I wrote this essay in 2007, in part-fulfilment of my honors degree in Dramatic Arts. In it I challenged the theoretical frameworks and schools of thought that had informed my four-year course at the University of the Witwatersrand's School of the Arts. Note: I'm yet to fix the navigation in the Table of Contents.
Tuesday, 12th June 2007
A. Film Theory and Philosophical Analysis
“While theoretically inclined film scholars continue to recycle the theories of Lacan and Deleuze, analytical philosophers have quietly assumed the leading edge of film theory”
Mr. Allen, a scholar at New York University, calls to our attention to the emergence of an interesting trend in the area of film analysis. Whereas traditional film theory has limited itself to an investigation of themes and messages via the use of semiotics and psychology, Mr. Allen, and a host of other scholars, suggests that the time may be ripe for film theory and theorists to cast their eyes further afield. Indeed, he suggests analytical philosophy as a way out of the musty and repetitive re-interpretations of Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Derrida and Bazan in order to make exciting, fresh insights. This essay will attempt to investigate the viability of analytical philosophy as a credible tool for film analysis and theory. It will apply the classical method of philosophical investigation to assess the value of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Red.
These statements, however, beg two questions. Firstly, why should we even consider philosophy as a viable option for film analysis? The second question is similar: On what grounds can one judge the value of art, and what criteria would one use to objectively ascertain that value? The answers to these questions constitute the very foundation of this investigation.
B. Justification for a philosophical approach.
i. The nature of philosophy
Literally, the term philosophy means the love of wisdom. And if wisdom is the ability to order things according to their end, then it presupposes a deep and far reaching understanding of the nature of things, without which it would be impossible to ascertain their ends, much less order them towards these ends. Hence the very earliest philosophers on record concerned themselves with studying the nature of things. They asked themselves the most fundamental questions about everything in their environment, from natural phenomena such as plants and animals to social phenomena such as the family and civil law (Artigas, 1984: 5).
Philosophy thus became the only discipline that could provide answers to the most fundamental questions about all other disciplines, questions which the very practitioners of these disciplines could not answer within the limits of their specialties.
“The philosophy of any practice strives to clarify the concepts indispensable to carrying out that practice. The philosophy of mathematics, for instance, attempts to define what a number is, asking whether it is something real or only a logical fiction. Likewise, the philosophy of law analyses what a law is, along with clarifying other concepts crucial to the practice, like intention and voluntariness. So, in like manner, the philosophy of film, among other things, aspires to an account of that which we call film.” (Carroll, 2006: 51).
ii. The nature of art and its purpose.
Only the philosophy of art, or aesthetics, can give an answer to the question, “What is art?” According to classical aesthetics, art is right reason in making. In other words, art as a process is the application of the intellect on the process of ordering material things into a definite form (Maritain, 1946: 16). Art, as an object, is the result of this process. According to the classical definition then, the random splashing of paint on canvas in the name of abstract art would not qualify as art. It is quite certain that there are many and varied arguments against such a narrow understanding of art. Addressing these, however, is beyond our ken. Suffice it to say that the classical description of art is not repugnant to reason, and that is quite enough for our current investigation.
In addition, a lot has been said about the purpose of art. According to classical philosophers, the purpose of art, as a result of the work of the artist, is nothing more than to be beautiful. Any other aim such as to move the emotions, or to please, or to instruct, result in a sullying of the artwork (Maritain, 1946: 49).
It would therefore follow that if film is indeed an art, then its goal is beauty. But can film indeed be classified as an art from the philosophical point of view? Before we can answer this question, it is necessary to explain some philosophical terms that are going to be key to our investigation.
iii. Key concepts: substance and form.
The classical method of philosophy was to examine reality under an analytical gaze that would separate all things into two basic principles: the being and the way of being. In reality these two aspects can never be separated, but for philosophers this abstract analysis was crucial. Every being can be thought of as being and being in a certain, specific way. There is no being that is simply a being, without being in a specific way. They referred to being as the substance or matter, and to the way of being as the form. It is this specific way of being, or form, that produces order and design in things (Alvira: 1982: 17). This analysis was the basis for the branch of philosophy called Metaphysics, which was considered to be the foundation of all the other branches of philosophical investigation. These would all investigate being from a certain point of view, or a certain formal perspective. Hence the study of being in so far as it is true is called Epistemology. The study of being in so far as it is good is called Ethics. And the study of being in so far as it is beautiful is called Aesthetics (De Torre, 1980: 4).
iv. Film as art
Therefore, the answer to our question about the classification of film as an art would require us to look at the substance and form of all the other arts and verify whether film could be categorized in the same way. If we look at all the Fine Arts in general, what we could generally categorize their matter or substance as either belonging to the spatial or the temporal dimension. Painting and sculpture apply a form, or way of being, to objects in space. Music on the other hand, applies a form to objects in time. Dance and drama, or the performing arts, apply a way of being to space and time, these art forms being actualized in the human body, whose nature encompasses both space and time. Film, seems to be a hybrid that assumes drama (conflict between persons), dance (the musical genre), music (films scores and soundtracks), painting (with light through the art of cinematography) and sculpture (picture composition and mise-en-scene) and encompasses the matter of all these arts. One can therefore say that the matter of film is color, the human body, materials and sound contained in the space-time continuum to which they are all variously bound. Film can therefore be said to be an art because it shares the same matter or substance as all the arts. Once a form is applied to the matter of film, then art is born. The form of film would therefore be whatever conception the filmmaker formulates in his mind as an arrangement or ordering of all these various elements in the space – time continuum. The form produces and order and design in things, and according to the Ancients, the aim of art as a process was to make this form shine forth in the matter, another description they tendered for the term beauty (Maritain, 1946: 24).
v. Objective value in art
The question of the objective value of art has always been a problematic one and strong objections have been raised about it in various quarters. Firstly, it has been claimed that it is old fashioned nonsense to speak about objective criteria for judging art (Brand, 1999: 10). Due to the fragmentation of our worlds, perceptions and cultures, it becomes impossible to hold up any one thing as an example of beauty in art. In response to this, I posit that such a point of view is problematic on three counts. Firstly, if there are no objective criteria for judging art it is a misnomer to refer to the arts as disciplines. The very idea of a discipline implies certain yard sticks and standards against which to gauge oneself. The notion of it being impossible to objectively judge the value of art reduces art to a mere accident. It would negate all the rigours experienced by artists for the sake of perfection, because there would be no standard against which this perfection would be judged. Secondly, if there are no objective criteria for judging art, there is no logical basis for its instruction. The very idea of the instruction of any discipline presupposes certain established criteria whose knowledge is being passed on. If Brand’s thesis is correct, then the very discipline of art would not exist because it would be impossible to teach it. Artists would just sporadically appear, create masterpieces as if by magic, and just as mysteriously disappear. The third way in which the claim for pure subjectivity when judging art is problematic is in its results. From the point of view of art, the main thing the last century has been notable for is the production of massive amounts of mediocre work in the name of art. This is precisely because there have been few examples of good art work held up for the edification and instruction of budding artists (Fenner, 2005: 13).
It is therefore possible and necessary for there to be objective criteria for judging the value of art. The next question to address would be what these criteria are. Whatever the case and whatever these criteria may be, their aim would be to establish how well the art work achieves its goal, which we have hitherto established to be beauty.
C. Objectivity in film: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Three Colours: Red.
Let us apply the problem to a practical case. Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 – 1996) was an award winning filmmaker who produced many stunning works of cinema. In a career spanning twenty two years, he proved to be one of the most prolific and intelligent directors in Europe. Films such as The Decalogue (1988), The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and The Three Colours Trilogy (1993- 4) are illustrative of his ability to recreate worlds both psychological and material with a great sense of emotional and social realism. In particular, the third and final part of the cinematic feat with which he ended his career, Three Colours: Red, has been hailed as “…transcendent and beautiful…” by The Independent on Sunday, “The best of European cinema…Miraculous.” by The Guardian and “A beautifully spun and splendidly acted tale” by Lisa Nesselson of Variety. In addition to all the critical acclaim, Red also scooped quite a number of prestigious awards in Europe and in the United States.
The problem that presents itself is one of objective verification. Is it possible to put Three Colours: Red (hereafter referred to as Red) to task in an effort to verify if it is indeed worthy of all the praise it has received and the accolades it has won? How would we go about doing this? What criteria would we use to judge the beauty of Red? Having already established that it is indeed necessary and possible to judge the artistic value of a film objectively, we are now faced with the actual task of carrying out this evaluation. We find a possible solution in the accumulated knowledge of philosophical analysis, a solution that dates as far back as the thirteenth century.
D. St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Catholic monk who belonged to the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, and lived from about 1225 to 1275. He spent most of his life writing treatises on Philosophy and Theology, and is considered one of the most prominent Catholic theologians. Greatly influenced by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas has in turn been eminently influential to many great thinkers that came after him, from philosophers like Descartes and Immanuel Kant to literary figures like Dante, T.S. Eliott and James Joyce. “To know St. Thomas is to know the medieval mind at its finest, its most powerful, and, indeed, its most modern. For he is timeless and timely, a man for all ages… And if, as John H. Randall says in Studies in Civilization, the first modern philosopher is not Descartes by Aquinas, we may justly say that at least some of our roots are within the fertile ground of Thomistic thought. And for that reason we owe it to ourselves to know something of this remarkable man (Clark, 1974: 12).”
Not only did Aquinas make valuable contributions to the body of theological and philosophical knowledge of the Western canon, but he also left behind a valuable legacy in the form of his method. Carrying on the Aristotelian tradition of analyzing the nature of what things were at their very core (the concept of quidditas, literally, the whatness of a thing), Aquinas’s writings were imbued with a clarity of expression and an precision and objectivity of thinking that formed the foundation of a robust philosophical school of thought called Scholasticism (Clark, 1974: 18).
i. Contribution to aesthetics.
In the first volume of his theological masterpiece, Summa Theologiae, Question 39, article 8, Aquinas states:
“Three things are necessary for beauty: first, integrity or perfection, for things that are lacking in something are for this reason ugly; also due proportion or consonance; and again, clarity, for we call things beautiful when they are brightly colored. (Aquinas, 1964: 64)”
Integrity, proportion and clarity – the three criteria that Aquinas finds in all things that can be termed beautiful. James Joyce referred to them as wholeness, harmony and radiance, a translation which perhaps affords us with a broader perspective that raises us beyond the confines of the sensible beauty, which is implied in Aquinas’s words, but to which the metaphysician by no means restricted himself (Joyce, 1961: 32).
The three criteria are posited as analytical tools and nothing more. They are by no means ingredients that go into the creation of something beautiful. The viewer is first apprehended by beauty before he can move to comprehend why he was enraptured. These three criteria offer us a means by which we can arrive at a reasoned understanding of why a certain work of art moved us so.
E. The first criteria: Integrity or perfection.
“First is integrity or perfection… (Aquinas, 1964: 87)” Applying this thought to the concept of integrity, we understand that the integrity or perfection that Aquinas refers to with respect to beauty is a formal one. In other words, something can only be beautiful if it is perfect, or complete, in its way of being. In other words, nothing that should be there is missing. It has everything that is needed. What is needed, however, is determined by each individual case. A missing arm in a woman is a considerable fault that detracts from her physical beauty. In the case of the famous statue of the Venus De Milo, however, no arms are needed, and therefore it is considered complete (Maritain, 1946: 22).
Applying this criterion of wholeness or integrity to film, we realize that narrative films require the presence of certain elements in order to tell a story. These elements are mainly dramatic, and can be found in most stories that are considered complete. However, there are no fixed rules of how these elements should be applied. Each individual case presents its own needs for the story to be told effectively, integrally and a result, beautifully.
In Red, we find that Kieslowski utilizes some time tested storytelling techniques that improve the dramaturgy of the story and bring it to life. One of these is the dramatic technique of starting the story with conflict. Also known as the point of attack, the early employment of conflict makes the story engaging from the very beginning (Egri, 1946: 182). We see this in the opening scene of the story where Valentine speaks to her boyfriend Michel over the telephone. She tells him that she did something stupid on the previous night, and according to the stage directions in the screenplay, Michel is clearly uneasy. This introduces tension, conflict and immediate drama early on in the film, making it more engaging. This exchange is immediately followed by Valentine declaring that she wants to be with Michel, and Michel objecting (Kieslowski, 1998: 203). Once again, conflict is introduced early into the story by employing two characters with different, clashing objectives. It is interesting to note that Kieslowski also employs this technique in the opening of Blue and White. In Blue, Julie, the protagonist, forces her way out of hospital against the will of her doctors. In White, Karol, the protagonist, clashes with his wife in court.
Yet another constituent of the story that makes it feel entire is the presence of a protagonist, or someone who makes things happen. This is another requirement for the film Red, which is a human drama and therefore requires that human beings drive the action (Egri, 1946: 79). Valentine fulfills this requirement, and to some extent, so does the Judge. Once Valentine runs the dog over, she takes the decision to take it back to its owner. Of her own initiative, she keeps on visiting the Judge and the rest of the story seems to revolve around these visits. The Judge to some extent also drives the action in the story, especially towards the end when he gives himself up to the police with the intention of making Valentine come and visit him again (Kieslowski, 1998: 263). This human agency serves to make the story far more dramatic and compelling, for it is in their actions that human beings most clearly reveal their character (Egri, 1946: 79).
The complement of the protagonist is the antagonist, someone who stands in their way and prevents them from getting what they want (Mckee, 1998: 318). Without an antagonist, the protagonist cannot be forced into action continuously, and as a result there will be no events in the story. Such a story cannot be perceived as being complete and integral, and would therefore be lacking in beauty. The antagonist in Red is the Judge. He stands in the way of Valentine’s desires at various points in the story. He refuses to take back the dog when she returns it to him. He opposes her ideas about fraternity and good neighborliness. He also refuses to reveal his private life to her when she starts to ask him questions. He becomes a very mysterious character for her, and only towards the end of the story does he let her into the secrets of his life completely. In the parallel story of August and Karin, Karin stands in the way of August’s desires for true love by betraying him with another man. He therefore tries different means to win back her love to no avail. These different antagonists who force the protagonist into action also give the story a feeling of wholeness.
From the beginning of the film Red, as one watches Valentine go through her daily routine and experience her little conflicts with her boyfriend and the photographer, one feels that the story needs to be set in motion, that something needs to happen. This event, called the inciting incident by some theorists, is not lacking either and contributes towards the integrity of the story (Mckee, 1999: 182). It occurs about ten minutes into the story when Valentine runs over a dog on the street. She is not sure whether to leave it or not, but eventually decides to take the dog to its owner. Once she meets the Judge, the story is set in motion.
One of the most integral aspects of Red, as indeed of any other story, is the presence of a beginning, middle and end. In the beginning, we are introduced to the main characters of the story, who are Valentine, August, the Judge and Karin, as well as Valentine’s boyfriend. Since the story is about people, we witness how these people grow and develop as the film progresses. At the end of the story, we witness the permanent changes that have taken place in the characters of these people, and achieve a deeper knowledge and understanding of who they are, which happens at the same time and in the same way in which the characters also get to know about themselves. Since the story is about people, it is necessary for it to explore their personalities and lives very deeply, which Red does effectively. It can therefore be said to be an integral or complete story.
According to the screenwriting theorist Syd Field, every story needs a turning point in which the protagonist undergoes a change that happens at the end of the second act (Field, 1982: 21). In Red, there is no conceivable point at which Valentine’s character undergoes this transformation. She starts of by being a loving caring person, and at the end of the story she is still a loving and caring person. If anything, it is her warmth and affection that brings out the human side of the Judge, who is not a protagonist but a main character in the story. The story still feels complete in spite of this seeming absence, because in its own particular case, it does not need this second act turning point that leads to the climax. The specific form therefore determines its own rules and requirements for beauty, and not the other way round (Eco, 1988: 112).
By the interplay of the various parts of the story, Red becomes a whole, self-contained unit of narration, or a story. It can therefore be apprehended as being beautiful because of this. In his book, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce offers an interesting summary of what we have been discussing. “The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An aesthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space. But, temporal or spatial, the aesthetic image is first luminously apprehended as self-bounded and self-contained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it. You apprehend it as one thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas” (Joyce, 1961: 32).
F. The second criteria: Proportion.
Joyce’s analysis of the act of the perception of beauty leads us directly into the second criterion of beauty delineated by Aquinas. “…the synthesis of immediate perception is followed by the analysis of apprehension. Having first felt that it is one thing you feel now that it is a thing. You apprehend it as complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of its parts and their sum, harmonious. That is consonantia.” (Joyce, 1988: 32)
What Joyce refers to as harmony (Joyce, 1988: 33), Aquinas refers to as proportion. In the first volume of Summa Theologiae, Question 1, article 12, Aquinas states:
“When we say one thing is in proportion to another we can either mean that they are quantitatively related – in this sense double, thrice, and equal are kinds of proportion – or else we can mean just any kind of relation which one thing may have to another (Aquinas, 1964: 201).”
In his commentaries on Aquinas’s Aesthetics, Italian semiotician Umberto Eco offers various interpretations of this idea of proportion. Distancing himself from the purely mathematical and quantitative connotation of the first sense of the word proportion, he draws our attention to the more qualitative sense that imbues the second meaning Aquinas tenders.
The first, more qualitative sense in which the concept of proportion may be understood, according to Eco, is the relationship between matter and form. In this sense, proportion would be the suitability of matter for receiving a form. “It is form that produces order and design in things. But form enters into several relationships of such a kind that it is subsumed into a larger whole. One of these is, precisely, the relation of suitability which binds matter to it (Eco, 1988: 84).” Relating this to film, one aspect of proportion or harmony would be the suitability of the form, that arrangement in space and time that we refer to as story, to the medium of cinema. For a film to indeed be beautiful, it must indeed be cinematic.
Red is a highly cinematic film that would not be easily adapted into other closely aligned arts such as drama or literature with the same effect. For instance, the story winds its way between small, claustrophobic indoor spaces and wide open exteriors. Take the opening shot, for instance, where the camera makes its way in one sweeping movement from the city streets to the interior of an apartment. The closed, indoor action that dominates most of the film is juxtaposed with the epic event of the sinking ferry at the end. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to capture the sheer immensity of the billboard with Valentine’s face within the confines of the stage. Admittedly, one may argue that literature would be able to achieve the same effect through picturesque descriptions of the interior and exterior spaces and the objects such as the billboard. Literature, however, would be hard pressed indeed to create the effect or illusion of the phone signals that travel underwater and across the channel to signify an international phone call, as we see in the opening sequence of the film. One of the recurrent events in the film is that of Valentine and August occupying the same space but never meeting, despite their living in the same neighborhood. Through cinema, their continual physical proximity that never culminates in a meeting gives a sense of the serendipity that rules their lives. The sheer tangibility of this would have been difficult to communicate via the written word.
In addition, the cinematic form of the film is largely constructed on two devices that are purely cinematic: the moving camera and the point of view shot. As mentioned previously, the opening sequence of the film relies on the movement of the camera to recreate phone signals moving. The moving camera also connects exterior spaces with interior spaces. Whenever the action is locked in a small space such as the Judge’s apartment, the moving camera reduces the need for editorial cuts which gives a better perception of the space and enhances the feeling of intimacy.
It has been argued by some that the moving camera is the real artistic innovation of film, and therefore what singles it out as an art in its own right (Langer, 1956: 411). Alfred Hitchcock, on the other hand, claimed that the innovativeness of cinema, and what could be termed as pure cinema, is the point of view shot. The sequence of close up, what is seen, and reaction shot roots the audience in the subjectivity of the character, which is something that no other art does (Hitchcock, 1955: 32). We see this in several sequences especially when characters look at other characters through windows. Examples include when Valentine looks at the alleged drug dealer who lives across from the judge, or when she looks out her apartment window, or when August sees Karin betray him with another man.
Perhaps it would be useful to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting views that Langer and Hitchcock have, with the end of showing that Red is a preeminently and integrally cinematic film. I would argue that Langer and Hitchcock offer us different perspectives of the same idea. The real artistic innovation of film has been the ability to create the subjectivity of perception. Whereas in literature it is quite possible to create the subjectivity of thought through stream of consciousness narration, it is impossible to make the reader perceive what the character perceives, perception being a process aligned to the senses as opposed to the intellect. Literature can create the abstractions of the sensations of sight and sound. It cannot create the actual sensation. The work of the reader is to read the abstraction and create the perception for themselves in their imagination. Film, on the other hand, could be seen as doing the reverse process. It creates sensations but cannot create abstract thoughts or ideas, leaving this work up to the viewer. The point of view shot and the moving camera create the sensation of seeing what a character is seeing, and hearing what a character is hearing, even if that character be the camera itself. More than re-creating, they actually create a tangible, corporeal experience. Hence these two devices can be said to create a subjectivity of perception.
In this regard, therefore, Red is a highly cinematic film because it combines the point of view shot and the moving camera to create this subjectivity of perception. It can therefore be termed beautiful because of this adequacy it shows between its substance and its form.
“Another type of proportion is sensible and basically quantitative. It is a relationship among a multitude of fixed items. Musical proportion is typical of this, and also, by extension, proportion in shape and color. It produces an immediate feeling of pleasure (Eco, 1988: 85). Here Eco quotes Aquinas again and refers to another sense in which he uses the term proportion, which is in a more quantitative sense, with reference to the parts that constitute the whole. This understanding of proportion is closer to the interpretation that Joyce gives when he refers to proportion as harmony. One apprehends an artwork as “complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of its parts and their sum, harmonious (Joyce, 1988: 32).”
Just as a piece of music is perceived as being harmonious because it is composed of different parts that fit together perfectly to create a whole, a film may be perceived to be harmonious or proportioned because all of its parts fit together to create a whole. For the parts to fit together harmoniously, it is necessary for no one part to eclipse the whole, because a part cannot be greater than the whole. One part may eclipse another part if the specific rules of the particular form in question necessitate it, but this always done with the final goal in mind – the realization of filmic form.
If we consider that the film Red is composed of drama, cinematography, music and editing, we realize that all these elements engage in a harmonious interplay without one aspect overshadowing the others. For instance, the very title of the film as well as the poster images gives import to the color red. Upon watching the film, however, one is surprised by how the color red is not used obtrusively. Apart from the huge red billboard of Valentine and the red dog-leash, the actual instances of the color red being given any attention are scant. This is because for Kieslowski the film is not about the actual hue red (Stok, 1993: 218). The color itself certainly plays a stylistic role, but cannot eclipse all the other elements of the film. And precisely because its subtle use does not detract from the overall meaning of the film, the simple motif of the color red creates a certain cinematographic harmony that is delightful.
The same can be said for the music in the film. There is harmony in the music itself, as well as harmony between the music and film. The delicacy of the music fits the delicacy of the story, and as a result never gets overbearing nor does it draw attention to itself. The music therefore fits into the whole film integrally. It is this harmonious unity that results in beauty.
The events of the story also fit together and make rational sense. No single event of the story detracts from the others, but they all work together to create a unity. “Proportion does not refer only to sensible relations. It can also mean a purely rational fit between things: logical relations, or the harmony of a sequence of thought, or the proportion of thought to the laws of thought (logic) (Eco, 1988: 85).” This is why it is difficult for people ruled by common sense to claim that experimental films are beautiful. Doing away with excessive intellectualization and rationalization, and by the use of common sense one can see that most experimental films do not make sense and therefore cannot be termed as beautiful because the parts do not fit together into a logical, rational whole. In the words of Aquinas, “In human matters beauty goes with what is well ordered according to intelligence (Eco, 1988: 87).”
G. The third criteria: clarity.
One notices a very close connection between the concepts of integrity and proportion. Where there is proportion, there is integrity, and integrity cannot be found if there is no proportion. In fact, according to some commentators of Aquinas, integrity is a kind of proportion. Applying it to film, for a film to feel whole, complete and entire, the parts of the film must interplay harmoniously. Quoting Aquinas, “When the parts are arranged in this way, they all combine into the whole; so that out of all the parts […] there emerges one single wholeness of things (Eco, 1988: 92).”
The ability of this single wholeness to manifest itself to a viewer is what Aquinas refers to as clarity. In a sense it is the most difficult criterion to analyze because it is the most intuitive, occurring without the mediation of reason. Eco describes clarity as “the fundamental communicability of form, which is made actual in relation to someone’s looking at or seeing of the object (Eco, 1988: 119). It is the criterion that is hardest to analyze because it is the most intuitive of them all. In other words, clarity is not perceived through the process of reasoning, through a series of concepts that are formed one after the other and each dependent and the result of the previous one. Clarity is a moment of immediate perception, when the brilliance of the form is beheld, comprehended and assimilated all in one instant (Maritain, 1946: 23). Clarity is the natural result of proportion and integrity, both of which are necessary if a form is to shine forth.
Applying this to film, clarity would be evident at the moment when the viewer “gets it”, so to speak. It occurs at the moment when the viewer makes all the necessary connections between the various parts of the film and realizes or sees what the film is about as an intelligible unit. In Red, for instance, there are many moments of clarity, which result in the audience’s delight borne out of the apprehension of beauty. For instance, when the audience makes the connection between August and the Judge - that they are actually living the same life. This was one of the ideas that Kieslowski wanted to communicate, and the audience’s ability to comprehend it within the film itself (without a need for extra-diegetic explanations) points towards the clarity of the film (Stok, 1993: 213). Another moment when clarity shines forth in the film is at the end, when we see August and Valentine together after the shipwreck and we intuit that they are finally going to meet and fall in love. This results in a moment of delight borne of understanding, and is one of the markers of beauty in the film. The clarity in the film is immediate, and does not need the mediation of a co-viewer for an explanation of what the film was about.
The result of clarity in film, and in any artwork in general, is a sense of delight mixed with wonder. One feels that one is in the facing mystery, and all the senses and the mind are completely drawn into contemplation. This sense of mystery does not mean that the film or artwork is not clear. It means, rather, that the film is so clear that the viewer feels there is more on offer to be known than what their minds have grasped. This is what happens in Red. At the end of the film, the viewer feels overwhelmed by the sense of mystery when looking at how serendipity and providence seem to rule the lives and loves of the characters. The viewer is left asking themselves questions. Is August the same person as the Judge? Have they led the same life? Since the Judge’s actions indirectly led to Karin’s betrayal, could we say that he betrayed himself in the past as he has done in the present? Is history repeating itself? Does the Judge actually fall in love with Valentine through August, since the Judge and August seem to be the same person? These and other questions continue to resonate in the mind of the viewer after watching the film, creating a sense of wonder. “There can in fact be mo mystery where there is nothing to know: mystery exists where there is more to be known than is offered to our apprehension. To define beauty by brilliance (or clarity) of form is to define it by brilliance of mystery (Maritain, 1946: 23).”
i. The three criteria
Integrity, proportion and clarity, the three criteria of beauty, are very closely linked and consequent of each other because in reality they cannot exist separately. Just as matter and form are always found together but are separated by the philosophical mind for the sake of analytical study, so are integrity, proportion and clarity always found together in the object of beauty. These three criteria are therefore an analytical tool and nothing more. They are by no means ingredients that go into the creation of a beautiful film or any beautiful artwork. From the point of view of the filmmaker or artist, these three principles are inherent in the process by which he creates the film or artwork and cannot be considered separately. A film whose parts do not link together harmoniously will not make sense as a whole, and therefore will be unintelligible. With respect to the viewer, he is first apprehended by beauty before he can move to comprehend why he was enraptured. These three criteria offer him a means by which we can arrive at a reasoned understanding of why a certain work of art captivated him so and caused delight. It is very much a secondary operation, the first one having taken place at that moment of intuitive comprehension. “Confronted with the work of beauty…the mind rejoices without discoursing (Maritain, 1946: 45).”
ii. Objectivity, Subjectivity and Relativism
Having carried out an investigation into Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Red, we can therefore say that the film exhibits a substantial amount of the wholeness, harmony and radiance that would result in its being perceived as beautiful. Could we therefore say that the film is objectively beautiful? At the risk of sounding academically boorish in an age ruled by relativity and subjectivism, I daresay that Red is, objectively speaking, a beautiful film. It is important to realize, however, that beauty does admit of relativism to a certain degree and only in a very specific sense. Thomas Aquinas “is careful to warn us that beauty is in a manner relative, - not to the dispositions of the subject in the sense in which relativity is understood nowadays, but to the peculiar nature and the end of the thing and to the formal conditions in which it is involved (Maritain, 1946: 24).” Therefore what is beautiful in one film is not necessarily beautiful in another. Each film is its own determination of the rules that will govern its creation. A more philosophical approach to film theory results in the liberation from the lifeless turgidity of rules.
In our experience of the worlds, artworks and subjects, there is no denying that there is a certain subjectivity with respect to the viewer of the art. Whereas some people perceive some films as beautiful, there are others who would vehemently deny this. The reason for this does not lie in the artwork itself but in the education of the subject. In the words of Aquinas, “…however beautiful a created thing may be, it may appear beautiful to some and not to others, because it is beautiful only under certain aspects which some discover and others do not see… (Maritain, 1946: 24) ” Hence the common experience of some educated individuals who have developed a taste and culture for films being better able to perceive their beauty than others. This does not however, detract from the objective beauty of the film, which remains intact regardless of the limitations of the viewer.
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[i] Richard Allen, from an editorial review of Philosophy and Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology. Edited by Noel Carroll and Jinhee Choi. 2006: London. Blackwell Publishing.