This term I’ve started a film course called Introduction to Film Studies. The structure of the course is that we looking at different themes in film each week: from Editing to Ideology. Last week I looked at Narrative, this week it’s Style.
When one thinks of a style of writing, it’s easy to tell the difference between a Shakespeare and a Joyce; a Wilde and a Burns.
Likewise in cinema, it’s often easy to tell who the director is because of their style. Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and The Coen Brothers all having certain filmmaking hallmarks that set their movies apart from the rest.
Whether it’s their documentary-style filming (Greengrass), quick editing (Edgar Wright), gothic fairytale worlds (Burton), or their unique soundtrack (Tarantino), there’s always something that sets these ‘stylish’ filmmakers apart.
Of course such trademarks or little touches can stifle creativity just as easily as they can encourage it. Directors becoming inhabited by an overly singular view about what their movie must contain.
It is perhaps self-evident that with style must come substance for audiences to continue to buy into the worlds of these visionary auteurs. In the same way actors like Nicholson and Cera are accused of playing the same character again and again, directors can be accused of making the same film again and again if they become too attached to a particular style of filmmaking.
Whether we are prepared to put up with such overtly flamboyant touches can often depend on our vision for what makes a great film.
For some filmgoers, going to the cinema is something of a religious experience: the choice of venue, what seat they sit in, and the frequency with which they attend all being dictated by their view of what such an experience should be like.
It therefore stands to reason that just as in religions like Christianity where there are widely differing opinions on what style is best for a worship service, so there are equally diverse views on what style makes for the best film-going experience.
Some prefer simple, slow-moving affairs, giving the ‘parishioners’ time to meditate and consider what they are viewing. Others prefer fast-paced, thrilling experiences which leave the ‘congregation’ exhilarated and energised by the end of the experience.
Like preachers, filmmakers may be telling exactly the same tale, or making exactly the same point, but the style with which they do it can be the difference between inspiring and alienating their audience.
If one considers the three Batman movies: The TV adaptation starring Adam West, Tim Burton’s Batman or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, one can see how the tale of a man wearing a cape fighting the crazed criminals of Gotham City can be told in three entirely different ways.
Which one you prefer is entirely a matter of taste. However, it demonstrates perfectly the fact that style has an incredible bearing on one’s enjoyment of a film.
Style within film, as oppose to story or characters, is often the thing which most accurately reflects the personality of a director. The manner in which a story is told and the techniques they use to do that, reveal a lot about their vision for what makes a film great. Our relationship with style is often harder to pin down than our relationship with story or character: why we prefer one form over another coming down to a personal preference we may find it difficult to fully articulate.