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I nvoking Realism

by Haley Landers


As the crease between the doors widen like the gates of God welcoming you in, your eyes
blindingly adjust to the light until suddenly, one is viciously slapped with the reality of the real
world; struck with dimming somberness as they exit the theater. Through emotional ups and
downs-whether the film was the biggest waste of time and money, or even the most life changing
event of your life- we all fall victim to the heightened and constructed world in which cinema
takes place in. Renowned theorists Bazin, Kracauer, Horkheimer, and Adorno discuss the
implications of this heightened reality through aesthetic, ontological and political terms; as well
as seek evidence of such viewpoints through various films in which artists try to capture realism,
or discuss if such an action is possible. Through which, the debate of whether or not realism can
be accurately depicted in cinema is tested through a broader stroke. Realism in film is deemed
unattainable, and yet, the quest for it and the sudden glimpses of tangible, visceral moments
captured on the screen, are what artists seek and viewers wait for. The magic of film exists, and
its flaunted through various techniques of cinema.
Realism became of cultural importance, and was most impactful, post-World War II. This
type of film was praised for depicting post-war society truthfully, instead of the typical over
glamorous, wave of the magic wand and everythings fixed portrayal thats common for
mainstream narrative cinema. Such films would address issues and problems in society
stemming from the cultural and economic impact of the wars. Through the casual capture of
objective lens, long takes and everlasting dialogues-mostly through improvisation- auteurs
painted a more culturally realistic and layered take on present day life. Characters would have
specific ticks and pauses in their dialogues as a result of hiring real life humans to portray the
films main characters. This strategy refuted acting and instead brought about living, breathing
individuals plucked from common day communities and breathe life back into the working man
portrayed on screen. Italian Neorealism was, what many argue, the starting point of such a
cinematic movement. Films such as The Bicycle Thief revolved around the story of a man who
finally got a job as he waded through the pools of unemployment, and upon such a lucky break,
had the misfortune of getting his bicycle stolen which was a key factor in obtaining his new job.
Throughout the film, with such characteristics mentioned above including long dialogues, wide
lens capturing real life events surrounding their actors and natural light dappling on real
locations- audiences are able to fully connect, relate, and further indulge in the film due to its
scarily realistic and honest portrayal of life during that time. Italian Neorealism was a grander
scale version of what Lumieres films set out to do.
The Lumiere Brothers, being strict realists, sought after the essence and validity of life.
Their early pictures, The Card Players and Babys Breakfast, all basked in the glory of everyday
life and family giddiness. Teasing the Gardener was a favorite to many, due to its truthfulness to
its setting as well as its slapstick humor towards the end where (SPOILER ALERT) the hose
water ends up spraying the character in the face. Although the aspects of this event represent
some sort of storytelling, the story was in fact a real-life moment. Just like when they debuted
Arrival of a Train, the audience recoiled, some ran and many shrieked in both anticipation and
fear that the image before them was in fact an actual living presence and a naturally unfolding
event. Lumieres main theme and overall goal was nature caught in the act. They enjoyed the
capturing of real events, unfolding in real time with no act of staging or recreating. Lumiere
constantly photographed public places, with bundles and crowds of people moving every-which-
way, striving to capture life at its least controllable and most unconscious moments. The
Lumiere Brothers revolve around this Realistic Tendency, in which further describes the fact
that films go beyond photography, but rather capture movements in both a subjective and
objective manner. During this time, the camera was fixed to the ground; however as technology
developed, tilting, panning, and editing devices brought both the motionless as well as the
moving objects to the screen, in which the spectator would voyage with (Corrigan 294). Staging
also plays a large role in films vastness of reality that exceeds past photography. For a proper,
narrative-like film scene, the film maker is forced to stage both its focal point (action) as well as
its surrounding environment in order to capture what they intended. However, how is this
realistic? Due to its aim to recreate, with as much detail and finesse as possible, and appear as a
faithful reproduction of the real, then all is well. As long as the staged acts/sets/plots covey
actuality, then the spectator can be fully indulged in the mirage that the events before him/her
occurred in real life, and not just a mere picture in which audiences quickly grew unamused.
In present-day, directors/producers/writers (AKA auteurs), such as Richard Linklater,
Abdellatif Kechiche and Stanley Kubrick follow the same type of techniques in order to evoke
truth and soak their audiences in trance-like, mundane images/material/music during humanities
daily rituals and routines. These artists are also heavily known for manipulating the environment
and tone, as well as relationship with the actor, in order to get an intimate and realistic
performance from them. Richard Linklater, being the most uncontroversial one out of the others,
uses a wide lens to trap the majority of his actors in one scene instead of independent coverage of
each, forcing the actors to play off each other, create moments through scaled-back gestures and
flinches of awkward silences during a missed beat; and thats real life. Not everybody can come
up with a witty quip and banter to keep a conversation going, but we rather have pauses and
share moments within the silences between conversations and actions. He uses long, everlasting
takes, going on for upwards to 15 minutes of constant acting in order for their nerves to settle
and for them to finally mold into the scene. In his most recent and highly publicized film to date,
Boyhood, takes viewers on a journey through twelve years of a real aging cast, who grow up, fall
apart, and back together again right before our eyes. Bringing back the same cast-which hes
been known to do thanks to his Midnight series- Linklater filmed 35-40 days throughout
twelve years showering the cultural impacts, social tensions and cracks in family foundations
that expand in inhospitable canyons as he takes us through the years of boyhood and into
adulthood. Without any uses of text to stamp a time marker on a scene, he relies on his audiences
to pick up songs that were generational staples: advancing technology, games and television
programs to fashion and style, spiraling into social movements and moments. Through these
cultural pinpoints, the audience finds their footing and is able to effortlessly fall into the pre-
made mold of life and ease into reliving their own childhoods and experiences. This film
specifically is of no real importance; it doesnt preach a message it doesnt rely on heavy
graphics or explosives, nor does it have damsels in distress who somehow manage to run in
stilettoes- so why was it so impactful? Realism; its what Movie Magic actually is. Its not
CGI or endless makeup-its accurate portrayals of life. Thats what sticks with viewers, and thats
what moves them and stays with them for days after.
Unlike Linklater, Abdellatif Kechiche was known for his controversial filming practices
just as much as he was for being one of the top filmmakers, not only out of France, but in the
World. Critics view his work as if they went into the theater and smoked peyote for three hours
and had a spiritual revelation. Relying on the notes and music in the actors voices, he is able
to get away with minimal music (opposed to Linklater who is known for his impeccable
soundtracks to his films), and he will spend days, even weeks, shooting one scene. Kechiche
states that the actors truly abandon themselves once they have found exhaustion; he seeks for
complete surrendering of self from his performers and expects total abandonment from
everything but the scene, and forces one to live in the moment and breathe the air of truth. His
technique pays off regardless of controversy, proven by his countless success at Cannes and
outpouring of love, respect and sheer awe from critics and audiences alike. His films are known
to focus on the eating habits of his characters; what they eat, how they eat and so on in order to
solidify their social dynamic and placement in society. In his best film to date, Blue is the
Warmest Color, Kechiche points out how Adeles family is living off of pasta and discussing the
hardships and precautions of the workforce as a result of her blue collar upbringing, whereas
Emmas family discusses the arts and freedom of self over fresh Oysters. He uses natural cues,
movements, tone, hidden looks, the pulses of breathing and the tension of silence to crush his
viewers into reliving their own personal heartbreaks. Much to others disappointment, Kechiche
expressed the arc of his characters relationship through their sexual experiences and made the
scenes just as long as all the others that comprised the film. Many viewers were shocked, others
adored, and most didnt know how to feel about it. The scenes, even though were stated to be
simulated, were so realistic, audiences squirmed and let out nervous laughs, wiping the sweat
from their brow. Once again, Magic. To have not only one scene, but honestly a whole film
sweep you on a journey through the boring bits of morning bus rides, prolonged classroom
discussions, the titillation of flirtation, the flight of sexual empowerment and the absolute mind-
blowingly crushing heartbreak of a fizzled love is true cinematic voyeurism.
Theres a reason why the industrys tent-pole films are soaked in super macho-ism ,
cloaked in capes and armor while being relentlessly filled with pointless summarizing yet grand
speeches of honor and sacrifice: its what sells. Audiences are allowed to turn off their brains,
veg-out and be swept away into a hyper-reality filled with their wildest dreams and imaginations.
Yet, theres a reason why films like Boyhood, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Shinning, the
Midnight series, Dazed and Confused, Mud, Fruitvale Station, Prisoners, Little Miss
Sunshine, and even such films like The Blair Witch Project (first one to start the guerilla -style
shooting and promoting to evoke a feeling of a true found tape with now missing people)
stick with audiences, with society, and with a cultural moment. Audiences are able to relate, to
feel, to sympathize and empathize, get swept up on a journey and spit back out into daylight as
the credits role. Many claim that Movie Magic relies on the use of cinematic effects, makeup,
editing and CGI-but the real magic lies with the sparks composing tangible moments; the beats
in a film when the director, the actors and the audience are all feeling, breathing, and living in a
moment together. I concur with theorists Bazin, Kracauer, Horkheimer, and Adorno in their
argument that a film cant be a wholly realistic experience-however, the moments-whether they
are fleeting or everlasting, kindle and capture while you and every person that has worked on the
film, and every person who is watching it in that theater with you are a part of that moment, of a
truth; inhaling the same breath and succumbing to Magic.