What are you doing next Friday?
That’s one question I’ve never had trouble answering. A film critic always knows where she will be on Fridays: Inside dark theatres, doing one of the two things — revelling in the movie as it unspools, or clenching teeth and marking time till the end credits roll. The second happens much more than the first, for we all know that there are many more bad films in the world than good ones.
Which is also why you will never catch a film critic saying, Thank God It’s Friday. Tossing off an airy TGIF is for others. For us, who watch movies for work, it’s the busiest day of the week, where we are allowed to be annoyed with people who disturb us, both while we are watching (crunch popcorn if you’re sitting next to me at your peril), and later when we are racing against the deadline, writing up the review.
But for the last couple of Fridays, my infallible first day-first show ritual, assiduously maintained for over 20 years, has been disrupted. Theatres are closed. For those of us who measure out our lives in movies, this lockdown feels like we’ve been cut off from our moorings. Apocalypse is now.
Once the virulence of the virus is mapped, once we rise from the ashes, will the world — post-pandemic — be a different place? While we struggle to find things to tether ourselves to, I take refuge in the familiar. The movies have nurtured me, and I find myself turning to them, not just because it’s what I do, but because it’s sustenance. Once the mundane clean-cook-provide stuff is done, magic is what I reach out for.
Except it’s not magical enough, even if I’m busier than ever. The streaming platforms, constantly adding “content”, can conceivably keep me busy for a lifetime. But there’s something missing. Of course, it’s the community of us — the viewers — communing in the dark. Of course, it’s having access to overpriced, greasy snacks. Of course, it’s the velvety dark that can blind you when you step in: Something you can never quite achieve at home, even when you draw every single blind. But there’s more. The chief difference is being able to press pause, take off to do whatever urgent work we need to, and resume.
It’s not like we don’t leave the theatre when the movie is on. No ropes tie us to our seats. We step out, momentarily, to answer nature’s calls, buy a soda because we can’t wait until the interval, take phone calls, or because we can’t stand what’s happening on the screen. But we miss that part when we go out: The movie doesn’t stop for us. At home, the movie will stop and start, run forward and back, loop, all on your command. It will do whatever you want it to do.
The meaning of the image is never the same when you do the breaking up, and not when the image maker intended it to be. As John Berger put it in his seminal work, Ways Of Seeing: “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”
In a deeply profound way, the stopping of a scene or a sequence, when it is not meant to, changes everything. It may appear trivial: Once you press play, it will start from the exact place it stopped, so what’s the problem? The problem is the in-between space that you’ve filled in with something else. Your eyes were elsewhere. Your brains were elsewhere. You were not there. That absence makes a difference. Yes, you can hit replay. But it’s not the same thing.
“A classic film cannot translate the real rhythm of modern life”, wrote French film director Alain Resnais, “Modern life is fragmented, everyone feels that”. The art of placing those fragments together on the screen to create meaning is something all filmmakers do, whether they challenge the “traditional” linear narrative or not. Life is full of jump cuts, and we need to be fully present, to bear witness.
And yes, another Friday has come and gone.
This article first appeared in the print edition of March 11 under the name ‘As fridays come and go’. The writer is film critic and columnist with The Indian Express
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