Movies: What It Is
by Steve Downing
Following up on Heidi Holtan and Julie Crabb’s ‘Between You & Me’ program on Saturday, 3/5: I’m old enough to remember the time when moving-picture technology had not yet transcended use-your-imagination. Meaning: I was watching when guys who got shot in black-and-white westerns simply tipped over and stopped moving. That’s what we did out in the back yard, too, mimicking those movies. No blood. No fatal-wound histrionics. No loose body parts.
Today, you see the full-screen black hole of the gun’s muzzle, the bullet leaving the barrel in slow motion, the bullet entering the guy’s eyeball and turning it to glue, then exploding out the back of his head in a spray of hair, blood and brains.
You know this did not happen. Similarly, you know that Jack Nicholson didn’t really get his nose ripped open in “Chinatown”. Willing suspension of disbelief: what it is. From Aeschylus and Shakespeare right on through to TV and the modern movie industry, our day-to-day reality relies in part on theater, on just-pretend; i.e., on unreality.
This all underscores the two ways of willing suspension of disbelief. We know what they’re doing in the movies isn’t real. The movie-makers know what they’re doing isn’t real. They know we know they know it isn’t real. And so on. Amid all this pretense, the old philosopher’s question, “Why is there something rather than not-something?” gets turned on its ear. The question becomes not “Why?” but instead: “Is there something, anything, real?” Really.
Guido is a regular commentator to Between You and Me. You can hear his essay here....