jacob wren

 

A FILM THAT WILL MAKE THE AUDIENCE FEEL PURE JOY

 

 

This is a film is about a filmmaker—let’s call her “A”—who, while preparing to shoot her next project, one she has been working on and developing for over twenty years, suddenly has a momentary crisis of faith. This crisis expresses itself by attempting to take all the aspects of her upcoming film work and, instead of shooting and editing them together, deciding to embody and involve them within the patterns of her daily life. For example, if in Filmmaker A’s film she was planning a scene in which two close friends go sky-diving together, she would instead convince one of her closest friends to go sky-diving with her. At first she thinks of such activities only as extended preparation for the eventual shoot but, as she continues to enact such scenarios, making the film is replaced by this new idea of living it out instead.

At film school I was taught: a film has a protagonist and the protagonist has a goal and a well-made film sets as many believable obstacles as possible in the direct path of the protagonist (to make the audience feel all the more exhilarated when he finally does achieve his goal.) The higher the stakes—in essence, the greater the eventual reward—the more desperately the protagonist will want to achieve his goal, the harder he will fight to overcome all of the humiliating obstacles the screenwriter gleefully throws in his path. This standard formula somehow mirrors at least one aspect of the logic of capitalism, where the goal is to make as much money as possible, and whatever gets in the way are like so many twigs in the path of a tank. People who work in film like to say that they are interested in storytelling, but I have found, on the whole, they are not. What they are interested in is the premeditated catharsis made possible when a certain kind of story delivers in a very specific way.

And as our film continues, as Filmmaker A pursues her newfound path, taking all the various aspects of her screenplay-in-progress and enacting them, weaving them effortlessly into the fabric of her daily life, her life grows more dynamic, again and again becoming more active, more alive. Word spreads that this new strategy for filmmaking is infinitely more rich, productive and fulfilling than the previous, traditional manner of working, and as word continues to spread, more and more films are replaced by their real-life embodiment.

Counterintuitive as such a concept might at first appear, audiences for these real-life cinema spectacles also rapidly develop and grow. These audiences follow the exploits of the filmmakers solely through hearsay and rumor, since the authenticity of this filmmaking is that it is only ever lived, never filmed. However, even more than following rumours, these audiences are most easily identified by their tendency to imitate the logic and tactics of this newly emerging art form within the strictures of their own daily lives. Within an ever-expanding milieu, “filmmaking” becomes slang for scripting your life as if it were a movie, and then throughout the process of such scripting, enacting quite naturally and casually each of the scenes you write, the portrayal often taking place alongside the very writing process itself. The avant-garde of this movement is to be found in those who choose to forgo the writing process altogether, simply living the film in real time, invisibly weaving it into their now considerably more compelling and immediate daily routines.

Silvia meets Filmmaker A and, quite unexpectedly, they fall in love. Filmmaker A, being the founder of a movement, and what’s more the founder of a movement that has had such an enormous impact on the daily lives of its many participants, is much in demand as a speaker and workshop leader and travels a great deal. Since new love is, more often than not, such a viscerally intense drug, she does not want to be separated from Silvia for even a moment and it feels quite natural for Silvia to travel alongside her.

Filmmaker A was scheduled to give a seminar at the film department of a university, and Silvia, as always, decided to accompany her. About forty students had gathered in the foyer, and they followed Filmmaker A out the front doors of the building and into the streets. “This is where the new filmmaking will take place,” said Filmmaker A, as she gestured with her arms toward everything that surrounded them. “Without cameras, without actors. The film that is you and your engagement with the world that surrounds you.”

The students followed and listened attentively, while Silvia hung back, keeping pace just a few feet behind. Most questions Filmmaker A answered effortlessly, as if the questions had simply answered themselves, and she was only doing her best to keep out of the way. But from Silvia’s perspective, standing slightly outside the group, what emerged was a different picture. The students were intrigued, perhaps even amused, but most of them remained completely unconvinced.

Then one of the students, a dark-haired girl with a sullen but mischievous smile, decided to make trouble.

“I have a question,” the sullen girl said.

“All questions are welcome,” Filmmaker A replied with a carefree wave, as if waving all questions toward her.

“These aren’t really films you’re making. You’re just living your life…”

“Your definition of filmmaking is too narrow,” Filmmaker A continued. “That’s what I’m here for: to propose another possibility, another way of seeing things.”

“But you can’t just call things whatever you want,” the sullen girl continued, pointing at a nearby tree. “I can’t just say: that’s not a tree, it’s a car, and if you disagree with me, accuse you of being too narrow.”

“Of course if we change everything all at once—all trees are cars, all cats are birds—then it might be a bit confusing…” It was slightly off-putting how unfazed Filmmaker A seemed by this affront, which was clearly having an entertaining effect on the other students. “But things do change and can change. Especially in the arts, there is an enormous potential for opening things up and re-evaluating our understanding of any given medium. A hundred years ago a urinal in a gallery wasn’t considered art and yet now it’s an essential part of the canon. And I propose that, within film, we are now on the cusp of yet another one of these essential, liberating historical changes.”

“But I still don’t think a urinal placed in a gallery is art,” the sullen girl replied.

“There are thousands of people in the art world who would disagree with you.”

“The whole world could disagree with me. That doesn’t make them right.”

Filmmaker A paused, and the entire group of students paused along with her. And it wasn’t just her body that stopped moving, suddenly her voice had slowed down as well. She was choosing her words more carefully now.

“I like you,” she said, addressing the sullen girl directly, looking her straight in the eyes, “in a strange way we agree. Perhaps most people in the world think that what I do isn’t really filmmaking. But I don’t care. I think it is and that history will prove me right. And who is there who can really decide the matter for good. No one. Each of us has to make up our own mind. I say it is. You say it isn’t. Neither of us is going to look up in the sky one day and have the matter decided for us once and for all in fifty-foot-high flaming letters. We each have to decide for ourselves. All I ask is that you be open enough to hear me out.”

The sullen girl smiled and met Filmmaker A’s gaze more directly than was polite.

“You’re clever,” the sullen girl said, smiling more and more as she continued. “More clever than I thought. I disagree with you and you respond by agreeing with me. That’s good politics. But good politics aren’t enough. The thing is I believe you, I believe that you’re sincere, that you’re living your fine, exciting life and really believe this great, dandy life you’re leading should be referred to as filmmaking. I don’t think you’re insincere.”

“Thank you,” Filmmaker A said, ready to put the matter to rest and move on.

But the sullen girl wasn’t finished: “The problem is…” she said, and by this point the entire group was hanging on her every word, “the problem is there is nothing more sad, more pathetic, than utter sincerity in the service of a lost cause.”

Later that night, Filmmaker A and Silvia were alone in their hotel room, and Filmmaker A had had a good cry and Silvia had done her best to console her. They were both getting ready for dinner, and Silvia, while Filmmaker A was zipping up the back of her dress, unthinkingly, just off the top of her head, sent things spinning in the wrong direction.

“It was interesting what she said, though,” Silvia said.

“You thought it was interesting,” Filmmaker A replied.

“I’m not saying I agree with her,” Silvia continued, trying her best to damage-control the oncoming flood. “Obviously I agree with you. And the way you handled the situation was spectacular.”

“Then what…” Filmmaker A wasn’t letting it drop, “what was interesting about it.”

“I don’t know.” Silvia was really searching now, searching for the door painted on the wall that would let her escape. “It’s just if the whole world disagrees with you, and you still believe you’re right… I mean, that’s an interesting predicament.”

Filmmaker A grabbed her bag and headed for the door. “You’re an interesting predicament,” she said, leaving the door slightly ajar behind her and yet, for a moment, Silvia was unsure whether or not to follow.

Dinner calmed everything down: spectacular food and a view overlooking the city. Every-thing was new enough that they couldn’t stay mad at each other for long, and there was so much to talk about: the next day they were off to Vienna for another workshop and a few days after that the long journey to Tokyo, where an impressive series of events had been planned. Neither of them had ever been to Japan, and they talked about what it might be like—a cross between Blade Runner and Lost in Translation—laughing at themselves that all their points of reference were from movies. How appropriate and ironic it was that, since Filmmaker A was in fact proposing that their life was a movie, they were imagining what lay in store for them as a series of movies they had already seen.

“Life in Japan is so cinematic already,” Filmmaker A said, “it really feels like the perfect fit.”

“Yes,” Silvia said, trying to sound enthusiastic. But suddenly she found herself distracted, thinking about other things. Only a few months ago she had been living a completely sedentary life, heading to the office each morning, trying to push some films she had barely seen out into the world. And now that job, that life, felt a million miles away. New love was paying the bills. New art forms were replacing old ones, and the products of these new forms could no longer be distributed, had no room for the logic of publicity or opening weekends, could only be transmitted through word of mouth. She had tethered her cart to these new forms, quit her job, politely severed old contacts and, with them, so many of her previous ways of seeing the world had fallen away. What if this sudden rush of pleasure, excitement, travel and yes, joy…what if it was only a momentary bump in the road? What if it didn’t, or couldn’t, last? Could she go back? Could she even bear the thought of returning to what, only a few months ago, had seemed to her a perfectly good, valid and enjoyable life.

“Are you all right?” Filmmaker A asked, watching her companion’s mind wander but not knowing to where.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Silvia did her best to snap back into the warm mood of the evening. “Just fantasizing about Tokyo.”

“It’s going to be delicious,” Filmmaker A said.

“Yes,” Silvia said, as they leaned across the table and kissed.

In Vienna there were official receptions so official they could barely believe they had been invited, much less been invited as the official guests of honour. In her talk to a room full of immaculately dressed Austrians, Filmmaker A stressed that her new mode of filmmaking was also a new way of living, a new way of seeing the world. And that new art forms, if they were to remain strong, mustn’t emerge from a simple change in thinking but should instead develop out of a more fundamental change within life itself.

In the questions that followed, someone compared her work with that of the Viennese Actionists because she too was pushing her medium beyond what was previously acceptable and, even though Filmmaker A knew very little about Actionism, only that it had something to do with blood and shit, she agreed, continuing that cinema had actually changed very little since D. W. Griffith and Eisenstein first developed the basic vocabulary of wide shots and close-ups and Godard added jump cuts into the mix. It was time for a more substantial breakthrough.

Afterward some young people in attendance said they knew a place to go dancing and, on the way, handed out some pills, which Silvia and Filmmaker A washed down with long swigs from a flask of tequila covertly passed around the back of the taxi.

The nightclub was a huge, concrete bunker—”Just like in a movie,” Filmmaker A said, and they all laughed as the drugs kicked in. And the drugs themselves somehow made everything more cinematic, as if their vision was slightly slurred, framing the room in a series of rapid close ups, while they danced and drank whatever was handed to them. The almost slow-motion charge of their surroundings was intoxicating, and Silvia and Filmmaker A clasped each other clumsily, drunkenly, and kissed as the room spun erratically and dancers jostled against them. They kissed and danced and kissed. “I think I’m going to be sick,” Filmmaker A said, leaning into Silvia’s ear, half-whispering and half-screaming to be heard over the music. They stumbled rapidly, but also aimlessly, toward a corridor they hoped contained a washroom, and Silvia pushed away the young people smoking cigarettes in front of the stall just in time, Filmmaker A vomiting repeatedly into a dirty toilet, Silvia holding back her hair, continuing to comfort Filmmaker A as she washed out her mouth with water from the equally dirty sink. It wasn’t long before they found a balcony where they could take in some air.

The music in the background was now like a faint memory, and Filmmaker A was sobering up a little but Silvia was still tripping wildly and started to talk as if talking was the only thing left to do and the only thing that mattered: “What if our positions were reversed. I mean, what if you were me and I was you.” Filmmaker A looked over at Silvia with bemused confusion, as Silvia continued. “Do you know what I mean? If our positions were reversed, do you think you’d follow me around the same way I’m following you…”

“Of course I would,” Filmmaker A tried to interject, but Silvia barely heard her.

“No,” Silvia said, blindly throttling forward with the drug-fuelled velocity of her thoughts, as if they were leading the way and it was all she could do to keep up. “No, I don’t think you would. I mean, because here’s the thing, the obvious stupid thing that we never mention because it’s too fucking obvious, but you, I mean you know this already, but you are really, really focused on your work. And then, and I’m not saying that I really mind, but then if I’m also focused on your work, we’re both focused on the same thing and everything’s fine. But if our positions were reversed, if I were focused on, let’s say, my own work, whatever that might be, if I were to someday have my own work, then you’d still be focused on your work, and we’d suddenly be travelling in two separate directions.”

“What’s this about?” Filmmaker A tried to interject, wanting to sound sympathetic but not sure where exactly to place her sympathy.

“What’s this about…” Silvia was getting flustered now, her voice rising almost to anger, but a confused kind of anger, as if she herself could not quite understand what she was getting angry about. “It’s about the fact that I’m looking around me, we’re in Vienna and everything is great, and I’m looking around, and suddenly I start to realize that really I have nothing, do nothing, just follow you around like some sort of housewife or puppy dog.”

“But I thought we were having fun.” Filmmaker A was trying not to get upset, it certainly wouldn’t help matters if they both got upset, blaming Silvia’s outburst on the drugs, telling herself that in the morning everything would be better.

“Sure, we’re having fun. You have a little groupie following you around the world, reinforcing what a great artist you are.”

“Come on, Silvia, you know I don’t think of you that way.”

“No, of course not. I don’t think of myself that way, either. But this is where we are, this is what we’re doing.”

Silvia walked to the opposite edge of the balcony and started to cry, or maybe she was already crying. Filmmaker A was close behind her and made an awkward attempt at an embrace, but Silvia pushed her away and stumbled back toward where they had been standing before. Now they were standing at opposite ends of the balcony and, for Silvia, the drugs starting to slow just a little, it was as if the music from inside was deafening, completely filling the space between them.

“If this was one of your projects, one of your films,” Silvia was really shouting now, trying to be heard over the music that was filling her head, trying to be heard over her own crying and anger, “if this was one of your projects then you’d really be paying attention. Then you’d know what the fuck I was talking about.”

“What do you mean, one of my projects?” Filmmaker A realized she couldn’t help herself, she was getting angry, raising her voice too. They stared each other down across the expanse of the warehouse balcony.

“One of your projects.” Silvia was crying so hard, she could barely make herself heard. “One of your fucking projects. One of your films.”

“What are you talking about?” Filmmaker A was really yelling now, really getting upset. “This is the film… What we’re doing now, this is the film. Haven’t you understood anything I’ve been saying…” But then she caught herself and quieted down too, suddenly, continuing to speak, almost to herself, but still loud enough for Silvia to hear. “This is the film.” Silvia was crying but listening. “This is the film. And it’s heartbreaking. And it’s wonderful.”