Moving on from the last improvisation session which we held back in November I decided this time to run an acting session in a real, public location. The session was very productive and, although not quite as dynamic and dramatic as the two films from my previous postings, has helped me to consider more, how, as a film director, I need to manage the technical and creative issues that arise.
The film was shot using two iPhone 6’s which, although extremely unobtrusive and unnoticeable to the members of the public, have proven to be a little disappointing in terms of image quality. This has led me to a possible rethink as to whether or not I can rely on them to shoot my final year film.
I haven’t finished editing the whole piece yet but as a taster here is a scene from the film we shot at a cafe in Streatham Common. As well as this I have also posted a short video account shot before and after the session in which I talk to the cast about their experiences.
I have been following up my last blog on spiritual themes in film by reading Paolo Pasolini’s paper “The “Cinema of Poetry” (1965), in which he talks about a literary device called ‘free indirect speech’, which, he claims, can add a subjective dimension to film by creating ambiguity around whose cinematic perspective a film is depicting.
Pasolini describes ‘free indirect speech’ as being – “the immersion of the filmmaker in the mind of the character and then the adoption on the part of the filmmaker, not only of the psychology of his character, but also of his language” (2005: 175).
What Pasolini seems to be suggesting here is that the subjectivity of the character in a film is not just given priority, as it is by the use of ‘voice-over’ – but that by using ‘free indirect discourse’ the character’s psychology is allowed to extend beyond what he/she says until the images – and ultimately the film itself -has become an extension of the mental projections of the character’s own thinking.
In his analysis of Pasolini’s paper , Heinemann (2012) makes the following observation about the destabilising nature these shifts in perspective can have – “by constantly shifting relationship with the narrative, at one moment encouraging an immersion in the illusionistic unfolding of the plot, the next forcing an awareness of its formal properties, including the partiality and artifice inherent in narrative activity itself.” He goes on to say that, “It is a function of the free indirect speech-act to problematise viewer identification, dividing the impulse between the film’s narration and the character’s narration through generating ambiguity regarding the narrative point of view. Free indirect speech reinforces this ambiguity through the formal opposition it gives rise to – between picture and sound, image and voice – contributing to a polyphonic, multivalent cinema.”
Pasolini talks about this development of a new cinematic language in semiotic terms stating that a new “technico-stylistic tradition is in the process of being formed: that is, a cinema language of poetry. This language tends to appear henceforth as diachronical in relation to narrative cinema language: a diachronism which is destined to be emphasized increasingly, as happens in literary systems.”
Heinemann describes the way this deliberately disorientating effect is used cinematically by citing a voice-over narration taken from Rohmer’s film, “Claire’s Knee” (1970) in which the filmmaker uses voiceover to privilege the complexity of the inner life of the film’s character over the certitude of ocular proof provided by the footage. This contrast between twhat the film shows us, as the protagonist Jerome touches the knee of the girl he desires, and the lengthy account of Jerome’s inner observations, creates a strangely ambiguous mood as the narrator’s subjectivity starts to colour the neutrality of the formerly objective camera’s gaze.
She sat facing me, one leg outstretched, the other bent. Her knee was sharp, narrow, smooth, delicate, within reach. Within reach of my hand. My arm was positioned in such a way that I only had to extend it to touch her knee. Touching her knee was the most extravagant thing, the one thing not to do, and at the same time the easiest. Even as I realised how easy, how simple the gesture was, I also felt it was impossible. As if you’re on the edge of a cliff, only one step away, but even if you want to jump, you can’t.
Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. in their journal aritcle, “A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film (2013) go on to state that “where objectivity and subjectivity or narration / external focalisation and internal focalization merge together and the narrative becomes ambiguous from this viewpoint”, that such moments in a film’s construction can best be considered moments of free indirect discourse. They then go on to list devices such as “voice-over narration, sound perspective, sound bridge, music, POV structure, eye-line match, shot / reverse shot, flash frames, freeze or still frames, slow motion, repetition of particular images, flashback, camera movement, superimposition, matte shot, snorri-cam, and double exposure” that can be used as tools to create such ambiguities. By so saying underscoring Pasolini’s notion of free indirect discourse as a tool of cinematic poetry.
Anyway, I am still processing what I have read but have lots of ideas for possible film scenarios popping into my head as a result of reading this interesting paper.
I will sign off with a list of effects that can be achieved by using FREE INDIRECT DISCOURSE which might be useful in my future film (taken from Ghaffary & Nojoumian’s paper – (2013))
8 functions of free indirect discourse in film:
1) it is a device for controlling the degree of distance between the FCD and the character:
2) it can either raise empathy in the reader / FCD for the character or lead to the ironic repudiation of the character by the FCD
3) Dramatic irony –
4) it can cause “irony of register” (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 208) (the association of the objective or formal style of the total narrative and the semi-subjective style of the FID sequences);
5) it represents internal focalization (focus) or the presentation of the focalized from within;
6) it is a good technique for representating stream of consciousness (Banfield 29; McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 209 & “Speech Representation” 437; Rimmon-Kenan 115; Jahn, Narratology N8.9.) (Pasolini sees FID as a useful technique for rendering a character’s stream of consciousness in film, though he does not mention the term “stream of consciousness” );
7) it suggests polyvocality or polyphony (the FCD’s and the character’s voices directly interact with each other, without either of them being dominant) (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 212; Rimmon-Kenan 117);
8) it enhances a film’s power of defamiliarization; FID adds to “the semantic density” of the cinematic narrative (Rimmon-Kenan 115).
Here is an example of how free indirect discourse relates to the more typical – direct and indirect literary devices. (see more on FIS here)
Examples of direct, indirect, and free indirect speech:
• Quoted or direct speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
• Reported or normal indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
• Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?
The following is a quotation cribbed from James Joyce’s, “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.”
The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy. It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.
Pasolini, P.P. (1965) ‘The “Cinema of Poetry.”’ Heretical Empiricism. Trans. BenLawton and Louise K. Barnett. Washington: New Academia, 2005. 167-186.
JOYCE, J. (1964). A portrait of the artist as a young man. New York, Viking Press.
Heinemann, D. (2012) ‘The creative voice: Free indirect speech in the cinema of Rohmer and Bresson’, The New Soundtrack, 2(1), pp. 39–49. doi: 10.3366/sound.2012.0024.
Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. (2013). A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film. Special Issue on Performance Studies, 269.
Two fascinating books which I have been reading, and which have been helping me define new approaches to the kind of films I want to make are – P. Schrader’s (the screenwriter of ‘Taxi Driver’ 1976) “Transcendental Style” (1972) and B. Kawin’s “Mindscreen” (1978). Both books inhabit similar areas of film theory, namely the place where subjectivity and objectivity are blurred – where film moves from being a third person, objective ‘viewer of events’ – to being something much more opaque and ambiguous; existing somewhere between these inner and outer worlds.
Both writers build their theories around their ‘close reading’ of the work of famous directors, with Kawin focusing on the work of Bergman & Godard – and Schrader on Japanese filmmaker Ozu, as well as Bresson and Dreyer.
Besides being extremely interesting books (which I fully intend to discuss in later blogs) what really interests about their shared notion of ‘first-person’ film (something similar to the human mind), has been how these concepts have helped me gain a better understanding of one of my own films called “Naked Flame”, which I posted in my 2nd blog entry back in October 2015.
As I describe in my earlier blog (see here), ‘Naked Flame’ was a piece of work of which I was particularly proud, but which had become something of an enigma. I say this, as after making the film I could never fully understand how I had created it, or even what it was about the film that was so interesting to me. After reading the aforementioned books, however, especially Kawin’s (1976) analysis of Bergman’s “Persona” (P. 103-172), I now see that “Naked Flame” creates a ‘dream-space’ something akin to the one in Bergman’s “Persona”. This dream-like, poetically-structured style of film being nicely summarised by Kawin in a quote taken from the introduction to “Mindscreen” (1978) (p-3) in which he says, “Film is a dream – but whose?”.
I won’t attempt a full analysis of the books here (will be writing more about them later) and instead am going to sit “Naked Flame” and Bergman’s “Persona” alongside each other in the hope that by cross referring between the two I can gain a clearer understanding of cinema as ‘dream-space’, or, as Kawin describes it – “Mindscreen”.
Schrader, P. (1972). Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. Da Capo Press.
Kawin, B. F. (1978). Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and first-person film. Princeton Paperback.
Have been doing some major rethinking regarding the kind of film I want to make, largely due to the restrictions I felt were imposing themselves as I sat down to consider narrative structures for my improvised film ideas.
What I think has occurred to me, over the last week or so, is how my current obsession with capturing realistic performances may be creating a filmic framework that could deny me access to a more poetic cinematic language that I have always admired in filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Pasolini, Bergman. So, while I still want to retain the realist devices used by Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows, Skandar Copti, Andrea Arnold et al, I am now beginning to see that a narrow neorealist approach to filmmaking may not be the best vehicle for me to explore my themes and interests.
Which are what? What are the themes that interest me?
Well, at the risk of sounding deeply unfashionable (and opening myself up to flak from neo-atheists) one of the main themes I would like to explore is that of spirituality. Not from an external sense, though, of holy books, dogma and rituals, but spirituality as seen from a more William Blake, Carl Jung ‘depth psychology sort of standpoint’ – of the contrary states of deep inner isolation of the ego and of the bliss of connectivity.
The idea of satori or enlightenment also interests me and how these notions of connectivity, which were once valued by society, are now in our outward-looking materialistic age, without value. How it is that someone with a ‘healthy soul’ can be seen as being without value in our world, while someone who is experiencing the most disconnected inner angst – but who has all the necessary external signifiers of wealth – can be seen to be successful.
I am also interested in the idea of exploring a feeling of disconnectedness that has bothered me my whole life. The idea that I am out of step with a deep level of being and (taking the notion further) how as a species we all seem to be prone to the same metaphysical sickness that isolates each of us from everyone and everything around us.
It is these subjective worlds and the dissonance between them and the everyday world we all share, that interests me. Not in isolation, though, but along with these other notions of realism I have been discussing in my earlier blogs. My problem, though, is how to access both these different aspects of cinematic language – prose and poetry – without limiting myself to an ‘either/or’ position.
With these kind of questions in mind I have been reading a few, loosely connected articles which I will share with you as means of exploring some of these new thoughts as they occur to me.
The first quote I use is taken from a paper written by Tarkovsky called “Sculpting in time: reflections on the cinema.”(1989) in which he establishes the idea of a species of filmmaker/poets who transcends the objectivity of a filmed world by the power of their vision, stating that – “there are two basic categories of film directors. One consists of those who seek to imitate the world in which they live, the other of those who seek to create their own world. The second category contains the poets of cinema, Bresson, Dovzenko, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Buñuel and Kurosawa, the cinema’s most important names.”
A comment made by Federico Fellini in the book “I, Fellini.” (2001) also reiterates this idea as he talks about a type of film existing across the three levels of being – “on which our minds live: the past, the present, and the conditional – the realm of fantasy”
Again reiterating a similar concern, the french filmmaker E.Rohmer (1989) talks about how he wanted his sextet of films – called “Six Moral Tales”, to “portray in film what seemed most alien to the medium – to express feelings buried deep in our consciousness.”
Reflections on my own film process… and how to explore deeper “inner” themes.
I am beginning to see that a simple realistic approach to film will not be sufficient for me to explore the spiritual themes I have mentioned above and with this in mind will be dedicating my next few blogs to understanding how the filmmakers I admire – such as, Fellini or Pasolini have done exaclty that.
Tarkovsky, A., & Hunter-Blair, K. (1989). Sculpting in time: reflections on the cinema. University of Texas Press.
Fellini, F., & Chandler, C. (2001). I, Fellini. Cooper Square Press.
Rohmer, E. (1989). The taste for beauty. Cambridge University Press.
After reflecting on my recent narrative ideas (which I spoke about in my last blog) I have started to have a few doubts about my current neorealist film trajectory. It’s hard to say at the moment exactly why that is but something about the unremitting realism of such a mode of filmmaking suddenly seems as limiting as the mainstream filmmaking formula I have been critiquing. With this is in mind I wanted to dedicate this blog to my recent thoughts on realism vs. formalism…
To begin that debate here is a very appropriate quote from avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren (1960)
“If cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form… It must relinquish the narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the casual logic of narrative plots, a form which flowered as a celebration of the earthbound, step-by-step concept of time, space and relationship which was part of the primitive materialism of the nineteenth century. Instead, it must develop the vocabulary of the filmic images and evolve the syntax of filmic techniques which relate those… It must determine the disciplines inherent in the medium”
What Derren seems to be suggesting here is that cinema can never assume it’s full status as a distinct artform – with its own specific qualities and aptitudes – while it remains a prisoner to literary conventions; especially those of causal narrative structures. Her thoughts resonating with the ideas of B. Brecht which I posted in my earlier blog (see here) and his attempts to free theatre from the bourgeois influence of the 19th century novel.
What is film?
For when I think about film in its barest and most essential form, stripped of all these narrative conventions, it could be argued that it amounts to not much more than moving images and sound. It could also be said that, in its purest state, there need be no coherence or sequential relationship between any of these images or sounds. Obviously, a film of random sounds and images would be impossible to watch but it is worth conducting this thought experiment as a way of catching a glimpse of all the narrative conventions and expectations that we may be unconsciously projecting onto this medium.
To test my theory I made a short film that has absolutely no narrative and consists of an almost random sequence of images and sounds which, apart from being synchronised together, have no connections.
“Apropos Of Nothing”
(I intend to keep making such short films as I find it to be liberating…)
Watching it is quite telling as it seems to highlight some of the demands we expect films to meet; demands for meaning and narrative; for logical sequencing; for sounds and images to have synchronous connection; for our thinking done for us and for there to be no room for ambiguity.
A film I saw recently which does manage to rethink some of these conventions is “La Jetee” (Marker, C – 1962). The film contains no moving images and is instead made up of a series of still black and white images over which can be heard music and a voice-over; this formalist device, allowing Marker’s narrative to have a degree of opacity and obliqueness that is very rarely seen in cinema .
With regard to my own filmmaking practice I can see now that as well as rethinking my approaches to improvisation and acting, that I should also be using my time to question one of the unquestioned assumptions most film makers and audiences continue to hold on to – which is the tendency to see film as a ‘transparent’ medium.
Transparency in Art…
What do I mean by transparent?
Well, by way of example (this helps me think) if I compare the following painting… by Courbet (1854) entitled “ Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854.”
And ask myself a few questions… Such as –
What is Courbet’s intention…?
Does he want me to see the painting? or does he instead want me to see the subject matter of the painting? – three guys and a dog meeting on a pathway somewhere…
Surely, its the latter, he doesn’t want me to think about the painting at all… The painting, to Courbet is a window we look through into another world. It is NOT to be seen as thing in itself and AS SUCH it is transparent…
So, what’s wrong with that? It’s a nice painting…
Well, if we go back to filmmaking for a second, the efforts to maintain the illusion of reality seriously restricts the possibilities the medium offers us. For, if film needs to be transparent then nothing can, or should, break this illusion. No ambiguities between image and sound – or image and image – no jarring editing conventions – no sense of abstraction that breaks the spell of the illusion we are under – no ambiguity that might alienate the audience. In short, it must give up a whole range of its own unique artistic characteristics and abilities in order to maintain this illusion of transparency – never hoping, as Maya Deren urges, to ‘determine the disciplines inherent” within itself.
Realism vs. Formalism in filmmaking…
This tendency towards a transparent medium that objectively records and documents reality is especially apparent in some of the neorealist films I have been praising in my recent blogs – such as the films of Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold etc. Films in which transparency and the illusion of reality are paramount, where the camera is used to give the impression that the viewer is witnessing the events of life as they are lived – often in real settings, with minimal lighting or manipulation.
1: the practice or the doctrine of strict adherence to prescribed or external forms (as in religion or art); also: an instance of this
2: marked attention to arrangement, style, or artistic means (as in art or literature) usually with corresponding de-emphasis of content
In contrast to realism’s favouritism of content, a formalistic film would not try to hide the fact that the viewer is watching a film. For In such a formalist film – the language, the mise en scene, the editing, the jump cuts, the sets, the plot and the character would not pretend to be real (or transparent) but instead would draw attention to their own artificiality.
A prime exponent of this formalist style being filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman, both of whom never fall into the trap of aiming for the illusion of transparency, by so doing giving themselves all manner of artistic freedoms not available to anyone enslaved to realism.
I won’t go into what these possibilities are now but do intend to explore the work of filmmakers such as – Godard, Pasolini and Bergman, and how they extend the language of cinema beyond a mere adherence to realism, in my later blogs.
Will conclude by showing some favourite moments from Godard’s formalistic filmmaking –