Friday, September 21, 2012

Musing Pictures: The Master

In PT Anderson's "The Master", one thing that stood out to me was the way certain scenes were staged.  On several occasions throughout the film, we are presented with a small crowd of ten or twenty people, and out of that crowd, one character stands out sharply.  Often, these are point-of-view shots, and the character that stands out does so by looking at the camera, at us, at the character through which we're observing the scene.  It's an interesting and subtly unnerving effect, one I expect to see more in horror/thrillers than in dramas.

In general, the blocking and framing in "The Master" is interesting to note.  The aspect ratio is not especially wide (and why should it be? we're generally looking at people, rather than scenery) so groups of people have to clump together.  Some scenes reminded me of the way John Ford would clump his characters, always a little too close to seem real, but always just far enough apart to avoid "staginess".


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Musing Pictures: "Muslim Innocence"

This is not a proper "Musing Pictures" post, as I have not seen the film about which I write.  I've read enough about it to know what it is.  I feel the need to comment here in response to some of the public discourse about the "film" that recently sparked outrage and murder in the Arab world.  The issues are enormous, and far too broad for a modest filmmaker to tackle.  I don't approach politics in this blog, as a rule, and I don't intend to start now.  This goes way beyond politics.

First, the background in brief:  A "film" of mysterious origins (apparently financed by "100 Jews" and directed by an "Israeli American") is translated or subtitled in to Arabic and shared with the Arab world.  It depicts the Prophet Mohammed, which, in and of itself, offends many Muslims.  It depicts the Prophet in coarse, unflattering ways.  This really pisses some people off.  They express their frustration in protest.  Some of the protesters get very violent, killing people who have nothing to do with the film.

There are two reactions to this:

1)  People say "Yuck!  Islamic people are barbaric!"
2)  People say "Yuck!  The filmmakers are morons!"

Neither statement really approaches the depth or seriousness of what's going on.

Film is powerful.  We learned this from the Nazis.  Many of the world's more repressive governments work hard to suppress this kind of mass communication.  TV and movies are heavily censored and controlled.  Whoever made this controversial "Film" knew this and exploited it.

I get in to murky territory here, because people have been killed over this stupid "Film".  I can't address the tendency toward brutality in the Muslim world, except to say that it angers me.  If "accepting Muslim culture" means accepting Muslim violence, I reject Muslim culture.  Of course, I don't believe Muslim culture necessitates Muslim violence, but it certainly seems to embrace it in some parts of the Islamic world.

In the West, frustration is ideally expressed not by violence, but by communication.  Op-eds, essays, art.  Even strikes, marches and sit-ins are much more about communication than they are about physical violence.  I believe firmly in the virtues of expression-by-communication, and in the freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press that protect it.

I am proud to be a citizen of a country that embraces these freedoms, even if they result in trash.  And I intend to make full use of these freedoms to point out how vile a piece of trash "Muslim Innocence" is.

The catalysts for cultural change are almost always acts of communication.  Jesus spoke to his followers and changed Judaism forever.  Marx wrote his Manifesto, and world politics transformed.  Violence can appear to be a catalyst for change, but more likely, it inspires a hardening of attitudes, an entrenchment of opinion.

I think it's important to address problems in Islam, just as it is important to address problems in America, or in Judaism, or in any culture.  I think it's necessary to address these issues with communication, rather than violence.  I think there should be more brave artists willing to step up and say "hey, Islam, here's what we see when we look at you!"

If there were more protest, more communication, more depictions of Mohammed, the cheap, pointless, hateful stuff would go unnoticed.

The reason I hate "Muslim Innocence" is that it's downright dishonest.  It's dishonest in two ways.

-Its critiques of Islam are not critiques of Islam at all, but of an imaginary Islam, an Islam that was made up by people who didn't know how to express their frustrations with the real thing.  It's an Islam made up by people who don't know enough about the real Islam to criticize it properly.  Much like anti-Semitism, or any other brand of cultural bigotry, it relies on a hateful description that is, in and of itself, false.

-It hides behind other scapegoats.  This is something I first encountered in Roger Ebert's essay:
The claim was made (by who? I'm not sure) that the film was directed by an "Israeli American", and was financed (to the tune of $5M... I'm a filmmaker, I know what $5M looks like on screen...) by one hundred Jews.  100 Jews.  It's a typological number, not literal.  The filmmaker's name, Sam Bacile (an Israeli name?)  becomes something else when shortened to Monsieur Bacile (or, "M Bacile" -- read it out loud if you still don't get it).  A Jewish (Israeli-American) imbecile? Directing a movie funded by 100 Jews (because Jews have money, right?)  This seems like an obvious plot to use Jews as scapegoats.  Here's the intended outcome:  Jews look like money-mad bigots who spend their money on stupid projects (instead of jobs?  the economy?) to piss off Muslims who then kill Christians.  Christians get their holy war, and if it goes wrong, they can blame the Jews for inciting it.  Roger Ebert may turn out to be wrong about this.  The film might turn out to have been made by an Israeli-American, and funded by one hundred Jews.  If that turns out to be the case, you can be sure that hundreds of thousands of Jews will rise up in protest.

And that brings me back around.  How many Muslims will rise up to protest the murders in Libya?

This "Film" deserves serious protest, but not violence.  Certainly nothing even close to murder.  Not even of the people involved, let alone people who had nothing to do with its production and distribution.

The violence in Libya deserves more protest, too, and if the full force of the message requires that the Prophet be depicted, by all means, depict the Prophet!  But my plea to artists and communicators everywhere is to remember that the most effective communication is informed communication.  Understand the problem you're addressing and THEN protest the hell out of it!  And be up-front about it, too.  Don't hide behind pseudonyms.  Don't scapegoat the Jews (or anyone!)  Cowardly protest is no protest at all.

And so, for the first time on this blog, I sign with more than my initials,
-Arnon Z. Shorr