Sean Spillane over at Bitter Cinema had brief but interesting entry yesterday about a web site that categorizes a few movies by theme, mostly simple themes and mostly science fiction.
The attempt to categorize by theme reminded me of Acquarello's far more thought provoking site Strictly Film School, whose theme and genre pages point not to movies but to filmmakers. The categorizations are necessarily broad, since they cover entire ouevres, but a click on one of those directors will reveal that these are no four-word film reviews.
What's interesting I think is how wide a filmmaker's scope can be even while working within an apparently constricting framework. Take Ozu, for example. His style is among the simplest of any major director, and he made the same movie over and over again — or so his critics sometimes say, derisively — using the same actors, plots, names, shots, and settings. But in a thematic breakdown like the one at Strictly Film School, Ozu falls under no less than three categories, all of them life-encompassing: "Aging/Adolescence/Death," "Generational Conflict," and "Human Condition." I think you could make the case for "Loss of Innocence/Toll of War" and "Isolation/Connection/Alienation/Ennui," too, especially as they relate to, say, aging and generational conflict.
It seems like a paradox, but by stripping his style bare Ozu seemed to bring more of the world into his grasp. A few other filmmakers — Truffaut, Tarkovsky — also cut across Acquarello's categorizations. Dewey, he of the lauded decimal system, probably would have considered this a flaw in the system. But no, I don't think so.
There's a movie in limited release in the US right now called The Five Obstructions, a collaboration between the world's oldest enfant terrible (to steal a line from Roger Ebert) Lars von Trier and his former mentor Jørgen Leth that makes this point, in a way. Not the simplicity-is-all-encompassing argument, but the bit about how limitations can be liberating.
It's true. I get the least done when my list of responsibilities and possibilities grows beyond a certain size, when it seems better just to lay on the floor and listen to the low rumble.