Very few filmmakers manage to capture the very essence of cinema, the definition of which has tortured the minds of so many great classical film theorists. Is it art? Is it reality? Is it expression? Is it impression? To me, its essence is time. BFI's Sight and Sound beautifully ponders director Richard Linklater's romance with cinema and time in a short video essay, which reflects on the temporal bond of his films, which are less sequential still images of captured light than poetic soliloquies about existence, about life -- about time.
Time is everything to cinema. When we see a film up on the big screen, chances are we're not seeing 2 hours of uninterrupted seconds; it's edited down. Time is manipulated. It's controlled. And in the end, it's what we capture, as well as what we experience.
Filmmakers like Linklater have grasped and obsessed over the depiction, interpretation, and expression of time -- how it passes and how people respond to it passing. His Before series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) is an excellent example of this, because, not only do we see the characters Jesse and Celine age over the course of nearly 20 years, but as Jesse says, and Sight and Sound explains, there is "poetry" in the mundanity of life: sleeping, cooking, working, tying your shoes and looking in the mirror.
It's a direct counterargument to that saccharine quote that's on every college girl's dorm room corkboard: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." No, Linklaters filmmaking sensibility would argue that the true beauty of life isn't found in the breathtaking, but in the taking of breaths -- every single one.
The grandest way Linklater could have invited his audience to experience this idea of time is through growing up and growing old with his characters in the Before series. Truffaut did it with Antoine Doinel (who some say represents the director's alter ego), spanning 20 years from 400 Blows to Love on the Run.
The connection between we, the viewers, and them, the characters, becomes personal, naturally, because as we grow older and change, they do, too. As filmmakers, though we don't necessarily have to follow Linklater's or Truffaut's model of having recurring characters, we can learn from their ideas that time, or moments, are the "building blocks" of cinema. As Sight and Sound so eloquently puts it, Linklater's films are an "ongoing conversation with cinema, which is to say, a conversation about time passing."
Feeling existential? What do you think about Richard Linklater's filmmaking sensibility in terms of representations of time?