In a Calvinist-inspired society – and every capitalist society is and the American one in particular – finding oneself on the side of “good” or “evil” is a condition given by destiny, with a slight margin of choice. This is very evident in American films.
Of course, various degrees of good and evil are possible, but what is almost impossible is the transition from evil to good, as the opposite is much easier.
Anyone who passes from evil to good remains a subject at risk, who will certainly never do anything particularly significant, or, in any case, remains a character who, even if he can make a positive gesture in a certain sequence of the film, normally dies the moment he does it, or he is killed before the mockery or derision of someone from his past can make him fall back into his usual mistakes.
Against those who instead go from good to evil, you will have an eye, provided that the evil has not been too great and above all that it does not repeat itself, and in any case the director will always be able to resort to the solution of death as a remedy for guilt.
In a Calvinist society it is only a question of roles, of game of the parties, as there is no real difference between good and evil: this is demonstrated by the fact that often the means and methods used, by the “good” and the “bad” , are the same.
The good that is experienced in American films is that of a comfortable, conventional, individualistic and only formally socialized life; even when the hero seems to reject this type of life, in the end, if the refusal is radical, it is he who loses.
We are so convinced of this that we are even willing to settle towards those who seek illegal means of acquiring personal wealth, provided that obviously the criminal demonstrates on the level of the character of being captivating or of having an interesting personality in any case.
Americans have too grim a history not to know that “evil” in their society is only an illegal or conventional way of doing the same things as “good”. So much so that American cinema has always been very forgiving towards the Mafia. Perhaps even more so than against that individualistic crime of Jesse James or Bonnie and Clyde, which even better reflected the individualistic nature of the Americans.
The mafia, although constituting an imported product, has always been treated with great circumspection in American cinematography, because however it represented, in the awareness of the Americans, the attempt to give an organized and official guise, subject to rules, to the need for well-being by marginal layers.
By contrast, individualistic crime is, by definition, free from rules and therefore unmanageable in the collective imagination. The petty criminal, not affiliated with any organization, is a loser by nature and is always destined to be caught.
In American cinema, individualism is clearly visible where one tries to express positive values in the most critical situations. In the tragedy the hero comes out, that is, the one who suffers but does not despair, who bravely faces his anxieties, often in conditions that cannot even count on the police.
The American hero has to take care of it himself. The police intervene at the last minute to legitimize a personal victory. And if the hero is really a policeman, then unfailingly his methods will not appeal to those who command him, to his superiors, who however know they need him.
American films, after all, being made in series, reflect certain clichés (one of the most used is that of the gruff but good-natured policeman). American culture is easy to see in the movies, because what is meant to be and is not is represented there.
Individualistic culture means that in the prosaic nature of daily life one feels enslaved by interest, money, appearance, strong powers and one manages to be “human” only in borderline situations, where evil is so evident that it is enough little to appear human, even if to prove that it is, it takes a lot of courage, a spirit of sacrifice, coherence with one’s ideals, attention for the weakest, ability to discern … All things that can be written in a book or projected on a screen, but which in everyday life are very difficult to experience.
Cinematography, in this respect, being a factory of dreams and myths, plays a role very similar to that of religion. The new priests are the actors and the director plays the part of the deus ex-machina , which makes the actors act in the most convincing way possible, to the point that the viewer must get to confuse fantasy with reality.
In American films there is a lot of Greek theater, a lot of secularized Catholic ritualism, a lot of Calvinist predestination. In order to endure their deeply individualistic society, Americans need to see themselves represented in the opposite of what they are. They know that dollar law dominates life, but in movies they love heroes who can live without thinking about it, knowing that from time to time they receive lavish rewards for having accomplished courageous missions.
Individualist culture can work (and then only relatively) when there are few in an immense and resourceful territory, as the US was right from its inception, who, however, had to first exterminate the natives who had inhabited the continent for centuries.
However, being a culture of oppression (the strong must dominate the weak), it soon turns into a destructive culture, not only for internal populations , but also for those external to the nation. It is a violent culture both towards oneself and towards others. It is destructive and self-destructive. War against an external enemy is seen as a remedy for internal problems.
Properly speaking, it cannot even be a “national culture”, since, within a nation, it represents a minority social class, which, having economic and therefore political power, imposes its culture on the rest of the population, ‘is that in the US we defend ourselves from strong powers by focusing on ethnicity, but individualism remains so strong that ethnic groups are also one against the other armies.
American culture is the daughter of European culture: it had Protestant culture as father and Catholic culture as grandfather. The difference is that in Italy the two cultures continue to coexist, while the most modern has prevailed over the older one, so that the history, in their manuals, is sufficient starting from the epic of Columbus.
American cinematography is so standardized in the contents placed on the circuit of ideological mass communication that it is possible to establish general interpretative rules to identify its invariances.
First of all, Americans never question the principle of having to feel better than anyone else. Even when they make a film that criticizes their society, they tend to consider this criticism the best possible and their own society is considered as the model for all the others, so they consider it capable of anticipating, for better or for worse, the future of other societies that have embraced capitalism.
The Americans plan to anticipate the future both technically and scientifically and in terms of the consequences that this technology has on the environment and society in general.
They are convinced that they are superior precisely because they have had to accept, since the beginning of their history, all possible ethnicities and languages and cultures. In other words, they think they have created a unique capitalist society, open to all (as is happening in modern Europe), when in reality integration took place only in the name of strictly bourgeois values (profit, interest, income, individualism, etc. .).
Secondly, all the directors operate a close identification between technique and ethics, in the sense that the rate of morality is judged equivalent to the rate of scientificity that they are able to exhibit (science not only within the contents of the film but also in the the same way to shoot them: it is no coincidence that today we still say that American films are the best in the world).
There is no technical problem that they cannot solve in a technical way. This technological superiority is considered as a fundamental index of any type of superiority: ethical, political, cultural etc.
Thirdly, in American films, the fact of being a soldier is used to demonstrate one’s ethical value. The American soldier proposes himself as a defender of democracy in the world, wherever it is threatened: he does not need to see his nation attacked by some enemy, even if in catastrophic films this is the rule (but these films, while making extensive use of effects special, they are culturally not very refined).
Whoever does the military is authorized to say anything, precisely because he has accepted a huge personal sacrifice. Rambo, in this sense, represents the only exception, in that, having lost the war against Vietnam, he returned frustrated to his homeland and defended himself against those who did not understand him, continually saying that the Yankees could not win “with an arm tied “.
In the seventies, in fact, American society protested the war in Vietnam and did not allow the soldiers to win it (winning for the generals meant using all the weapons available, including nuclear weapons); so that when the military returned home, they were unable to integrate, they were frowned upon.
Then the directors began to say, to somehow justify that absurd anti-communist war in which over 50,000 Americans died, or who had gone there only because they had been sent by their superiors (i.e. without understanding the real reasons for that massacre) , or that, by going there, they had made a mature personality anyway, they who were “dad’s children”, or who, as in the case of Rambo, would also have been willing to do more if only the homeland had allowed it, finally that, going to retrieve the captured soldiers and showing the inhuman conditions in which they were held, the US, despite having lost that war, had all the “moral” reasons to do it.
In any case, in these films you don’t just want to demonstrate that you win by force (whatever it is: military, cultural, ideological, economic, financial, technical, scientific), but also that you are using it for a good purpose, to ensure American democracy worldwide.
We understand immediately when a film is American, and not only by the technical elements that compose it (screenplay, acting, photography, lights, sounds, tricks and artifices of all kinds), but also by a fundamental element that clearly distinguishes it: it always exists a hero . The individualism of American society, in which few really manage to emerge, entails the need (in order to mitigate the risks of a perennial civil war) to create the myth of the hero , in which everyone can recognize themselves in the fiction of cinema. At the time of the Greeks it was done using theater (the hero in which the people identified most was Dionysus, to the point that he made him the god of the most subversive feasts); in Roman times circus games were used with gladiators and wild beasts.
When you watch a filmic projection, you are virtually companions of the projected hero, whose violence implicit in his actions is visible only on a screen, precisely because between the ancient Roman world and ours there is the Christian religion which, having increased the sense of humanity, does not allow us to identify ourselves with explicit, real violence. In the Christian Middle Ages, at the most, chivalric tournaments were held, where sometimes, despite all the security measures, the dead could escape, but it was an exception.
Attending a film means transferring your frustration onto a sequence of artificial, impalpable images , which turns into illusion , or rather often into self-illusion, since it can determine an effective change of character, of attitude in social relations (Sergio Leone’s films, with their close-ups of the faces of the cow boys, made school for the bullies of that time). In the best of cases, the spectator simply sees the ideological axes on which the whole society is based confirmed and avoids taking on childish mimetic-imitative attitudes (those for which even an established actor like John Wayne could not distinguish reality from fantasy ; it is no coincidence that in the United States there is still talk of “John Wayne syndrome”, according to which anyone would like to do justice with a gun).
The spectator, especially if particularly frustrated, aspires to become like the projected hero, and it is precisely in this way that cinematography reproduces the type of society that gave birth to it, the individualistic one , in which the individual counts more than the collective, with the difference that cinema must make you dream of being different from what you are. In this respect, there is not much difference between politics and cinema in the United States, precisely because both the actors and the presidents of the nation must make their users “dream”. Hollywood is the dream factory par excellence and its most sensational product, which had an incredible success in politics, was the actor Ronald Reagan. Another famous actor, still governor of California, is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The collective counts so little that even in detective films, where instead it should materially support the hero’s action, it is often an obstacle: e.g. when he believes that the methods used by the hero are more violent than expected (the figures Rambo and Callaghan are emblematic in this sense). The hero defends himself by saying that with such ruthless crime it is impossible to do it by following the rules: with which American cinema clearly conveys a propaganda message, according to which the institutions would like to respect the rules, but crime does not allow it.
In American films there is even a clear rivalry between the bodies that must protect public order (often, for example, jurisdiction is invoked), and in any case, even if the action of these bodies is not an obstacle to action of the hero is unfailingly late for the conclusion of a specific case. The institution is always seen as a bureaucratic hindrance or as a superfetation, to the point that inevitably the need for a “justiciar” who acts in absolute autonomy, except for the final help that mediates between him and the institutions, for a reconciliation that brings him back to the ranks of formal, apparent legality.
In such a film, it is irrelevant for the director to look for historical reasons that explain the hero’s actions. Sometimes the motivations depend on the simple presence of “evil”: the hero is good because there are bad guys. The evil that the bad guys do is either inexplicable, due to randomness, fate, congenital defects …, or it is determined by the usual existential reasons: sex, money, power, wrong suffered that is avenged (but the latter motivation can also be used to legitimize the hero’s behavior).
In such a highly antagonistic society, revenge is never questioned as a principle, as a rule of life: the only difference between “personal revenge” and “institutional revenge” is that the latter is the patrimony of law enforcement or he is a hero who is authorized by them to carry it out in various ways.
American cinematography (at least that distributed in international circuits), exactly as the society it reflects, does only psychology or phenomenology, does not make history . He is unable or unwilling to explain the causes of evil through an analysis of historical contradictions . Evil, for it, has subjective origins, not collective ones, because this is what Calvinist culture has taught it from the beginning. It may also have collective origins (of clans, such as in films dedicated to the Mafia), but also in this case the historical motivations of criminal action are neglected (at best, a saga is made, an epic, no less mythical than that of the Nibelungs).
The directors are forced to behave in this way precisely because of the cultural values of their society, since, if they really did a historical analysis, they would have to give up the comic book idea of the Manichean hero (who saves the good from the bad), that is, they should rethink the fundamental individualistic criterion on which the entire American society is based, which was born precisely on the illusion of the omnipotence of the ego, that absolute omnipotence which rests on the possession of capital .
The film hero serves to deceive that in real life it can be done (even in politics it is enough to advertise a very simple motto to get millions of votes: “yes we can”). The illusion is that of being able to overcome contradictions while remaining individualistic, precisely because contradictions are not perceived as historical and objective , structural to the system, but as limited in time, limited in space.
Any contradiction can be resolved if the individual has self-confidence. For this reason, in American films the hero often tells whoever wants to improve himself (a single, a sports team, a military corps) or who wants to imitate him in his qualities, if he really believes in it, if he really believes in his own possibilities, and if he answers yes, he makes him repeat it several times, as if the hero was training his recruit militarily, he made her take on a psychotropic, hallucinogenic substance, which increases the sense of his infallibility. This methodology can also be found in their religious sects, not to mention those marketing structures in which salespeople are put in competition with each other, after psychological brainwashing, and trained to perfection to circumvent the unwary.
Americans are like children with bazookas in their hands: they can destroy anything if their wishes are not fulfilled, if they meet someone who tries to make their eyes open, if someone threatens their alleged safety. Having no sense of history but only that of personal interest (or the collective of belonging, as in the case of the military), mitigated by patriotic rhetoric on the “chosen nation”, which makes them oscillate continuously between proud isolationism and avid imperialism, for it is very easy for them, in a very short time, to exalt someone and make them eat the dust.
The American considers himself the best citizen on earth, the most intelligent on the techno-scientific level, the most astute on the economic-financial level, the strongest militarily, the most democratic politically, the most tolerant on the religious level, the most open to foreigners, the most capable of enhancing the ingenuity of others, the one who can afford anything.
In American cinematography, directors only need to be careful not to overdo it with this display of omniscience and omnipotence, otherwise the identification of the hero by the common man becomes difficult. Indeed, the more the contradictions of real life increase and the more the hero must be humanized, depicting him with defects of character, with a not quite clear past, with weaknesses or excesses that only at the end of the film can be excused, perhaps because he himself sacrificed to save something or someone important.
Entire books of psychological analysis could be written on the figure of the hero in American cinema. For example, the hero of a feature film is very different from the stereotypical hero of the television series (detective stories), who is always perfect and never dies. It is the difference between a handmade product and a mass-produced one. Americans want to feel they are top of the class in both.
In an American film, being based on Calvinism, the good cannot be realized with the repentance of the criminal. If the criminal repents, he surely dies, as if he doesn’t repent. In fact, he must die because he was a criminal: either to expiate a fault, or not to fall back on it. Death is seen either as a legal punishment or as a moral redemption.
On the other hand, it is the need for the same communication medium that imposes it. The film, of whatever genre it is, is always a form of entertainment destined to last, at most, a couple of hours. There must necessarily be a beginning and an end. Generally, the director spends little time both on motivating the onset of a criminal situation and on ending it. Between the beginning and the end of a criminal history there are only accidents along the way, diversions, twists and turns that, in the final analysis, cannot change a foregone conclusion, which is precisely that of death as a legal punishment or as a moral redemption.
Society cannot tolerate that the end ends with the triumph of evil, also because the films are used to deceive, to make people dream, not to sadden, otherwise nobody would go to see them. If a film is too identical to reality, it becomes enough to look at reality: it is also more “realistic”.
American films are a huge simplification of reality, precisely because they do not want to be documentaries, but precisely films in which adventure plays a decisive role, with a well-defined beginning and end, like a children’s comic. They must not help “understand” reality, how to improve it, but simply to evade it, to dream of one that has a happy ending, in the most abstract way possible (abstract not in the sense of “intellectualistic”, but in the sense that you don’t want to offer a capacity for involvement that goes beyond mere emotion).
An American film never offers the means to make dreams come true. In this respect, it is like a drug: only when viewed, does it produce hallucinogenic, alienating effects. Immediately after seeing it, you are in fact aware that everything has remained as before.
To have a minimum educational value, a film should be presented and discussed. Participants should distribute a form with questions to answer at the end of the film (if not even in the interval between one time and another, just to prepare for a certain vision of the second half, assuming various unwinds of the plot, different endings guy).
Spectators should be given a card at the entrance with questions to answer during the interval: in this way they would be used to looking at things with commitment, without distractions. The ideal would be that at the end of the film you could discuss with someone who made it, or with an expert in cinematography, able to highlight all aspects of a film, from technical to content.
Theoretically, a film should be considered a work of art and not only of craftsmanship, both because many professions contribute to it: directing, screenwriting, acting, photography, makeup, special effects etc., and because significant, engaging contents are transmitted. And, like all works of art, it should be presented by an expert in such a way that viewers become a “connoisseur public”.
Ordinary people know how to appreciate a good film but never to the end, if they are not trained to do it. It would be incredibly instructive if, in addition to discussing the value of a film, the viewer could also learn specific notions of cinematography (e.g. on how to make a certain shot to achieve a particular effect).
You can never remain passive in front of a screen, also because on that white screen you can project anything, especially today, characterized as we are by the use of digital manipulations. Anyone who sees something on the screen must be able to understand how to reproduce it.
The backstage is critical to understanding a movie. One cannot limit oneself to observing a mummy without knowing anything about mummification. It doesn’t help to develop science just saying “how nice” or “interesting”. What democracy can there be in a society if critical judgment does not develop ? You cannot offer something to someone if this someone is not able to fully appreciate its value.
Films must come out of the pure and simple commercial circuit of the goods that are sold and bought. Those who make art should not do it to simply make a profit. Art is a product of culture and, as such, it should be enjoyed freely by anyone, and appreciated in its details. In fact, introducing advertising elements into a film should be considered a serious crime.
Art should be taught, in all its aspects, to as many people as possible. The whole life should become a work of art.
After all, it is only a technical question to make believe that those who suffer are always right. If we were to analyze pain (physical or moral) only from an ethical point of view , we would not be able to have any objective vision of things, not even the slightest.
Of course, objectivity is always relative, but it is important, to be able to get as close as possible, to try to look at things in a historical or, if you prefer, holistic way , since, if you just look at them in a subjective way , that it is precisely that of morality , surely we will remain very far from the truth.
An ethical vision of life, totally independent of history (which in antagonistic civilizations is essentially “class struggle history”, and therefore political as well as economic history ), ends up becoming completely abstract and misleading. It is enough to see, in this sense, how many stereotypes American cinema has fed: cow boy and Indian, Yankee military and Vietnamese (or Japanese or Nazi etc.), Russian spy and Anglo-American counterintelligence, criminal and policeman; until recently also male and female, black and white … all predefined categories, thanks to which it has been and still is possible to make films or TV series in serial form, like an industrial product.
This is why we say that provoking an emotion when faced with a painful situation (physical or moral) can only be a matter of technical ability , especially psychological-communicative. In this sense, the Americans, with their subjectivism- based cinematography , are nothing short of superlatives.
Their cinematography has always been a master in knowing how to create pre-established roles , in knowing how to obtain certain ( psychological ) effects on the basis of certain scenic and acting artifices. Where fiction is greatest, as in cinema, human identity is minimal , that is, the possibility of identifying the human side of the person.
The individual is characterized only scenically, on the basis of a well-prepared script, which must be respected to the letter, precisely because the product is not “handmade” but “industrial”. The technique of “making people move” or “making people laugh” or “making people think logically” (think, for example, of the yellows) must have a planetary effectiveness, being used to obtain a gain that is independent of differences in any genre: ethnic, religious, geographic, linguistic, cultural … When speaking, the actors must use easy-to-understand language, where even idiomatic sentences are universally accepted.
On set you act , you are never yourself ; even when you are convinced that you are, you are always reciting a predetermined script. The director does not set himself the task of finding people . He just has to find the right actors for a certain part he has in mind. To each his role, his function. There are no “people” in the films, but puppets without a real personality, puppets moved by invisible threads.
The actors know this very well, so much so that the most successful ones are also the most docile, and they think they can rely on this exploitation, simply in the engagement phase, in the commercial negotiation. Then there are also the actors who identify themselves so much in their part that they can no longer distinguish reality from fiction, and go into depression when someone points it out to them.
A film is successful when it makes you laugh or when it makes you cry, not when it helps you to discover the truth , or to make you reflect on social contradictions, unless the so-called “truth” is merely logical , as in films where it is necessary to discover a culprit, which are by far the most standardized ones. Directors generally dislike self-centered, nervous, agitated actors, who speak gesticulating or stuttering or who pronounce the lines too quickly, without pausing, unless this is needed to make a comic film.
Naturally, such actors can be present in all films, but they will never become “great actors”, they will never take prizes, which are given to those who know best how to depersonalize themselves. In fact, the best actor is the one who does not have his own personality (he is the one who – as was said of Brando – with one eye cries and with the other, at the same time, laughs). He must not make himself weigh on what is asked of him, he must not overlap or seek mediations: he must only let himself be done, also because he does not see the scene as the director sees it.
The actor is simply the “finished product” that must financially support that huge professional background that created it. There is no mistaking the choice of actors, also because 99% of American commercial films (and all those that enter the international circuit are) are made precisely on the basis of certain actors.