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Rom-coms, period dramas are rubbish: Mathematical proof

Chaos theory shows action movies are the purest art

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American boffins* have carried out detailed research into movies down the decades using chaos theory, and decreed that auteurs have - by a process akin to natural selection - gravitated towards a shot rhythm which matches an underlying mathematical pulse beat found in music, economics and even engineering.

However, some genres have achieved this much more closely than others.

According to cognitive psychologist and rabid movie buff James Cutting of Cornell Uni, certain classic films have always matched the so-called "1/f fluctuation" described by chaos theory. Examples include the Hitchcock version of The 39 Steps, made way back in 1935, and Rebel Without a Cause from 1955.

Back in the old days, though, it was rare for filmmakers to hit on the 1/f beat in shooting and editing their films - which is a big part, according to Cutting and his team, of the reason why old movies tend to have such a distinctively different and often tiresome feel for the watcher.

But video - and subsequently audiovisual - storytelling is a recent form of art compared to music, rhetoric or the written word. Its practitioners have collectively learned fast, tending perhaps unconsciously to imitate the style of those movies which were most gripping and immersive. It's now quite normal for an edited, ready-for-viewing flick to dance along with the 1/f drummer.

According to the aptly-named Cutting and his crew, films made since 1980 are "much more likely" to fit with "the natural pattern of human attention", namely the 1/f fluctuation as applied to movies.

In a pronouncement which seems intuitively correct, the film/brain brainboxes say that the genre which has most closely synchronised itself with the chaotic beat of the universe and the human mind is - of course - action movies. Next is adventure, followed by animation and comedy.

The genre which is most out of step with the underlying truth of the universe, most alien and repellent to the human mind, least gripping and watchable, is - as any rational person would expect - drama.

Now at last we have solid mathematical proof. Action movies are quite simply better by the span of an entire spectrum than tedious character-driven drama. Even rom-coms - so long offered by certain factions of humanity as a compromise option - composed as they are of a mixture of drama and comedy, can be positively assessed as lying well toward the unwatchable end of the scale.

We say hats off to the noble prof and his team, for brilliantly proving a truth long understood by so many, yet so poorly catered to in ordinary life. We would call for some kind of chaos-theory rating system to be instituted, backed up by a robust policy of banning unsatisfactory material, which could save humanity from countless hours of fist-eatingly tedious (and, it now turns out, positively unnatural) films in which essentially nothing of interest ever happens.

There are some more details here for those interested, courtesy of the American Psychological Society, and Cutting & Co's research is to be published in the journal Psychological Science. ®

Blockbusternotes

*Normally we wouldn't cheapen the honourable title of "boffin" by using it to refer to mere psychologists - for whom the correct Reg designation is usually "trick-cyclist". However these trick-cyclists seem to have used some proper maths and come out with sensible conclusions, so they get a brevet promotion out of fuzzy studies and into the hard sciences.

For those who want to know more about the 1/f fluctuation, brain-hurtingly complex detail is available courtesy of the journal Physical Review Letters, here. It's a subscription article, but we'd guess that many readers capable of understanding it will have such access. For those that don't, well, proper knowledge costs money.

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