Sunday, August 27, 2006
My Machine

Or, how to talk and talk and talk without actually saying anything.

I've been going through one of those periods the last couple of months where I question everything about my existence. Am I in the right place, geographically and metaphorically? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? (That's a tricky one -- I have a tendency to get too caught up in what I'm "supposed" to be doing, and end up ignoring what I really should be doing. Whatever the fuck that is.) I just don't seem to be able to get any traction, and the endless wheel-spinning is exhausting me. I'm feeling a little faint of heart.

It occured to me recently that I have all but given up on being paid to do film work. I mean, ever. I've been re-training myself for non-film-related employment, and I'm not sure if that's smart or just weak. Even my film work preferences are changing -- at one point in my life, all I wanted was to be a camera operator; now I'd be perfectly happy to let someone else do all that hard production work and just sit in my comfortable editing room and cut. I have some inner resistence to the idea of labelling myself an editor, though, because editing is traditionally "women's work" in the film industry (or at least, the editing department is generally not as hostile to women as the camera department) and I would hate to think that there was even a hint that I'd let the bastards drive me away. Which isn't to say that I wouldn't keep shooting for my own work when I wanted to; and it's not to say that I don't still love production, at least sometimes. But lately I've been more interested in the process of combining images, and not as much in creating them.

Or maybe I should just drop film and write instead. I think it's safe to say that I'm a better writer than I am a filmmaker, if only because I've had so much more practice at the former than the latter. I can sit and write all goddamn day, and if I actually wrote second drafts I could probably be a lot better than I am. Writing is a more natural process for me than filmmaking (as if filmmaking could ever be a "natural" process -- Robert Flaherty's wife once said of him that, "he made films just like he defecated -- it was an organic, natural process." And maybe it really was like that for him, if it also required a year's work and thousands of dollars of capital every time he took a dump. "That Bob Flaherty, he practically shits movies!")

My point is, filmmaking is for me as often as not an exhausting, agonizing process that I do only because I can't not do it. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it more natural for me, to make it less of an agony, to work with my innate personality and not against it. Introversion and self-consciousness are not helpful traits for a filmmaker, but I don't see why they should stop me from making films at all. When I was a young girl, I played with the idea of working in film someday , but rejected it because it would require me to work with too many other people. Then I tried it, and discovered that the other people were the thing I loved best about it. Now, though, as much as I admire and adore the people I most often work with, sometimes I think I'd have an easier time of it if I could just go away and do my own thing in solitude.

And then the side of me that's tired of poverty just wants to go get a job with a big salary and to hell with all of it. Except that if I did that, I don't think there would be anything left of me.

I and some other people* are shooting a music video next weekend, which I'm really, really looking forward to -- partly because these are some of my favorite people ever, and partly because I've never done a video before. Music videos are weird -- on some level, it almost feels like cheating to make a video. They don't have to make any narrative sense (hell, they don't even have to make any symbolic sense,) and your rhythms and tone are already taken care of. All the hard work's done for you! You just have to slap some images together and voila, music video. It's easy, so it's where every young would-be filmmaker begins. I, being obstinant when it comes to paying my dues, thus avoided making videos entirely, sticking instead to heavy structure and aesthetic concerns, with mixed results.

But music videos just look like so damn much fun -- I've got no fucking idea how this one's going to turn out, but the process has been a nice blend of premeditated filmmaking and spontaneous cinema. It feels -- and this strikes me as a dangerous admission, but I'm going to dare to speak the truth and please be gentle with me -- but it feels like being back in high school with my friends and a movie camera, except now I actually have some tools and some skills and some experience. It's going to be a bit of a leap of faith, this one, and I'm grateful that anyone is willing to go along with me, but maybe it's exactly what I need. Anyway, it's either going to be the best or the worst thing I've ever done.

Nearly a decade into my film career, I find myself very drawn to pure images, without any hard structure or meaning behind them. Maybe it's because I can't cope with actors and all the trappings of drama (or I'm not talented enough with that side of things, or just can't be bothered), or maybe I've just learned to love images for their own sake. But half of the ideas I've had in the last year have all hinged on found footage and images that already exist in the world. There's a whole school of cinematic thought that says the world already has all the images it needs; that so many pictures have been created that we need never shoot any more raw footage ever again. I don't ascribe to that idea myself, if only because I still see too many interesting new images to be fooled. But I understand the thinking behind it. I half expect I could spend years just making films out of the mountains of cinematic and photographic trash lying around.

Maybe it's just a passing phase.

Speaking of trash, I got a typewriter. I was looking for an old manual portable to use as a prop, but was having no luck. It wasn't crucial that I have one, but it would be nice to have it available if I wanted it, and old typewriters have come up as props several times in the past so I figured it wouldn't be a bad investement. But several days of combing Memphis had left me hopeless of ever finding one -- I found sewing machines and radios and film cameras and projectors, but not a single typewriter. I was just about to give up when I found this one at an antique/junk store here in Mississippi, forgotten under an old coffee table. It was cheap, so I didn't even take a very good look at it before buying it; I just paid the lady and took it home. It's a Royal De Luxe from 1937-8 judging by the serial number, originally owned by a hotel in Memphis according to the tag. (Not quite as pristine as this one, but otherwise identical.) When I took it out for closer inspection I was gratified to discover that it still functions almost perfectly. I spent some time last night and today working on her with paper towels, cotton swabs, chrome polish, and a bottle of Windex, and as of this evening she's gleaming and beautiful. I even found a ribbon that fits her -- kinda cool that she works as well today as she did seventy years ago.

* I will write more about these "other people" one day soon. I'm just waiting for the right moment.
6:22 PM ::
Amy :: permalink