As A Visual Medium Shouldn’t Film Focus More On Its Aesthetics?
I have been a big fan of Melanie Martinez since her first album released in 2015. Her cutesy aesthetic and sound contrasting dramatically with the dark subject matter of her music. In 2019 she released a new album K-12 along with a full 90min film of the same name, which she also wrote and directed. It has taken me a while but I finally watched it and lets just say there is quite a lot to unpack here.
This may seem a bit of a left turn for this blog to review what is essentially a super long music video but as the film deals with an array of womens rights issues and the artist had a big hand in the production as director and writer, as well as financially, I figured it was well worth talking about. In saying that you should not expect to be watching a film with a cohesive plot driven story that just happens to include Melanie Martinez songs. It is incredibly surreal and very driven by aesthetics alone. However, just because the acting leaves a lot to be desired and the plot is looser than an oversized t-shirt doesn’t mean that you won’t get anything out of this experience. And that is, I think, the best way to describe K-12; an experience. It’s an art piece first and foremost.
The full movie is available to watch on YouTube via the artist’s channel, which is an astounding decision considering how much it cost to make.
K-12 drew correlations to me with 2019 Netflix release directed by Alice Waddington Paradise Hills, which was a sub standard sci-fi film about girls being trapped in a reform school in order to become “better” versions of themselves based on other people’s opinions of them. Paradise Hills‘ shallow plot left much to be desired and the more I thought about it the more I wish these two films could have borrowed from each other to inject Paradise Hills with a bit more surrealism and K-12 with a bit more of a followable plot.
Both films had correlations. The stories centrered around the idea of fighting authority and taking control of your identity as a woman and they were both very visually pleasing to look at. As someone who is also a massive fan of Pinterest and used Tumblr exclusively as a mood board back in the day I am drawn to aesthetic images. But also as someone who loves storytelling it created a conflict in me watching both of these films because the stories were unclear, convoluted (K-12) and over simplified (Paradise Hills). Paradise Hills in particular took a long time to get started with its plot and when it finally did there was so many cuts to black it became very disjointed. It also struggled to commit to the ideas it was establishing which left me not invested in any of the characters. The opposite was the case with K-12. There was so many shifts in locations, costumes, and scene ideas that I became extremely confused about what was going on. Part of this was that in essence K-12 is firstly a conceptual visual album and not a film.
If they lack so much why am I talking about these films then?
I’m realising now that for aesthetically driven movies things like the story are often second to the visuals and as someone who has been told over and over that the story is everything when it come to filmmaking it can be quite jaring to subject ourselves to films that try to say something through visuals alone. To contrast this the other piece of filmmaking advice I learned is show don’t tell. Although it may not align completely to this piece of advice K-12 and Paradise Hills do “show” us alot.
So are films that have amazing aesthetics and little plot worthy of our time? I think so. Because film is a visual medium. It’s about moving images. It’s art. There could perhaps be a place for films that focus on creating stunning environments for our eyes and not our minds. Like how junk food is great for your mouth but not your health. I did still understand the messages these pieces where trying to portray so whilst the writing could have been improved at the end of the day as artworks they achieved their goal. And like artworks you can draw what you want from them and leave the rest. There are most certainly directors that have achieved a successful blend of aesthetic and storytelling like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, and Stanley Kubrik to name a few.
So to conclude, I believe all films should tell a good story but they should also be aesthetically pleasing to look at. It is an inherent part of the medium. And at the end of the day I think it is possible to achieve this balance because directors have done it before. Yet if your film can just convey a message, or enough of a idea to get an audience to think of it like an art piece through visuals alone, then that’s enough. We can still value these pieces as films.