What is a film student to do if suddenly presented with an abundance of time? The answer seems obvious at first: Unearth your never-ending watchlist of films you saved for a rainy day, revisit the greats, exhaust all selections on each streaming platform you have access to, start (and finish) a director’s filmography you have yet to explore.
But this query isn’t entirely realistic or applicable to our present circumstances. We also find ourselves confined within the four walls of our homes. So here is a more appropriate question: What is a film student to do with an abundance of time, but a restriction of space? Space here doesn’t just relate to the physical constraint of our homes, but also the space we provide ourselves to mentally process the world. And to say that we are shut in from the outside world in the digital age would be, generally speaking, a great untruth. Even though our calendars are empty, and our diaries seem bland and repetitious, our brains are probably more active than ever, constantly sifting through the relentless stream of misery and narcissism that social media dumps on our doorsteps without the welcome interruptions of normal life. The world, as perceived both online and through the window, has been terrifyingly unpredictable and downright dystopian for a very prolonged period and, to put things simply, cinema has been practically the only thing that has kept my sanity intact.
Credit: Allocine – Still from Force Majeure (2014, Ruben Östlund)
Let me first address the fact that I miss going to the cinema dearly. I miss back-to-back screenings at the BFI, each film for the ungodly price of £3(!). I miss the terrible adverts and spoiler-riddled trailers that precede a film. I miss sitting in the Prince Charles Cinema watching Cannibal Holocaust with a box of popcorn and a beer flavoured with peanut butter. But more importantly besides all of these novelties, the cinema offers a space of reflection unlike any other, allowing you to fully disconnect from the outside world and engage with nothing other than the images being presented to you. It also provides a much-needed haven of solitude for contemplation and a severance from the outside world, and I miss that more than you could know.
Space at home is far more susceptible to distractions – be it the physical distractions of other people habiting your house or the technological distractions that laptops and mobile phones unproductively provide – but we shouldn’t disregard the home as a place so alien from the cinema that we cannot engage with film in a similar way. As much as it is wonderful to visit a space that is already removed from the issues of reality, don’t think that is impossible to create a similar environment whilst watching at home. Once we overcome these minor distractions and we reorder our schedules in a way that is both physically and mentally beneficial, we can create a space in which we can properly interact with cinema without even walking over the doorstep. Another step to achieving this is to respect the art of the film properly. As much as you can get away with subconsciously binging series, films aren’t screensavers or background noise or wallpaper. At their prime, they are reflective pieces of art with which you can wilfully engage, and they will reward you if you treat them this way.
Credit: Allocine – Still from The Mirror (1975, Andrei Tarkovsky)
So, knowing this, what have I done with my time? I have finally managed to revisit some films I feel I never fully appreciated at a younger age; I have recently backtracked through all of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, connecting with them in ways I hadn’t properly considered before. I’ve finally made time for Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó, which spans a prodigious 7-and-a-half-hour runtime (yet was possibly one of the greatest experiences of my life). I also managed to revisit most of the works of Haneke and Von Trier, which proved both brutal yet humbling (in the best way possible). There is such liberty and freedom in being able to devote a full day to viewing and processing films, and I cannot recommend it enough. I realise that spending a full day (or full days) watching films at first seems unproductive, but that would be underestimating the effect of film spectatorship. Watching a film isn’t a passive experience, it’s a two-way dialogue, and you have the power to decide which ideologies to accept and which to reject.
The Doctor, trapped in a loop of insignificance. Graphic Design: Alfie Woodhead
To sum this up, I feel it would be relevant to borrow (steal) an anecdote from Sátántangó. The film presents us with a character, a doctor, whose only way to cope with his bleak existence is to observe the world through his window and make notes on the comings and goings of his townsfolk. We visit him frequently and for extended periods of time and, other than to go out and fetch more alcohol, he rarely digresses from this activity. He has, in a sense, trapped himself in an endless loop of insignificance; by limiting his plane of contemplation to this narrow window frame, he is reducing his enjoyment to a single activity, his sole purpose has been whittled down to making reductive observations. I think of this whenever I have the urge to look at my phone, and I realise that most of my interactions are very similar to his: reductive observations with no benefit whatsoever. Films are an excellent way to space your day apart productively, and if you let them, they can teach you an awful lot about the world. They can offer more than just reductive observations and give you a space to contemplate, reflect and learn, away from the shallowness of social media. Don’t let the confines of your home restrict your mental space. Don’t trap yourself in a loop. Don’t endlessly gaze into the narrow frame of your phone. Put your brain’s activity to good use – watch a film.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor