Thursday, April 26, 2007

Aguirre, der Zorn Myspace

Paul Clark's thoughts after attending an Ernie Gehr screening and Q&A got me thinking about the two times I've seen Werner Herzog at such an event (he was invited by Williams College to appear as part of a documentary forum in 2006, accidentally arrived a year early, hung around for a few days, then returned the next year). During that first visit, on a Friday afternoon, Herzog screened a documentary about the scoring of Grizzly Man at the cinema where I work as a projectionist (we were treated to an advanced screening of the film the night before, and on Friday night we saw a rough cut of The Wild Blue Yonder before his investors). With most people at work, only a handful showed up for the making-of screening, so the Q&A was more conversational. I decided to ask Herzog about the final shot of Stroszek, one of the greatest and most elusive endings ever - why a chicken? Herzog explained, simply, that he never makes a cut before he loses interest in an image, and the shot runs as long as it does because he just found that dancing chicken so damned interesting. It was an unpretentious, insightful answer, and now that I've started to make my own films, it's guided me through many a tough directorial decision.
The next year, when Herzog appeared at the "Extreme Documentary" forum, one audience member asked him what he thought about YouTube.

Let that sink in for a moment - he asked the director of Aguirre the Wrath of God about a site where people post videos of their babies farting.

I agree wholeheartedly with Clark's assertion that films are best experienced viscerally and psychologically - I want to see the world through the filmmaker's eyes (as Clark eloquently describes the moviegoing experience). While an intellectual understanding of the filmmaking process greatly helps one articulate one's response to a film, knowledge should never supercede understanding. Especially if you end up standing in front of a living legend, with one chance to ask him about anything at all, and you ask about a frigging website (although Herzog gave a hilarious answer about Bavarian teens recording their sexual exploits with cell phone cameras, which he called "beautiful"). I far prefer canonical to topical analysis, which could explain why I reacted so strongly to my peer's question. Or maybe he was just a schmo. Could be both.

What are your best/worst Q&A experiences? And if you could ask your favorite filmmaker one thing, what would it be?


Paul C. said...

One of the questions that was asked at the Ernie Gehr Q&A turned out to get a pretty funny response. The question was in regards to his latest film, BEFORE THE OLYMPICS, which was shot in Italy. A woman asked him whether the Italian dialogue that he included at the beginning of the film- which according to her translated to "where are you?"- had any particular significance. Gehr responded that he didn't speak Italian and just liked the way it sounded, so he included it. I almost broke out laughing.

Another time, after an Olivier Assayas Q&A, a girl was talking to the director about the films SHE was making. I couldn't help but roll my eyes- here's this world-class director, and this girl took the chance to plug her own work. The funny thing is that he actually listened to her and even offered to watch them. Hell, he gave her his e-Mail address so she could send them. I was tempted to copy it down, but thought the better of it.

Honestly, I don't really get into asking directors questions at these things. A lot of the events I've been to have a moderated format, with someone interviewing the director onstage followed by audience questions, and I think that helps guide the questions more than an audience free-for-all. For the most part, I just prefer to hang back and listen to the director talk, and then maybe approach him afterward to offer a few kind words.

My favorite instance of this came at an Allison Anders event at which she showed THINGS BEHIND THE SUN for the first time for a non-festival crowd. I thought it was her best film, and I told her as much afterwards. I expected a simple "thank you," but instead she asked me my name. She then said, "Paul. Like Paul McCartney," and gave me a hug.

There was also the time at an Arnaud Desplechin Q&A following the area premiere of KINGS AND QUEEN (holy crap is this movie awesome). I told him how amazingly unpredictable it was and he seemed genuinely touched. And Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul enjoyed it when my friend and I brought up "The Dolphin Who Wanted to Die" from BLISSFULLY YOURS.

The only time I actually asked a filmmaker a question wasn't at a Q&A at all, but rather when I submitted a question for the Criterion DOWN BY LAW DVD. It actually got picked, which was sweet.

I guess what I'm saying is that I really wouldn't ask too many questions of my favorite filmmakers. Except, of course, if Jacques Rivette was in attendance, in which case I might say, "what would it take to get me a job on your next movie hell you wouldn't have to pay me I could just get you coffee and then go away until you need more coffee you're so awesome whaddya say?"

Andrew Bemis said...

Haha, yeah, self-promotion is a tricky thing. A few years ago, Cory McAbee (lead singer of The Billy Nayer Show and director of The American Astronaut) came to town for a brief artist residency. I asked him a question at The American Astronaut, and he approached me the next day to tell that he'd continued to think about my question a great deal. We ended up chatting on and off through the night, and things were great until I jokingly offered my services as a gofer on his next film. He became visibly uncomfortable, I tried to quickly explain that it was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but my nervous response just made me seem desparate. Not one of my finer moments.

Great stories, Paul - that Allison Anders story is particularly awesome.

Gregory Joseph said...

I didn't particularly care for the film, but my buddy and I went to see that flick Levelland at Images a while back, which is about skateboarding. My friend, who's been skating for years, asked the director (and Linklater collaborator) Clark Walker, "Do you still skate?" and he said something like "Yeah, everyday." My buddy then asked "Wanna ride later?" half-jokingly. Walker responded "Yeah man! I got my skate, let's go for a ride after this!" Which got a huge laugh from the audience. After the Q&A, we saw Walker outside Images, and he looked apologetically at my friend and said, "Sorry man, I don't actually have my skate with me on this trip, sorry."

I wonder, was he simply swept up in the moment (the preceding questions were rather dry), and lying compulsively? Or was he engaging in a kind of characterological myth-making, in an attempt to endear himself to the audience? It seemed like the first, but this type of behavior raises some interesting questions.

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Paul C. said...

The other night, I was at a screening of Deborah Stratman's documentary KINGS OF THE SKY (pretty good) that Stratman introduced. Afterwards there was a Q&A, and there was a little girl- maybe 4 or 5 years old- in the audience. Not wanting to be left out, she asked a question- "do you have a dog?" I suppose if you're a little kid that seems a sensible question under the cirumstances, so I didn't roll my eyes as I would a dumb off-topic question from an adult. But I think it would be a strange experiment to have someone ask every visiting filmmaker who comes to town whether he/she has a dog. Heck, we could bring that girl back just for that purpose. Unless the visiting filmmaker was, like, Gaspar Noe.

Andrew Bemis said...

So did she have a dog?

Paul C. said...

No, she had a cat.