June 5, 2023

The Cinema of Ideas by Barry Bliss

“What are we coming to? No room for me, no fun for you.” David Bowie

A revolution in cinema has taken place and most people are blissfully unaware of it. This revolution is as great as the French Nouvelle Vague or maybe even the coming of sound, the discovery of montage and the invention of the zoom. But there is a paradox because although this revolution is all encompassing, by its very nature it also remains obscure, underground, and therefore inaccessible.

This revolution is a child of the digital age – its midwife the digital camera that is both inexpensive to buy/hire and equally cheap to service. Advances in technique have meant that these cameras are no longer objects of fun or ridicule, but have now created images that few would dismiss as anything other than beautiful. With this revolution the many are once again enfranchised, given a voice, a platform to shout from – a luxury only enjoyed by the few until quite recently. However (and this is the sting in the tail) although the many now rush to create their own slices of immortality, few of you have access to view the fruits of their labours as the process of production has now outrun the means of exhibition.

We are still firmly stuck in the age of popcorn and multiplexes. Even the art-house cinemas of my youth have either disappeared or embraced the machine that determines freedom of choice, but only from a narrow bank on offer. The cinema chains may have become more diversified, however those who supply the films for exhibition can still be counted on the fingers of one hand – and they in turn often seem to replicate what has already been offered by their competitors. We seem to have returned to the age of Henry Ford where you could have a car in any colour as long as it was black.

Other avenues too seem to be ever-diminishing. Independent filmmakers were always given the sop that if no mainstream buyer would take up your film, then an outing at a festival would bring you notice and a deal. However through the pressures of the marketplace, or just an inherent conservatism and resistance to experiment, most of the so-called “indie” festivals are indifferent to anything that doesn’t fit a specific criteria – a criteria I might add that has been developed by god-knows who (certainly not the industry practitioners). Cinema has always had its fair share of self-appointed arbiters of taste, but now this condition seems to have effected all platforms. This choice seems to me no choice at all. No choice that is but one.

It has only been very recently that filmmakers have been able to realistically show and sell feature-length films online. This technology is still in its infancy. Will it be the tool to break the stranglehold the mainstream industry has on your access to watching films? It may be too soon to tell – technology has begun a stampede in filmic terms and at the moment we are all just holding on for dear life. What is true though is that we are no longer condemned to make low budget horrors or derivative gangster flicks. The field is open – the only restrictions are the limits of our own imaginations. At last we are free of the prescriptive process, which dictates what we make films about, and what you are able to see. Every skateboarder or base-jumper, every wannabe Kurosawa and Lang can take up a camera and announce to the world that they are here. Of every one hundred such films made, ninety-nine will probably be unwatchable, but it’s that single film of note that will now be seen that makes this all worth while.

I have always tried to make films about something. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others – the point is we may now be in a time where we can allow the next generation the luxury to fail. Only through failure can you inevitably have a sort of progress, and with it hopefully a cinematic future.

It’s only with this attitude that we can survive as a filmmaking nation. That is indeed my hope – room to experiment, room to fail if necessary. And it is in this climate I embarked on a musical about a struggling artist. No car chases, no murders, not a single hard-boiled cynical cop. Not your usual multiplex fare I’m afraid – but then again I’m not sure I want you munching on popcorn when you view it.

Barry Bliss

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