Thursday, May 8, 2014

Understanding the Art of Cinema

Understanding the Art of Cinema: a Guide for Beginners by R.N. Dash provides an encyclopedic understanding of films written in a language that is comprehensible and intelligible both for the uninitiated and proficient scholars of this discipline. To be able to inform, enlighten and encourage critical thinking and scholarship in such a vast subject is a significant achievement. What has been most baffling is that Mr. Dash with an immaculate record as a civil servant, an avid reader, a reference index in cultural relations has been a reluctant, self-questioning author and despite being a walking-talking encyclopedia on films his quintessential humility required a great deal of persuasion from his friends, admirers and students before he wrote and published the book in the autumn of 2013. Films constitute a major cultural practice of our times. People see films for various reasons: entertainment, representation of unusual themes, as a narrative and cultural signifier that enables viewers to experience a world different from their own, to experience the practice of the art by the many directors all over the globe and possibly for intellectual and sensory pleasure. Whether one reads a book, watches a theatre performance or views a film, the pleasure is enriched through critical interrogation. It may stem from asking a simple question: why did I like this film? This unobtrusive question has produced a discipline that is commonly known as Film Studies and Understanding the Art of Cinema sets out to explore, inform and analyse the elements that constitute such a scholarship. It begins with the etymology of the word cinema, understanding the constituents of a film, the ambiguity the term ‘movies’ and explains the technology of the cinema in various stages of its development. R.N. Dash’s book conducts the readers through an exploratory journey in cinema covering areas such as growth of world cinema from the silent era to contemporary practice in various countries, development of Indian cinema and the structure and constituents of this art form. Questions of classifications are enumerated in detail drawing succinct distinctions among long and short films, factual films, advertisement films, promotional films, feature films, ducu-feature and docu-drama. It answers some of the fundamental classificatory queries that often trouble those interested in film studies. With candid humour, he speaks of the category of Art films as a paradox since it implies that other categories are not works of art. The author distinguishes Mainstream, Parallel and Art movies while indicating that nomenclatures may have a certain fluidity of definition. The structural components of the cinema including the normative function of producer, director, executive producer, screenplay and dialogue writers, production designer, cinematographer, actors, composers, choreographer, editor and technicians are delineated in authentic detail with illustrations in various sections. The subject is indeed vast but Mr. Dash has been able to provide a comprehensive and detailed insight into a discipline that requires serious scholarship. While I expect that Understanding the Art of Cinema will become a signpost in film studies, I wish to see an early reprint adorning shelves in bookstores and libraries. In it I wish to suggest the inclusion of a glossary for quick reference to film terminology as well as an index. Each scholastic discipline constitutes its own special language which can often be unsettling for the uninitiated. This book is different. It uses words in common use and explains discipline- specific terms simply and with clarity. The invitation to read the book could not be more explicit.

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