution of film through experimental filmmaking.

Yes, throughout history, there were always individuals who experimented with the different techniques of film. Filmmakers such as James Sibley Watson and Mara Deren created some of the earlier avant-garde films, but didn’t draw much attention to themselves. But, with the drive from Godard, filmmakers saw an opportunity to further this art of experimental filmmaking. In the early 1960’s, there was a breakthrough of avant-garde filmmakers, two of which are still noted now for their extroidinary contributions: Hollis Frampton and Stan Bakhrage, who set up the road for future filmmakers who would experiment. And though these films didn’t especially have a coherent storyline, we liked them because they were abstract – we loved them for trying to drive film into an art that wasn’t completely simple to understand. Not to discredit experimental filmmakers who did have a story though, like Vera Chytilova with her 1966 film Sedmikrasky, and later on Konstantin Lopushanskiy’s Pisma Myortvogo Cheloveka (or Dead Man’s Letters. These individuals proved that we didn’t love film truly because of the story of them, but through the visual arts like The Wizard of Oz and Trip To The Moon had defined prior.

And this leaves me with one of three important events left in the evolution of film, the first being the dawn of non-sensical films. While I understand that isn’t the technical term, It fits what I’m trying to say. It’s the dawn of film that challenges the viewer to understand films through metaphors, symbols and motifs. This is the stage where film started to become lumped into the same category as literature and paintings. It provided the viewers with film as something more than just an entertainment medium, though many already viewed it as that. And who was the pioneer of this? Personally, I believe it to be Alejandro Jodorowsky. With his creation of El Topo, he set the path for new filmmakers to emerge and to make films that didn’t allow the audience to just sit back and not think while they were in the cinema. He drove one of my favorite filmmakers to start making films, David Lynch. Lynch created film such as Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, all of which didn’t particularly feature a simplistic, or even comprehensible storyline. Though these are great examples, there are also examples of this in modern cinema, as this concept has evolved over time.

The concept of non-linear storylines has been implement masterfully by genius filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, whose 1994 film Pulp Fiction was a stepping-stone in the film world. Since then, filmmaker Christopher Nolan has taken this concept into mind, starting in 2000 with his landmark film Memento, moving to his 2010 hit Inception, and his 2014 masterpiece Interstellar. These film all confirmed film as an art, something that is appreciated by critics and audiences alike because of its complexity.

Next is a movement that might not be considered great by movie critics, and it’s the revolution of “so bad they’re good movies.” Perhaps the most classic examples are The Blob released in 1958 starring Steven Mcqueen and Plan 9 From Outer Space released in 1959. They proved that through humiliation alone, films like these could be enjoyed by viewers, and perhaps even earn “cult” status. This drove the creation of TROMA, one of the finest examples of a studio that purely releases films of the sort. With the release of The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke Em’ High, TROMA proved to be a powerhouse in this genre of film. Yet, none of these films have achieved the status of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 release The Room, the most atrociously bad film ever made, yet it has earned cult status for how incredibly and hilariously bad it is. And lumped in with this movement is the creationn of exploitation film, which aim to disgust viewers, and to win their approval that way. This movement includes films such as Pink Flamingoes, Salo: Or 120 Days of Sodom (or any Pier Paolo Passollini film, actually) and Cannibal Holocaust. With the creation of these films, there has been another point proven; though a film may not be incredibly well-made, it can still be enjoyed purely as entertainment; film doesn’t have to purely be an art form.

And that brings us to our last point, the rise of independent filmmaking in recent years. This includes films that are relatively low-budget, but aren’t confined by the restrictions of Hollywood films. These films usually don’t grab as much attention, but are essential to the growth of cinema. Just this year, there have been two amazingly influential films: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Boyhood boasted the incredible determination Linklater had behind filming the film for 12 years, while Birdman possessed the determination behind making the film look like it’s all done in one shot. Both of these films prove that we love films because of their innovation, and their efforts to progress the film world further.

So, the next time someone asks me why I like film, I’ll be prepared to tell them. But, it’s an impossibility to tell them without specific examples of how film has evolved over the years, and what makes them truly extraordinary. I know I didn’t get a chance to go over some significant events such as the creation of Disney and the progression of animation, but this is the general idea about why I love film. I love film because of its heart. I love film because of its innovation. I love film because of it’s art. I love film because it’s entertainment. The thing I know for certain, though, is that I undeniably and irrevocably love film.

PS it was difficult to find a good movie to put this under, but The Godfather seemed fitting.

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