Thursday, February 07, 2008

How bout that realism?

Part of the trouble with "realistic" films is that, really, you have to editorialise. Living in London for a year I took a look at some shitty flats, there were tons of grey depressing days and there were plenty of dirty overcrowded high streets, bus stops and tube stations. My job was boring, I didn't earn a lot of money (and I spent even less) and I didn't socialise much. I could edit together a two hour long film from my memory with me as the quiet (deep, attractive, talented) protagonist that could make a "deep" meditation of the indignities of modern, materialist London that was all true. But it would be extremely dishonest for me to do it; I loved London.

A possible response is to say that I don't really know what it's like to grow up in a flat on Wood Green High Street and I come from an upper-middle class background so my perspective doesn't capture anything, context is everything! And that's true, but if we go this route, how exactly are we supposed to judge a gritty urban drama's realism other than an intuitive sense of something ringing true and maybe a few bonus points for general depression? We don't have the tools to interpret mannerisms, unspoken rules etc of the community being portrayed, so either it's really true to life and we don't understand a fucking thing, or the artists has to "train us" to see it in the way we're meant to, which I can't help but feel involves a lot of deviations from the way things actually are out there.

The movie Half Nelson went for gritty realism, but I'm deeply sceptical of its value. A better try comes from The Wire, it leaves out the deep inscrutable looks of characters as they ponder their existential angst in favour of dumping the viewer into the middle of its world and leaving us to find our way around, and they can get away with it because they have hours and hours to do it.

8 comments:

Erika said...

I was just having a discussion with Jessica about realism in the theatre last night: Just about all theatrical production at UCT are focused on realism because its fashionable.
(To me that's pretty detestable) I wonder why all our media is so heavily focused on this?
What happened to the art of telling a story and the ability of fantasy to reach in deeper into the hearts of an audience by capturing imagination?
I'm just moaning because realism has begun to bore me tore tears, enough is enough.

Tracy said...

I love fantasy! :)

We have rich imaginations and there are many ways for us to explore our emotions, life, philosophy, besides just gritty horrible "realism", which often doesn't really show reality as it is. Reality is seldom just morbid terribleness, but rather a complex mixture of bitter-sweet.

Often, it is also what we make of "reality" in our minds that matters most. This is where interpretation and imagination come in.

Erika said...

You hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.
However...I do worry that there are individuals out there who are not like us and really live in that 'horrible gritty reality' even in their dreams..

mutt said...

Whenever I discover more about the facts behind some realistic movie or book I usually discover that little is really acurate. I think thats slimy other bad things...

Trev said...

Realism is pretty bleak... or at least, an actual 90 minutes of someones life would be beyond painful to just watch unless you were pretty selective about the 90 minutes you chose...

Then even the highlights packages need spicing up...

The difficulty is the fine line between pretending to be a true story... and being a true story.

Surely though, everything has to be dramatized...

Even Reality TV is real... it is just `mainly' unscripted. Or partly scripted.

That being said...

I do like stuff that is losely based on real people. And in the last year I have started getting into Non-Fiction books... always used to stick to fiction.

But I have to agree with Trace... Fiction is more fun.

Stuart said...

Man, I really disagree.

Realism is sometimes bleak, but in say, the US, a majority of people are happy with their lives, so realism is more likely to be boring than bleak.

Even realistic stuff is usually based on unusual events, in biopics whats unusual is the persons talent, which if good enough to warrant a movie, shouldn't need spicing up.

Non-fiction can be interesting, but the factual acuracy is important to me. Distortion may be inevitable, but we should have standards, if we don't, often basically we just end up with boring, depressing fiction. and the culprits should be killed

Erika said...

Anyone here watched 'sunset tan': the show that states in it's opening credits to be 'an overdramatised reality show about nothing...all set in a fake tanning salon'
Aaargh!
It's up there with a five blade razor...

Tracy said...

Erika: it sounds terrible!!! aaahh!

Stuart: I agree with your sentiments - I also want movies that are presented as non-fiction to be accurate, otherwise it's fiction!

And yes, not all reality is bleak, sometimes it's just mundane, and sometimes its great. And mostly it's a combination of everything. A good non-fiction movie should perhaps combine the most interesting true elements of reality, including happy and funny moments. I think they often leave out this last bit, which does not make it more realistic.