This is in response to a post on John August's blog, reporting about a WGA panel addressing the state of screenwriting and tips for screenwriters.
It's not pretty. Even for an unashamedly commercial writer who'd kill to write Alien vs. Predator vs. Transformers 2, the present and future are not looking great.
More than ever, the marketing department determines which scripts get greenlighted. There's less money for production in general, so only the most commercial, most pre-sold (as in, based on a pre-existing property) projects get off the ground.
If the big boys (the majors) are tightening their belts like mad, where does that leave everyone else... you know, the alternatives like the supposed "indie scene"?
Okay, let me say it. I hope I'm wrong.
The American film industry is slowly collapsing.
Screenwriters are reporting that the market has gotten even more cutthroat in the last few years, but film quality has not noticeably improved. Movie attendance is up so far, but DVD is down and ticket prices are rising faster than the rate of inflation. Movies are more expensive than ever to make.
It's sort of an entertainment stagflation right now.
I believe that the industry is about where it was in 1964, when it was becoming clearer that Hollywood was leaving its transition stage (1948-1967) and about to blossom into its magnificent Silver Age, the fabled time of the American auteur, the time of 2001, M*A*S*H, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars...
But I'm having trouble seeing a New Silver age coming up.
The reason folks like Coppola and Spielberg got esteemed positions in the first place was because the powers-that-be hadn't a clue what the youth market wanted-- so they tried anything and everything to put bums in seats.
Allegedly the executives who got pitched Harold and Maude (1971) couldn't understand what the movie was about, let alone why anyone would want to see it. But with the suggestion of a hip soundtrack, it got the greenlight without reservations.
Marketing has evolved a lot since 1971, and now thanks to Facebook and Twitter a square old executive can (supposedly) figure out exactly what the kiddie's want, and then envision a movie with the intent of exploiting the latest "It".
Not a particuarly creative environment, huh?
Another difference is technology: enterprising young producers are turning to webcasts to deliver new media products. Of course, movies are designed to be projected on a screen [in film] in a dark room with other [attentive] people-- but this concept hasn't sat well with Generation Y and beyond, if the amount of talking and texting in multiplexes is a reliable indicator.
Okay, you say. So mass audiences are migrating away from the traditional notions of cinema. Can't it just evolve like live theater did after the "talkies": a smaller, specialized art form appealing to certain demographics?
My thought (and I hope this isn't the case) is no.
One point is economic. Films cost a freakin' lot of money. They take a freakin' lot of people to make happen. They take a freakin' long time to put together. Decreased interest and decreased capital availble means... decreased movies.
The other point is interest itself. I have been told that my generation is the most visually sophisticated ever.
But we also have as more entertainment options than ever before. And oddly enough, I don't think our generation's taste is any more sophisticated than the past.
Decades ago, there used to be campus film societies where geeks would sit around and talk about Ozu and John Ford and watch 16mm prints while the film-nerdiness would exude all over the screening room.
Some of that still exists online at IMDB and elsewhere. But as my Independent Cinema professor pointed out, that sort of subculture that fostered the nascent careers of the Movie Brats dried up with the introduction of VHS, and has gotten even more eviscerated since.
Few people of my generation want to be the next Welles, like Bogdonavich did. Or the next Lean, like Spielberg did.
I shudder to think of when wanting to be even the next Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is considered a statement of one's artistic integrity.
Will the movies die? I don't think so. I think we're going to see a schism between extremely professional "slick" films (in Digital IMAX 3-D and so forth) and extremely lo-budget "grunge" films made for $20. Hopefully the two can co-exist for a while.
But I'd hate to lose the middle ground for good.
Here is my rant: I think the idea of an autobiography is impossible. Even if you accept that every bio and autobio is going to be painfully subjective, I feel that the nature of the autobio is so hopelessly subjective that it's more fantasy than fact.
Not that it's impossible to know one's self. Or that it's impossible to represent one's self in any context. But as your conscious awareness is so selective to begin with, autobiographies are like the literary equivalent of Fantasy Football: full of "best-of"s and hypothetical renderings pretending to be the real deal.
If I had to write a straight up autobio, I would claim to be raised by natives in Papua New Guinea, before stowing away on a cargo ship and ending up at a migrant worker camp in Texas. Because that's a far more interesting story to me than my actual past life.
So I decided to make a "subconscious video diary", a somewhat surrealist account of an average day in my life. I think it works for the most part: lots of sound design, lots of manipulated footage, lots of bizarre edits, lots of snatches of music.
Some parts work, some don't. I think my professor won't find it autobiographical enough-- I'll do my best to defend.
I'll keep you updated on how it goes.
I'm shooting my "perfect scene" (from Punch Drunk Love) sometime this weekend, reportedly. We have an actor more or less set for the dramatic Adam Sandler role. I'll likely play the Dentist, which is cool for me. I get a kick out of playing absurdly deadpan. I guess that's my "stage persona".
I pitched my final project for Narrative. Right now it's called Dysart Revisited, more details will follow as I reify things [I love that word!] and start working on pre-production. My professor really seemed to like it; he referred to an author I hadn't heard of, and I felt kinda stupid that I didn't who that was. It's not like I have to know everything, but at least I should be aware of similar styles of writing...
It comes down to father vs. son in a dying Southern town, stylistically Jim Jarmusch meets Terrence Malick. (Which I should write a post about one of these days.)
Details to follow...
And I'm working on my old feature-length again. I haven't thought about it since last August, and I don't think I've written of a word of it since December 2007. I totally revamped it, but I won't spill any beans. Yet.
Though I will say that the project has been constantly evolving since I first envisioned it in April 2004. Yes, that long ago.
In fact, there's only one common element through all the drafts, and even that has significantly diminished in importance over time. (Yeah, not even the same characters or types of plot.) It's like generations worth of organisms.
Movies Worth Watching: Playtime (1967)
Like the previously profiled Brewster McCloud (1970), Playtime is another title with a long history of unavailability. The good news is that the Criterion Collection offers a beautiful DVD edition that's worth every dollar. The bad news is the tragic story of its production.
In the 1950s, French comedian/auteur Jacques Tati was riding high on critical and commercial success, winning Best Foreign Film Oscars and entertaining Europe with his satirical silent-film style of comedy. (His influence is especially felt in Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean character.)
Therefore, he was able to get funding for his dream project: a multicharacter comic exploration of a modern city, playing at an epic length in 70mm. Being the perfectionist he was, no existing city fit his specifications, forcing him to build a city in the French countryside.
Although not fully to scale, this set (called Tativille) had actual inhabitable buildings with water and electricity, city streets, traffic lights, freeways, you name it.
And from there things got bad. Although production started in 1962 (I think), constant problems and Tati's snail's pace dragged the film out until 1967. By then, Tati's big budget and observational style seemed quaint up against the likes of the French New Wave. Critics panned Playtime, and it flopped pathetically.
The outrageous investment Tati had put into the film (including his personal savings) caused him to lose his house, property, and the rights to Playtime and all his other films. To add insult to injury, Tativille (which was intended to become a film school after production ended) was repossessed and torn down.
By the time it made it to America, the film was in a heavily butchered state that barely reflected what Tati intended.
But over the decades Playtime's mystique grew and it developed a cult following. In the 90s, Tati's family was able to put together a restoration that combines all the remaining footage from the original cut, which is what is available today.
So what makes Playtime more than an odd footnote in film history?
For one thing, it plays like no other film you've ever seen.
There is not a single close up. Heck, anything closer than a long wide shot is a rarity. There is also an almost total lack of dialogue. There are voices on the soundtrack, but they are either about trivial things like hotel room numbers, or in languages you don't understand.
There is a story, but there is no "plot". One sequence just follows another, just like a person would explore a city in real life.
A group of American tourists arrive in "Paris". The airport is so bland that it is indistinguishable from an office building or a hospital. The tourists get stuck in traffic on the freeway. An old man, M. Hulot (Tati himself) tries all morning to meet with his banker. He gets shuffled from one waiting room to another. Meanwhile the tourists visit an expo of tacky and useless products.
Everything in the first half of the film suggests that we have entered Hell. Everything about this environment is so impersonal, so calculated, and so bereft of vitality... but so familiar. This is our globablized world.
But something magical is going on. A "hip" restaraunt is trying to prepare itself for its grand opening while still under construction. The human element keeps getting in the way-- the restaurant would run fine if it weren't for the people. Eventually the tourists and Hulot end up there accidentally... and the place literally falls apart, bit by bit.
As people's mistakes "ruin" the "perfect" environment, the customers open up, become more relaxed, friendlier. They start making their own fun in the surroundings, instead of having entertainment fed to them by a higher economic power.
By dawn, the city has transformed. What was once Hell is now Heaven, where joyful sights and amusing stories are everywhere.
The secret is paying attention.
That's what Playtime is about: attention. The odd formal properties of the film force the audience to pay extreme attention if they want to understand anything. We are so used to the predigested formula that when we encounter something this radical, we revolt.
But maybe we have to break ourselves out of that mold. Maybe that's how we should see the world.
For as long as there is a place with humans, there are stories. There are emotions. There are little jewels of behavior. You just have to... pay attention to what's happening.
And with that in mind, Tati suggests, anytime becomes Playtime.
"From near to far, from here to there: funny things are everywhere." - Dr. Seuss
I've actually known this for a quite a while, so it's not exactly a surprise. But by concluding that it has moved from the realm of possibility to fact.
What do I mean?
I've been writing things for as long I can remember. I attempted writing down stories before I had a good grasp of the form of the alphabet-- that's how long.
Some people work to develop their fiction writing muscles with conscious ambition, to improve their self-expression and creativity. Personally, I can't help it: I've had one writing project or another going continuously since 7th grade.
At some point, I assumed, I'd just "get over it" and settle down with a real goal for an occupation. I guess I thought I'd say "oh snap!" and suddenly realize that Public Health was where it was at. Or something.
My first major in college was Rhetoric. That was like, inverse writing. Whoa. Understanding how communication works. I loved it, and I still love it.
But it was just as impractical as majoring in Creative Writing, as Rhetoric tends to be a gateway for either marketing or PR. Around this time last year I realized that I have little interest for either.
So where did that leave me? Media.
Working on a film and at a television studio gave me a great amount of joy. I've always been attracted to the media, and the thought of making it happen always seemed to be too good to be true, like there was something standing in my way.
Turned out there wasn't.
When I directed my first little "serious" short, I felt the thrill of composing the visual presentation and working with the actors. It can be a pain, but in the end it's exhilarating.
But my stumbling block is that I've never been one to play with the toys for the toy's sake. I'm probably the last person on earth to get excited about a new piece of tech. I'm interested in things that can serve my creative needs.
So I'm not the dude who gets a thrill from setting up the dolly, or chatting about the latest piece of equipment.
I'm the dude who wants to sit down with the actors and chat about their characters. I'm the dude who goes off by himself and thinks, "what is the best way to show this?" then presents my vision to the DP, who figures out the nitty-gritty.
Turns out the former set of skills is more highly prized by the industry than the latter. Why? Because there can only be so many "creative" leads at one given time.
Most of the work has to be done by the creative grunts, the ones who know all the secrets of Final Cut and After Effects.
That's what I mean by saying that I'm a writer at heart. I want to create the story, not create the creation of the story.
I do have anxieties that my own technical skills are not "enough" in the cutthroat industry. I could even be right: I certainly have no interest in becoming a DP.
I quote from an interview with superb writer/director Joss Whedon, who somehow managed to not compromise artistic success with commercial success:
WHEDON: You get so many people out here with incredible technical expertise who have nothing to say, or no idea of the importance of having something to say, or the importance of understanding what they're saying.I discovered this interview after I wrote the above paragraphs, and I'm glad that Mr. Whedon sees things in a similar light that I do. Nobody wants their film or TV show to look like crap-- but why bother making it pretty when there's nothing to stand behind it?
IGNFF: Do you think, to some extent, those are the kind of filmmakers that the Hollywood executive tends to like – because they're malleable?
WHEDON: Yeah. Well, you want somebody who can make it pretty and make it work and give the executive what the executive thinks they want, and bring something to the party. Not just translate the words. If you're the writer, what you're looking for is somebody who can convey the actual meaning of the script... and quite frankly, people who are just schooled in production don't really have that. There's a lot of people out there who make a pretty frame, that has nothing to do with what is said.
Heaven's Gate is an unbelievably gorgeous movie. It is also physically painful to watch.
Cassavettes didn't give a flip about how his movies looked: which makes them an ordeal to sit through when you're accustomed to Hollywood-ish aesthetics. A better model is my arch-hero Altman, who made movies that looked good, but wouldn't let the requirements of "correctness" diminish what he was trying to accomplish.
In conclusion: My goal, then is to do my best (with the help of others) to do as much of the "creation" as possible. And hope for the best.
No small task. But fun.
I chose a scene from P.T. Anderson's Punch Drunk Love-- ironically, the movie of his I like the least.
It's not a bad movie at all. It isn't a particularly great movie either. My theory is that the film is so personal (Anderson called it his "autobiography") and so uninhibited in style and content that these elements prevent it from fully connecting with an audience. A majority of its scenes are superb scenes: wonderfully written, directed and acted-- but in the end you remember it for the sum of its parts than for its whole. (Who needs plot or character development when you've got the Mattress Man phone call, the bathroom destruction, the homicidal pillow talk, "He Needs Me"...)
I guess it's Anderson's Lady In The Water: a movie that reveals more about it's creator's cinematic desires than anything actually on the screen. But as Anderson is a superior director to Shyamalan in nearly every respect, it is considerally more enjoyable.
The scene immediately follows Barry's (Adam Sandler) destruction of his sister's sliding glass doors, after his family gossips about his lack of love life in his presence. (Ouch.) He pulls his brother-in-law Walter aside to apologize, and ask for something.
(Apologies for the lack of true screenplay formatting.)
INT. SUSAN'S HOUSE - HALLWAY - LATER
It's later and WALTER and BARRY walk down a small hall and into a kids room.
They're OC for a few moments as the CAMERA slowly pushes in and towards the room. Following sotto;
Well I'm sorry. Before...
And I'm sorry that I did that.
I wanted to ask you because you're a doctor, right?
I don't like the way I am sometimes. (beat) Can you help me?
Barry, I'm a dentist, what kind of help do you think I can give you?
I know that. Maybe you know other doctors?
Like a psychiatrist?
I don't have anyone to talk to things about and I understand it's confidential with a doctor - I'm embarrassed about that and I don't want my sisters to know?
You want a number for a psychiatrist, I can get you one, that's not a problem. but what exactly is wrong?
I don't know if there's anything wrong with me because I don't know how other people are.....Sometimes I cry a lot.....for no reason.
Barry starts to cry. Walter just stares at him. HOLD.
Barry stops, recuperates, then leaves.....as he does;
Please don't tell my sisters.
What's going on in this little scene is truly incredible, both textually and subtextually. Having expressed his pent-up frustration in a spontaneous moment of rage, Barry returns to his senses and does the socially correct thing: he apologizes to the host, the begrieved party.
Walter's reaction is as sterile as carbolic acid. He's known Barry for years; this is typical. Barry has always been his wife's crazy brother, her only brother, the scapegoat of the family unit. This probably is not the first time Barry has apologized for property destruction. So he gives a arctic response: "It's alright."
Clearly it isn't. Barry knows this.
His shame, plus the disconnect between words and scenario prompts Barry to admit something that would never emerge in normal circumstances: that he doesn't like himself. And then asks for help.
Walter is now somewhat embarrassed: he is, in fact, only a dentist. Why his psycho brother-in-law should drop this bomb on him is inexplicable. So he sterilizes his instruments and retreats further, asking a series of questions regarding what kind of help Barry wants, and what precisely his problem is. He's gone from being a family confidante to an apersonal medical professional.
Barry is expecting all sorts of responses to his revelation: sympathy, empathy, disgust, ridicule, anger, etc. Instead, a man he trusts puts up a facade that prevents any rapport at all. He might as well be talking to a computer.
The words he spills out demonstrate just how lowly and fragile a state he is in. Barry doesn't know where to begin, because he hasn't a clue whether his feelings are even normal or not, given how little intimate contact he has with others. (Barry may have even have Aspberger's Syndrome. Or at least, he is extremely depressed.) He feels the need to excuse even bringing up the subject to another person, which of course is unwarranted.
He mentions his worst symptom and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: he bursts into tears. Regaining his composure for a moment, he leaves the scene by warning Walter against one of his worst fears: telling his sisters. They are a gossipy, despicable bunch who bully and henpeck their brother incessantly, even interrupting his business conferences to chew him out. They are his personal Furies, through which he is unjustifiably tormented.
(Later in the film we learn that Walter does tell his sisters every detail of their conversation, but by that point Barry is so smitten with Love that he hardly cares.)
Watching the scene with Sandler and the other actor (sorry I don't have the name), Anderson plays the scene on a tightrope: wavering in an unnerving balance between pathos and laughter. It's this quality most of all that has me attracted to it: a moment so powerful and emotional that you're not sure whether to cry or laugh.
It is funny: being so desperate that you have to admit your problems to a dentist, who doesn't want to hear them. It is terrible: being so lonely that the only way to cope is to bawl. In public.
Believe me, I've been in places like that before. Sad but true. To experince it is harrowing... in retrospect, ridiculous. Above all, the scene is honest.
The original shows the whole moment in one take. The storyboard my partner created breaks it up into more discrete moments, which I think can emphasize aspects of both the awkwardness and the raw emotion underneath the words. Let's hope.
I'll keep you posted.
I feel the need to profile some of my favorite/most well-made films, but I want to avoid categorizing anything in terms of "best of" or "essential". Partly because I don't think I have the authority to do so. As my taste subtly shifts over time, I'd hate to see myself declaring the 20 greatest movies only to discover 2 years later that half of them suck, and I left out 7 ones better than any on the list.
So I'll frame this as movies that should simply be seen. Here are movies I love, movies I think are excellent, but above all they need to be watched.
The first in this series is quite hard to watch: not because of style or subject matter, but because it has been out of print for nearly 25 years. Part of the magic of Brewster McCloud is that it is so damn difficult to find. I saw it first on an ancient VHS from the school library, and now I have a rare torrent (ahem) of the even rarer LaserDisc release. So I consider myself lucky.
Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is an incredibly awkward young man in his late teens/early twenties. He needs to fly. Not in an airplane or through skydiving: he needs the freedom true flight provides. He needs to be a bird. He is a bird trapped in a human's body.
Therefore, he lives in the fallout shelter of the Houston Astrodome. He spends his days stealing supplies and building his white feathered wings, a flying machine that is the next greatest thing to being an avian specie. His mentor is the enigmatic Louise (Sally Kellerman), a (literal?) fallen angel with wing-removal scars on her back to prove it. She is a blonde Maleficent wearing nothing but a trenchcoat (with a raven familiar to boot!)
Brewster has two problems: One is that whenever some schmuck gets in his way, they always end up strangled. And found splattered with birdshit. Hmm. The Houston PD brings in "superdetective" Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) to solve these Houston Stranglings, and they seem to be closing in on our hero. That is, if Shaft wasn't too vain and lazy to actually work on the case.
The other problem is Suzanne (Shelly Duvall's debut role). She's a tour guide at the Dome, and a part-time NASCAR driver. Bubbly and earthbound, she falls head over heels for McCloud whilst spouting stream-of-consciousness monologues about lawsuits and diarrhea and Mexican food.
But Brewster must remain a virgin to continue to receive Louise's guidance and protection. What's a murderous little bird-boy to do?
Our story is told by an absent-minded professor (Rene Auberjonois) who reduces every situation to a dry lecture on avian behavior. As the movie progresses, he himself turns into a bird... before our very eyes!
By the way, Brewster is directed by Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player).
Okay. This is a weird movie. No. To call this weird is to belittle the accomplishments of truly weird movies. This is a fucked-up movie.
Imagine a Disney Channel flick written by Thomas Pynchon. Add some original songs by John Philips (of the Mamas and Papas) and an early 70s sensibility.
It's hilarious too.
The climax (which is not too unpredictable) is unnervingly cathartic, playing out with nightmarish intensity like the most vivid of dreams. The grande finale that follows is a riff on Fellini's 8 1/2, concluding with one of the most original and thrilling end-credit sequences ever.
All to remind you: this is just a movie. Identity is just a play. "Living the dream" is not being what you really are deep down, but attempting to become what you fantasize yourself to be. There's a difference, and that's at the kernel of the story.
It's the anti-Disney, told through the most Disney-ish of devices: the fairy tale.
It's subversive. It's sublime. "It's birdshit." GWAAAAAAK!
The rules are different for each branch, but the same principle always applies: you take quantitative stuff out there in the world and organize it into rational models in your head.
It’s not real. I mean, look around and show me 3x + 16 = y-24. The best you can do is show me a situation in which a variable is affected in that specific pattern, but the recognition of that organization is mental, man-made.
Art is a game too. It’s math that’s been inverted: you take irrational impulses in your head and organize them into qualitative stuff. Art = math^ -1.
Somewhere down the line we’ve gotten the notion (especially among Americans) that the hard sciences are some of the noblest of studies, and that art is something made by losers with nothing better to do.
Why? It’s a matter of usage: a scientist makes discoveries through research, an engineer designs a machine. These are material things that are helpful (and can make a lot of money).
Remember Jesse Helms ranting about art funding? Try that same spiel with pharmaceutical research and you’d be labeled a misanthropist, or much worse.
(By the way, Merck and GSK etc. don’t have to beg for funding, as their products are pretty much guaranteed to make money. Sick people always need pills, man.)
Art’s usage is all in the head; you can’t see it. If you look out at an audience watching a play or movie, there’s no tangible evidence that they’re undergoing a life-changing experience.
Plus there’s that nasty subjectivity issue. Godard’s Weekend and The Sound of Music have both changed people’s lives, although they usually aren’t the same sort of people. Zantac works for everyone.
But what the critics on both sides fail to realize is that neither art nor math can be judged superior, as they are wholly complementary games. Imagination is required for both to succeed, as is analytical reasoning. And to divide the world into a left-brain/right-brain schism is to ignore all the shady areas in between-- most especially philosophy.
Later I’ll get into art vs. business. Now that''s all sorts of shades of gray.
In fact, the character of Basil Fawlty must be lodged in my brain from repeated viewings, as my own screenwriting creation Raymond Ledbetter seems to be his direct descendant. (That screenplay, The Death of Ledbetter, is in the process of being produced by a campus group.)
So here it is, probably my favorite episode.
It was a long shot from the beginning. With a minimal portfolio and a 5% acceptance rate, the odds were against me the whole time.
But they sent a nice rejection letter.
Oh well. I still have to hear back from CalArts.
How wrong that statement is.
I remember my 9th grade civics teacher admonishing us at the end of the year to never use drugs. Bear in mind that this was a man whose classroom walls were covered in Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix posters.
"If you look around," he said, "you'll find that being sober is far stranger than anything you'd encounter high."
He's right, you know.
There are stories of writers' manuscripts and screenplays being rejected for improbability, when in fact they were based on real events.
I know a young man who is impossibly moody. Seriously, he makes Hamlet look like Pollyanna. He is extremely tall and lanky, and carries himself with a hunched, awkward gait. His eyes are always downcast, his head toward the ground. He slams doors everywhere he goes. Everywhere.
I've seen him sitting in a hallway, hoodie pulled up tight Donnie Darko style, sobbing. His girlfriend sits next to him, comforting him in soothing tones.
Honestly, this is a weekly occurrence. Sometimes biweekly.
Maybe one day I'll corner him and ask how he can sustain his despair for such long periods. No, I'd never do that. The poor guy seems to suffer enough already.
Take another young man. It is a rare occasion that I see him without his roommate; they do everything together. I cannot tell if they are best friends or a gay couple: their relationship is so intimate that the boundaries are hard to discern.
In contrast to the other fellow, this guy is usually up. His conversation patterns are quite idiosyncratic: if you relate something unpleasant, he'll scream "OWWW!" as loud and intense as if he stubbed his toe. Say something outstanding and he'll wail with joy. Very, very loud.
I could not write characters like these without accusations of being "over the top". Yet these are real, breathing people with hopes and fears and problems and roles like anyone else.
The depth of humanity is astounding. Truly.
And it doesn't require any imagination to appreciate it.
Very instructively, he went through his entire process: having the actors read the scene, discuss it, rehearse it, and then block the shots. Clearly he knew what he was doing, and for a bonus the writing was great.
Once the camera was turned on, the scene played terribly. It played... like two people playing a scene. Our instructor made some adjustments ( by encouraging them to actually look at each other every now and then when they talk) and that was a huge improvement.
But still... to me it was kinda off.
I thought about what I would have done differently.
This wasn't an action sequence or clever chit-chat. The characters are retired ex-lovers being forced to catch up in a gorgeous mountain setting, even though neither of them really wants to do it. However, the man has something important to tell the woman, which has brought him to this point in the first place.
I didn't know the context when I first read the scene-- It seemed like a Woody Allen/Diane Keaton moment: a neurotic dude and a cool (albeit slightly wonky) chick discuss their past and skim the surface of their future.
I think what was missing from the performances was a true sense of tension. Neither character wants to be in this position, but they must. Hateful memories and mountain scenery are an incredible clash. Heck, talking about ancient, buried conflicts anywhere is tough enough!
I wanted the characters to just sit there. Sit. There. Until the tension is so unbearable that one of them must speak. Each response in return occurs because it must happen in order to break the tension.
When I write and read scripts, I envision scenes from the big to the small picture: I have to find a sense of the mood and contextual scenario before I would pinpoint the actors in terms of their character's business.
Nobody goes through life planning their next emotion, fulfilling an arc of their identity as they progress through each moment. (Unless they are a manipulative psychopath, and in that case they're missing a big chunk of their humanity.)
Instead, we as agents are thrust into milieus. There is no script. We act according to our nature/experience (our character) and the "rules" of the scenario: cultural, social, spatial, emotional.
Why should film/theater/fiction be any different?
Why shouldn't an actor interpolate their character into the scenario, instead of "interrogating" that character to see what they'd do at a specific moment?
What's easier: explaining to a stranger what you did all day, or explaining which emotion you felt on the top of each hour?
Just my take. But I'm still learning.
Okay. Call me pretentious or whatever. But I adore the work of the late Michelangelo Antonioni.
In fact, I'd even consider him in my top 10 of favorite directors.
Once upon a time Antonioni had the distinction of being "hip". Unfortunately this was circa 1965. Whatever critical and cultural appreciation he'd had dried up after the debacle of Zabriskie Point, and he was never able to hold the esteem of either faction afterwards.
On the surface level, the man made pretty damn boring movies. They are the stereotypical art films in which "nothing ever happens". L'avventura begins with a conceit about a missing woman on an isolated island, and then completely forgets both the woman and the plotline. Blowup is 24 hours in one dude's life, and not a particularly likable dude at that.
This is the man who ended The Passenger with a seven-minute long take that's almost entirely camera movement and nearly devoid of action.
So why the love? Why bother with films so lacking of all the hallmarks of tradition Hollywood: narrative, identifiable characters, predigested thematic material...
Because these boring movies are damn interesting to watch. With the right mindset.
I could praise the compositional virtuosity of Paul Thomas Anderson or Spielberg, but they pale in comparison to the control Antonioni exerts on his mise-en-scene.
Every shot is so graphically stellar, so appropriate for the scenario. You've entered a universe where men and women are lost in the world that surrounds them, where the emotions exuded by a lamp post or the color of a building are as important as the words the characters speak.
You never doubt that Antonioni characters are real people. Sure, most are extremely disaffected and many of them are quite banal. But when you watch them, you never get the sense that they're acting this way "for the movie". They just... are that way. Being able to transcend that inherent falsehood of performance is a feat for any director, regardless of style.
Of course, having actors as talented as Monica Vitti and Jack Nicholson helps.
And what about that absence of (traditional) narrative? Is not Blowup a journey? David Hemmings' exploration of Swinging London reveals less about the sociopolitical geography than it does his own mind: searching for satisfaction, try to make meaning about of noise... Whether he succeeds or not is up for debate-- there's always that frustrating ambiguity.
But isn't it beautiful to look at it. The trees in the wind, the exciting/frightening club, the mimes and their tennis...
For a director so "intellectual", it's startling how many moments in an Antonioni movie are just plain pretty. Grabbing you like a portrait in art gallery. No explanation why, although I'm sure you can intellectualize something.
What is the point of the magical flagpole scene in L'Eclisse? I don't think there is one, other than some phony structuralist rendering of Lacanian blah. Why as humans do we bother assigning a meaning to something so fleeting, so vapid?
Perhaps the answer is in Bill's explanation of painting in Blow Up. He paints abstract expressionist works, and he doesn't understand why he creates the way he does. But afterwards:
"I find something to hang on to."
These films are about the "hangings on" in the world-- their beauty, their mystery, and how we deal with them.
Here's my take on the recent audio leak of Christian Bale going psycho on the Terminator Salvation DP (It's available everywhere):
Film sets are frustrating places. Extremely frustrating. There are so many things that can go wrong (and most of them do). Endurance and patience are probably the greatest virtues any cast or crew could hope to develop.
So it’s not hard to see why the DP was acting stoopid, and why Christian responded the way he did. One dude was feeling insecure about his lights, the other about his performance. Big deal. But there are much better ways of responding than simply blowing up on an underling. 99% of the time these explosions never solve anything; I don’t care how much you yell or get yelled at- when was the last time that was the solution to your problem?More importantly, where was the director?
This is No Hay Banda, where I'll be discussing all sorts of good stuff: thoughts on film, thoughts on my films (including the making thereof), and anything remotely related to the above.
And who am I? A student studying Media Production, about to be thrust into the real world of (hopeful) employment and the gloriousness of the American Real Life. I take great pleasure in writing (as well as directing).
As time passes I will post updates of the projects I'm working on: outlining what I'm learning, and creating a digital testament of my life as a media consumer/maker.
What you're not likely to find are long rants on cameras or how to achieve something in After Effects and so forth. I approach production from the aesthetic and storytelling ends of things, as well as thoughts on the industry.
Sound interesting? Stick around.