Volume 1 : Cover Topic - Film and Society (2)




Film and Beyond—in relation, significance

Parthasarathi Raha

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To explore the co-ordinate of film in relation to the world beyond, I chose to begin with ‘naturality’. Naturality—in core of our commonest notion—is a truth independent of human intervention. Yet naturality is a myth ; because, to define naturality we have to perceive it first. Our various senses as perceiving agent, including our emotional and intellectual senses too, engage in a dialectical confrontation to result in our perception. ‘Perception’, whether conscious or not, is used in exhaustive sense here. It may stand for a feeling or a cerebration and they are, more often than not, so intermingled that they can be purely distinguished only in heaven! Perception being an organic process confirms viewer’s existence as the necessary condition. And—to include ‘observer’ with respect to the ‘observed’, rather to define the ‘observed’ with ‘observer’, we admit relativity of perception.
‘Reality’ is our perception of the world so it is relative and the only truth we the mortal human being can have. That the Everest had been existent while I came to know about it say in 1980 only, is not a naturality. It is a truth to me since 1980, not before ; its age is a finding of the present. And thus history is always the present story of past. Similarly something which I am presently unaware of may exist and I may even be confirmed of that in future is not a naturality either. It is a ‘present concept’ of the ‘future’ observed with our present realities and surely is not the future itself. So naturality reduces to a reality projected from a specificity in space and time. In a word, reality is truth constrained. Constraint is the ‘platform’ consisting of one’s relevant realities that take part in a particular observation. This observed reality, so resulted, may become a part of the observer’s experience. ‘Experience’ is one’s familiar truths determined by one’s cultural, social, geographical, etc. setup and may be defined as a set of all realities that are existent in the observer, being formed through its past observations. The said observed reality may take part in another observation thus becoming relevant by being included in the platform for the observer’s latter observation. So platform—a subset of experience—is a set of all realities that lead to an observation, and the observed reality is a truth only within the platform. Perception hence results out of and conforms to those constituent realities of the platform.

Now what is a reality, observed ? Reality is an integral truth formed through ‘association’ of two or more ‘existential elements’. An existential element is a differential truth devoid of ‘essence (function)’. It has a presence value only because it is what it is. It is imparted with an essence when associated with other existential elements and therefore it gains a value in what it is for. The reality : ‘A tree has life’ forms in association of existential truths : ‘tree’, ‘life’, ‘the concept of having’—each of which in isolation to the rest has no essence. ‘Tree’ gets an essence when perceived in relation to the other two, and so are for others. ‘Association’ is thus relating different existential elements, whether conscious or not in a particular manner to give rise to the whole. ‘Dissociation’ of the reality on the otherhand is reverse of association and can be defined as a process of disintegration which results in those isolated differential truths called existential elements. It must be noted that an existential truth is only a truth with respect to the relation. We become aware of it only through dissociation which is essentially a process of nullification of the relation. ‘Tree’ is an existential truth when it is seen in exclusion of the relation held in the reality : ‘A tree has life’. ‘Tree’ is not an existential element but a reality in itself if it is perceived in term of say its geometry viz. spatial arrangement of its leafs, branches, etc. This is certainly a different reality with different existential elements and essence.

An existential truth is relative, for it is a truth to be recognised by an observer in term of its presence. Essence or functionality is relative, because the way the observed existential elements are related (associated) is subject to the observer’s experience. Or more precisely, it is the platform that determines the reality observed. At the very sight of a child, under a giant tree alone, may generate a feeling of ‘vulnerability of the child’ in me. Here I associate the ‘giant tree’, the ‘child’, and their ‘spatiality’ with my existent concept of ‘vulnerability’ that acts as the platform in the said perception. The same sight may generate as well a perception of ‘mother-child’ relationship found such to be prevailing in nature. What makes all the difference is a change in platform.

Essence (relation) without existence is not possible. However it hardly supports the existentialist-claim that “one’s existence precedes its essence”. We observe an existence through its essence ; we necessarily live in realities, in relations. Existential truth is insignificant for us, for it is not an independent self-sustained entity, a subject of essence instead (Note : Mutual exclusiveness is necessarily a kind of definite dependence). Further, its meaninglessness lies in its lacking of purpose. Reality or consequently essence is only of significance to us.
Observing through essence rather than existence has an implication that some existential elements which can’t be significantly related (associated) from a particular platform may be excluded of the observer’s perception. Hence, memorization may be another observation. Memorization is definitely another observation when we perceive some of our past happenings differently than that we had had before, and this is due to a shift in our choice of platform. Dissociation that follows the observation may not yield into the constituent existential elements accurately, as memory intervenes. Besides, dissociation has no significance except it can lead to another reality through another association. Invention or discovery i.e. a new perception, which is commonly held as a criteria to be met by all ‘art’, effects a reality with an unprecedented combination of existential elements and their association.

With these generalities discussed so far, I move on to evaluate film (quite applicable for other art forms, too) as a specific instance of our world—as one which is necessarily enveloped in the wholeness of our existence.

Film, we observe in all its forms or classifications, irrespective of its being good or bad, is not naturality but reality by definition. A film in relativity of its perception compels to be referred with all concerned realities that belong to each of its viewers. This is because a film as an independent self-evident truth is non-existent. A film reality like other realities in the world forms through association of its constituent existential elements. Shots, frames, colours, tones, sounds, ‘traces of reality (as Bazin stated)’, etc. are individually the existential elements that a film reality is made of. Those existential elements have no significance for us except the way they are associated to form the reality as a whole—that is the ‘film’. That a filmed image is not the object, a film-time is not the real-time and so on … are the discriminations based on existential truths so of little worth. They are truths only with respect to the ‘relation’ they hold. Moreover the relativity of realities makes dissociation an inaccurate one, which is especially true for film, since film viewing is memorization throughout except each 1/24 of a second. The correspondence between a film reality and other reality of the world is in essence. Whether the relation (essence) is between the shots (montage: temporal association) or it is within a shot (mise-en-scene : spatial association) or a fusion of the two (as Godard established), the significance is in the relation that is churned out.

Essence is what we conventionally refer to as ‘content’ and ‘form’, if can be truly distinguished at all, is the collection of the existential elements related by the content. Seeing through essence rather than existence implies that it is the content that leads to our understanding of the form. Perception of form is hence relative and subject to content. The content or essence is where film reality becomes significantly equivalent to other realities in the world— becomes exchangeable in their values for us. Now that one’s experience (platform) is what leads to his/her perception, so a film reality can’t happen without others. To perceive the essence of the scene in ‘Nazzarin’ which shows a church superimposed with a pair of feet, the observer has to have realities of ‘church’, ‘feet’ and the very ‘superimposition’ itself, existent in its experience. Same is true for other realities too, which may include a film reality as platform. So film viewing is not a discrete phenomenon ; no filmic code can be perceived without the realities beyond. Truly, a film is not a film by itself. And, cinema gains its significance most when it actively interacts with the world beyond, when associated with other realities it gives birth to yet another one.

But how can a film reality being specific to an individual observer be socially significant? Where does then ‘society’ stand at all? Relativity does not mean two observers will necessarily have different realities out of same (corresponding) observations. It obviates ‘individual subjectivity’ and ‘ego’ as a unique centralized identity is denied its stand. Reality is rather subject to platform and it is therefore the platform that effectively observes. Two or more individuals would have a common reality if they observe from same platform and so we move from a reality that belongs to an individual to a reality that belongs to a collective. A collective or a social reality forms in agreement of platform. It defines the very grouping that a society is. If, for example, two individuals find a room, cast in blue, pleasant, then they form one single society corresponding to the observation. Another two may find it unnerving. This different social reality so makes another society with them. In a separate observation, two members, each from a different society above, may have identical perceptions. In that case, they will certainly belong to same society if referred with the latter observation. A society is to be specified then with the social reality it is based upon. An individual as a result may be a member of several societies depending on the various realities it conceives in its experience. A film reality likewise may grow into a social reality shared by a group of individuals, and becoming the very cause of the society formed henceforth. Though there may possibly be several individual and social realities still the film consorts with.

Film as a means of communication holds only if the director and the viewer have identity of platform. For communication happens when the reality transmitted is the reality received. If a selective focusing is used by the director to emphasize the space within focus then it is required by the viewer to perceive likewise in order to effect a communication. The whole film process can be described as a transition form reality ‘one’—which is the reality of director, to the reality ‘two’—that is of the viewer. In the transit the ‘director’ is inevitably destroyed. For a film can’t carry with any self-evident essence. However the ‘director’ is revived indirectly if there is a communication. So a communication is possible only within a society. It is bound in the group abstracted with homogeneity of platform. And—authority of the director can sustain only if there is a communication. ‘Authority’ is to ensure the use of a specific platform out of several possible ones common to both the director and the viewer. To see an intended montage as a montage is achieved by quick succession of shots, whereas the long take and deep focus style ensures the perception to be ‘mise-en-scene’. Both involve the reality of our typical visual behaviors within their platforms. These inherent visual behaviors along with the other truths like ‘gravitation’, ‘life’, etc. can specifically be called “Universal realities”, because we the human race as a whole (or almost all) share a common platform in their perception. They are realities or social realities in particular—not the naturalities to be sure—for they are held identically by mere mankind. All religious or scientific truths in principle try to grow universal so that they are established as truths according to our convention.

While communication stems of the social realities we share, it in fact causes many other social realities build in turn. This is achieved through learning. ‘Learning’ is familiarization with others’ realities taking place through various modes of communication. Learning gets us acquainted with others’ platforms, lets us associate i.e. think, interpret or feel in others’ ways. Film-learning is a result of not only the observation of the film (direct learning) but also of the observation of the realities about the film (indirect learning). For example, a criticism makes us learn to interpret (a film sequence or the whole) in a particular way through a communication mode that is lingual. So indirect learning like criticism (which may be in film medium as well) discussion, etc. contributes significantly to one’s film perception by making use of a ‘known’ (i.e. where we share a common platform) in order to transmit an ‘unknown’. A learning is the means for a unique social construction. Inventions or discoveries on the other hand effect different realities with new associations. So, while a learning tends to homogenise our reality spectrum, presence of multiple learning due to multiple observations leads to their divergence into multiple society-formations. ‘Learning and Invention’, ‘Social reality and Individual reality’ … are actually engaged in a dialectics in continuum. In effect, each of us is left with a set of multiple realities (of film or beyond) that are in variable intersections with those of others.

The selection of platform out of several possible realities in an observation is a ‘choice’—whether it is conscious or not, and whether it is by a society or any individual. It is nothing but a choice to have a film reality placed in ‘realism’ which is actually our habitual realism and it is a choice either to alienate it from our habitual realism which is exemplified in ‘avant-garde’ or ‘surrealism’. The ‘choice’ is fundamentally an assumption which every truth resides on. “Why religion ? Why matter ? Why subconscious ?”—they can’t be answered. Similarly “Why conservation ? Why gravity ? Why quantum ?”—can be answered neither. Our inability to find why things are the way we think like leaves us in arbitrariness of choice. The present text has an assumption based on relativity of perception which ‘we’ or at least ‘I’ find ourselves in. This way every logic starts from an assumption and every theory is bound to be a hypothesis.

Every reality though grows upon a choice, it is impossible to have none—because it will be just another one. For us, it is important to have a significance and it is equally important to be ‘unbiasedly biased’. Choice in arbitrariness means not that anything is justified. Because an observed reality is a truth only within its platform, so a reality must be evidently true to its assumption which acts as the frame of reference of the perception. To show that a hero jumps from a highriser in a realistic setting only to escape unhurt is a gross violation of its platform. So the reality here we have persuades us to chose a false. Distinguishing a truth from a false and also distinguishing a truth from a truth in an unequivocal practicable manner need a transparency towards platform (assumption). It is not just an ethics to be met rather a question of film’s significance to one so that he/she can chose reality as per its relevance for him/her. The choice is here between two truths instead of between a truth and a false, and it is of no less significance to us. A film reality thus, in integration with others beyond, becomes significant in its value for us and that is what required for cinema’s justification.


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