What is a Real Movie Anyway? Part 2

We continue on with the study of What is a Real Move Anyway? Catch up by reading part 1 here.

by Sergeant Hauville

There is one last quality that could determine whether a film is for real or not: commercialism. A real movie would surely arise from pure artistic intent, not from a cynical desire to churn out sellable product. Sadly, once again this idea overlooks a fundamental truth, this time the fact that all feature-length films are a product.

Unless you’re making movies under a communist regime, then your film will be directly subjected to market forces whether you like it or not. Even small, independent studios have to make money, in order to stay afloat and keep making movies: their funds usually come from investors, and investors demand a return. The film industry as a whole only makes movies for two reasons: to make money and win awards. And the main reason they want to win awards is so they can put the words “award winner” on the DVD box and hopefully sell a few more copies.cameraman_video_side_view

And there’s another wrinkle to the relationship between real movies and commerce: what if the corporate, mass-merchandised Hollywood product turns out to actually be good? For instance, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was very much a cynical business exercise: it was rushed into production by 20th Century Fox in order to prevent having to hand the lucrative X-Men license back to legal owners Marvel Comics. By all rights, the film should have been an abomination.

Instead, it got positive reviews, boosted the careers of Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence and reinvigorated the franchise. The Harry Potter films are another example, starting out as a cash-in on the bestselling books under the safe hands of Chris Columbus, but then directors Alfonso Cuaron and David Yates turned the series into something grand and beautiful.

And of course the reverse is also true: it’s possible to go into a shoot with the highest artistic intentions and produce a load of unwatchable garbage.

Your film will be directly subjected to market forces whether you like it or not.

At this point one can’t help but feel whether it’s right to even use the “real” in relation to movies. After all, the vast majority of movies are inherently untrue, that is, they’re fiction. Some are based on true stories or the lives of actual people, but even then the filmmakers often have to resort to creative license to fill in narrative gaps, or their sources might be inaccurate.

Even documentaries are not 100% real, as what they show you is actually the director’s version of events, and important information that could change everything may get edited out, overlooked by researchers or suppressed by a filmmaker pushing an agenda. So it may be that, well, no movies are real movies.

There is, however, another way to look at it, and that is to take the polar opposite approach: to accept that all movies are real movies. The mistake everyone makes – critics, artists and fans alike – is to assume that anything they find unappealing must be invalid. Ergo, any genre or trope they find unappealing must not be how movies are supposed to be.

In reality, to be a bit glib, all movies are movies, regardless of whether they’re realistic or fantastical, arthouse or commercial, even whether they’re good or bad. Yes, bad. The straight-to-video pap, the insipid, opportunistic sequel to a Disney classic, even the cheesiest porno in the shelf – they’re still movies.

So my advice to you is, don’t worry too much about trying to keep it real, or how things are supposed to be. Whether you have a grand master narrative within you, or you’re happy to work for hire, just tell the stories you want to tell, as often as then producers will let you. The satisfaction you get from seeing your ideas done well on the silver screen – that’s real enough.

So it may be that, well, no movies are real movies.

Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_posterA year after his column from Cannes, Roger Ebert followed up on his comments on real movies. It occurred in what was possibly the last place people were expecting it: in his review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger.

In the review Ebert wrote:

It was a pleasure to realize, once “Captain America: The First Avenger” got under way, that hey, here is a real movie, not a noisy assembly of incomprehensible special effects. Of course it’s loaded with CGI. It goes without saying it’s preposterous. But it has the texture and takes the care to be a full-blown film. You know, like with a hero we care about and who has some dimension. And with weight to the story.

So, it turns out that an action movie, featuring a superhuman with an indestructible shield fighting a mutated Nazi who possesses an all-powerful space-battery, based on a children’s comic book, scripted by writers for hire (and an unaccredited rewrite from a TV scribe) featuring lots of CGI and converted to 3D, can be a real movie after all.

I was glad to hear it.
(I’m not being sarcastic, by the way. I loved Captain America.)

-Sergeant Hauville


02Sergeant Hauville is a writer and aspiring filmmaker from Wollongong.

He is not affiliated with the military or police, but he occasionally does volunteer work for Christian charities despite not believing in God.

Photo Credits: Graphic Stock

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