THE HUMANIZING EFFECT

            Now that so many contemporary productions have come to appear so antiseptic, so perfect in every way, they’re starting to feel as if they’ve been leeched of all human contact.  Maybe that’s a result of working in a digital world after having been brought up on film, but I’ve always gotten a kick from stumbling across some flaw that wasn’t noticed on set – or better yet was noticed and allowed to stay in the play.  They’re not sloppy or careless mistakes.  Rather, they’re small, spontaneous moments that remind you that living, breathing people were there creating what you’re watching.  As technology has come to dominate, it’s sad that movies and TV series have moved in the direction travelled by almost all current popular music.  Pre-fab is the word that’s often used to describe it; canned is more appropriate.

            If you look closely at a Navajo weaving, you’ll notice a fine line running from the pattern to the material’s edge.  It’s called a ch’ihónít’i (“spirit line”) and is an intentional imperfection that represents the part of the weaver’s being that has gone into the cloth.  Though the cynical among us would scoff at applying such a notion to movie making, it’s indeed something to ponder.  Instead of diminishing the whole, sometimes the presence of a few handprints can endear the effort even more.

            While recently watching one of my favorite films – Darling (1965; John Schlesinger\Kenneth Higgins, BSC) – I noticed something that escaped me on every prior occasion.  At the 52:45 mark, star Julie Christie enters a darkened room and flips on a light switch…or so it seems.  Look closely at the clip below and notice how she fumbles for it and misses it entirely, yet the light still goes on!

            There are probably thousands of similar (worse!) examples across time, but this simple one has remained with me.  Ironically, it didn’t take me out of the story.  It drew me even closer to something I already admired.

            That’s probably heretical to many filmmakers, but I don’t know…  Maybe I’m just weird that way.

3.8.2022

6 thoughts on “THE HUMANIZING EFFECT”

  1. I remember that moment. The light switch gag has been fumbled many times. Who cares. There is a camera shadow in Citizen Kane and I love it. Keep up your always brilliant observations on “The Liveliest Art”.

  2. Hi Richard, I take your point. My own pet peeve is the insanely smooth camera moves. As great as digital cameras and advanced technology grip and rigging have become… all the tech is slowly removing the human touch from film making. It’s all just too perfect. I find it often just pulls me right out of the story unless it is somehow integral to the action and the intention of the scene/shot. I miss the more organic nature of truly handheld work, I feel it is closer to how we experience the world and brings me deeper into the action because it creates a greater sense of intimacy with the action.
    I could go on…..

  3. Thank you, Russ! Now, watch how many little bits of clumsiness we’ll all start noticing… I hope I haven’t poisoned anyone’s mind!

  4. It’s like the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, leaving imperfections in a work of art. To me it adds a human element, that this wasn’t machine-made (or computer-generated.)

  5. I agree that we are looking to find a human connection and not be too sterile. I do find that if I notice a mistake it does take me out of the film, even if it’s just for a split second before it draws me back in. Good craft in the editing and sound departments will cover some of these errors. It’s interesting that you mention that you noticed it only after repeat viewings. In your cited example, my instinct is to look for Julie Christie’s face as she enters, so my attention is drawn away from her hand. We’ve all let things slide on set with the caveat “if they notice that, we’re not doing our job.”
    From a cinematography point of view, I would say that this accounts for the increasing use of old glass, heavy filtration and smoke in an attempt of break up “clean” images.

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