Friday, January 4, 2013

Is It a Film or a Movie?

Many people have debated the uses of the words film and movie.  Which is which?  Are they interchangeable? What word does an individual use?  The words film and movie are rooted in the history of the medium and grammar.  The words imply a certain dichotomy of the motion picture medium.  This dichotomy can be problematic and damaging to real art.  My personal use of these words largely reflects my relationship with other people, but secondarily reflects my feelings on the issue.

Motion pictures are often referred to as films because they were originally shot on film stock similar to, or in some cases identical to, what used to be used in photo cameras.  I won't get into all the specs because there have been so many different formats over time and its tedious knowledge that can be found elsewhere, but ultimately, a series of "photographs" are taken on a film strip in quick succession and are later played back in quick succession, thus giving the illusion of movement.  This expensive process is being replaced (lamentably so, to some) with a much cheaper digital process that I believe also makes editing cheaper and easier. Digital involves digital data, meaning ones, zeros and computers.  It is less romantic and the picture quality is arguably lesser, but it is a lot cheaper, thus allowing more people to make motion pictures.  Digital also comes in many formats not worth addressing here. The word movie, on the other hand, comes from the words "moving picture."  Movie tends to apply to all motion pictures, but especially feature length ones.

The terms film and movie are used well beyond their technical definitions at this point in time.  It's usually in reference to art versus entertainment.  This ties into dichotomies of art house/ mainstream, high culture/ low culture, serious/ fun, etc.  Language creates mindsets and approaches.  In my opinion, these dichotomies are problematic.  For starters, they do not absolutely correspond to good/ bad, but are so often treated as such.  This approach is a shallow attempt to avoid challenges while seeming highbrow.  It's hard to compare apples and oranges, but making a blanket declaration that every apple is superior to every orange is wrong.  Isn't the greatest slapstick comedy, for example, still better than the worst drama?  The other problem is that it cuts out the middle.  Art films are driven to be increasingly esoteric, elitist and made for no one, while mainstream movies are left to become increasingly shallow and brain dead.  Real art engages without selling out.  Lastly, does entertainment not involve a creative process equivalent to art?  Even lame entertainment involves some level of artistry.

In my own personal circumstances and on this blog, I use the words interchangeably, but I try to use the word movie most of the time.  I do desire to lump everything together and avoid the dichotomy for most purposes.  Also, I say "movie" because the word "film" has an air of snobbery for most people so why come off that way when I can have the same conversation using the word "movie."

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