What is the genesis of a story? It begins rumbling around inside our head, begging to be heard, begging to be told. It takes a form in our mind, a shape. And regardless of how we plan or hope to transfer it from our imagination to the world, it is, for now, playing as a movie in our mind.
It may be a silent movie, images only. It may be a story without pictures, sound only. (I wonder, is that what was racing through Mozart’s mind? Just the sounds, the instruments, the orchestrations? Or were there pictures too?) Or our movie may be only images of words on a page, shifting around in an attempt to form a sonnet. Or it may be images that look like a play, feel like a novel, want to be a film. But, whatever they are, there are images.
Images are all around us every moment of our lives, either in our visual or emotional perception. And our minds can create images we have never seen, sounds we have never heard. The possibilities are endless.
Even as I write this blog I can hear the words as they emerge on the page. Our stories in our minds have full and complete soundtracks, each character voiced perfectly, each environment rich with the sounds of life. And music? Oh my, the music that is vibrating in, within and behind every moment. Music that would bring tears to our eyes or pain to our heart if we would only stop to listen to it.
So, regardless of the delivery system that we have selected for our story it has already existed in a form that seems much like a film. The movie in our mind.
And, now I have to wonder. Centuries ago, long before there were films and movies and long before there was photography, I have to wonder if the stories in the mind still played with all the rich audio and visual elements. Does my dog, Tanner, have a movie in his mind when he anticipates going for a hike?
Did Michelangelo have a movie in his mind when he was imagining the Sistine Chapel? Did Galileo have a movie in his mind when he built the first telescope? I have to think so. Consequently, movies in the mind must have existed since the beginning of time. And modern day cinema is just our attempt to make visible and tangible what has existed in our minds for thousands of years.
When Shakespeare wrote the opening to "Henry V" with these words …
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
… wasn’t the movie playing in his mind? And didn’t the Chorus who spoke those lines stimulate a slightly different movie in the mind of every person in that audience?
Cinematic storytelling. It’s always been there. Always been a part of our life experience. And now we can capture those mental movies and put them on the screen so we can see them and share them.
But the cinema is a poor cousin to our imagination. The problem with cinema is that in capturing the images and sounds of our story we put it in a box and lock it up. Like a wild animal in a cage. It’s still the same animal but it’s not allowed to grow and explore, to be the free animal it was supposed to be.
Making movies is a process of reduction: capturing, boxing and containing our imagination. It’s thrilling because we get to share a semblance of our imagination with the world. It’s frustrating because when we’re done we look at the tiger in the cage and remember what it was like when it was free and joyous and curious and ever evolving.