Tilda Swinton’s character in The Limits of Control has a line, “Movies are like dreams you’re never really sure you’ve had; sometimes my favorite films are the ones where people sit there and don’t say anything.”
Some movies tell stories. At one point in my life I fell in love with the idea of how movies tell stories or at least different types of stories. When I discovered European cinema and movies from Japan, they opened up whole new worlds for me. Because I loved them so, I thought it might be a way for me to express myself creatively. I discovered that I am not a good story teller. There is some disconnect between the story in my head and how the idea gets translated onto film or onto paper. I can’t tell jokes for the same reason. I see the joke in my head but the punch line either comes out of sequence or I forget it all together. It has made for awkward moments at parties, until I realized it was better for me to laugh at someone else’s joke than try to tell one. I appreciate good stories and I love movies that tell a good yarn. I also love movies that have great ideas that inform them and will overlook some narrative shortcomings because the concept behind them appeals to me.
Having said that, when I was exposed to the world of what is referred to as experimental cinema (non-narrative, underground, avant-garde are other labels) the experience of watching them was more akin to reading poetry or being in a dream. Many of them opened up an inner world, sometimes wondrous, other times frightening, using different means to also tell a story, sometimes an ‘alternate’ narrative or sometimes to tell no story at all. There is a diverse universe with many voices in the film world, narrative and non-narrative alike – as there are in all the arts. I must admit that I find myself at home with many of these non-traditional artists – Jonas Mekas with his film diaries, Stan Brakhage with his multiple experiments with form and intent, Ken Jacobs’ work to change how we experience cinema, and countless others. I enjoy the work of Jim Jarmusch and Terrence Malick as well, two American film-makers who work in the traditional narrative mode but who stretch the boundaries of what it means to be a story teller in this contemporary age. There are countless others to mention but this is not a film blog and there are plenty of writers out there who devote a lot of time and thought into the film-making world. The point of this entry is to try to explain some of my influences and inspirations, biases and inclinations – all of this really for my own benefit to try to see why I create what I do. It is the daimonic impulse I am trying to explore.
“I think it’s a very unfortunate mistake to think that what the avant garde filmmakers are doing is something very far out and not for the everyday. People seem to think that our lives, or the strangeness of our lives may be of some interest, but not our work. But I think the work is universal, because poetry is universal. There is no difference between reading a volume of Sylvia Plath and seeing a film by Stan Brakhage. I wonder where ideas that Poetic Cinema is more difficult to appreciate come from. In schools Faulkner and Olson are taught in the same classes. In literature the kind of separation that is made in cinema does not exist.” – Jonas Mekas in conversation with Stan Brakhage
A clip from Mekas’ ‘Walden’
Brakhage’s ‘Dante’s Quartet’ – click on ‘watch on youtube’ link and watch full screen