Summer movie season is upon us. Well, it’s technically been here since May because, like climate change, Hollywood can adjust the seasons seemingly at will. At your local cinemas, iron-clad playboys flex computer-enhanced muscles whilst spaceships go where no man has gone before – again. It’s a dizzying display of predictable imagineering, so pixel-perfect that it’s hard to remember that cinema used to be a simpler affair.
To provide context for how relatively new movie making is, relative to the other arts, and how far it’s come, consider that there are turtles in the Galapagos older than the entire history of cinema. It’s difficult to imagine that movies were once little more than a point-and-shoot deal. According to two innovators in the medium, the basic requirements once were as follows:
A) “All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.” – Charlie Chaplin
B) “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” – Jean-Luc Goddard
For convenience’s sake, we might equate “comedy” and “movie,” and likewise reduce the essence of the policeman (authority, force, death) to the gun. So, with some rhetorical contortions, Chaplin and Goddard, we might say, agree on the essentials of cinematic storytelling. What about the park, you ask? The one featured in Chaplin’s 1915 one-reeler, “In the Park,” is somewhere in San Francisco and has likely continued this tradition of tramps, cops and pretty girls the past 100 years, though the cameras are now used for surveillance and the pretty girls are professionals. And sometimes dudes.
In the above model, it seems the only constant in cinema is the girl. With her, three elementary aspects of storytelling reveal themselves: There is an object of desire, some sort of threat and someone in the middle of both. The person in the middle is our hero. Or, as screenwriters are apt to say whilst penning Act II, “the person in the hero is our middle.” Actually, no screenwriter has ever said that, but they should because it’s both true and just clever-sounding enough to buy one time to sneak out of the room.
But, you say, this might be all one needs for a story, but a movie requires moving pictures to tell that story. This entails at least a modicum of technology like, say, a camera, though as the following filmmaker quotes suggest, that camera needn’t be Chaplin’s hand-cranked Bell & Howell 2709 or Goddard’s Eclair Cameflex:
C) “The great hope is that … Some little fat girl in Ohio is going to make a beautiful movie with her father’s camcorder …” – Francis Ford Coppola
D) “Film will only become art when the materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” – Jean Cocteau
Cameras have yet to become as cheap as pencil and paper (unless we’re talking about “The Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil,” available for a tidy $12,800) but with the right service plan subsidizing your purchase, you can pocket an iPhone for about a hundred bucks.
And I’ll bet you that hundo that the fat girl in Ohio would probably prefer her dad’s iPhone 5 that shoots 1080p HD video than ye olde camcorder.
Now, all you need is a pretty girl/guy, a gun/policeman, perhaps a park, a handful of other cliches (like a skin-tight super-suit) and a mega-computer to retrofit your crappy iPhone footage with CGI. There are theoretically three months left in summer (that is, unless the God of Weather gets angry and throws another tempest-tantrum), so you might be able to get your flick in under the wire and enjoy a summer release. Somewhere, an ancient tortoise is shaking its head.