Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Trim Bin #34

- I've been thinking up the remaining three chapters of the short film series that Jess C. and I began with Chrissie earlier this year, and feeling that wonderful snowball effect that comes when ideas begin piling up exponentially - it's been too long. But here's the thing: one of the films revolves around a blowjob. While it would be, of course, a simulated blowjob, I don't intend to use any coy cutaways or tricks; I find titillation much more offensive than explicitness. And I'm also not interested in repeating Warhol's Blow Job; while the action may be obscure as the film ultimately focuses on one character's interior action, I'm still interested in representing the interaction between the two characters (both men, which is its own thing) in some way. I realize the extreme pressure this would put on most actors, who are already willingly putting themselves in a vulnerable place. And this all has me thinking about artistic responsibility.

On the one hand, a filmmaker (or any artist) has a responsibility to tell a story as honestly as possible. If I were to alter the film as I've imagined it out of modesty or insecurity that the final product might be ridiculous (as it could very well be), I'm denying the audience my authentic vision. Artistic evolution is directly tied in with personal growth, and as I find myself in the process of confronting and understanding my rough edges, I'm beginning to explore the same instincts in my films. And while the audience may find that vision off-putting or obscene, at the very least I can know that it's sincere. I know it's a well-worn observation, but I find it befuddling that the appropriateness of cinematic sex is even up for debate - it's an integral part of the human experience, and if porn has taught us anything, it's that even the ugliest sex is at least visually compelling. Part of me wants to totally commit to the film, go the Catherine Breillat route, and hold out for actors who are comfortable enough with themselves and each other to just do it.

But that brings me to the other side of artistic responsibility, namely the responsibility I have to the people I work with. In just about any other medium, I wouldn't even be giving this a moment's thought, but film, like theatre, is collaborative, and I have great respect and awe for the mysterious, electric relationship that can develop between the director, cast and crew under the best of circumstances. One of the most important things a director can do is to create an atmosphere that allows these sparks to occur. This is not to say that sex automatically prevents such an environment; ideally, it can help create intimacy and trust. I had such an experience once playing Adam in Arthur Miller's The Creation of the World and Other Business, where I spent the first act wearing little more than briefs. Charlotte (the actress playing Eve) and I were equally self-conscious, and had to rely on each other to block out the fact of the audience and commit to our characters. By helping each other, we helped the play.

Most actors are inherently exhibitionistic (I know I am), but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to offer one's own body up for scrutiny. I remember a few years ago, when I asked Jess if she wanted to send in an audition tape for John Cameron Mitchell's upcoming Shortbus, a narrative film featuring real sex. She was surprisingly willing to take her clothes off on the big screen, but balked when I told her it was a real movie, not porn ("You mean I'd have to act?"). It's easy to take your clothes off, but it's hard to be naked - to really let the audience in. The same is true for the filmmaker; many of the greatest directors (Hitchcock, Lynch, Scorsese) were unflinching in examining their own fetishes, obsessions and anxieties, and I'm learning how to follow their example. But I'd hate to finish the film only to find that it is nothing but a pretentious byproduct of my own misguided self-indulgence. In other words, it's a fine line between Breillat and Vincent Gallo.

So a question to my readers: which films succeed in walking this fine line and achieve truth without exploitation? How do they do it? Is such a thing truly possible?

Films watched this week:

A Prairie Home Companion 8
A Scanner Darkly 9
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 7
Halloween III 3
The Fury 8
Zardoz 9
The Descent 4


Joe said...

Finding that balance is no doubt difficult- things like that make me think being a screenwriter would be preferable to being a director. First and foremost, a strong, trusting relationship with the actors involved is necessary; I'll never forget trying to film a short for a film class with a cast of reluctant, disinterested teenagers. Shooting with friends is a lot easier... although my attempts were more along the line of the humorous rather than the sexual in content. I think the performance (and in a way, your direction) would have to become a collaborative effort with the actors, but does this mean artistic compromise? It all goes around in circles, although I'm sure there's a way to do it without flattening your vision or ruining a working or personal relationship. I'd say a film like Blue Velvet might not have reached the balance (didn't Rossellini have to have some therapy?), and it's one of my favorites. Anyways, I'm sure that wasn't of any help, but I wish you good luck with your project anyways.

Andrew Bemis said...

I like the story Rossellini tells on the DVD about filming the rape scene and being puzzled by Lynch's constant laughter. It was only when she saw the film that she found herself laughing too.

Gregory Joseph said...

I recently watched a half dozen Argento films. For the special edition of Tenebre, a commentary was recorded with Argento and an Italian journalist. The journalist constantly asks Argento what certain images mean. Argento can't really answer, and usually ends up telling the journalist he isn't sure. While certainly this doesn't remove him from criticism, at least Argento is honest about the fact that his films are extremely subjective, throwing all his fetishes and dreams into the mix and leaving the analysis up to the audience. Argento admittedly finds the graphic murder of an attractive woman erotic (so much so that he feels the need to play the concealed killer's hand in nearly all of his films). But unlike Hitch, who is pretty aware of his psyche's contents, I think Argento is genuinely asking his audience for a reaction, designating the viewer as psychoanalyst, rather than playing the roles of patient and analyst himself. This is especially true of his giallo pot-boilers, less so of his horror movies, which are more surreal and dream-like from the get-go.

p.s. I haven't watched Halloween 3 in a long while, but I remember it being kind of interesting. Just out of curiousity, why did you rate the film so poorly?

Andrew Bemis said...

I actually thought I was being pretty generous with Halloween III - I think it has a decent amount of atmosphere, I like the Carpenter/Alan Howarth score, and there aren't enough actors like Tom Atkins. I always have fun watching it, but it's just so frigging ridiculous.

I'd love to hear that Tenebre commentary. The idea that Argento is looking to provoke a reaction - that he moves the killer's hand - certainly fits nicely with what we come to learn about the killer during the film.

Gregory Joseph said...

Altho, bizarrely, he refuses to see a connection between himself and the killer (even tho theres a scene where a reporter acosts him for the amount of sexual violence in his work).