filmmaking

Surprise Me!

I’m in love with stories that surprise me. Whether it’s a short story, a newspaper column, anecdote or a movie, doesn’t matter as long as there’s a plot turn that makes me question my own reality. It’s also irrelevant if the surprise is positive or negative, subtle or loud, realistic or pure science fiction – just hit me with it, expand my mind just  bit beyond the borders of a mold it is currently in.

Watching a predictable drama or Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy can be both fun and cathartic every once in a while, but when it comes to movies, the unusual genre hybrids are what keeps this love going strong.

I’ve already heard impressions about Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ unusual ways of coming up with stories before I watched one of his films and naturally developed my share of expectations. I knew I would encounter something atypical and was very much looking forward to that.

The first one I watched was The Lobster, a 2015 dystopian drama probably taking somewhere in the near future. I already wrote a piece about that one so I don’t want to repeat myself, I just wanted to stress out how it exceeded my expectations. I was baffled, impressed and entertained in a unique way. It met all my ‘surprise me’ wishes and put Lanthimos on the list of foreign directors I keep yapping about to my friends, pulling their arm and saying: But trust me, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! TRUST MEEE, go watch it! Read the reviews,  here’s the trailer link, did you watch it? Did you like it? Did you? Isn’t it funny when you realize why the film is named Lobster, is it? Can you imagine this happening to us one day?

And so on.

At the moment I’m impatiently awaiting The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest Lanthimos’ work so today I decided the time has come to go back in time and watch 2009 critically acclaimed film Dogtooth. Of course I didn’t expect it to have anything to do with The Lobster, but the cold, sterile atmosphere crept on me right from the beginning and that’s when I was able to recognize a similarity. The feeling of alienation and characters pronouncing the dialogue like reading school textbook lines in a bad play while  turning absurd statements into logical conclusions are shared in both movies.

That is where the comparison ends and the weirdest plot I have ever seen begins (and I’ve seen Martyrs, thank you for asking).

Three teenagers live with their controlling parents, completely separated from the real world. By that I don’t mean they go straight back home from school to do their homework, they never leave home and are literally unaware of other people or anything that’s going on in the world (assuming that it really is our world), the only one who leaves the property is the father who works in some kind of factory. The children (two sisters and a brother) are told they can leave home on the day their ‘dogtooth’ falls out.

They are coming up with endurance games to keep themselves busy, have gathering ‘parties’ by watching old family videotapes that they already know by heart or listening to their grandpa singing. A little spoiler alert – the man they think is their grandpa is actually Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me To The Moon. Those poor kids.

At times it felt like a much more censored and brutal version of  The Truman Show, but the rest of the story is far more original in making levels of absurd hitting the ceiling. I caught myself often getting annoyed by the characters – their way of talking, reacting to pain, following their animal instincts, general lack of empathy or any kind of usual reaction. But then again, there’s no place for normality in a story like this one so who can blame them? Their family dinner time taken out of the context sounds like a bad improvised sketch performed by not too intelligent amateur actors.

Oh and please remember that the cats are the most dangerous animals you can ever encounter and that zombies are small yellow flowers.

Confusion, sex, violence, incest, more violence, confusion and the open ending is how I would put it shortly. At the end of the day,  I’m glad I watched it but the feeling of having a 90 minute physical fight with this film is something I wouldn’t like to go through again.  I think I can finally say I watched something that was just too much for me to absorb or break down to pieces and analyze. But it sure did surprise me, disturbed me, but made me laugh at the most unusual moments, and like I said at the beginning, that’s the most important part.

 

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THE ART LIFE: Stepping Into The Strange World of David Lynch

After five highly productive decades of work David Lynch proved he is still at the top of his game when he returned to our screens with third season of Twin Peaks, a show that changed television history and gathered a cult fan following. Being one of the greatest American directors, Lynch will always be remembered as a leader of postmodern cinema, introducing us to surreal, intense plots in movies like The Elephant ManBlue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. The highlights of his impressive career are easy to find, but how did it all start? At what point did the boy from a typical small town family started to turn into atypical filmmaker we know today?

The answers can be found in a in a 2016 documentary film David Lynch: The Art Lifewhose director Jon Nguyen created it in a form of a one-way 90 minute interview, no one is around but Lynch with the exception of a couple of scenes where he is joined by his curious toddler daughter Lula.

The visual focus is on Lynch while he is painting or creating small sculptures or just sitting quietly while smoking in his cluttered Hollywood Hills studio – the place he feels most comfortable in. The footage of the creative process, getting his hands dirty, painting with fingers, sawing wood or cutting out pieces of it while he is narrating key events from his life. He talks about childhood, teen and later years, about ideas and why art and happiness go hand in hand. At the same time, there’s a lot of old video and photo material following his stories, but also examples of his dark and eerie paintings and illustrations. Some moments are quiet, we watch whatever he is working on and are left to think about it for ourselves, nothing is imposed.

Discovering Dreams

Through the film we chronologically follow Lynch’s life from childhood and formative years to early adulthood. He is not an ordinary storyteller since the information he delivers doesn’t necessarily come in a logical way or have an expected pinnacle moment. Of course this is no surprise coming from the man who spent his filming career deconstructing the usual narrative structure and abandoning the mainstream rules.

The film starts with Lynch remembering happy childhood days, praising his loving parents and the sense of limitless freedom and support they provided for him and his siblings. The way he described a particular anecdote from that period about encountering a strange naked woman while playing outside especially stuck with me because it sounded like a twisted dream sequence or something I might have seen while watching Twin Peaks.

'Twin Peaks' [Credits: Showtime]

The director proceeds talking about the effect of his family moving to a different city. Those early teenage years are remembered as dark and unhappy because he developed some health problems, started to hang out with the bad kids, smoking and drinking, going out of control and disappointing his mom. But also at that time, while still being a stubborn, rebellious teenager Lynch started to develop a fascination with the world of dreams, that keeps inspiring him up to this day.

I never studied. I never did anything.I hated it so much. I hated it like… powerful hate. The only thing that was important was what happened outside of school and that had huge impact on me. People and relationships, slow dancing parties… Big, big love and dreams. Dark, fantastic dreams. Incredible time.

The Art Life

After learning one of his friends’ father was a painter, Lynch realized that being an artist can be a real profession, so that is when he firmly decided that painting is all he ever wanted to do in life. That painter was called Bushnell Keeler and he will play an important part in supporting Lynch in developing his career later in life. Visiting a painting studio for the first time Lynch described drawings, paintings and everything else in that place as ‘an art life going on right before your eyes.’ That is when the roots of obsession with art and the whole concept of ‘art life’ and happiness that comes along with it started to form.

[Credits: Janus Films]

I had this idea that you drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes and you paint. And that’s it.

The best part of this documentary for any aspiring artist is when Lynch talks about his beginnings as a painter when his work was really bad and he knew it, but it was a process he needed to grow through in order to find his own way of expression, so he just kept painting until that happened. The most important element in doing what you’re passionate about is dedication.

After graduation Lynch moved to Boston and went through a short experience of agoraphobia when he stayed in for two weeks and listened to the radio because he was physically and mentally unable to do anything else. He managed to get through that crisis, but says there’s always a certain level of nervousness when leaving home, even today he is the happiest when he doesn’t have to go out and stay in the world he created.

Moving to Philadelphia to pursue the art spirit and enrollment into Academy of Fine Arts were another important step for Lynch. While talking about living in a new, dark city that scared him, he describes weird and unpleasant encounters with neighbors, for example with a woman who would go around in her backyard squawking like a chicken. In moments like these, even though this is an intimate and honest portrayal, the viewer can never be sure if it really happened – Lynch lets us wonder about those events using his great capacity for telling surreal stories.

[Credits: Janus Films]

“Oh, a moving painting, but with sound”

The love of painting came first and remained his main occupation, until the day when Lynch, while observing the big painting he was working on at the time, started seeing movement and hearing the sound wind in the background. That’s when the passion for film making and storytelling started and led him forward in his career.

Homemade videos that show Lynch filming his first wife Peggy playing with his daughter show his personal side, but even then you can’t clearly separate the artistic and family man persona because he seems to think about art all the time.

The life changing moment in Lynch’s life was getting a grant from the American Film Institute at the time when he had to find a ‘normal’ job in order to provide for the family. He was unhappy and felt empty because there was no time left for painting and doing what he loved. The grant made it possible to continue his education in California and completely dedicate himself to visual art.

[Credits: Janus Films]

Lynch moved to Los Angeles to attend a training program in the Center for Advanced Film Studies describing the experience as unbelievable and inspiring. Creating new worlds and capturing them on film was now part of his daily routine.

The last couple of minutes are dedicated to the making of his first feature film – surrealist horror Eraserhead. His family thought he was losing time with it and should find a real job to earn money. He knew the time spent on filming it wasn’t lost and was determined to finish the movie while fully enjoying the process, describing everything about it as beautiful.

 

Eraserhead to me was one of my greatest, happiest experiences in cinema.

[Credits: Janus Films]

The impression after watching this unique documentary and getting to know David Lynch’s life and career on a personal level is very similar to being immersed into his work – you experience the fascination, thrill and mystery. Every person who is in a way involved into art making can learn a lot from this feature, there are two things I would like to point out – creating is important because it gives us a real sense of freedom and mistakes are necessary because they lead us towards what we’re trying to achieve.

He is letting the viewer in, but not inviting him to stay too long, only to have a long peak through the window, because at the end of the day – this is David Lynch, a talented, crazy imaginative artist that dares to visit places others have yet to discover and all that while we watch him sitting calmly, puffing away smoke and keeping his cool appearance.

 

Originally posted on Creators.co

 

Godard: ‘I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.’

Note: Godard who has just finished shooting his lates film One Plus One, agreed to meet Hermine Demoriane for this interview but would not consent to it being recorded. “What you don’t remember, make up”, he said. Excerpts from the interview follow.

We have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

 

HD: You have said everybody should make movies.

JLG: No. I did not say that,  I said more people should. There are not enough films. Look, there is no black cinema at all. Stokely Charmichael should make a film. But he can’t. Even if Mao sent him the money he would not find a distributor. There aren’t any films from the workers, either. I’d like to hand over my unit, lock, stock and barrel and let some of them get on with it. We need films FROM people, not FOR them. In the meantime, we have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

HD: What do you think of Claude Givaudan’s experiment?

JLG: Very good. You should be able to go into a shop and buy the latest Godard, take it home and project it with no more fuss than reading a paperback. In two years time we may be putting cassettes of our own films into TV sets.

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HD: You have said England was an American colony. Does this apply to its films?

JLG: There are no English films. There are American films set in London.

HD: What do you think of American cinema, then?

JLG: The most conservative in the world. It works on worn-out formulas totally irrelevant today. Its only aim is to lift people out of their environment for a moment and persuade them the world is a beautiful place so they keep quiet and allow the system which begats such films to continue.

HD: You didn’t even like Bonnie and Clyde?

JLG: Average. Very average.

HD: And the cinema in France?

JLG: Very conservative, too.

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HD: What do you reckon is the way to break the monopoly of the big companies?

JLG: Either drop a bomb or them or buy them.

HD: You have just made a film for French TV. Would you like to do more?

JLG: I see no difference between cinema and TV films. I would like to make more, yes, but I doubt if they’d get shown. TV is governmental, and not only in France. Governments are always clever enough to take it over. Consequently TV would be the same in Cuba as it is in Greece. I think opposition parties should have an equal influence.

HD: Do you believe that hippies could be a force to purge Capitalism, as the Red Guards purged Soviet Communism?

JLG: The hippies will do nothing until they are politised.

HD: They need a Mao?

JLG: Not necessarily. Only to get educated politically.

HD: The demonstration at the first night of the Green Berets proves that something is burning.

JLG: Yes, that was excellent. I wish someone had told me, I would have gone.

HD: Do you think the uprising could come from England eventually?

JLG: Yes, it is good here because there are plenty of people with money and open minds. But alas, they don’t use their minds, and they are usually corrupted by money. People could do things but won’t. Look at the Beatles for instance. And Peter Brook. He should have put his Marat/Sade outside Buckingham Palace.

HD: Are you aware to have prophested Sorbonne in La Chinoise?

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JLG: No. Prophesy is a mild form of fascism.

HD: What about your next film?

JLG: It is going to be produced and shot in America. That’s all I know about it. Except the title. I’ve got that. An American Movie.

HD: Have you ever taken acid?

JLG: No. Not interested. I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.

HD: Exactly what my mother says. Thank you.

 

*Interview with Jean-Luc Godard by Hermine Demoriane, published in IT (International Times) no. 39, 6-19 September 1968