What, in your view, is film appreciation?
From an academic point of view, for those who aspire to make films, it is the know-how of film techniques. Not the complex techniques of a doctor, perhaps, but things like: what is the significance of a close-up? What is a mid or a long shot? How are the actors performing? There are theories about performance going back 300 years, starting from Constantin Stanislavski, Stella Adler, etc. One doesn’t have to study all of them, but one could try and learn a bit about all of them. There’s Japanese cinema, French New Wave cinema, Italian and German cinema; with broad exposure, we can savour films a bit more.
For example, I’ve been watching Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for 20 years now. I tell my assistants to watch it when they’re down or feeling upset. Bresson’s films are great therapy. For example, if we’re feeling low and watch A Man Escaped, which depicts life under Nazi occupation, we gain perspective about our own sorrows. As Kannadaasan said beautifully, we find peace thinking about those less fortunate than us. Had they been alive today, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky would have made films instead of writing 3,000-page books. Cinema is the greatest storytelling medium.
Do film reviewers or critics also need to appreciate films to the degree you suggest?
This is a very important question. Why do we critique films? Let’s say I’m buying a ticket at the theatre and ask someone who’s just coming out how the film was. He might say the film was useless, someone else might say it was superb; this is not film criticism.
Criticism should be definite. The work of art must be received entirely by the critic. Why we take a certain view about the film is also important. The person who didn’t like the film might simply have been in an angry mood; the one who thought the film was extraordinary might simply have been in a happier frame of mind. These are not critics.
There is a need for film criticism. Unconsciously, critics do society good. Cinema is a storytelling medium. The purpose of criticism is to point society to the stories that are important. As examples, we can take John Berger, Susan Sontag, Harold Bloom or Tamil music critic Subbudu; their criticism equalled the works of art they were critiquing. Those who understand the great personalities of cinema, who understand its history… their criticism leads to a deeper appreciation of films in us.