The Cashiers du Cinemart Manifesto
By Mike White and Mike Thompson
Over a century before the motion picture camera was invented, the illusion of motion through still pictures was implemented in a myriad of tools with a central motivating factor; entertainment. Certainly, persistence of vision, the idea that the retina maintains an imprint of a still image which can be connected smoothly to another still image to give the impression of motion between the two, has its roots in scientific study. Indeed, the first primitive films, from the equine experiments of Muybridge to the actualities of the Lumiere brothers, were rooted in the realm of study and exact representation instead of story-telling.
However, the idle fancies of the magic lantern, zoetrope, thaumatrope, et al., quick-ly became fodder for film in its earliest form. The fantastic found the fancy of the public and displaced the realistic works of pioneer documentary film-makers. The cinema has since been the playground of the public who demanded narratives instead of naturalism.
Just as the mind connected eighteen to twenty-odd still frames into flowing movement the work of Lev Kuleshov proved that audiences were motivated to connect disparate images and interpret them psychologically. One of Kuleshov's more famous experiments involved a shot of a man with a neutral look on his face, followed by a shot of another object. If the second object was a bowl of food, the audience, when questioned, remarked that the man looked hungry. If the second image were a dead woman in a coffin, then the man was said to look sad over the loss of his dead wife. Thus, montage was made possible through the audience's will to accept images and explain their connection.
The "Kuleshov effect", as it became known, sounds rather rudimentary. But, without the internal drive to find meaning and some semblance of order when presented with two different shots, the language of cinema would not exist. Tools such as close-ups, long-shots, and cross-cutting were the result of an ever-increasing sophistication of both film-makers and viewers who evolved from the one long-shot film to the seamless "Hollywood-style" montage with relative ease. The audience comprehends that when an actor climbs a flight of stairs, the action can be fragmented, showing the actor walking up the first two steps and then cutting to the actor reaching the second floor landing. Not every step need be shown as the mind makes-up for the missing material.
Certainly, there have been those who have attempted to subvert the traditional Hollywood-style of narrative and montage with varying degrees of success. And, perhaps those plucky upstarts have laid the groundwork for the coming era.
If the viewer's retina can maintain positive after-images long enough to make still frames move and if the viewer's mind can connect two shots into a cause-effect relationship, then, certainly, after a century of cinema, viewers are prepared to evolve farther in their understanding of film.
Faithful readers of Cashiers du Cinemart, we are proud to present a theory that shall rock the world of cinema to its basest foundations: The Persistence of Plot.
After one hundred years of formulaic genre films, audiences should be able to accept new films wherein the elements to a story are present but it is up to the mind of the viewer to imply events which connect them. Film-makers of the world, rejoice! You can cease patronizing of the audience and allow for apparently simpler story-lines which viewers shall expand upon. Gone are the tedious days of character development and plot! These are the salad days of stock characters placed in pat situations told in episodic glimpses with which the viewer will be so familiar that all connective material will be conceived so fully to give the illusion of a complete, thought-out film. Why bother wasting anymore time with window-dressing?
Reborn is the cinema into a new age of common motif's (see The Scaffold as Symbol, CdC #7), and tired plot-points; such as the Now-It's-Personal device in which the main character has been set on a path which s/he is reluctantly following for little or no reason until someone close to them (best friend, spouse, sibling, parent, dog) is kidnapped, injured, or murdered. The Now-It's-Personal device becomes the motivating factor for the protagonist to fully engage in the task at hand. With the Persistence of Plot, the Now-It's-Personal can be presented at the beginning of the film and the audience can decide the significance of the event and the proceeding two-thirds of the film. The Persistence of Plot heralds the end to long running-times as films can now be told in their most base elements.
As an example of the Persistence of Plot in action we offer the film DRAGONHEART which has an overtly straight-forward story of a knight, a friendly dragon and a boy of unspeakable evil. With these elements one can already put the plot together. Even an inexperienced cinema-goer knows that the knight and dragon will become friends and that the ultimate evil must be destroyed and the dragon must die. How does one know all of this? Because of the Persistence of Plot. Different actors, setting and animals/fantasy creatures, but the plotline remains true to form.
DRAGONHEART is one of a myriad of films that embraces and relishes in the Persistence of Plot. Characters are never defined, scenes never connect and yet the film still reaches its inevitable conclusion. Never at one moment does one worry, hope or panic that because the story isn't coming together and it won't have the expected ending. The mind has filled in the blanks, made the connection, retained not only the images upon the film's frames, but the point of the scene, carrying it to the next. The Persistence of Plot dictates that the director must simply show a clear line of implied plot and the audience will know the rest of the formulaic story-line.
One cynical CdC staffer has gone so far as to suggest that the Persistence of Plot is actually well known in Hollywood and is an insidious device used between the studios in conjunction with suppliers of refreshments. As we have shown, it's no longer necessary to watch every scene of a film which leaves product placement more immediate. By allowing the audience the opportunity to divine the rest of the film, they won't worry about missing the next scene if they happen to want a concession item. The best example of this is the Jan DeBont's TWISTER. Anybody want a Pepsi?
What's the next step? Where will Persistence of Plot take us? Oversized budgets, terrible writing, short attention spans and home theater systems dictate that soon trailers will take the place of feature-length films. Looking at current previews, we're well on this path. These tell-all trailers border on being five-minutes in length and allow us to implement the Persistence of Plot to rearrange all the story elements into a clear linear narrative, leaving nothing left to the imagination and no plot "twist" untold. Fear not, cinephiles, we predict that "feature length" films will still exist in the form of half-hour specials similar to HBO's "First Look" series and shall be known as "Directors Cuts."