Monday, November 6, 2017

I Love My Crippling Feelings of Inadequacy

Back when I was doing training for teachers, I always started the first session by showing them a picture of a tree, specifically, this picture, which is The Great Pine by Cezanne.


I then ask the teachers to tell me what they see. "A tree." Yes, good, what else? "A big tree." Correct. What else do you see "Um, the sky? Leaves? Grass?" Yep, all of that is true.

The reason I like to choose this picture is because it's one of the simplest things I think anyone has ever painted, and even trying to come up with a list of what exactly it is that you're looking at is way too easy: tree, sky, ground, grass. And yet, nobody reading this could ever possibly hope to recreate this painting. The process of creating a simple tree was filled with thousands and thousands of small decisions that us as non-painters can't even comprehend. The whole endeavor of painting this stupid pine tree is the culmination of years of training and hours of work from an expert in his craft. And yet, me as a non-expert in painting can only get four pieces of information from it: Tree, sky, ground, grass.

Every craft is like this. A song is comprised of thousands of notes placed at exactly the right time and pitch and the only thing a non-musician can hope to gleam from it is "yeah, it's got a nice beat, I guess."

I enjoy talking about movies, because I feel like it's one of the few art forms that still feel accessible to a non-expert like me. The artist makes a decision for the movie: "The walls of this room are going to be all blue and shit." Then the audience has a reaction: "This scene makes me all kinds of sad." After that, you can start to guess the intention. "Blue makes people feel sad, so I guess the director wants to tell me that the person in this room is sad" or whatever.

Bad movies are usually bad because they failed at one or more of these three things. A director who makes bad decisions with no intention is usually just weird for the sake of being weird. A director who has made no impacting decisions has just made a boring movie. A decision that doesn't garner some kind of reaction is found in a meaningless film. A movie with bad intentions usually makes people angry or disgusted.

Sometimes though, a great movie can be so intricate, and each scene is made up of so many interesting decisions that the audience's reaction can be warm, but the intention remains a mystery. It's that feeling that you get when watching a film and you know you're watching something great and it makes you feel good and you can see that it's well-made and that a lot of care went into it, but goddamn, you can't explain why for the life of you. Anyway, my point is, Blade Runner 2049 is a fucking masterpiece, and I have no idea why.
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