Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Cinematic Structuralism Emancipation

As I reflected on the importance of structuralism within Integral Theory (Wilber, Excerpt D), I remembered one of my first encounters with cinematic structuralism and how it had a profoundly emancipating effect on both my personal and professional life.

It was my third year at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and my very first class in cinematic expression. The teacher, famed animator, special effects artist, and IMAX pioneer Lester Novros, came into the crowded classroom and walked up to the blackboard. A hush fell over the room as Lester drew a rectangle on the board and then turned to look at the class. He paused for a moment and then dramatically told us that the rectangle on the board represented the motion picture frame, and that every element within that frame had the power to affect the viewer’s body, heart, mind, and spirit. With a twinkle in his eyes, he promised that he would teach us the rules/structures governing these elements of expression. My perception of myself, the cinema, and the world profoundly shifted as I sat in the back of that classroom and listened to Lester explain how the expressive elements of space, line, shape, tone, color, movement, rhythm, and contrast and affinity, influence the physiological (UR), psychological (UL), cultural (LL), and social/environmental (LR) experience of the cinematic audience.

For example, in the opening of the first Star Wars (1977) we see a relatively large spaceship fly across the screen. Suddenly, another spaceship appears in hot pursuit of the first ship. As the hull of this pursuit spaceship progressively enters the frame for an extended period of time, the viewer is surrounded by a deep rumbling sound that moves from the back of the theater to the front. This amalgamation of the visually expressive elements of open space (the ship extending beyond the edges of the frame), spatial contrast (difference in size between the two ships), and movement (the relative movement of the two ships), combines with the spatially-moving depth-representational sounds to produce a powerful synchronization of the senses that replicates the experience of actually sitting under this massive ship. In an instant filmmaker George Lucas stylistically and viscerally communicates a deep archetypal message to the viewer, the message that we are about to see an epic struggle against a great and mighty force.

When that first class was over, I walked out onto the quad (yes, quadrants are everywhere!) and everything within and around me seemed different. I noticed the bright sunlight streaming through the trees, the patchwork patterns of bright green lawns between winding pathways, and the feelings I was having in the midst of this spatial reality.

*Originally published on
Integral Life.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hollywood Flatland

While studying the Big Three Perspectives of I-WE-IT of Integral Theory, I started mentally playing with a memorable event from my days as a Hollywood “wunderkind,” and then suddenly, a perspective on the event I had not seen before shifted my entire understanding of the experience. This new insight rippled through a series of connected events and suddenly all my experiences in Hollywood came into a new and clear perspective for me. I felt a wave of deep physical release in my body as though a great unconscious burden and tension suddenly lifted off me.

THE EVENT: A few months after graduating from film school, I was house-sitting for a movie star and had a life transforming experience sitting by the pool of his estate. My graduate film was winning awards around the world, I had a high-powered Hollywood agent, and studio executives were courting me.

THE IT OF THE EVENT: I was reclining naked on a lounge chair by the pool, talking to my agent on the portable phone. The afternoon L.A. sun was hot and bright. I had mirrored sunglasses on and had an ice-cold margarita in my hand. The pool was a beautifully manufactured grotto of exotic plants, palm trees, rocks, waterfalls, and a series of crystal blue swimming pools and hot tubs. A beautiful young woman I had just met and slept with the night before was swimming naked in one of the pools.

THE WE OF THE EVENT: The conversation I was having with my agent on the phone was the same as all the rest; he was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear and I pretended that what he was saying was true. At the same time, I was watching the naked woman sensuously swimming in the pool. She smiled sweetly and looked back at me with “starry” eyes.

THE I OF THE EVENT: I suddenly felt an emptiness deep inside me as I listened to the voice of my agent and looked into the eyes of my new found lover. I felt as though I did not exist and that everything around me wasn’t real. Soon after this experience, I put all my possessions in storage, left Hollywood, and began my quest for meaning.

My current insight around this event came when I pondered my conversation with my agent from the perspective of the Hollywood client-agent cultural and social system. I realized that “I” as the client was actually a product (an IT) in the agents’ world. Then I realized that we were both seeing each other as objects to be manipulated, and not as subjects that could be understood (Wilber, 2000). Suddenly I saw all my similar Hollywood experiences in this new light and realized that all of us were objectifying each other and our own selves because we were caught in our own fears, which were being fueled by a larger system. In an instant, I felt as though a deep unconscious reservoir of regret, resentment, self-blame, and blaming of others that I was holding washed right out of me. A sense of gratitude swept through me as I perceived this experience as a moment of grace that was my wake up call to get out of the Hollywood Flatland before my I was totally reduced to an IT and lost forever!

Wilber, K. (2000). A brief history of everything (revised edition). Boston: Shambhala Publications.

*Originally published at Integral Life