Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.

FilmsFolded as a Project

Published: 25 Oct 2011

Edited on 5 May 2012 for minor readability improvements.

There is no outside sponsorship or imposed agenda and this is the way it should be.

I will be starting the site with a comment system from Disqus, and I hope that as before, we are joined by some smart readers. Everything I write about is informed by shared experience and I am certain that anything I write will be greatly improved in depth and applicability by reader comments.

As we begin, I expect that my efforts will be focused on refining content, so when an interesting observation appears in the comments, I will work to modify the original essay rather than append additional content as responses within the comment area.

Together, we'll find the best balance of my energy.

Why Not Rely on Other Theorists?

Though probably true, they are not useful in the ways we want.

Short answer: I do find some work by others intriguing and very likely ‘true’ and useful for the purposes they target.

A famous saying is that all models are right but only some are useful.

I would not attempt to argue against anyone who has gone before. But they come at a subtle problem space with limited logical tools. I have abstraction tools that they did not, so though I might be less bright, and go less deep, I expect to be able to contribute something new. With care, the insights here will also be true and useful; in fact the goal of the effort is to be useful in a different way, a way that matters to me and our projects and that no one else seems to have achieved.

There are two ways to do mathematics. The usual approach is to place one’s self in the midst of work by others, on whatever concept tendrils and tradition that suits, and then work on some problem that fills in the gaps in knowledge. These gaps can be large or small, difficult or not. If you are working this way, a goal is to be elegant, ideally creating a new set of tools for the next investigator. Utility in this approach is an internal property; if you can advance the work in such a way that the work can be advanced further, you have done well. These ‘pure mathematicians’ are pleased when their work finds application in the real world, but if it never does, it is no bother.

Then you have the ‘applied mathematicians.’ If the world (of useful souls) can be divided into scientists and engineers, these are the engineers. They will be given a problem in the ‘real world,’ and reach into the vast toolbox of mathematics for ways to approach it. This can also support a noble and beautiful life.

Some Personal Advice

A mentor, a mathematician, advised me early in my life that there were no (real world) problems that could not be usefully addressed in this way. It was simply a matter of finding the right abstractions. Now as it happens, this man was a rare synthesis of the two approaches, and has since been my model. He is known for his work in elementary particle physics, for which he won a Nobel. But in actual practice, he was the best kind of abstract architect: simultaneously looking for ways to abstract the observed world while developing new mathematical tools to match those abstractions — at the same time questioning the nature of mathematics and its place.

Einstein is often cited as the ideal genius, but in fact his most celebrated work is a bit clumsy in this regard. He had some great intuitions about how to abstract the problems of (general) relativity. But it took him years before he stumbled upon the already mature mechanisms of tensor calculus from which he could build the theory.

The ideals of the synthesized method are what I modestly attempt, the method of informed examination at the same time formal tools are invented with some human purpose in mind.

The plain fact is that no one, no one, has a satisfactory theory of cognition, or narrative, or agent systems (in the AI sense), or even how information works in our world. There are many brilliant perspectives on this, including some that are in use and producing partial results. They may evolve to fully address the hard stuff…

but come on, you can’t take the same people in the same institutions, using the same tools and expect to get revolutionary results. You need something wholly different — in many ways as independent as possible. That is what we attempt here, to work from ‘first principles’ in logic with some brand new tools, and observe directly in film what works and attempt to model why.

So we deliberately avoid the major voices in film.

To paraphrase a fictional NASA quote: Failure is an option. I readily enter into this prepared to fail. If I do, it will be a spectacular failure and likely every bit as interesting as a success, in part because I cannot blame the inadequacies of others.

The Investment in Viewing

Put as much into the watching as has been in the making.

Speaking just for myself, the way I am approaching this is deliberately unbalanced. When I watch a film, I throw myself into it emotionally open to whatever comes.

From the perspective of the analytical study, this makes sense: you cannot note the effect a film has on lives unless you experience that effect yourself and can report on it. From the perspective of the effect, when useful, study be damned if it it gets in the way of me living a full life, stunting experiences by the limits of clinical evaluation.

The reflection on the film comes after the experience. But that has the effect of me recalling the memory of the experience rather than the experience itself. A great many films exploit this fact that we may have an unsatisfying time when the film is underway, if we remember it well that is what matters, at least so far as metrics in the marketplace. I remark on this strange end-loading effect elsewhere.

I guess this is just a simple statement of how I believe we should live a live in and with art, creating a life as art.

Living is creative work that you have to pay attention to, and commit to. There cannot be any self-perceived hesitation (though doubt is essential). The raw material of this work is the art you build for yourself, and that you accommodate fromothers.

So, when I watch a film, I try to put as much effort and commitment into it as I believe the filmmaker and his/her collaborators have done. That can get pretty dangerous, especially when I follow an actress (usually an actress) into a role that leverages the abandon for safety she uses in her ’real’ life. (Some of these women are noted in their own section.)

I begin this study in a newly collaborative form, inviting critical input. So I am opening myself for another set of personal vulnerabilities. We'll see if that new tension makes things sharper here.

It doesn't work for me, but I encounter a great many people who structure this dynamic by accepting (or alternatively inventing) a God, whose art is sufficiently full to satisfy every imagined need. Much of this is boring and simply lazy: presuming that there is a master movie described in a divine book to which we are directed. Others are quite a bit more nuanced, especially where co-creation enters the picture, as it does with many mathematicians, scientists and artists.

At some point, the notion of God (or nature) is a deferral of the work of life, an unnecessary surrender to the limits of logic.


A tentative dip into open web collaboration.

I'm writing this before the new website launches, and will likely change it later, when the balance between bloggish posts and persistent sections of the essays are settled. But I do think I need a separate note on the dynamics of collaboration.

Work that I have done in the past has been a mix of solitary and collaborative adventure, with both in the extreme. I have a very close collaborator for work in narrative dynamics and modeling.

There is a larger group for building tools and spaces that I deal with more or less as a simple cooperative organization. But this film project has until now been a somewhat internal game: I see a film and most often write something without discussing with anyone. Sometimes it is clear to me that the comment benefits from there being no distance between my soul and the expression, pure with no human intervention in the idea.

But more often, especially now that most likely every clever thing I write has already been written a few times, it is clear to me that it is time for the ideas to find their place in a group. They need to grow, be repaired, find elaborations and variations and ultimately find uses. This is the basic commitment I made to the experience where my future was more as a synthesizer among ideas.

Despite the big show of ‘not leveraging the work of others’ of course that is what I do. There is very little original thinking in any of this, just possibly clever imposition of one sort of abstraction in an unfamiliar context. All the vitality comes from the artists, not me.

I believe there is a place in between the movie and a creative life where you can experience the movie again and again in a richer way than in the initial watching. Most of the experience in film is already not in the watching, but in the thinking (perhaps with others) about the thing and placing it in yourself. was to provide a set of tools for that. In this new incarnation, we'll have less technology and funding, but the collaborative commitment is the same.

The upside is that we can have a boatload of fun, and maybe create a space that is more creative than what I see in Facebook and such. Based on those I have met through the FilmsFolded work already, this can work and be pretty cool.

The downsides could be pretty bad.

Everything spent on maintaining community and focus is effort taken from the work I want to do; you have to be relatively open to others and sometimes they are a drain, possibly too lazy to do their own construction, possibly just combative. But hey, let's give it a go.

The initial mechanism will be comments supported by Disqus, with me modifying the essays.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2011