The Cinephile Club

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 nameBond 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!

Judging by the Cover

Sitting alone in a café the other day, at intervals between reading, I took to my penchant for people-watching.  In walks a guy, roughly my age, with a unique ‘clothes-that-don’t-match-the-seasonal-weather’ look and a lack of socks.  He’s carrying a thick book, with a plain, brownish cover – just the kind of understated, academic brick that I’m likely to find myself exiting the library with.  Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps?  War and Peace, even?  Or maybe a Keats poetry anthology?  My mind makes tenuous leaps and assumptions, exploring the potential avenues opened by his appearance: what sort of book would ‘suit’ him?

I was reading him through what he was reading.  In just the same way as society has assumptions, or even prejudices, about certain appearances, clothing styles, brands, and tastes in music, in public, reading is not a private pleasure, but a form of identity construction, whether intentional or not.

I am reminded of a moment in Pride and Prejudice, when Mr Darcy takes up a book after tea, and Miss Bingley follows suit.  Miss Bingley’s interest, Austen remarks mockingly, is in engaging and impressing Darcy, not in her book, which “she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his.”  By no means am I suggesting that public reading is always a vain, impression-making practice, but Austen is aware of the social implications of reading in the presence of others.  Unintentionally, we can make statements about our identity and personality through what we read in public.

On a recent train journey, I was reading a graphic novel, something I am admittedly quite self-conscious about, because of the associations of trivial, childish comic trash that immediately spring to the minds of many people.  My niggling sensation of being judged was confirmed by the passenger opposite me, who kindly decided to inform me of the fact that I was reading “a comic book”.  (Well done, sir!) Certain books probably do draw attention to themselves; for example, something like War and Peace is likely to imply intellect, ambition and sheer determination, whereas a light-hearted mainstream holiday read isn’t likely to shout out at all.  It’s the same with clothes: there’s always a choice between blending in or standing out and making a statement about oneself.  But of course, sometimes it’s just a case of wearing, or reading, whatever you want.

So, I eventually discovered the book of my café friend.  As he folded back the unmarked cover, the dust jacket gaped slightly to reveal the letters “HAR” in an all-too-familiar font, format, and colour.  It was the third instalment of J. K. Rowling’s much-loved Harry Potter series.  Not quite what I expected, to be honest, but it serves my point.  Your character will be judged by the cover of your book.  Disguising it simply acknowledges this fact.

This article has been published on Intuition and can be viewed online at http://www.intuition-online.co.uk/article.php?id=2508

Page and Screen: The Symbiotic Relationship

Watching TV gives you square eyes.  This is a common “truth”, supported by strict parents and any cynics whose childhood was already a distant memory by the late-50s, to sway impressionable children and grandchildren from the lure of the screen.

TV and film, by absorbing an average of four hours of each citizen’s day, are accused of the crime of tearing the nation away from old-fashioned books, thus breeding a generation of illiterate children, causing reduced concentration spans, the inability to absorb large quantities of text and even weight issues.  I don’t disagree, but I don’t think it’s all bad news.  Can these forms not reopen doors for the discovery of literature?

The television and film industry of today practically gorges on the publishing industry of the last few centuries.  We all know that Bridget Jones’ Diary is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and that 10 Things I Hate About You mirrors Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  And there’s about a billion TV dramas based on nineteenth and early twentieth century classics, such as Cranford, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Lark Rise to Candleford, Brideshead Revisited and so on.

These productions may be perceived as indulgences or guilty pleasures, but the idea that the literary connections legitimize their mass consumption is not an unreasonable one.  It is argued that people don’t have the patience or ability to consume these stories in their original form, and instead settle for the easy option.  Conversely, I believe that these adaptations can encourage a rediscovery of the classic texts on which they are based.  They provide the link between never even considering reading a particular book and inquisitively picking it up off a shelf in a bookshop.

Contemporary adaptations make classic literature seem accessible, relevant, and consumable.  By breaking down any previous negative assumptions, the only thing left to conquer is the more time-consuming text.  But the beauty of books is that they release their pleasure more slowly; watchers who were sad to see a story end, can – with their newfound readership – experience it again, but differently, and indulge in it at their own pace.

Yet it is not only adaptations that can pull back the dusty gates of literary avenues.  And now comes my primary motivation for approaching this subject at all: I am completely hooked by Gilmore Girls.  Miles behind the bandwagon, I know, but it’s true and I can justify it.

Anyone who has ever watched an episode will be aware of the bombardment of literary references, both overt and veiled.  Books and films are referred to in every single episode and although I cannot speak for everyone, I know I am not alone in being inspired and intrigued to read and watch things I feel that I probably should have already.  In fact, a quick Google search will demonstrate that there is even such thing as ‘The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge’, and I was quite disappointed to find that I wasn’t the first person to have this idea.

Nevertheless, I have just begun reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; last week I watched Casablanca; this week I borrowed a copy of Proust’s Swann’s Way from a friend.  And it is thanks to this “American trash” that I renewed my desire to one day read War and Peace.

Gilmore Girls is proving to be great for recommendations; I’ve begun compiling a list, which is turning into a full-blown reading project.  So over the next few weeks and months I am going to be reading and reviewing books and classic films that I have been led to through what some may refer to as the ‘cruder’ media and art forms.

Excessive TV watching might give you square eyes, but it might also encourage you to have a well-rounded cultural knowledge.