What is contemplative cinema?
It must be recognized that the question has a two-fold answer. Who contemplates? The film contemplates; the viewer contemplates. They are different contemplations, for the film's contemplation is given to the viewer's experience for the sake of his or her own contemplation while viewing, as well as for his or her reflection upon the film. Contemplative cinema is a mode of thinking, is the thinking of film, in film, filmed, a direct thought of which we are incapable of, for we can only represent in thought. Contemplative cinema is more, and less, than our contemplation. More, because it assembles and produces time and image — and we cannot do that. We cannot create a time within time, for we are already living in time and our mode of being offers no possibility of stepping outside of the time that we are in, and which unfolds through us is it carries us. No, we cannot create time, or times, for we are subject to time. Film, as a subjectivity of image and time, creates its own time, in a time that it takes from us, or which it draws us into. Cinematic time is a synthetic time, a time realized through the effect of continuity engendered at 24 frames per second; it is also time as an effect of montage, of cuts and sequences arranged to produce a a direct experience of time: a temporal illusion of immediacy.
Cinema's subjectivity is its own, but in contemplative cinema it is given to us to contemplate. But in our contemplation of cinema, we can only reflect on it, can only think about it, that is, we cannot contemplate it without translating it first into a representational schema by which we then make conceptual associations around it. Cinema's own contemplation is direct; ours is indirect.
The early cinema was a reconfiguration of drama, of narrative story-telling for the camera, indirectly, instead of for the audience, directly. But its creation, film, is direct image and sound, unburdened by the instabilities of the stage, and the relations that an audience might take up to its actors, sets, and production. The production of film is invisible. It comes to us directly. And so its own contemplation, its own thought of time, of action, of space and movement, its own speed, rhythm, continuity, is already complete for us. Its production is invisible.
Cinema thinks as we cannot, for it can think its own world as it thinks. It is a perceptual thinking, directly in and through image, a thinking that precedes the invention of concepts and ideas, but which can arouse concepts and ideas as it suggests them by means of its perception. Cinematic thought, direct and in the image, is thinking as perception, perception that thinks and after which no amount of reflection is necessary to the film's essential creative act. Film thinks as in what it sees, but in seeing it has already finished, for it cannot compare, cannot reconsider, cannot think by analogy or reflect on its own ideas. It is the being of thought prior to reflection, direct and in the image. It is a thinking that cannot communicate, and yet we are often moved by its beauty or sublimity, but its gift and talent and for its effort to present us with better, more resonant, more sensible worlds. It will seem to conceal its reasons, on occasion, but in truth it has none, for it cannot but arouse our reasons, and those are something it knows nothing about. Cinema contemplates, directly, hermetically, within and unto itself. But if we are fortunate, and present, and contemplative, we will experience its sensibilities and be moved. And with the right cinema, we will be given a contemplation to contemplate, and from the cinematic contemplation we will be able to think further, to reflect on and through the film. For the film cannot. It cannot contemplate outside of itself, cannot become what it is not, cannot be other than what it already is. Its contemplation is complete, and we would be mistaken to make it contemplate what it has not given itself to contemplate. But if we did not contemplate the film, we would miss an opportunity to think new thoughts, to think the possibilities the film has offered us, and from which, moved, we might renew our being. The cinema is an outside that moves us to contemplation, if we take it in.