In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it Has Shaped Us
In 1916, US cinemas received instruction on the purpose of film: ‘I stir the blood, I quicken the pulse, I encourage the imagination, I stimulate the young, I comfort and I solace the old and sorrowing…I am the motion picture.’ At this fundamental level, even ‘Transformers 5’ fulfils one part of that brief, but how and why do movies affect audiences, and what do they tell us about the times in which they’re made? It’s surprising how few books there are about the relationship between watchers and the watched.
Stock’s approach is to examine three key films from each decade, picking them apart to understand their influence, and adding further examples along the way. The title could also be reversed to point out how our hopes and fears have shaped film. Choices at the outset include ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, ‘The General’ and ‘Scarface’, where we see that the need for artifice and the desire to emulate continually cross each other. When the movies aren’t scanning the real world for copycat behavior, the exact opposite is happening.
If ‘Spellbound’ reflected an increased interest in the subconscious and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ unveiled our fear of losing our identity, are films really just ‘the dreams we dream of having’? Do directors knowingly provoke their audiences, or do we believe ‘Bodysnatchers’ director Don Siegel when he shakes off any suggestion that his movie was intended as an allegory? Creators have a habit of disabusing us of the idea that their works should be carefully read into for clues on the nation’s psyche.
With the sixties came empowerment via the freewheeling youthful energy of ‘Bande à Part’, but the disillusioned seventies are represented by ‘Carrie’ and ‘Annie Hall’, not ‘The Parallax View’ or ‘Three Days Of The Condor’. Stock makes surprisingly little reference to the impact of ‘Easy Rider’, dismissing it as a failure (although my entire class watched it repeatedly and obsessively, allowing it to completely shape their worldview). Film studies let you to build an intelligent argument for virtually any film to represent its era, but at some point personal taste kicks in with the recognition that the most unlikely films may have gained access to your heart.
If the intention is to show that cinema’s practitioners have manipulated us with ever-changing agendas, the chronology is far from exhaustive, so perhaps the book is best approached as a personal history peppered with pleasurable asides. I liked the fact that Kabul marriage celebrations chose the ‘Titanic’ ship to grace wedding cakes, and that Herzog required an actor to run two kilometres before filming his face and telling him not to breathe hard.
By the time we reach the 1990s, with globalization requiring film to broaden its horizons and new levels of introspection turning us inwards, the brief has broadened to review recent cinema history, including 3D and its failure to understand how depth perception works. A look at ‘Avator’ crystalizes Stock’s theme nicely; film continues to explore how the unconscious operates, so that even a terrible movie may accidentally enlighten us. As it was published in 2011, the book could do with an update – or perhaps she feels that cinema, as a force for innovation, stopped there.