Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The List So Far

  • Duck Soup
  • Taxi Driver
  • Scarface (1983)
  • Network
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Chinatown
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The Seventh Seal
  • City Lights
  • Grave Of The Fireflies
  • On The Waterfront
  • The Godfather
  • Django
  • Ikiru
  • The Godfather Part II
  • Solaris
  • The Bicycle Thief
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Breathless
  • Stalker
  • Persona
  • Seven Samurai

What The Film Challenge Has Taught Me

Writing reviews is hard work, and writing reviews with the added burden of the alleged significance of the work in question is even harder. How can I understand or appreciate the historical, cultural, and aesthetic milestones retrospectively without the requisite knowledge to do so? Even being cognisant of my own ignorance, the task was too monumental.

The film that tripped me up what Chaplin's alleged masterpiece City Lights. I say alleged because while I enjoyed the film, I really cannot place it in a historical context. The shift from black & white to colour makes for more visually spectacular films, but going from silent to spoken films is a major change in how films are presented. 2 weeks of failing to get my thoughts together led me to abandon writing reviews.

But I haven't given up watching the classics, only trying to assemble my thoughts about them into some coherent structure. There's a difference between the challenge of interpreting a symbolic film like The Seventh Seal, and the challenge of contextualising a film made for a different time. The Battleship Potemkin may be a historic achievement in filmmaking, but I'm at a loss to comprehend it.

The retrospective glance at the history of cinema isn't helped by the derivation of what came after it. Breathless was meant to be a big leap forward in the feel of cinema, but what it (allegedly) contributed is now overdone that it's barely noticable looking back retrospectively. If I didn't have Roger Ebert's review, I'd be utterly lost. Watching Persona, I was immediately struck by how Lynchian it felt - of course, I have that backwards...

On The Waterfront felt a little too one-dimensional for me, while The Godfather shone as much as its reputation would suggest. The Godfather Part II didn't quite have the punch the original had. Solaris made for patient viewing, yet gave more than enough to contemplate. Stalker felt confused and then deeply unsettling. Django didn't sell me on westerns, even of the spaghetti variety.

The Bicycle Thief was downright depressing (and touching in moments), while The Rules Of The Game was very clever (though I wonder what was lost in translation) - though I felt I was missing most of the context. Ikiru was frustrating to watch in parts, but affected me more than any film I can remember. Grave Of The Fireflies was sad beyond words, made even worse by the fact the original story was partly autobiographical. Seven Samurai was epic storytelling done expertly.

The whole problem with these films is by virtue of them being labelled classics, it sets a lofty expectation. Many of the films have been enjoyable, yet very few have blown me away. City Lights had some of the funniest moments on film I've seen (the boxing scene), yet other parts felt forced (the attempted suicide). I'm not able to grasp whether particular aspects of the film (like the speed of the sequences) were due to technical limitations or Chaplin's vision. Viewing it 82 years after it was released makes for a very anachronistic experience.

One lesson I've learnt from this so far is that films and technology have gone hand in hand, and this notion that special effects has somehow cheapened cinema is nonsense. Directors have always used tools they have to the best effect in order to tell the best story.

Monday, 10 June 2013


"A single belly-laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms" - H.L. Mencken

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Great Zombie Uprising Of 30CE

No matter how much I learn about psychology, and the tendency to rationalise that people have, I'm still floored by some of the things people claim to believe. Like, for example, someone claiming that Matthew 27:53 was a legitimate historical account. The position was defended in a wider defence of the historicity of the Matthew gospel. It's historical, ergo, the claims within it happened.

Here's what the gospel of Matthew says:
27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
27:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
27:54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
It shouldn't need to be pointed out why this isn't a historical account - let alone a plausible one. So why is it defended as one? To say it's motivated reasoning would be an understatement! There's simply no reason to defend it as an historical account.

It's not a historical account that's at stake though, it's a theological one. For someone who already knows what they want the gospels to show, then trying to use whatever tactics they can to keep that interpretation up. This tactic would be bad enough on its own without it being pretended that this is doing history.

Apologists have put the cart before the horse, first presenting the narrative they wish to be historical, then mustering a defence for the document really being true. The mistake is highlighted with claims like claiming that places and characters in the narratives have a historical basis. Yet those facts are very weak evidence for anything other than that the gospels reference them. Or to put it another way, how much support does an engraved message about Pontius Pilate give to the idea that the dead rose from their graves and wandered around Jerusalem?

Now one could point out that the author of the gospel of Matthew is unknown, how the author got the information is unknown, and when the gospel was written is unknown. One could also point out that it was written in Greek of events that would have been passed through oral tradition. That there's good reason to think that the account of Matthew derived from two earlier sources, one being the gospel of Mark, as well as using the old testament as a guide. Not to mention that the accounts don't even read like history, that they make unhistorical claims, or even that the best of historical accounts are imprecise and prejudiced. But this would be missing the point; the problem is with the theology demanding a historical interpretation.

That's not to say that the gospel of Matthew is of no historical value and contains nothing concerning factual history. Rather that the history needs to be done in the absence of any theological narrative because of the ease at which motivated reasoning works. Whatever the methodologies of history yield, they can only be of value if the exercise is not done aiming for a desirable target.

The "Miracles" Apologetic

Does belief in a miracle account depend on the prior acceptance of the possibility of miracles? I'm often subjected to arguments that that seem to think the answer is yes. The argument goes as follows:
The only reason that you can't accept a miracle account is that you hold to a worldview that excludes the possibility of miracles. So of course you're going to find miracle accounts absurd, you've written them off in advance.
At first glance, there appears to be something there. If one takes a naturalistic worldview, it's hard to see how miracles will fit into such a view. If one, however, took a theistic view, there's no problem understanding miracles - they are God intervening in the natural order.

But this can't be the case, for the simple reason that miracle accounts don't cut it even if one does accept their possibility. If one claimed that God teleported them halfway around the world, even if one believed in God and God's infinite power, the account doesn't become plausible.

The apologetic is rendered vacuous under scrutiny. It's nothing more than a mere deflection of the epistemological problem that miracle accounts have. Whether or not a worldview can possibly encompass miracles, there's no worldview that's going to plausibly encompass miracles. The reason being that miracles by their very nature are implausible events - events that are outside of the natural order - so appealing to miracles is by definition appealing to unlikely accounts.