Monday, September 5, 2011

Video Killed the Live Theatre Star

I am currently taking a class at Duke Divinity School entitled Film and the Christian Life.  In this class we are discussing a to think theologically about movies that are not inherently theological.  The class has been great so far, and I have a feeling that quite a few posts will come from the topics we discuss in this class.

For this week, we read a work called "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin.  In this work, Benjamin talks about how the mass production of art diminishes what he calls its "aura."  In class we discussed this issue in the difference between painting and movies.  While trying to put our finger on exactly what Benjamin meant by "aura" we discussed the inaccessibility of the form of painting over and against the easily mass produced form of movies.  All of these points were valid, but I kept trying to figure out how this related to the dichotomy between live theatre and feature film.

Then it hit me, there is another layer of activity and depth in theatre that is not in movies.  We were discussing how movies just show a flat view of "the world as it is" without the true depth of life.  In other words movies are just a snapshot of real life.  While live theatre is not as "accurate" or "true to life" it is in some sense truer than film.  There is an additional layer of life in theatre that is cut out of film.  On some level there is always an actor playing a character onstage, this actor can come out when he or she drops a line or trips onstage.  this adds a whole layer of meaning to live theatre that is edited out of a film.  A character in a film is always the character and never the actor, because we only see what the director wants us to see.  In this way, film is a truer snapshot of life.  Perhaps it is important for me to note here that I am not commenting on the artistic value of film over and against theatre.  I am just trying to get at a fundamental difference between film and theatre.

What are the pros and cons of this difference on both the film and theatre sides?  Are there any other facets of this difference that should be considered when looking at film over and against live theatre?  In what ways can both film and live theatre be effectively used by the Church?

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