Friday, February 09, 2007
The Longest Link Drop Ever

If you're interested, I just found an decent film blog. It's not one of those amateur-critic blogs that always end up annoying me; this one's written by Bordwell and Thompson themselves, so it would probably serve as a decent, ongoing, free film theory education for those so inclined.

Me, I've always been kind of ambivalent about Bordwell and Thompson. They're absolutely solid where film theory is concerned, albeit in a slightly prosaic, safe kind of way. By which I mean, it's an excellent resource for thinking about existing films, and it's a good explanation of ideas about form and style for (shall we say) laymen, but I think it doesn't actually have much to offer to the would-be filmmaker. It's a good tool for watching films, but in and of itself not it's much help when it comes to making them. Once you've started making films, though, Film Art becomes almost superfluous -- my biggest surprise going back to school was picking up the book thinking, "well, I guess I better finally read this damn thing," and realizing after a couple of chapters that I already basically knew everything in it.

And it goes without saying that Bordwell and Thompson don't offer much at all on the subject of documentary, which is probably the other big reason why I haven't spent much time with their books. If you'll allow me a dodgy analogy, if dramatic film is the Newtownian physics of cinema, then documentary film is like quantum physics: the equations that work so well for one simply break down when applied to the other. Bordwell and Thompson, then, are something like your high school physics teacher -- they may well mention the existence of other ways of thinking about the subject, and might briefly describe the mysteries of documentary, but ultimately they're going to leave it to someone else to explain. And yes, there's doubtless a cinematic Theory Of Everything capable of uniting the two, and yes, I'm almost frantically interested in that, but I think I've stretched the analogy far enough without going into that.

(As a side note, if you really do want to read more about documentary film, I'd suggest Rabiger's Directing the Documentary to start with. People seem to like this one too, but I haven't read it, so I don't know. It seems to lean a bit heavily on the makers of fluffy docs, though, with less emphasis on foundational films, so I can't deny being a little reluctant. Anything that lists Ken Burns first and Barbara Kopple not at all is immediately a little suspect in my eyes.)

And while we're on the subject of documentary film...

Last week, after years of meaning to but never quite getting around to it, I sat down and watched Grey Gardens. Yes, I'm a little ashamed that I've gotten this far without seeing it; I can only say in my defense that I've watched Salesman like a hundred fucking times. Anyway, it's a blisteringly amazing film in a way that only a certain kind of person will ever appreciate -- it's straight-up humanity presented free of gloss or judgment, and it's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I love Wiseman and Morris, but I think for pure documentary, nobody's ever accomplished more than the Maysles brothers. They weren't the most aesthetically accomplished docs, nor did they ever do much to change the world; they only tried to be still and to observe and understand, which in the end, in my opinion, is documentary's highest calling. And when you understand that -- when you really get what they were doing -- you won't need books to tell you about documentary film art anymore; you'll have it in your soul.

So yeah... after that, all the talk about theory and style and mise en scene feels a little empty to me. Which is probably why, though I'm often tempted by the vast possibilities of dramatic film, I keep coming back to doc work. Attaining aesthetic perfection, to me, could never approach the value of genuinely seeing just one brave, fragile, imperfect human being.

Still, it's not a bad blog if you like that sort of thing.
12:58 PM ::
Amy :: permalink