07 January 2010

Great Filmmaking, It's a Matter of Faith

The great ones don't hold back. They aren't afraid to take chances. They have faith in themselves. That's what distinguishes greatness, a faith in oneself.

I saw it yesterday in my second viewing of A Serious Man. The Coen Brothers did not use a single pretty face. Not one. They had a man endure all manner of misfortune. They had a film steeped in Jewish culture. They had a story within the story that went nowhere. They had a moral retrobate that we felt  for. They had loose ends (isn't life full of them? Loose ends everywhere. So why not in art?). They had a magnificent film because they weren't restrained. They let the story dictate itself. This was not from a script writing template.

Quentin Tarantino did the same thing. Not a shy man, more importantly, not a shy director (read: artist). His Inglourious Basterds just went ahead and changed history. Why not? Actual events are just a plot device anyway. That long unbroken first scene. Who does that? He did and it was cinematic gold. Sticking the David Bowie song in the middle of the film was inspired, just as the Coens did by using a Hendrix tune in the middle of the story about the Jewish dentist. Anyone can do unconventional, not many can make gold out of it.

Fellini could. 8 1/ 2 begins with a guy stuck in traffic, he's suffocating, he floats away... That's just the start of the movie!

Conventionality is good to a degree, but my God you need to break away and dance. You need to look at the world in different ways. Look at it this way. Black and white films, beautiful. But life, you want colors, lots of them. You want variety. That's where art comes in. It forces helps you see the world, your life, your view of the world your view of life, in different ways. Art Inglourious Basterdschanges our focus. It gets our brain ticking and might I add tocking. Like the character, the young rabbi in A Serious Man said: "look at that parking lot!"

It's not so easy to look and think in different ways all the time. Most of us only have the one brain (and that's if we're lucky) so great artists come along and help us see. And in terms of movies I'm not just talking directors or screenwriters, the cinemaphotogpraphers and set designers are crucial too and let's not forget the actors. Marlin Brando, Sean Penn those actors who interpret a character in a different way. Helps us see a person, people maybe, in different ways. Heck, the Marx brothers did that too. (Ya know what Geoffery T. Spaulding in Animal Crackers said the T. stood for? Edgar!).

Lot of people complain about ambiguity in films, especially at the ending. Want the story wrapped up in a pretty little bow. So what, you want it neatly finished to store away and forget about? Come on. How about a movie that lives with you. That leaves questions for you to ponder and answer your own way. Speaking of the Coens, their No Country For Old Men  was brilliant in that regard. Not just who the hell was Anton Chigurh, but what was he? What did he represent? Art isn't a summation, it's an invitation. If its all  there it can be an empty experince. In one ear out the other. But if we have, no GET TO think, to ponder, to wonder. That's beautiful. That's art.

Challenging. Maybe at first resistant to us. We have to try. The more you put in the more you get out. A nice comfy movie can be good every now and again but how cool is it when a film makes some percolation go on in our brains? Hey, to me that's fun stuff. It's the stuff the great ones produce.

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