Thursday, August 15, 2013

Six pointers

Lets start with a thought experiment. Imagine you have to shoot a film that shows virality. Yes, the concept that spreads from one to another to many and then to many more. Yeah, you must be thinking visualization, the spread of information in a social network , the Kolaveri D or the Friday video phenomenon, or you must be thinking dots and circles. But what about virus among human beings, say bird-flu. No, it can't be a documentary. No, it can't be boring, it has to be a commercial film.
It is very hard to take a serious concept, dare i say reality, and to make a good movie about it. Not only it borders the risk of becoming commercially un-viable but often the end result tends to be sub-optimal.   

Why am i talking gibberish and what the hell is six pointers? I am talking about the movie Contagion and as of this writing its rating is 6.7 on imdb. Six pointers refers to a whole genre of films that take on a daring concept and are able to do a great job at it but end up having a Six point something rating on IMDB. These films are under-appreciated because people often do not realize the mastery behind their presentation. One really has to undergo a whole slew of crappy movies to understand the craft behind a good one.  

Contagion tackles the issue of spread of a virus through the entire human population (a macro phenomenon) by following about ten different lives (micro details) and how they are impacted by it. The beauty lies in how these diverse micro instances allow our minds to imagine the big giant global phenomenon without being explicit about it. The background score, the juxtaposition of all these stories orchestrated through a crisp screenplay and finally the choice of these micro stories; all these create a perfect background for us to understand the un-said. The movie is a sheer delight to watch and once you start watching, you will not remember a single thing in your life until the movie ends.  With all the craft, yet the movie is only able to achieve a mere Six point seven rating, a travesty as per this author. 

There are several such films and there are several film directors who have been subjugated to this six pointer phenomenon. Robert Redford is one of them. Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs and The company you Keep are both socio-political films made with a maturity and poise that keep the issue(object) at the front and center while the subjects are just enacting its spirit. Stating the obvious would trivialize the matter as the truth is really complex. In real life, our actions often symbolize an end product of a complex milieu and an obvious mention would just trivialize them. How does one convey an emotion behind an action. It is indeed very tricky and it requires a lot of thought-process to get it right. In both the films, Robert Redford's attempts are indeed commendable.

And then there is this other genre of surreal films which even though being completely escapist, or rather too escapist, are never able to escape the curse of Six pointers. Take for instance Terrence Mallick's brilliant Tree of Life which has a rating of 6.8.  People are often confused when it comes to rating such movies as there is often no frame of reference to compare them to. At the end of the film, people are left in a confused state as they are happy with what they have just seen but they are not sure how happy they really are. In such conditions, a film eventually settles to a six pointer as it is a safe bet. 

The tragedy of these six pointers is that they are often clubbed with the other six pointers. These other six pointers are truly average films like mediocre action movies such as the Transformer series or John Carter, and thousands of feel good movies such as Pretty Woman or The Devil Wears Prada. Movie raters often do not take into account the complexity of depiction of a film's subject matter while reviewing a movie. What matters typically is the end result. 

These Six pointer films are often slow, graceful and made with an honesty that makes it difficult to escape. In many case, the ratings on imdb are actually the measure of escapism that one derives from the movie. The more a movie is able to convince you to forget the realist aspects, the more "well-made" it is known. How else will you justify such high ratings for a film like Argo which is completely a fictionalized account of a true story. This trick is now known as the art of storytelling. 

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