Cinematic Realism

Cinematic realism refers to how the concept of what is real is portrayed in cinematic texts. This is an ontological question, asking what is real when we observe such texts. The transition of a shift from paintings to photographs and was a largely-contested debate in the early history of cinematic development because of the new ways reality was portrayed.

Andre Bazin touches on this when he claims that in the world of plastic arts – an attempt to preserve the image – the photograph does a better job than a painting because the photograph can objectively capture an image. This calls into question how people understand and record reality, a commonly debated point today.

I personally disagree with Bazin; I think that photographs are highly subjective accounts of a single moment. Every decision when capturing a shot must be taken into account, and all decisions displayed in a photograph create the meaning that the photograph gives. Furthermore, I find Siegfried Kracaeur’s points in “Theories of Film” particular interesting because he explores the different ways reality is conveyed in media, particularly film. Film, Kracaeur says, possesses two properties. The basic property is the presentation of the physical reality while the technical property is the editing done in order to create meaning. Here, Kracaeur touches on the fact that reality can be preserved under whatever context is chosen. He goes on to say that film can have either a realistic or formative tendency. These contribute to the film’s staging, or the impression of reality given in the film. A film can capture a certain essence of a film, as Walter Benjamin asserts, but that aura can be interpreted and/or displayed in a variety of ways based on the intention. All of this contributes to why I believe cinematic realism is highly subjective and one of the main reasons why cinema captures us after all this time. Reality is portrayed in different ways and often to deliver a certain message.

A good example of this can be seen in Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton uses scenes in the movie to exaggerate the image of suburbia: pastel-colored houses of identical design, the same car backing out of different driveways at the same time, perfectly trimmed front lawns … it’s all exaggerated yet a recognizable image of a commonly-known reality. Because it is exaggerated, it is not an accurate depiction of reality, yet because it is recognizable, it brings out a certain meaning about suburbia – that it and the lives of people in it are redundant and mundane.

Edward Scissorhands clip: suburbia

Posted: September 18, 2014
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