Scorcese on Cinema in Context

Martin Scorsese in The Times Literary Supplement:

Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye - perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes. […] This “principle”, if that’s what you could call it, is just as applicable to the juxtaposition of words in poetry or forms and colours in painting. It is, I think, fundamental to the art of cinema. This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making.

A rousing defense of the cinema from one of its greatest students.

Scorsese’s article is about one of cinema’s fundamental conflicts: its relationship to the other arts, namely literature. The portion I’ve quoted above, though, resonates with me because of the current climate of film appreciation online. So much digital ink is spilled over scenes and shots and spoilers and trailers and the like.These things are fun and interesting, but they are not cinema.

The “intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless” is a beautiful definition of cinema. The complexities of this art form come from its inherent dichotomy, that there is craft in both instant and a span. You cannot have cinema without the frame, but the frame is not cinema.

We get so lost in the minutiae of film that it helps to step back and look at it as a whole form. Scorsese offers just that opportunity in this essay, which I’ll link again because it’s a must-read.