The Test of Time / by Frixos Masouras

As a person who enjoys pouring words onto paper I have often attempted to comprehend time, once simply calling it that "which clocks measure". This fundamental quantity has taken the blame for many of our ailments, but in the same breath it has been credited with healing and hard but necessary lessons.  Art, much like us, also answers to time. Unlike us however, art is perhaps the only thing made by humans that can be branded as "timeless". 

 

The exchange above (from the legendary Citizen Kane) speaks volumes for time and art. Firstly, it is taken from one of the most timeless films in human history and I implore you to watch it again or for the first time if you haven't. The story hits home today as much as it did 73 years ago. Secondly, human frailty and our struggle against time is a major theme throughout the narrative. How much can one do with his/her allotted time? How much is he/she losing in their endeavours to race this quantity, in their attempt to complete their legacy? 

At face value, Citizen Kane, not only stands the test of time but aces it too. Mainly because it is a commentary on the subject "Time + Human + Dreams - Innocence". However not everything stands this test, and I am not only referring to modern blockbusters that are often forgotten the second you get off the cinema seat. Yet, the test of time does not only refer to things that we forget. That is a different matter. The test of time stands to tell you, the viewer, whether you do not need rose-tainted glasses or the hypnotising caress of nostalgia to understand why it was that a specific film, game, song, painting (anything!) touched you now as much as it did back when you were first exposed to it.

Concerning films specifically, there is one genre that is cursed. A genre that cannot "speak" to you in your later years as it did in you earlier. That genre is comedy. I am now convinced that comedy is the most difficult of subjects to tackle. You could be the funniest of people in your everyday life yet externalising "funny", dissecting it and feeding it to others could be as hard as understanding life itself. I dare say if you DO understand life even in the slightest, chances are you have a brilliant sense of humour or you reside in some damp, depressing mind-cavern from which there is no exit unless you cultivate said humour. Baby's day out, Dumb and Dumber, Look who's talking (and its sequels) and a myriad of other comedies no longer entertain me the way they did when I first watched them. Life is to blame for that and if the current state of comedies being released now is anything to go by, I stand by the fact that the genre is VERY cursed. Atrocious trash does not a comedy make. 

Horror itself falls victim to jadedness. Very few horror films stand the test of time mainly due to the bar being raised to unfathomable heights in the last ten years. One can no longer watch The Exorcist and be shocked by it the way they were in 1973. Shock value (of this calibre!) was new back then, William Friedkin and his crew were swimming uncharted waters at the time with this audiovisual assault. Yet I believe it stands the test of time.

I place horror right across of comedy. Comedy relies on things you know. Horror relies on things you don't and as a result (playing on our very primal fear of the unknown) we are most likely to know too much in order to find a joke or a situation funny whereas we can certainly feel uncomfortable by being exposed to something we don't.

As a result, horror as a genre stands the test of time truer than comedy. You feel the dread of the three-note John Williams score as the camera takes on the role of the life-less eyes of the shark in Jaws. "It puts the lotion in the basket" sets off unease in your mind while somewhat more recently, static on a television screen playing a VHS tape causes you to rush for the lights lest you are confronted with that poor girl on your living room floor. Spelling your end, naturally!

It is no coincidence that within the top ten films of "AFI's 100 most thrilling films" seven of them belong to the horror genre (Psycho, Jaws, The Exorcist, The Birds, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Rosemary's baby). And please, there are many thrilling films that do not belong in this genre. Yet it is prevalent in that list. 

Now drama, much like horror, stands the test of time due to its connection to the human condition. We spoke of empathy in last week's ThumbCast and how we will soon rely on machines to teach the future generations how to generate empathy right before it rules us and turns us into slaves to it's digital will (yes, I have issues!). One of the greatest generators and enablers of empathy however are films belonging to this genre. Drama.

Is it cruel for a film like Philadelphia to break your heart? Yes, but it is necessary to drive the message home. Must Jenny die in the heart-wrenching Love Story (THE one, based on Erich Segal's novel)? That piano melody is all you need to hear in order to understand that art combined seamlessly here to stand the test of time. The melody simply must be embedded here (much like our minds):
 

Haunting and timeless. The recurring theme here is that hurt usually stays with us longer than joy. Our memories may modify themselves (that pesky mind!) in order for us to focus on the happy moments and stimulations we have experienced, even though some may not be true. Or at least not entirely accurate. But hurt, as displayed in Love Story is the ultimate clash of the two.

Boy, looking up this looks more like a eulogy than anything else! Let's lighten the mood however devoid of comedy this whole ordeal may be.

The film medium, in my eyes, is often found lacking when compared to that of videogames. Imagination plays a greater part when you are controlling a space-marine fighting the hordes of hell or when in the palm of your right hand you control entire civilisations (Sid Meier be praised!). As mentioned in the first ThumbCast, I recently purchased the 1994 Microprose classic Masters of Magic.  A game that crushes the test of time even though, for the reason mentioned above, it holds an advantage over other mediums. 

You control the action, you tell the story and you decided on the fate of worlds in games. Films are confined by themselves in this respect. The 1987 Maniac Mansion can have you quivering with fear when you first enter the house with one of the three (after a selection from a pool of six) characters in order to discover what had happened to Dave's girlfriend. This adventure transcended in the sense that it took all the tropes from films of that era, including character stereotypes and mood-setters, blending it with some dark humour and creating (essentially) an interactive film. It took on the film medium and won spectacularly, in every aspect. Something which is considered funny once we remember that the production belonged to the game studio helmed by none other than George Lucas himself (Lucasfilms Games). The magnificence did not stop there of course. The Secret of Monkey Island, Loom (*swoons*) and many other titles offered gamers the chance to experience adventure like never before. 

Since films and games are at a bit of a clash in these last few lines I have to also confess that the Knights of the Old Republic (role-playing adventure games set in the Star Wars universe take the original material (films) to the cleaners and back! KOTOR 1 and 2 shame (in my biased opinion) the source material in delivering epicness whereas here I sit having gripes with almost each Star Wars film individually. 

All the titles mentioned above stand that dreaded test of time because of the control you are offered. You cause the action to progress, halt, explode. You make those life-changing calls, therefore as an art-form video-games have the upper hand here. Especially today when production values between films and games are often comparable even on financial terms! You direct and control historical battles in the Total War series in ways that only the wizards at WETA could deliver for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  

Notice how at least two of the above examples that stand the test of time in the film medium do so because of the accompanying music? That's because music shatters time's boundaries. I cannot talk enough on how music destroys time (even though the joke's on us apparently since music is being destroyed over time!). I will leave it at this: should another intelligent life-form approach our system, the first thing it will encounter will be the sounds and music of humanity through the Voyager program. Nothing more needs be said. 

As far as sculptures, paintings and drawings go I cannot comment proficiently enough. I love me plenty of paintings and I cannot see how they do not stand the test of time seeing how the materials used in eras of old are still around today (yes, the digital era is in full swing but it doesn't compare to physical, if I can use the term, art). 

I shall bring the last part up in this week's ThumbCast and let our in-house painter/artist/weirdo/teacher sort it out!

Until then, when was the last time you caught yourself saying "How on earth did I enjoy this back then??" or "It is even more beautiful now than it was before" when viewing/listening/playing a film/song/game?

 

- Frixos Masouras 2014