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Would Cavemen Watch Movies?

July 11, 2014

Most film critics will agree that the film that finally broke
the mold and saw the medium reach new heights was
Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane.

As one of the most modern forms of art, I find it interesting that film reaches back into the most archaic form of art – storytelling. Modern audiences find themselves gathered around a flickering screen while stories unfold that they can hardly believe. Magic unfolds, shamans step forth, and morals are taught as the battle between good and evil takes place right before their eyes.

Of course our modern theaters with reclining seats are far more comfortable than primitive rocks and logs. The resolution of a digital movie screen is more detailed, albeit less warm than the blazing fires of our ancestors, and Scarlett Johansson is no doubt far more attractive than the tribal elders that once passed on their tales to younger generations.

For all the multi-million dollar budgets, CGI, and special effects that modern movies use, at their core they ignite something primitive in all of us – the desire to hear a story.

Film tells a story like few other forms of media can. Of course, live theatre is a very direct and real means of telling a story, and when you are in the audience, there is nothing like it. However, live theatre finds its limitations in terms of audience size. Once you get a certain distance from the stage, the nuances in the actors’ movement get lost and you strain to hear the dialogue. You can’t see the subtlety in their expressions, the raise of an eyebrow, or the smirk of a smile.

Early films seemed to solve a lot of the problems inherent in a packed playhouse bytightening the focus on the actors and allowing a better view, but watching older movies, I get the feeling that their creators hadn’t quite reached the full potential of the medium. The scenery still looked like painted sets. The actors spoke with the same theatrical lilt in their voice that works well on stage, but seems strange on a more intimate scale. The entrances still seemed to be along the lines of “stage right” and “stage left.”

Most film critics will agree that the film that finally broke the mold and saw the medium reach new heights was Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. Welles used the camera as an artist, framing his shots and actors in new ways, practically writing the textbook for cinematography in the mid 20th century. Welles told a story in new visual terms, rather than solely relying on the lines of the actors to propel the narrative.

Filmmaking has historically been left to the professionals. Film and video equipment has been too expensive, too big, or too time consuming for amateur filmmakers or hobbyists to succeed in realizing their dreams of becoming the next Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg. Of course there were the Super 8 cameras of the 60s and 70s with their limited film length. Who could forget the monstrous size of some of the VHS cameras in the 80s? These cameras introduced the idea that the average person could make their own “moving pictures” but were a far cry from anything that might be considered a movie or film.

Short-n-Sweet Film Festival 2014Fast forward to 2014, and everyone has the means to create and edit video on their laptop, their smartphone, or their point-and-shoot cameras. The media is becoming more accessible to the masses, and I am interested to see if this accessibility will translate into better films in the future. It seems the most popular use of this newly acquired media is to make funny cat videos for YouTube. But hopefully, the “LOL Cats” are just a passing trend and we will get back to using the camera to tell stories and express ourselves in new ways.

The Community Arts Center is hosting the Short-n-Sweet Film Festival, August 15th as a means to showcase some of the best locally made short films (under ten minutes). The Arts Center focuses a lot of attention on visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, but it’s only fitting that the art of filmmaking be recognized as well. I look forward to gathering under the stars with family and friends in Constitution Square around the flickering glow of the outdoor screen. I’m sure we will laugh and be inspired by all the work of our fellow filmmakers.

Don’t you want to hear a good story?

Brandon Long
Brandon Long

Programming Director
brandonlong@communityartscenter.net