I'd like to use this post to discuss the lessons of a quote I once heard, but have been unable to identify the source of. Nevertheless, I love it. If any of you know, please tell me. It's short and sweet. Here it is:
The purpose of art is to conceal itself.
This is something I try to remember whenever I'm shooting or editing a video. If my technique calls attention to what I'm doing, rather than what's happening in "front" of the camera, then my approach is wrong. This is the problem I have with a lot of films and even more videos. They seem like the creators want to say "look what I can do!" when they should be saying something completely different. I think this is part of what Trevor talks about when he discusses form and content as equally important to the meaning of a film. Effects for the sake of effects miss the boat. Stunts for the sake of stunts can cheapen an otherwise good production. It should be clear from this that I interpret the word "art" in the quote to mean craft, although other interpretations are interesting as well.
I can think of two movies I've seen that remind me of this. One was Tomorrow Never Dies. After seeing it in High School, a friend commented to me that it was "a movie about stunts." That was relevant to our purpose because we were in a performing group that was doing a James Bond show and we were two of the three stunt men. Nevertheless, my friend's comment shows that whatever substance was in that movie was lost, at least on him, by the distracting elements we sometimes refer to as "Hollywood."
The other movie was Transformers. I didn't like the movie for its brazen sexuality which, I felt, dominated any redeeming messages. Having said that, however, I was impressed with the robots, and not just because they were "cool." I remember hearing that Optimus Prime had over 10,000 moving parts.
Why do I mention this? because if I were to really see a giant alien robot walking around, I would expect to see moving parts. The effects "sold" the characters. There were things going on inside the robots that were unconscious, just like our lungs and hearts moving independent of our direct commands. Obviously, the robots weren't real, but the art that created them was believable. I agree that the best effect is one you don't know is there, but in the context of Transformers, such an approach would have meant a movie without its title characters. I don't think that's the spirit of this idea. In other words, had the robots been real, I don't know that the film would have been any different.
Now, even if you agree with me on this, you may wonder what it has to do with LDS cinema. Aside from general filmmaking topics, I argue that the "preachyness" we read about so often and that is so much spoken against as a weakness of LDS films would be less blatant if we tried to encode our messages with this quote in mind. If, instead of having a didactic conversation between characters about gospel doctrines, we actually demonstrated those doctrines in practice - showing the effects of their acceptance or rejection as Brigham Young said, we may see better results. That's just one idea.
Alma 32 has something to say about this that I'm going to discuss in a later post (part 3 of my Light, Truth, and Spirit series), but I do want to point out that Christ taught often in parables. Why? Well, among other reasons, to conceal the doctrines the parables contained from those who do not have "ears to hear." By concealing the doctrines, he spared the unbelieving the condemnation they would be under for hearing him teach the truths directly and not obeying. He used stories with a deeper meaning for those prepared to search for it.
This post comes immediately after having a discussion with someone who does not feel that movies, particularly fictional movies, are a suitable vehicle for serious discussion of issues. He thinks that those who search movies for deep meanings are usually over-analyzing. That's a bit oversimplified, but still. Obviously, I disagree, but I liken his attitude to that of one who views the Savior's parables as nice stories with a good message.
To be clear, and because he may well read this, I know he doesn't think that way about the parables. He has given some very insightful interpretations of some of those in the past. But I'm talking about movies. Not all films try to be like this, but I think films that are interested in art should.
What do you think?