Sunday, October 5, 2008

More on Benjamin

I find interesting the modern day decline of theater attendance and the rise in popularity and some might say the superiority of watching a filmic performance vs. a live one. This goes into matters surrounding portability, accessibility, potential for reviewing, presentation of a concrete entity, etc. which I do not wish to argue at this time...

Because of the nature of film, an actor's performance is split into episodes, and is thus never a cohesive unit. Scenes can occur in different times and places but be made to look as one time, one place. This is a contrivance of authenticity.

I am taking authenticity as Benjamin utilizes it throughout his work to mean "original intention." In this same way, the Mona Lisa that has been mechanically reproduced and printed on, say, a t-shirt or postcard is not authentic; it is authentically a replication, authentically a t-shirt or a postcard. But it is in no way being presented with the original intention of the image in mind. If da Vinci were to see his image reduced or enlarged to fit on a postcard that will eventually be discarded or a t shirt that will eventually fade and meet the same demise as the postcard, who knows what he would think.

Back to the cinema: while a film is presented as a narrative, it is never filmed as one, with minor exceptions (think of Hitchcock's Rope [1948], but even this has 3 or 4 cuts.) Rope, as with most early films, was originally intended for the stage. One could say that Hitchcock attempted to stick with the authentic version of this script, one that was originally intended to be presented on the stage.

But a story that was writing for the stage, in Benjamin's opinion, should stay on the stage. Moving the theater-intended script into the realm of screenplay, moving on-stage action into the realm of on-camera action is reproducing a piece of art without authenticity because its original intention has been lost. The Odd Couple works great on a stage; translated into film it is not authentically what Neil Simon's original intent was, even though he had a hand in rewriting the play for the screen. I am not saying that a mechanical reproduction that is not "authentic" (that is, used or presented in terms of its original intent) is good or bad, and I don't think Benjamin is either. He is, however, saying that there is a definite loss of aura, a loss of original time and place, and therefore a loss of original intention of the piece of art.

4 comments:

Princess Leah said...

Must agree with this--I can think of one very good adaptation of a play to a movie (Glengarry Glen Ross, but I'm biased by my intense and irrational love of this movie). Any other that I can think of falls short as a movie and makes me think less of the original play, fo some reason...

Ain't Heard Nothing Yet said...

This can also be said about literature being transferred into the filmic realm. Most of it turns out horribly. This is the reason why CATCHER IN THE RYE cannot, should not and (pray God) will not ever become a movie. Do we want a specific face for Holden? Do we want to void our bowels of all imagination when we revisit the book? That text would be forever ruined for me if I had a studio-mandated image of Mr. Caulfield.

Princess Leah said...

...can anyone ever possibly embody the lead character of Confederacy of Dunces onscreen? No. They cannot. The end.

Ain't Heard Nothing Yet said...

weirdly enough, that was the other example I was thinking about using.