Paraphrasing, one of my favorite film makers, Mike Kuchar, said of movies, “There are many ways to skin a cat.” This, to me, is a very profound element of filmmaking.
A crane shot creates a certain emotional effect, a specific response. Is the crane shot the only way of achieving a certain sweeping emotional response? Certainly not. The composition of a shot can create the same effect without the use of such a bulky and expensive tool as a crane. The composition of a shot goes straight to the realm of raw human emotion. Will it have the same “production value” as a crane shot? Perhaps not. But when one is making movies, emotions are an important part of the picture. Some would say, the most important part of the picture. Those human feelings need to be engaged.
People seem to enjoy fighting for their opinions. Somehow it validates the human ego to make an argument and support it with evidence. “This must mean I am right.” For some it is all about professional looking cinematography. For some it is about the rough hand held stuff. Some are slaves to the narrative. Some only go for the avant garde. Seldom are both held in the same esteem. Humans have a tendency to really go for the binary. But there are so many destinations and pit stops in between. Why fight to prove one is better than the other? Why not just accept that there are many voices out there, many ways to skin a cat.
Let us not shut down the ability to enjoy and be enlightened by things that may not fall into the realm of what we have supposed as our personal taste. Just go with it. There are so many voices. We can listen to them. They have things to say and crazy, beautiful, terrifying, wild, songs to sing!
I was watching VHS 2 the other day and it hit me how audiences can’t really accept a no-fi approach to filmmaking unless it is part of the plot. I don’t get that. What a limited viewpoint. What a narrow scope of vision. The reason I make films is because I find it the most potent art form where sound and image meld into something almost metaphysical, something with the potential to enlighten. This can be done with a Flip just as potently as it can with a Red.
Instead, we apply tired and repressive dogmas to the way we see films. We can’t just accept a simple fact like this was shot using consumer grade video equipment. It’s like the audience puts its complete faith in knee jerk reactions. “Oh, this looks cheap. This must suck.”
How sad so many portals into strange and potentially illuminating worlds are neglected because of the audience’s hang ups and inability to suspend disbelief only if a very specific and stringent set of criteria is followed by the filmmakers. It is not the filmmaker’s job to follow restrictions set by the audience. The filmmaker’s job is to push those boundaries, to take the audience some place it has never been, even if it doesn’t want to go there. Art exists to do this. Why not do it in such a profoundly effective and accessible medium such as film?
Again, commerce diminishes the filmmaker’s potential to enlighten, as well as audience’s desire to be enlightened. It is a cycle of sickness and one can break free if externally imposed expectations are replaced with intrinsic motivation to learn, grow, and to find illumination.
Viewing film is an interactive experience, not mere spectatorship. We watch, but we make comparisons, check in with our feelings and formulate questions regarding what we are watching. Our questions lead us to ideas about what the film is trying to convey. Asking questions is vital interaction. Thinking about the emotions conveyed by the imagery, editing, lighting, production design, performances, etc, creates a genuine relationship between the viewer and the film.
Some films are big assholes. And some people fall under the spell of big assholes. The loud talking, obnoxious braggart is irresistible to those with the complementary psychological baggage. But some films are quiet and dignified. Others strange, twisted, and a little bit scary. When constructed thoughtfully and with clarity, films are alternate universes which vibrate profoundly, sometimes in tune with our own, and sometimes in atonal discord, which can be nice, too.
Sitting down for a movie and just expecting to get wowed is akin to letting your lover do all of the work. You must participate. Assume the filmmaker isn’t some jackass. Assume there is something they are trying to get across to the viewer. What is that?
Then watch. Think. Ask questions. Formulate ideas. And feel.
Hey! A fantastic film festival in Spain, Pantalla Fantasma, will be playing FELONY FLATS on Monday, January 20. I am so thrilled to be a part of this! Many thanks and love to Jorge Nuñez, Naxo Fiol, and Victor Olid, Spanish filmmakers and festival programmers who continue to support my work and nurture true underground filmmaking in that amazing country.
After a lengthy hiatus, I reviewed my last cut of the documentary I have been working on for so very long entitled The Naked Preacher Lady. I shot it ten years ago!
I always felt like a psychic explorer sinking in quicksand while shooting and editing this movie. The score Jamie Stewart provided was a vine that pulled me out. Gave me some sort of compass to measure things by, something I didn’t have before.
I was trying to make form out of the footage I had before me. I think maybe 7 mini dv tapes and 4 or 5 VHS tapes. Not a lot to work with, for some, but, for me, more… than… enough.
About a year and a half ago I was bogged down on NPL and wasn’t sure how to make it work. I knew it could be what I wanted it to be, but it was missing the mark. It was choppy and off and distracting. The rhythm was herky jerky. Things just didn’t flow with an inner logic. The thing was too forced and I was the one forcing it. Which is what I usually do. When I am not sure what to do, I load the thing up with unnecessary spices and it ends up tasting a little like mixing every soft drink into one large container at the quick mart.
So I put it on the shelf. This is a last resort for me, not being crazy for loose ends. But this was a case where I needed some time away from the material in order to be able to see the material more objectively.
I was trapped by a vision of what a documentary was supposed to be. Somehow it was in my head that this movie had to be a thing I had seen before which is something I can’t do.
I never want to do things the way I have seen before. I am crazy about Wiseman‘s docs and Barbet Schroeder’s Koko, A Talking Gorilla and General Idi Amin Dada. I have to try not to rip off that style. I just love docs that present interesting information and let you do whatever you want to do with that info. That’s what I went for when I stared The Naked Preacher Lady but I lost my way. I tried to force it.
Somehow at some point I got it in my head that this was going to be a movie people will be interested in. But then I realized, this is a documentary about a troubled woman who thinks she’s a prophet of God. Box office bonanza material? I really don’t think so. This frees me up to do some interesting things cinematically, rather than sticking to a tried and true blueprint.
It’s a worthy portrait of an interesting person. There are some important things about humanity revealed and made naked in Naked Preacher Lady.
That works for me.
MY ETSY STORE IS BACK! BUY BM A/V TO STUFF YOUR STOCKINGS!!!
DVD’s! Zines! Posters!
I have always thought Steven Soderbergh was a pretty interesting director. For me, very few of his movies are smack me in the jaw great, but there is always something that snags me. Schizopolis was a bold and wildly entertaining experiment. The Limey packs a strong punch and a fine Terence Stamp perf. But when Ocean’s Eleven came around I saw a new rat pack, brat pack, frat pack era. Confident dudes with tons of money having fun making a movie on yachts, expensive champagne, sixty pounds of cocaine and strippers. I was like, ok, this dude is not one of the common people.
After Ocean’s Eleven (which I think kinda sucks – way too dude self congratulatory back slapping and smug) Soderbergh seemed only to get more and more powerful even though he wasn’t making films swarms of people came out to see. I mean, how do you keep a successful career going in Hollywood if tons of people don’t come out to see your movies? After watching his recent Side Effects, I got the feeling he earned his success by firmly embracing the value system of his big business employers and acting as a mouth piece for them.
Through movies you can reach the core of the human soul. They are the modern transfiguration of the oral tradition – sitting around a fire telling stories about things we all know to be true. In Side Effects, Soderbergh mutates the truth, embracing a vile lie which heaps blame on those exploited by an inhumane and gluttonous system. The director may be very smart and capable of interesting work, but he may also be a cold, reptilian status seeker very far from my ideal of what a filmmaker can be and what every filmmaker should strive for, which, to me, is a catalyst for enlightenment. But I don’t know. I could be wrong. I don’t know the guy. I am only using what I see in his work. He may be a very nice and caring person.
Side Effects starts off as what seems like an indictment of the multi-billion dollar drug industry’s greed fueled lack of regard for public safety, but it devolves into a dumb whodunnit, ultimately indicting the apparent victim. At first glance, Rooney Mara suffers some sort of homicidal somnambulatory psychosis due to her eager to climb that corporate ladder therapist’s prescription of an experimental mental health med pushed on him by a drug rep. But in the end it turns out Mara was just trying to rip off the big business drug company via some stock scam she co-engineered with her former therapist, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Poor drug companies. Can’t they just get what they want for once and control everything and call all the shots? Like us, they’re just trying to make a living, no? No.
They have mighty political lobbying powers. Laws are written to protect them and to heap the blame on those who suffer from mental illness when something goes wrong. And they just keep reaping galaxies of cash. Thank you, filmmakers, for bringing to light that crazy people just want to rip off the jerks with all the power in the world. Your wisdom and empathy are almost blinding. By taking the side of the big lie you have separated yourself from the humane. You have made your stand on the class war clear.
So don’t bite the big business hand that feeds you. Just keep doing what they tell you and another Oscar is on its way!