Tuesday, September 9, 2008

This thought I had.

It was my friend Joseph Peeler who once lamented to me that his deepest disappointment regarding the medium of film was the element of sensationalism inherent to film that obstructs it from being a truly personal expression. He compared films to comic books, a medium he was passionate about, and supplied examples demonstrating his point of view. A comic book (normal books too, but I don't recall if Joseph at that time mentioned normal books, so fervent was his comic book enthusiasm in those days) is capable of engaging the reader without filmic buffers. Emotionally it can be an unmitigated portrayal, the comic book can.

The qualification of filmic buffers we might not have delved into too deeply that day, though they've certainly occupied my thoughts recently. Also the frame of mind we must have been in to even have this discussion previously. I wish I had more like it still, and maybe I don't because I've bought too much into them since moving to LA. LA is built on the tradition of these buffers: the actor, the setting, the camera, the writer, the director, the etc. It's accepted that filmmaking is a group effort, based on the requirements for the process, but perhaps there has come to be accepted an exaggerated justification for these features, and perhaps it's no longer as clear or as exposed the unnecessary enhancements that are implicit.

This idea has been incubating recently while I've been (re)watching some Bergman and Pasolini films. Two things I read while reading about the films were notably as inspiring as the films themselves. One simply enough was the allmovie.com biography for Bergman, which includes this passage:

"Ingmar Bergman radically altered the nature and meaning of the motion-picture form, transfiguring a medium long devoted to spectacle into an art capable of profoundly personal meditations into the myriad struggles facing the psyche and the soul. By focusing on the exploration of self with unparalleled intensity, Bergman brought to the screen a new sense of emotional intimacy, fusing the concepts behind Freudian psychotherapy with a dreamlike sensibility founded on visual metaphors, flashbacks, and extreme close-ups to create a revelatory cinematic world unlike any before it."

Reviews for Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (I haven't even watched the movie yet!), especially Bill Gibron and Glenn Erickson's at DVDTalk.com. If you are reading this you should read in full both those reviews. Here is a segment from Gibron's that touches on what I think are impressive qualities:

"Instead, Pasolini believed (foolishly or not) that he could change things via his art. He saw the power of cinema as being a visual representation of the unexplainable, a heightened understanding of that which mere words found difficult to convey. This is clearly the case with Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom. Granted, its message and method are so clear as to be exhaustive. True, the film will try your patience with its mannered, meticulous pacing. And let's make one thing perfectly clear - once the final shot has faded, you may hate this film and yourself for indulging in its dehumanizing scenarios. But it's also impossible to shake, a movie that makes itself at home in your ethos. No matter the format, that's the sign of something timeless."

(Interviews of Bergman and Pasolini I recommend as well).
(And any good Italian neo-realism film will effectively induce these thoughts).

I didn't realize specifically what I was contemplating until I read about Fassbinder's segment in Germany in Autumn. Fassbinder used himself, his lover, and his mother as the lead actors for his portion of this omnibus, essentially adapting and dramatizing real life. Using himself, and the people close to him, to play himself, and the people close to him. I tried to think of other examples of this, and it's difficult. I think Wenders conspicuously blends reality and fiction, notably in Lightning Over Water, where he plays himself visiting Nicholas Ray, who is played by Nicholas Ray. Robert Kramer's Milestones attempts to mean the same (it feels completely real and documentaried, there's even an actual child birth). Kent MacKenzie's The Exiles. What he and his friends attempted was the creation of one of their actual singles days over the course of a week's shooting. You know I think it's what Cassavetes wanted to do, and I think what he did was radically close for his time/place. His intentions were there - probably if he and his core group of collaborators hadn't been actors they would have really mined deeper, but because they approached filmmaking from an actor's perspective they thought of character building. His intentions however were realism and authentic depiction.

Authentic depiction. I don't know if I've thought about it as much in the past couple years as I did in those first years when I first started writing. Did I buy too heavily into this idea of a filmmaking tradition? You can't purposely ignore logical allowances for ability and potential, and you shouldn't underestimate the craftsmanship, professionalism, and sheer brutal raw talent of a gifted actor or crew member - they're all beautiful things - I'm only thinking that maybe I started looking too much outside my own life. I often quote that Kandinsky description, "abstract the intrinsic elements," and I think genre is an awesome and valid filmic abstraction, but have I drifted too much away from the intrinsic elements? I might have sold out on my own life in some recent writings. Tarantino said that if you can't work what's happened to you in the day into what you're writing that day, it won't be any good. Kevin Smith said he followed Rodriguez's model when he wrote Clerks - Rodriguez knew he had a guitar, a bus, and a turtle, so he included those in his El Mariachi script - Smith wrote a script about the convenience store he worked in (it's unfortunate that Smith has so heavily altered his image since Clerks, but it's his image to alter and I won't talk about it too much, I only want to say that I watched Clerks again recently and it is a truly great film, whatever your (and my) thoughts about his later works maybe be).

I want to get back to writing what's natural and honest and comes from my life. I too often imagine an audience these days, an audience judging and criticising my writing, and I've unintentionally allowed that phantom audience to shape my writing. I don't want to anymore.

1 comment:

joe said...

#1. I'm glad you are posting, and posting good things
#2. Thanks.
#3. I'm working over in my brain a response, and it will include:
1. Eddie Campbell
2. Thomas Pynchon
3. Bob le Flambeur
4. Joe Peeler
#4. Havent read the script yet; dealing with silly landlord issues. Will re-emerge soon.
#5. I don't have a clue what to write about Girl Cut in Two.