If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If a film references another film but there are no cinephiles around to notice, is it still there?
Can something exist without being perceived?
Along a similar line of philosophical thought, there is a famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, that you may or may not know:
Knowledge is a curious thing. To extrapolate, Rumsfeld’s statement suggests that a fact, though unknown, still exists as a fact. It can exist without being perceived.
This is rather circumlocutionary groundwork to reach what I actually want to discuss: films that reference other films.
As a consequence of watching more and more films, I am acquiring a heightened sensitivity to traces of films that are subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) dropped into other films.
It’s as though there is a secret society – a sort of club for cinephiles – that you’re either in or you’re not. You don’t really know it exists until you’ve earned your membership badge and you begin mutating into one of those people whose know-it-all laugh is the audible tumbleweed in an otherwise silent cinema.
Now that I have started noticing how many references there are, I am beginning to wonder about all the other film tributes I have been completely oblivious to.
Without knowing the film that is being referenced, you won’t perceive the reference. It will pass, unnoticed and unappreciated, as if it were never there. It will remain the “unknown unknown”. The falling tree that no one heard.
In some cases, even if you know about the existence of such filmic references, you won’t be able to track their every move. You might know you’re missing out on something, but you won’t know what, when, or where. It is the “known unknown”.
But some enjoy only the “known known”. As patronising as it sounds, I like to see filmic references as rewards given by the film industry to its trusty and committed patrons. Such references add an additional dynamic to a film, not only embedding and situating it within the history of motion pictures, but also by providing another point of interest, perhaps another message or symbol for those who notice.
At the end of Casino Royale (2006) – which I have only just watched for the very first time and thus only just discovered – there is a reference to Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name. Bond follows the red figure of Vesper through the narrow Venetian streets in just the same way that John Baxter chases the elusive red-cloaked dwarf that he mistakes for his dead daughter. To me, the reference seems explicit and anticipates the revelation of Vesper’s true identity that is brought by the following scene.
I know I’m an English graduate, but these references aren’t thrown in haphazardly without any concern about their implications. Don’t forget that film directors were most likely humanities students too!
Intentional filmic references are rife. If you don’t notice them, they are still there. If you do notice them, they are beautiful treats.
Please comment below with any inter-film references you have noticed. I want to know what I’m missing!