Den Of Geek Book Club: In Glorious Technicolour!

Francine Stock's exploration of the way film has entered our lives is Aliya's non-fiction choice for this month's Book Club...

There are lots of different ways to talk about films. There’s film as an art form, in which people try to objectively discuss how the director makes a statement by manipulating sounds and images. There’s film as a historical document – why was it made at that time? What does it say about what was happening in society? And there’s film on a totally subjective level, where you just like what you like; whether it’s important artistically or historically or in any other way is not the point.

It’s rare to come across a book that attempts to address film on all three of those levels at the same time, but In Glorious Technicolor! gives it a good shot. It’s described in the introduction as, “an impressionistic map of the way film has entered our lives, criss-crossing with our experience and permeating our values.” The thrill of seeing something that moves you, that gives you a heightened perception of life for the hours after seeing it, strays into the realms of magic. Why should one thing move you, and not another?

In the end, it’s just too big a subject for one book, but it’s really interesting how Stock attempts to look at film from more than just one angle. Each decade from 1910 onwards is represented by a choice of a few films that, to the author, illuminate the zeitgeist. For instance, the 1960s section has a critique of Kubrick’s 2001 that deals with how it transports you and moves you in a way that few filmic experiences manage. Then the way that it has affected other film-makers is addressed. The BFI’s season of science fiction films, Days Of Fear And Wonder, has put 2001 back on the discussion map recently for film reviewers, and I’ve been surprised by how often it’s been described as intellectual, or even cold.  It’s really good to read something that doesn’t deal with it as an exercise in movie-making, and also doesn’t attempt to explain it on some level. 2001 makes me feel things, not simply think things, and I’m glad to find room for the emotional effect of it in this book. It makes for unexpected connections across cinematic experiences; for instance, James Cameron’s Avatar is also discussed in a similar way, because it had a profound effect on many who viewed it, particularly when you sit in the dark, surrounded by others, and stare up at that big screen.

Films as diverse as Scarface, Bambi, E.T, Natural Born Killers and La Strada are dealt with in the book. It would be difficult to take much from the discussion if you hadn’t seen the film in question, and had an emotional reaction to it yourself in order to place it in context. But if you’re a film lover and you want to read a different approach to the subject, this makes a great change. It’s not about what’s worthy, or what’s good. It’s about how we feel about film, and how film changes according to our feelings.

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Picking the films that feature in the book was obviously a highly eclectic business, and it made me wonder – what films would I pick as the ones that most affected me, and expressed something that I felt as an undercurrent running through myself and maybe through society at that time? So I picked a few that have really spoken to me over the years. Don’t blame me for my weird choices; this feeling business is entirely subjective, and you couldn’t make me argue that these are all good films. They’re just the ones when, afterwards, I came out of the cinema, and I wasn’t exactly me for a little while afterwards.

Reservoir Dogs – I felt physically sick during it, I hated it, I told everyone that the violence was beyond anything I’d seen before, and I could not stop thinking about it. It felt like a change in the direction of film-making.

Dead Poets Society – This caught me at just the right moment, as an impressionistic and virtuous teenager. I couldn’t speak for hours afterwards in case I burst into tears.

Dune – I saw this as part of a David Lynch festival, my fourth film of his in three days, and it was so beautiful, and so strange. Maybe it was a cumulative effect of all those Lynch films, but I certainly began to see the world in a very strange way for a few days afterwards.

Seven – No film has ever depressed me more with the exception of…

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – I stepped outside into a bright sunshiney afternoon and felt profoundly troubled about the fact that I’d just witnessed a film in which the thing we were meant to be saved from had actually happened. What did that say about humanity, and about the direction we were all moving in? That moment in film history where we changed from trying to save the world to just saving the few important people in it still bothers me, as a concept.

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What films affected you, and how you viewed society? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, or on the films that have moved you, in the comments below. The Book Club will be back in the New Year when Kaci will be talking about The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg.

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