Monthly Archives: August 2012

Telescope

The telescope allows great conclusions to be drawn at great lengths. Edwin Hubble proved that the universe was expanding. I’ve always been impressed by how much we have been able to surmise, being so far away from the rest of everything.

Observation from a distance is clearly relevant in the life of a filmmaker. It is often a valuable tool in searching for the truth. Stealing a moment, rolling when no one knows that its happening or counts. The wide shot, as we know, is undervalued in the mainstream, but quite alive elsewhere throughout.

There’s also the principle of aesthetic distance – between the viewer and the fantasy. It serves as a fourth or fifth dimensional depth of field to play with. One can draw the distance close or one can pull far away. Consider Brecht, who favored a greater distance. The idea that the more the audience is urged to self-reflection rather than simple empathy for the events depicted leads to a greater form of catharsis – one that can extend beyond the work itself. I tend to agree that emotion, facial expression, relating to characters, can often be irrelevant to a truly powerful cinematic experience. Consider 2001. Perhaps that is why I despise the patronizing term “character piece.”

And finally, there’s distance in mentorship. For a time, I sought a mentor for my craft. But true learning in this career: of the construction, of the tools, of the purpose and of the politics, has come from a great distance. Watching films, reading books, watching others succeed in various ways, and trying to learn from afar. Like the astronomer, I am isolated by my current position but still have the tools to understand the greater picture from where I stand.

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Power and Presence

“Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I think the words above are not intended to convey the importance of saying what needs to be said before death, but rather the importance of being concise. And by concise I mean confident. There is a certain urgency, after all, in keeping your head about you.

I’ve been thinking recently that pretty much no film needs to be longer than 90 minutes. A great idea rarely warrants the insult of length. There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to this rule, but we’ve all heard the famous apology of the writer who did not have time to render a shorter letter.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, David Mamet – a few of my favorite writers. What do they have in common? They all write works with a strong vector, a particular atmosphere (or universe), and a liberation from any notions of outside expectation. They convey themes of sophisticated simplicity that are as dense as they are brief. This gives the work power in the present tense. The words are alive.

In movies, the words are pictures – and within pictures, there is an inherent mystery. It is my opinion, therefore, that the best films are the ones that show you something mysterious and do not tarry long.

The Ether

This blog has been silent, and I can not really say why.

It has been a year of keeping busy punctuated by heavy levels of ambiguity. And I find myself wondering: is this the kind of ether to expect in the in-between on projects here and hereafter?

Nevertheless, I did manage to chronicle parts of my adventures in Peru as a young explorer for National Geographic (http://cranemakerpictures.com/cranemaker/Peru.html). Needless to say, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be among such inspiring company. And I had a fantastic time investigating a geothermal phenomenon in the Amazon. From Werner Herzog and beyond, I think shooting a film in Peru is a right of passage of sorts. Into what I can not yet say. More on all this soon.

Regarding the ether – that creative dead zone one travels through between projects – I think it is actually more of an excuse than an explanation. That is to say, it is non-existent. Scientists of the late 19th/early 20th century had proposed the existence of an unknown field  to explain the propagation of light waves through space. The “ether,” as they called it, was an assumption through and through.

I’ve been reading Einstein by Walter Isaacson, which chronicles the life story of that whimsical theorist. It is a timely book, as I will very soon be the age at which Einstein proposed special relativity. Insightful to read about his ambitions, frustrations and wit.

Special relativity ended the argument for the existence of an ether, and with it the notion of any single frame of reference. I propose that the same applies for the propagation of a calling or career.