20 June 2010 | tedg
The Skull in the Livingroom
Here is a strange idea for a documentary.
Make a movie about why movies work, why we cling to them and how they invent our humanity.
Tell a story about storytelling.
It is put together by a man who himself is a good storyteller; he is presumably a good teacher. Teaching is just storytelling with the point of inciting a deeper story that can be applied as a framework elsewhere. It starts with people in a theater watching a movie and our storyteller figuratively steps out of the screen to begin an introspective journey with film about film. This soon becomes a story about the grammar and power of image; the applicability to art stops there.
This is crackling good storytelling, though if you are inclined to do to him what he does to us, there is a structure that will grate. He makes an observation ("We are obsessed by death"), extends that to a big question, devises a series of smaller questions and then gives us small episodes unfailingly prefaced by "The answer lies in...."
So lets dispense with why that ruins this as real science, deep discovery. We don't understand what art is; it always will elude logic until we finally decide to go the other way and define logic in terms of art. There never was anything close to "an answer" and there never will be. There is only data, experience, around which you can weave something that makes sense.
What this fellow weaves is profoundly shaped by the sad realities of TeeVee. Things have to be simply episodic. They have to be wrapped up by each break with an absolute conclusion. The only things that are allowed to exist are those we can clearly be shown visually. The only logical constructions allowed are the simplest correspondences. ("Decorated skulls were made to be seen in ordinary houses, so therefore...")
Many essential details must be left out in a way that supposes they do not exist. All investigators are treated not as flawed humans, but noble warriors for truth (as so you the audience are complemented). Formative factors in pre-modern humans don't really matter.
That said, there can be no deeper subject for an overt essay than this. And it can be hardly handled better than by using the power of image to tell the story of explorers and researchers who dig into the mysteries of this. No deeper mystery exists, nor can. No higher calling comes from seeking and communicating insight.
So, supposing that you understand storytelling well enough to scrape all of the storytelling compromises off of this, and if you have the ability to ignore his "answers" and fabulate your own, this is something of a great project. See it if only because it collects a great many events and their subsequent discoveries and unifies them somewhat.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.