the kind that rejects conventional narration to develop almost essentially through minimalistic visual language and atmosphere, without the help of music, dialogue, melodrama, action-montage, and star system.
To choose, we need to know what we are choosing. What is contemplative cinema? Being aware of its nature, we'd be able to find its most probable origin (which could just as well be a result of the interaction between the mentioned processes). Yet again, when we conclude on the meaning of contemplative cinema, there's the danger of proceeding from a false - or incomplete - assumption: that this kind of cinema is truly contemplative. Using a word as a definition suggests trapping the actual phenomenon, restricting it. How to operate then? There're two ways: 1) explore the "behaviour" of this cinema and in the end find a better term or confirm the present one; 2) take the word as a basis from which to make deductions and prove its pertinence. I'd rather go with the second...
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Contemplation is a process that demands concentration and is based on or seeks interest. However, contemplation is an outside process. The viewer can never be a part of the observed phenomenon - he might partially be absorbed, but never entirely - the viewer must remain outside, he mustn't be involved into the sentimentality of the inner vision, he must think before reacting. Physically, cinema is the most contemplative of arts. You don't see where it arises from - as in live music, you can't touch and feel it - as in painting, sculpture, etc. Why? Because you can't touch light. Cinema is a light illusion. Therefore, cinema is contemplative physically because physically it leaves the viewer outside itself. However, there're devices by means of which the viewer can be engrossed into cinema mentally. You can reach conditions in which you're unable to distinguish film from reality or - you simply don't want to. So, it is important to note that the contemplative cinema discussed here, and that's the best and broadest definition I've reached so far, is the cinema before which the viewer is [intended to be] an outside observant physically and mentally.
As an observant process, contemplation is possible because of the five human senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. But, practically, during the contemplation we use no more than three - sight, hearing, smell. Now, back to cinema, which are the senses we rely on as viewers? Definetely sight and hearing. Smell has been integrated in the viewing experience but is still uncommon. What's more, it is not part of a film, but part of a distribution campaign. So, since contemplative cinema consists of numerous filmic observant moments and is cinema in its purest state of perception, shouldn't we define its various forms in accordance to that perception? What I propose is a categorisation in terms of human perception and how it is used and altered through a particular film [director] and not in terms of narration:
- Visual contemplative cinema=[VCC]=cinema that relies on the image and might use music as an accompaniment or diegetic noise. Here sound is a secondary cinematic device and carries no significance to the [concept of the] plot. //Remember Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe
- Visical [Visual+Musical] contemplative cinema=[VMCC]=cinema that carries out its message by using the philosophy of image and sound. Here, the movement of the camera - the visual music - stops when music sounds - the aural music (Angelopoulos). Sound and image are inextricably bound together to form a harmonious movement of the imagery.
As stated earlier, contemplation demands interest or is performed to seek interest. However, interest/fascination suggests emotion, which leads to the viewer reacting before thinking. How do you then control fascination and yet use it purposefully? Purely VCC doesn't exploit sound and that's why is usually condemned extremely boring. It lacks the emotional feeling of interest in the process of contemplation. VMCC, however, drags the viewer closely to itself by using sound. Sound is the warmth that the silent image lacks. It occupies our second "spare" sense - hearing - and attacks the mind on two fronts. Why isn't music emotional in VMCC? Because it is an extension of the image. It is the acoustic movement that replaces the visual movement when the camera stops to rest. Here's an example of what I mean:
As soon as the song - Young Man's Theme by Eleni Karaindrou - starts, the camera freezes in this position and breathes through the musical notes. Angelopoulos, The Weeping Meadow.
In VMCC music is no less important than the image itself and is just as crucial to the evaluation of the film. It's not a [emotionally] manipulative device as usual, but - movement. We can even say that music is the movement in these slow-paced films. It is the missing element towards synchrony. Why doesn't music function emotionally in VMCC? Well, for one thing because it's opposed to the stillness, rookery of the camera and thus keeps the viewer in an extreme moment of concentration - being fascinated by the harmony between sound/vision and provoked by the uncompromisingly poor of hints and details cinematic frames.
In the end, concerning narrativity, which films are more prone to being plot-driven? Those with or without music? Kar-wai, Angelopoulos - both notorious for their splendid concemplative cinematography as well as heart-felt compositions (note the fact that their soundtracks are almost entirely composed, no voice, no song in the traditional sense) ... Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang - no deeply tangible narration, no music, no dialogue... It seems that music is a natural link between the plot and its visualisation. Lack of music is usually accompanied by lack of plot - it makes the film seem dry and incomprehensibly torn. And challenging, very, very challenging...