Martin Scorsese, Quinton Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jim Jarmusch, Chris Nolan, Michael Haneke, Wim Wenders, Jean Luc Godard etc. all film buffs, but does it have anything to do with their success?
As pointless of a question it may seem, it is one that has been roaming around several cinephile circuits for a while now and one I have been contemplating myself.
I think the more practical question would be “what advantages would a film buff have that a casual enthusiast wouldn’t?”
Obviously an awareness of a mediums history would be beneficial in all crafts, even if the reimbursements are hedonistic. However, you could assume one of the most effective conducts that help comprehend the functionality of cinematic technique, is to understand why the techniques were used in the first place.
It could be compared to how contemporary biologists, geneticists and paleontologists research into the evolutionary history of the natural world. They attempt to understand an organism or a specific biological function by outlining how it reached its status in the first place. Natural selection and cinema are very similar in regards to their gradual trial and error practices (techniques that worked, continued and the ones that did not fell into extinction). Of course this is an over simplification of both natural selection and cinema, but what should be taken from it is the notion that, “to gain a better understanding, you must be aware of the experiments of the past”.
I believe the main reason why the majority of film dialogue scenes look alike (the over the shoulder sequences is a prime example) is a result of film-makers adhering to a contemporary convention. It is not about the effect over the shoulder sequences create, but an act of conforming to a film making consensus. How can cinema be fully utilised and evolve if film-makers are not conscious of their own techniques effects?
From Ozu, Mizoguchi, Bresson, Akerman, Ford, Godard, Antonioni, Wilder, Lubitch, Parajanov, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Tarr and Jancsó; they all used a diverse array of dialogue techniques that had numerous cinematic results. With all this variation and possibility, it seems impractical and artistically impotent that the consensus of film-makers abide solely to the over shoulder approach.
Be that as it may, an empirical problem arises, there are evidently more knowledgeable cinephiles than there are good film-makers, so surely being a film buff does not offer an advantage if the ratio is so low?
It would be naive to deny natural talent and a creative flair has little to do with becoming a great film-maker, but it seems a hefty majority of auteurs are incredibly knowledgeable film enthusiasts.
I have long accepted the fact I am not a naturally talented film-maker. I’m driven by raw enthusiasm for the cinema, and oh so often use it to compensate for my lacking natural ability. As my friend Blue Un Sok Kim once said, “It is so frustrating being able to recognise good art, but not able to produce it”.
The only logical conclusion I could come to is the possibly that it is a mix of both, a natural gift and a radical knowledge of the cinema. Yet this is challenged by the existence of great auteurs that do not have film buff knowledge, like the modern master Terence Malick. It is a somewhat notorious trivial fact that one of Malick’s all-time favourite films is Zoolander, not one you would expect from a film-maker that has made a career out of delving into the philosophical core of his characters and their predicaments.
Nonetheless, when you look at Malick’s work in retrospect it actually makes sense. His lifelong interests in nature, German/French philosophy, classical music, astronomy and ornithology, indicate that his passions have a greater influence on his film making than cinema itself.
The simple fact a life passion can be just as effective as an advanced cinematic awareness, really makes the original question void.
I feel we have to look outside cinema to gain a better perspective of this argument and look at art as a whole. Of course good knowledge will always provide a stable foundation for an artist’s work, but without a creative sensibility the art will always be impotent of visionary value.