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more about film

As a field of endeavor and a genre of art and entertainment, film still takes its name from this physical medium. But film is much more than a strip of cellulose. Film is also a means of communication between people. It's an industry, an art form, a genre, and a means of enlightenment and entertainment. When it comes to the arts, it's not the images and audio deposited on film that count.

Once upon a time not so long ago, film was synonymous with motion pictures; it was virtually the only way we had to depict moving images and the only name we had to name them. Since then, film evolved into movies; the scope of film has been broadened to include almost any of the recording media, from acetate film to digital tape to CD-ROM to DVD and its high-density offshoots to movies shown on TV to computer files. Whether comedy, tragedy, drama, documentary, performance, or a related genre, today films (read movies) are an art form, not simply a physical medium as such. This is the sense in which The Muse defines film.

Of course, film is much, much more than a mere strip of cellulose. Film is a means of communication between people. Movies contain messages and information which flow from the medium to the audience when they are seen. And ultimately, since people make and view movies, the messages and information contained on the film flow between the film makers and the audience. The recording medium is secondary; what counts is the art.

the medium and the message

The movie industry is dynamic; technology is dynamic. As time goes on, inevitably new storage and transmission methods will be devised and film will be recorded and displayed on and over an ever-growing variety of physical media. But film is primarily a message between movie makers and audiences. Film will always be film in this sense of the word, regardless of  incidental physical transmogrification.

In art, medium has always had this wider meaning. The word not only denotes different kinds of physical storage; it denotes an art form or technique. For example, in fine arts, paint is a physical medium, a liquid with which pigments are mixed; but it's also the materials and techniques with which a painter works, such as watercolor, gesso, or oils, brush or canvas. And it's also the painter.

The same is true in movies and other media, such as radio, television, newspapers, and magazines. In all these forms and formats—forms which reach and influence people at large and which are referred to in the plural as mass media—the objective is the same: the media and formats are about the message and the way the message is sent (the art, the style, the aesthetic). In all these media, physical storage, communications, and techniques are secondary.

Seen this wayas an art form, style, and aesthetic—film encompasses a variety of styles and modes of depiction. Although critically important to successful execution of this art form, valid techniques, storage devices, and distribution methods are secondary and subservient. Secondary factors like these can vary greatly without seriously altering the message or the core on a viewer's aesthetic experience.

Because physical media each have specific strengths and weaknesses, there can and should be artistic differences in the way a play is staged and acted out, differences shaped by the possibilities and limitations of the physical medium. But, done properly, the medium need not destroy or materially alter the innate experience.

For example, a given play should be essentially the same play whether it is seen live on stage in a legitimate theater, in summer stock, in the round or through a proscenium arch, on film, broadcast live on TV, recorded and played back on TV, in a movie house, or played at home on DVD. Although there will be important narrow differences in the viewing experience due to medium, we should expect to see no fundamental difference in the message or the core aesthetic experience because of the medium.

To be specific, a viewer who has watched any competent live production of Death of a Salesman can be expected to react the same way to Willy Loman and his pitiful family as a viewer who has watched the play in any recorded medium. Willy is the same universal tragic figure everywhere.

But why stop at medium, message, or aesthetics? As with other arts, a film is a life experience, one that varies with constituency and point of view, whether of those who produce it, write it, act it out, direct it, or see it in a theater.

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