Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Insufferable Pretension, Part 2

I admit that on a superficial level, I have at times been a bit frustrated with the film I made over the summer and autumn. The thing that irritates me is that so few people understood what I was trying to do. I myself can acknowledge that my realization was patchy, but I worry that a lot of the people who've seen it haven't even understood what I was reaching for, much less whether or not I hit the mark.

And obviously that's not their fault, and my even questioning them earns me the badge with which I've named this post. There's no reason why anyone should understand what I was doing, and no reason why I should expect them to, or even reasonably hope that they might. Stuff on the screen that needs to be explained is pretty much by definition not good enough. But that still doesn't stop me from wanting to explain in excrutiating detail the intellectual structure under the film. I tried out a lot of big concepts in that one, y'know. I was prodding around in the core assumptions of cinema, and only the most informed viewers can see me doing it. Not that the ground hasn't been covered a hundred thousand times before, but it was still the first time for me.

The film, as I said back when I was working on it, was based mostly on the films of Maya Deren (the fact that it was based on a Garcia-Marquez story was incedental.) Deren was a formalist, primarily interested in those attributes of film that are unique to the medium. Back when she was doing her own work, in the 40s and 50s, her stuff was revolutionary, or at least interesting; now that we're all so well-versed in cinematic visual language from the time we're infants, it looks pretty straightforward, if a bit artfully so. Its significance was rooted in its context, and once we're outside of that context we can't easily understand it anymore. It's a bit like the way I heard early Beatles songs when I was a kid -- from the context of 80s pop, I couldn't really grasp what they'd done until I understood their original context.

Anyway, Deren's big thing was using the camera to do things that could only be done with the camera, or done better with a camera than any other way... time manipulation, spatial confusion, muddled narratives, split characters, that kind of thing. You can't bend time and space on a stage, or in a still photograph; these functions are unique to motion pictures, and so, in Deren's opinion, were the purest expression of cinema. Follow me?

What I was doing, then, was sort of the film equivalent of copying the work of an old master -- studying the structure and detail and then trying it out for myself. The time and space distortion is there, the split character is there, the confused narrative is there; it's all in a stripped-down form, but I did manage to wedge most of her key concepts into the film. But nobody ever sees it! I mean, they see it, but it doesn't register. Or, certainly, it does with some, but not with most... or I haven't heard about it if it did, anyway. And like I say, that's okay... I don't actually expect everyone to read my thesis first and then watch the film. If that's what it takes to get things across to my satisfaction, then I'm really not doing a good job at all. But I still find myself compelled to explain the film.

I guess that's what commentary tracks are for. Now I just need to make enough additional shorts to warrant the full DVD treatment.

I still have a hell of a lot of work to do -- there are whole swaths of filmmaking practice that I've barely touched so far. If nothing else, I need to do a lot of work on my confidence level... it's probably safe to admit this now, but I was nauseous with fear and anxiety the first morning of shooting on that film. It really sucked at the time because I didn't actually have anyone around to ask for reassurance except the people who were actually in the film, and those are the last people to whom you should admit your misgivings, even if they'd be cool with it (which they almost certainly would have been.) I had to stop before I got where I was going because my hands were shaking -- and I know that Spielberg says he still vomits before the the first day's shoot on every production, but it wasn't like I had a gazillion-dollar budget and the weight of an industry on my shoulders; just the trust of a couple of people whom I liked and respected and didn't want to disappoint. And I was existentially terrified that I was going to let them down (and even now, that's still my biggest worry.) I'm just saying, surely the situation can be better.

The way I keep writing about it, y'all are going to start thinking I really hate making films. I guess tomorrow I should talk about why I love it, so you don't get the wrong idea.
12:55 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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