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Tag: film

Formative Artistic Influences

I’ve been thinking about influences. We are the sum of our experiences, and the media we consume and interact with are a part of that. It also matters when we do the consuming: in our formative years, things become more deeply ingrained, set us on rails that inform our adult interests and reference points.

As a child, my favourite film was Jurassic Park. I was the typical dinosaur-obsessed little boy, who collected fossils and wanted to be a paleontologist. At one point I ran a fan-site and made trailers and videos on YouTube. It was the first thing I really cared about, enough to teach myself video editing, web and graphic design.

Source: Pocket Lint

In high school, I watched a handful of films over and over. Die Hard, especially. I once watched the first three Die Hard films every day for an entire summer holiday. I like having background noise, usually something that I recognise. I learned early on that I’m easily distracted by sound, and that controlling my the sound in my environment is critical for me to focus.

I came to books relatively late. We didn’t have books in the house, and I didn’t have any friends who read. I liked the library and I did read a fair amount, but it took me time to discover the kinds of books I really enjoyed. I was about 15 when I started to come across things that stayed with me: Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov‘s science fiction, John Steinbeck, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman.

Source: Goodreads

When I was nearing the end of high school, Lost was airing its final seasons. Lost is packed full of references, often hidden in the background. Films, books, philosophy, religion. I spent years exploring as many of these references as I could, enamoured with the mystery of the series. The themes, such as destiny and deep mystery, fuelled my reading appetite for years.

My tastes have wandered many times since then, as my reading log shows. I’ve gone through phases of classic fiction, some pretty dry non-fiction, and many other things. However, those initial influences are still there, underneath it all, subtely informing how I process everything.

I came to my first passion through a film. My drive to write came through reading, which I in turn came to partly by following references in TV and other books.

I’m sure that I’d have come to books and writing at some point; my parents say I was born bookish. But it’s interesting to wonder at how slightly different formative experiences might have changed my trajectory, delaying and accelerating my development – or even setting me on a different set of favourite themes entirely.

The Death of Art and Other False Bollocks

How many times have you heard somebody say that X is dead? Cinema, books, a sane taste in music. People love prophesizing the end times of art forms. It’s the doomsayer’s crack.

Some people say the MCU is destroying cinema, by crowding out opportunities for other films. Funding from film studios is finite, and they are likely to choose guaranteed profits over experimental films every time.

The same can be said for books. After the UK Net Books Agreement collapsed in the 1990s and books were routinely discounted by juggernaut retailers, profits in publishing collapsed. (A topic covered among many other book-related tidbits in The Diary of a Bookseller.)

The same story can be found almost everywhere, including music. Streaming services like Spotify are magic to consumers, but result in a cut-throat existence for many artists.

New art seems to be living on slim pickings. Established names are being commissioned over and over with huge budgets, and new names skulk in the shadows, judged as too risky for investment. This seems to be the way of things in the rent-it-don’t-own-it, endlessly-remake-the-classic-hits culture.

Art is dead, some say.

What a load of old shit.

Art forms cannot be destroyed, only changed.

They are defined by constant flux. There were no departures from normality, because ‘normal’ is not a benchmark but a brief window of time between metaphorphoses. A change for the better or worse depends on perspective, how willing you are to embrace it.

The printing press was originally seen as a disruptive technology that would make people lazy. The same cry came when the Kindle was invented, only to see print books sales spring back after the initial craze — with another bump during the pandemic. It’s true that independent bookshops are seeing dire times, and retail giants loom large over publishing, but that’s more a failure of regulation of our economy than a decline of the book.

And the monopolies of the film industry aren’t totally at the expense of creativity and ambition. The MCU is a landmark success because it was so experimental, launched in large part by Jon Favreau while making Iron Man.

From the beginning, the MCU films have had big budgets, but the whole universe of extended films could have crashed and burned at any point, with many others films half-finished and millions in investment lost.

I’m not immune to a feeling of doom. I will admit that I despaired while watching Jurassic World. I watched Jurassic Park so many times as a child that even now I could quote it to you word for word (unfortunately not an exaggeration). Jurassic World was an entertaining film that I enjoyed, but a part of me flinched away from a plot so incongruous with the mentally stimulating source material, and CGI that was simply not as good as in the original film — despite over twenty years of technological progress and the fact that the original came out in 1993.

This isn’t an isolated incident. After promising so much and almost reaching the heights of greatness, Prometheus quietly assassinated the genius mythos of the Space Jockeys in Alien. I was less than pleased.

Perhaps I’m being timid. Let me rephrase: I was more than upset by these things than if somebody had squatted down in full view and shat all over my garden.

But it was worth the risk to try something new. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lots of people worked incredibly hard on these films, and I’m sure that millions of people really did love them, and don’t care much for ‘old films’ from the 70s or even (the pain) the 90s.

We went to see No Time to Die the other day. I thoroughly enjoyed it, top marks.

Looking at the reviews on IMDB, however, you’d think the film had been a two-hour shot of the entire cast giving the audience the finger. Die-hard fans are genuinely upset to have had their drug-addled misygenist stolen away from them.

The film’s crime is innovation. Taking old material that has been milked dry for decades, and giving it a little spin and a twist. Taking characters in new directions. Even growth — if you can imagine such a thing, in a Bond film.

I don’t want to pick on Bond fans who are upset, because we could have the same conversation about any fandom when something that dissapoints it comes along. This particular occurrence happens to have me fired up. Fans of old-school Bond: I hope you never feel that anyone is trying to screw with something you love.

Nonetheless we need to stay limber and ready for the new, even if we’re still in love with the old. Changes to the industries around art will always happen, have always happened. But they’re not the real drivers of change. A lack of interest in experimentation and new material from fans is the real danger: if there is no demand for anything new from consumers, creators will lose any leverage to actually create. If we’re going to stave off a time of rebooted remakes of reimaginings, we need to be excited by being turned on our heads.