If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Thursday 11 October 2012
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Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.
Jean-Luc Godard (3 Dec 1930 – )
An interesting point of view from this ‘New Wave’ cinematographer, one of the greatest ever!
Consider the capacious suitcase words: cinema … beautiful … fraud … world.
We have some unpacking to do here.
Literally, the ‘result of moving’, or, as we sometimes say, the ‘movies’. It’s (what else?) a Greek word, the semantic carrier CIN/KIN (κιν) showing up in such other modern English words as kinesiology and kinetic. And I assume this modern coinage (which the OED lists as first appearing in 1899) developed out of the notion that art as known prior to film was entirely static, and now here was a novelty that put on display ‘moving art’.
This is in origin a good old Latin word, and we all have some notion of what qualities interior as well as exterior it speaks to. When you trace its etymology back through Middle English and Old French to Latin you get to the adjective bell-us ‘fine, pleasant, attractive’.
A late (~ fifteenth century) learned borrowing straight from Latin fraud- ‘deceit, delusion, cheating’, and that’s pretty much the semantics we assign to the English word.
A good old Germanic word, ‘world’ is what it is, and covers wide swaths of signification. No further comment needed!
As long as I can remember I have loved movies, an enchantment that, I believe, goes back to the first movie I ever saw, one that my grandmother took me to. I don’t remember the movie as such but it was some cowboy thing. As it happened, we had come in late, so at the end we stayed on for the next showing to see the film’s opening. Imagine how dumbfounded (truly!) I was when the hero who had just died at the end a few minutes ago now showed up fully smiling and very much alive! How could that be? Answers to my question were given but made no sense to me. It truly was magical!
I suppose at some level I was processing the phenomenon in a way Jean-Luc Godard might have approved of: it was in fact a massive fraud! And people and things moved – most magically the spokes on a wagon being driven along forward while its wheels were — impossibly — spinning backwards as it actually advanced – an observation that no doubt further contributed to my inchoate sense of something akin to fraud being perpetrated. How could it be? (My grandmother didn’t even try to explain that one, and in fact probably did not know how it could be!)
So: motion, fraud, world.
As for beautiful, that came somewhat later, and I vaguely associate this characterization with two films: Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs(1937) and Ludwig Berger’s The Thief of Baghdad (1940) — whose flying carpet, along with other ‘deceits’ (e.g., the gigantic genie), surely was a fraud as well? Somehow I ‘imprinted’ on June Duprez, the beautiful, exoticized actress in the latter film, and the face of black-haired Snow White in the former. And color was a great novelty back in the day, which also promoted my primitve aesthetic sensibilities.
In thinking over things cinematic, I do believe Jean-Luc was on to something fundamental here – the notion of actual motion aside, what else, for example, is myth from all over the world but a beautiful fraud, if in words rather than images.
And the fact is that the willing voyeur in me still just love having this fraud perpetrated on me every time I sit down to watch.