Oliver Hermanus

Slow and Boring for Dummies

2011-08-19 15:09
There is a great article I read in The New York Times earlier this year titled: In Defence of Slow and Boring.

The two chief film critics at the paper felt that they had to come out of the closet and expose their increasing disdain for the current state of the American audience's cinema taste.
The film used to demonstrate that point was The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr's latest film. Having not seen the film, but being the proud owner of the Sátántangó DVD, I can only imagine what the village folk must of thought, considering its 146-minute running time.
The article makes a concerted effort to re-position the popcorn-munching, Twitter fiends' perception of what 'slow' really is.

Skoonheid sliced and diced

Over the past few weeks I have had my own work sliced and diced by those 'in the know' here and each time the word 'slow' has been used, I cannot help but think of those two frustrated New York Times critics.

I recently read a review of my own film by a local Father Christmas-lookalike film critic who deems my 'slowness' to be boring and pretentious. What shocked me most however was his brilliant yet unintentional interpretation of a particular scene that even left me thinking: "Wow, that does sound pretentious!"

I can only imagine what you, the reader, must have thought. If this is the way that film critics are interpreting scenes then flip the lid and hit the PANIC button: We have a problem.

Dominant American cinema
I suddenly fear all the young filmmakers in this country hacking away at their edits, removing every brief moment of silence or contemplation. Yes, the vast majority of our local audience only watches American cinema. Yes, mainstream Hollywood films are cut as fast as Lady Gaga music videos these days but that still does not mean that it's right.
I hate using films from twenty years ago as examples so I'll use The Tree of Life, currently in theatres in South Africa. I saw it with audience of about 3000 cinephiles at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It's a Malick. That means, it's rare – not like a steak, like a living member of the Beatles.

Any serious film fundi in this country needs to go and see it, but I was told that there were some folk at the V&A Waterfront who demanded their money back, and one can only presume that their demand went something like this: "This is not a film, this is some slow, boring rubbish". Tragedy strikes again.

Beginners' Guide to Cinema
Perhaps we need a Beginners' Guide to Cinema. One that teaches us all to absorb scenes without a rising sense of panic when the edit point does not come after three seconds, or when the plot takes a short break and visual poetry takes over. The guide will help my fellow audience members through a twelve-step programmr to unteach all the evil wizardry of the demonic Hollywood marketing machine that has created zombies of us all. 
But, I digress. The point I am trying to make is this: Just because something is slow, does that really mean it's boring? Are we not able to absord and mull over thoughts while still in the film, rather than having that single lightning bolt moment at the end, before we turn our phones back on and forget all about the fast food film we just scoffed through our bulging eyeballs?

Film pimps

When in wine country, tasting wine, do you not sip slowly, you know, soaking up the flavours, investigating the after-tastes, discovering the blend of ingredients? So why then, when you go to the movies, is it always about binge-watching? And more importantly, when did our connoisseur film critics become the pimps of fast and furious flicks?
Cinema is a powerful thing. It can change your life. It can help you make a decision, not limited to inspiring you to quit that dead-end job and go to Bali for three months to find yourself and Javier Bardem. It can also give you a window into the world of your neighbour, the one you have never spoken to, but, despite your habits, you've always thought Robert Frost had a point: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall".
Even if you feel like the film makes no sense, or the silences are symptoms of a stupid director who forgot to edit the film and you want to stand up and shout at the screen "entertain me, dammit!" Even then, you need just relax and repeat after me: "just because it's slow, does not mean it's boring."

The revolution will take some time, but it is underway.
So, my plea to you South African cinemagoers is this: Don't be scared. I know that after 90 minutes you all start developing hives all over your body and need to leave the cinema immediately, but just relax, count to ten, and take it all in.

Think about that first time you ever went to see 'a local band do a gig' (cringe!) or had a sushi dinner (vomit!). New experiences are a good thing. You may not like it the first time, but after the second or third piece… you never know.
Oh, and shame on you Father Christmas lookalike-type film critics. You desecrate the cinematic language that you are supposed to know and champion. 

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