Film: text or performance

Recently I have been pondering the status of film. Can a film be seen as equivalent to a novel, or is it more akin to a performance of a play? On artistic and academic circles, the word ‘text’ is awarded not just to writing, but anything artistic and creative; here – and this is a personal preference – I take text to mean anything original, new, and created. There can only be one ‘text’ on anything.

This is, to my mind, different from performances. To be sure, performances are (more often than not) based on text. For example, a performance of Hamlet is based upon the text as written by Shakespeare. However, performances change: no to productions are alike; indeed, plays are often different from night to night – actors are prone to varying their style. Of course, this is as it should be, and the more performances of the same play one sees, the more one cam gleam from a text. In contrasting how one actor plays a character in contrast to another actor playing the same character, we learn more about that character. By no means does one invalidate the other.

But which category does film fall under? Film is a text in that, like novels, they are original yet unchanging. They are recorded artefacts: that is, like books or paintings you can put them on the shelf and they do not change. Thus, that which one sees – the shot – is rather like the words on a page. Yet, like performances, films can be re-made. At first, I had a problem with this: you wouldn’t re-write a novel with the same characters, plot etc but use different words. That would be silly, not to say plagiarism. Then I realised that, in this sense, film more closely resembled a performance. Thus the modern version of the ‘Italian job’ is as valid as, and could even be seen in relation to, the classic version.

Yet something about this makes me slightly uncomfortable. Where does it leave directors? They cannot be seen as true auteurs if they are not making something truly original. This is not to say that such people have no creativity, or that what they produce is any less valid. Plays have to be perpetually re-made due to their very nature, but films live on. Is it necessary to re-make old films? Is it artistically valid? I cannot decide completely; re-makes can be useful when read in relation to the original, but most of the time it seems they’re just ”wannabe’ films trying to steal past glories.

my internal debate nevertheless rages

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