Monday, October 08, 2007

Notes from Imsomnia

Perhaps insomnia is a bit strong, but it is very unusual for me not to fall asleep within a few minutes of lights out. I took a nap yesterday afternoon. One of those deep sleeps that granted me a feeling of being fully rested. Later in the evening I watched a bit of the Packers-Bears game, played a video game with my son and then watched Altman's 3 Women. One would think that the slow, uneventful film would bring on slumber. It didn't, though please don't think the description of being slow and uneventful is a negative criticism. I really like 3 Women. I've watched it a few times in the past couple of months. It's subtle. Because it is so slow and reflective of its desert setting it would be easy to ignore the details. It's kind of like the way we bound through life. We overlook and subsume all the little details of our lives , giving much of our attention to the big events of the day or week. We just try to get through the dish washing and the getting dressed kind of stuff we do. We sleepwalk through our relationships, telling ourselves we can't think about that right now as we have to get ready for the next thing in our days. We blindly accept the twisted ways in which we cope with our deficiencies. 3 Women is a film that doesn't offer any easy answers or judgments. It simply allows us to observe the lives of three lonely women.
I didn't really think these things while I was watching the film. A little maybe. I was absorbed by the details of their behaviors. And I was interested in the fluid camera work. I liked the way it discovered the scenes. There were a lot of zooms hidden in the panning and dollying. They were much more subtle than in Nashville. A film scholar could probably write a thesis on the evolution of the use of the zoom lens in Altman's films of the 70s. One of the opening shots is so stunning. It pans across the therapy pool full of residents and thier caregivers at a desert geriatric facility, covering a lot of ground. I found myself focusing on a subject in the frame thinking the camera operator must be using them to motivate the move only to find the camera gently let them go and a new point of interest command my attention. The shot finally lands on Sissy Spacek and pushes into her watching the action from behind glass, revealing that what we just saw is her POV. One that we share and also view through glass. Wonderfully subtle.
One of the main themes of the film is the co-option of one character's life by another. I am fascinated by such explorations of identity and the desire to become someone else through close observation, imitation and voyeurism. It's something I've explored in almost all of my films and scripts. I know its sources in my personal life, but I won't be sharing them here. I'm reading a wonderful little book written by David Lynch. He writes the seven or eight years he spent making Eraserhead was perhaps the make or break trial of his filmmaking life. His father and brother were urging him to quit. Nearly everything in the world was telling him to give up. He read one line in the Bible that told him what Eraserhead was all about. He then simply states that he won't ever tell anybody what that passage was. Lynch's calm resolution to keep his influences private inspires me to explore my own ideas of privacy when it comes to inspiration.
Failing to fall asleep after watching 3 Women, I read the NY Times Magazine article on Todd Haynes and the making of I'm Not There. Contemplating the world of Todd Haynes fills me with a lot of conflict. I've been acquainted with a couple of people that are close to him, prompting me to feel close to him though I'm well aware that it's an illusion. A few years ago I was trying to help a friend of Todd's workshop his script. I liked the guy and I loved his script. I was in the process of moving to town and shedding a lot of ego. Of course before I could shed the ego it had to build to ugly proportions and I think that guy caught the brunt of it. We had an ugly falling out over unclear expectations. I acted like an angry jerk. I've since apologized but it's clear I broke his trust beyond repair. I found out from a mutual friend that one of the reasons the guy was being so vague about a commitment to work on his script together had a lot to do with advice he got from Todd not to give me any interest in the film. I felt the resentment I've been holding onto for the past three years slip away while reading the article. I realized that it wasn't at all personal. And that I've got a lot more to gain by paying attention to the process of a filmmaker like Haynes than holding onto a resentment for giving advice that I too might have given to a friend in a similar situation.
I recommend the article and I look forward to seeing I'm Not There. Something else came to me while reading about the making of the film. Haynes and the editor Jay Rabinowitz absorbed as much Dylan through image and music that they could. I think about the making of my last film and how so much of our energy was put into coordinating the production and the craft of filmmaking. Granted that project was conceived and produced in less than three months. I want to make sure that I allow more time to explore the storytelling aspects of my next film. I also want to develop relationships with people that are like-minded regarding the storytelling aspects of the film. I want to work with true collaborators rather than people that are just trying to get more technical experience. That includes actors. I don't know too many actors that can get beyond their process and think about the film as a whole. It may be the case that some of the actors I've worked with so far are more than capable of that but I may not have invited such a dialogue. I do know that I've often asserted a strong role as the author of the film. Perhaps that has prevented people from feeling their voice is welcome. Again the last two films were made in such a rush it's hard to tell. I'm also gaining experience and will likely be able to maintain my role as author with a more inclusive feel as I continue to make films. I do think it's an important step to take the time to find people to work with that really bring a lot to the process. Some of the people that I've already worked with will meet that challenge. It's also on me to hire people that know more than I do and learn from them.
I really admire my friend Neil Kopp. He never apologizes for not being able to pay the crews on some of the films he produces. And he doesn't take just anybody. He's always very supportive of my films and has expressed interest in producing a film with me in the near future. I only hope that he's not too busy. One of the things that is great about Neil is that he wants to be what he is - a producer. So many of us have not so hidden agendas.

Signore Direttore

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