We watched the Bohemian Rhapsody film last night, wanting something a bit light and fluffy after a long week, and wow, that’s a terrible piece of film making, framing some amazingly well shot scenes. Its flaws are well recorded by this stage but that disconnect between the recreations of the stage shows and of off-stage life reminded me of First Man, the Neil Armstrong biopic.
As a massive Apollo junkie in my youth I got a visceral thrill out of the scenes shot from Armstrongs PoV because I’d always dreamed of being in that situation. The art and science of film-making put me right there. Surrounding those was a weirdly limp film that didn’t seem to be able to find anything to say about this amazing man. BohRhap was similar, though maybe it had too much to say and no idea how to say it, but the power of putting you on the stage with Freddie was immense. Spine tingling stuff that almost made you forget you’d sat through this weirdly edited nonsense.
The power of modern cinema seems to be less about showing you things than about putting you in things. It’s immersive, and not in a shitty 3D or VR sense. It’s something I’d like to see someone do one of those video essays about.
Speaking of which, I’ve enjoyed these video essays of late:
Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says - I enjoyed this, or found it reassuring at least. I’ve long been drifting away from the proponents of what’s termed “New Atheism”, partly because they present as self-righteous angry eejits who don’t know how to play nice, but also because I sensed they were wrong about the value of what we might call the irrational, the mystical, the magical. Binary thinking is proving itself less and less useful and seeing no room between Dawkins and the Catholic Church is at best delusional. Science is, broadly, a tool for understanding the world in practical, empirical terms. Faith, in the broadest sense ignoring religion for now, is also a tool for understanding the world, albeit it in a completely different fashion, usually when no actual evidence is to hand. When I’m thinking about the world I will tend to use both. It’s all part of the mix of thinking. And it also stops you being a total dick.
I had this notion last week for using John Cage’s 4′33″ as a way of thinking about photography. This much misunderstood work is not about silence, because silence is impossible. It’s about how Cage believes any sound can be considered music, from a cough to a car engine backfiring.
He’s not asking us to listen to things. He asking us to listen to the shapes things make with their sounds. By staging it in a traditional concert setting he’s encouraging us to think about ambient sounds in the same way we think of the sounds coming from a musical instrument. When you hear an orchestra you don’t just think of the instruments - you apply meaning and emotion to the sound. It makes you think and feel, triggering your brain into having an experience beyond mere listening.
Trumpets don’t make music. They make sounds which we interpret as music. Why can’t we interpret other sounds as music? All we need to do is detach their meaning from what they represent. Artists who work with field recordings and found sounds do this a lot (there’s a regular night in Stirchley dedicated to this sort of thing), taking a waveform from the world and presenting it out of context to see what happens.
Photographers do very similar work and understanding photography involves accepting that it is not representative in the strictest sense. A photograph is less about what is captured than what is not - every moment before and after the exposure, everything outside the frame, all the non-visual things happening in the space. All this is important context that is discarded and that leaves spaces ready to be filled by the imagination.
This is why the more abstract a photograph is the more it evokes. Like this well-discussed Cartier-Bresson piece. Can you imagine how dull it would be if it were in high definition colour?
This sort of thing is also sent out as a newsletter. Subscribe here.