The story goes that for one of the first theatrical viewings a recording of an incoming train was shown. So novel the technology and realistic the image was that the audience jumped out of their seats in worry that an actual train was barreling down toward them. The legitimacy of this anecdote remains questionable, but it makes for an interesting tale. I particularly like this slice of history because it serves as a reminder of the power and effects of the communal experience of cinema: a belief that was reinforced this past weekend.
San Diego Comic Con was this past weekend, and with it came a plethora of teaser and trailers and announcements for incoming and future film, television, video game, audio, and graphic novel projects. There were highs. There were lows. Joy and sorrow were had. All in all it was a fun time for those lucky enough to experience first hand and to everyone else who was informed of the event’s happenings through a screen.
As the conversations and discourse go for popular media, most of the criticism of the current slate of films has been lack of originality, legitimacy, and artistry in the service of constant content to remove dollars from customers. This of course is not a new dialogue as it has been present since the earliest days of film and ignores how and why the industry was formed in the first place. In the 1980s, it was action films. The 1990s had science fiction as its main talking point. And let’s not even get into the critiques of horror and comedy.
At the moment, superhero films, particularly Marvel (and really anything strongly associated with the House of Mouse), are the arbiter of this conversation. And to some degree, I understand. A lot of media, arguably most of it, is simply mindless entertainment. The ones that are not and attempt at more are usually the ones remembered and engaged with long after its time. And, obviously, for good reason. What most people seem to forget is that even those examples were usually made with commercial intent behind the meaning and message. Just because something is made for mass consumption does not mean that it has nothing of value to say or show.
I was reminded of this when the teaser trailer for Wakanda Forever was released. The music and cinematography and visuals and transitions and editing and very specific dialogue put together is nothing short of art. Yes, it is a multimillion dollar project in the most popular film franchise/universe being made by, arguably, the largest media corporation in the world with the full intent and expectation of making over a billion dollars. Nonetheless, the care and craft and talents of the cast and crew is ever present. More so, there is, at the very least, the potentials of narrative and meaning shining through the visuals; themes and elements that resonate in the modern world particularly for those who are unaccustomed to seeing their faces and stories present on American film screens.
The skill shown on the screen is amplified and given further gravitas because of the tragedy of Chadwick Boseman’s death and the legacy of the actor and the fictional character he gave life to. These elements compound and complicate the nature and reception of the film, but that is what art is supposed to do. It resonates and expands and reacts to the world and people around it taking influence and inspiration and returning voice and emotion and meaning back. Of course, the real world circumstances cannot be separated from the movie but they shouldn’t be because this film, at least from what we’ve seen from the trailer and description, is a literal embodiment of the reality around it as all great art should be.
So, yeah, we should be wary, and perhaps weary, of giant spectacle and a product of obvious corporate interest, but we should also be gracious and understanding that there can be a compromise between commerce and art in the right hands and with true intent. And when we find obvious examples of this, maybe we don’t immediately dismiss them simply because they make us question our own emotions and moral and choices, as good art should.