Why the Internet is the New Frontier for Filmmakers

It was probably La Blogotheque that first gave me the impression that films on the internet could be just as amazing and awe-inspiring as what you see in the cinema. In particular, it was the video of Lianne La Havas ambling through a Parisian market as she plays “No Room For Doubt” on her electric guitar.

The mix was amazing, we’re in this public place, but the camera hugs her face so that we feel like we’re there with her. We don’t feel like the public who appear in the backgrounds either smiling, or ignoring her.

When I first started making content for the internet I was trying to emulate these videos, and so I gorged myself on them. They were often very roughly shot one-take videos, and truth be told you could skim through twenty videos before finding one gem. But that gem was something else.

Vincent Moon was the man responsible for kicking off La Blogotheque but actually by the time that Lianne La Havas video came out, he had already taken off on a new adventure. He became a sort of international Alan Lomax, recording performances of music around the world. And one video in particular still hits me with how emotional and beautiful it is. If this isn’t cinema then I don’t know what is.

There have always been people who say “this is not art” or “that is not cinema”, but the greatest artists in the world don’t fear technology and what it can bring to their art form. There are some who believe it’s only a film if it’s eligible for an Oscar, but why limit yourself as a viewer to such a degree? If you’re a creative then limiting yourself like that makes even less sense.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Greatest Film Actor of All Time

This video essay was conceived in part thanks to a great article I read a few months ago, titled “The Decline of the American Actor”.

The article, written by Terrence Rafferty, basically attempts to split apart the myth of great acting; that it is something that can be taught, or that is observable. It’s mainly the reframing of Marlon Brando, not as a prodigy of Method acting, but as a person with a unique energy, one which was not necessarily improved by his training.

If energy was the most important thing for acting, this opened up the field for a lot of actors who don’t claim any Method training. I thought of Gene Wilder, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Chan, Leslie Nielsen, Cary Grant; all actors who I think were brilliant, but who never went outside their comfort zones the way we’ve been taught good actors should.

Cary Grant in particular was one whose under-appreciation irked me. How could an actor star in so many brilliant films, and not be considered a great actor?

The reason I made the video essay on the topic of Schwarzenegger was because I think he’s a harder sell than those other actors. But ironically he’s also the one that the most amount of people will be able to understand his appeal. What I mean is his line delivery and interactions are often imperfect, but everybody has seen and loved him in a film. It seems like nit-picking to not consider him a great actor just because his appeal is nothing like that of Marlon Brando.

Schwarzenneger now styles himself as a man who went to America and made his fortune, and watching interviews with him, he is quite lucid about his own appeal. But at the same time, nobody asks him about acting. So many of his interviews are about weightlifting and politics, as if acting is something he lucked into.

But James Cameron saw his appeal, as did Paul Verhoeven and Bob Rafelson. So if you don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest film actor of all time before you watch this video essay, I hope that by the end of it you at least see why he should be considered a candidate.

Capturing the Moment: In Search of Adequate Images

The Werner Herzog quote about adequate images always stuck with me. His call for people to treat imagery with a greater respect seemed important to me, and he obviously put a lot of weight in it himself, clear from how apocalyptic his language was.

But figuring out what exactly adequate imagery looks like was not so well defined. Clearly there was something lacking in a huge amount of our visual media, but it was easier to describe what doesn’t qualify as adequate imagery than it was to describe what does.

I read a Pitchfork article about people who use camera phones at gigs and it got this video essay going. I didn’t want to demonise the people who shoot the gigs they attend, but I could never understand it. The quality of the images they get is terrible as is the sound, and I could never imagine wanting to actually look at them, so why on earth do these people attend gigs just to miss any profound moments they might have experienced by trying to capture it and watch it later?

It made more sense to me to try and explore this desire than to finger-wag, and so tying in Herzog’s concept of adequate images I attempted to link the desire to film a gig with the desire film-makers have to create images. The difference being one group is professional and the other is not.

In particular I wanted to bring the video essay around to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, easily one of the best films I saw this year and one that I believe is packed with adequate images.

One image I specifically enjoyed was how the veil is used by the director Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian-American. In Iran the veil is a symbol of oppression (or modesty, depending on who you ask) but Amirpour transforms it here into a vampire’s cape. As the main character stalks the streets at night, preying on sexist men, she is a realisation of a misogynist’s worst fears; a man-eating woman who wears the uniform of her oppression with a biting irony.

I don’t think people who film gigs with their cameraphones should be chastised, but I do think they are robbing themselves of the opportunity to really engage with art. We all feel that because we can all make little films now that we should. Whereas the truth is the same now as ever it was; that it takes years of practice to get good at it.

Anybody can make a great art work, but they can’t do it over night, nor by chance. And the first step to creating great art is to engage with great art. That’s what I was aiming to express in this video essay.

The city & the country and the indecisiveness of a generation

When you’re trying to explain to a friend your stance on the issue of the necessity of plot in feature films while hollering over the sound of car horns and street sweepers, clutching an overpriced coffee in one hand and batting away junkies with the other, city life stops feeling worthwhile. Sure you feel more connected to society, to people. But when those same people are walking achingly slowly three abreast on a narrow footpath, while cars pass by on the road in dangerous proximity and with the ferocity of the chariots in Ben-Hur, it’s hard to ignore the furious expletives that dominate your mind; it’s time to get out of here.

CityCountry

That’s fine, until you end up back in the countryside and remember why you left it to begin with. If it rains you are stranded, and all those years spent hugging concrete have left you carless – provisional licenses operate on a “use it or lose it” basis apparently – and without any imagination on how to entertain yourself. Your only recourse is the bottomless pit of broadcast television, but by then the depression is so palpable that you would rather put your head through the screen like a postmodern Alice sacrificing yourself through the black looking glass than spend another minute watching Dr. Phil condescend to some traumatised mother who’s problems you can’t help feeling will not be solved by that free trip to Costa Rica.

The indecisiveness here is a classic conflict between Romanticism and Cynicism. In the countryside you can be one with nature. You can stretch out on tree branches and sing ballads to the squirrels and blackbirds, or stroll the grassy banks of some quiet stream while picking apples and reflecting on the majesty of the natural world. But in the city there are stories, drama, places where people come together to argue about big ideas; politics! the arts! In the city you don’t need to worry about the state of your soul – or your mental health as it’s been rebranded – there are more pressing issues to concern yourself with. Drama is more immediate, and when that feeling of emptiness creeps over you, you’re never more than a few metres away from a drink, pill or powder that’ll help you pave over that black hole for another couple of hours.

“From whence this crippling dissatisfaction,” I ask, “that discourages us from even trying to better our situations? Don’t we all believe on some level – unlike, say, those of the American class – that our situation is unchanging? That money problems and cold winters will plague us our entire lives? That our human relationships are ephemeral, based on nothing concrete, and could easily vanish over the course of a week?”

“Cheer up,” I hear as I snap back to the magazine stand, “it might never happen.” A face, lit up by a toothless grin, points at me, grey and unkempt. Poor fool. Hiding his insecurities behind cynical clichés and acquired wit. He’ll never know the bliss of enlightenment afforded by the pursuit of honest and original self-expression of one’s emotion. At this point I return the €4 magazine I was ogling to the shelf, remembering that I would like a hot meal today.

citycountrymag

“But why is it that misery and dissatisfaction feels like the norm,” I demand, “while moments of transcendent bliss are the exception, like there is some rare, nigh-on unattainable nirvana towards which we vainly aspire, entirely unsure we’ll ever get there again, or indeed that we were ever there to begin with?” But the stream babbles on oblivious to my discourse, carrying some mysterious foam through the farmlands and into the bellies of the cows that will one day end up on our dinner plates. I discard my makeshift walking stick and watch as it drifts towards the river, and ultimately the ocean, where it will probably stick in the throat of some whale and cause great discomfort to the creature for the remainder of its life.

The thing about it is that that feeling of dissatisfaction feels like it’s all contained in one dense little nub somewhere inside you. The attention it demands seems wildly out of proportion to the size of it in relation to your entire being. It’s like that person at a silent film screening who laughs her whole way through it because of the dramatic and expressive style of acting (the cynical encroaching on the romantic). Surely it shouldn’t be hard to just turn around to tell her to shut the hell up!

But we never do. We just keep on tolerating it, focusing on it pathologically, hoping it’ll stop on it’s own, or some unforseeable twist of fate will occur and shut it up for you so you don’t have to. Maybe the ceiling will collapse directly over her and crush her into a horrible mess of brains and buttery popcorn. That’d do it.

Things are always happening. You always need more money to pay bills or cover your rent. And you always have to organise something or be somewhere if you have any sort of active participation in society or goals for your own life.

So when I get caught in a torrential downpour fifteen minutes from my house without my umbrella, my thoughts shift from the standard irritation and incoherent fuckshitbastardwhymeballs, to a kind of accepting calm. A flash of nostalgia through my mind: The dead don’t get to feel the rain on their faces. And the sun comes out with poetic timing.

Sequence 01_1

Make no mistake, the Buddhists had it right all along. You can’t change your situation, only your reaction to it. In the world of hectic modern living, where we flit from one experience to the next as fast as our fingers can carry our boredom and convert it into energy, it’s difficult to remember that the dissatisfaction is not inherent, but conditioned into us. Consume media, feel angry, buy products and experiences, be unhappy with your figure or skin or friends, ostracise your family, waste your life.

The beautiful thing about writing is you can evoke the moment of acceptance at being caught in the rainstorm and stick an exclamation point at the end of it. Stick your flag in it, claim it as your conclusion in the name of whatever philosophy you wish you really lived by and pretend that feeling gets to sustain indefinitely. It’s hugely empowering to take an indescribable anxiety and transform it by putting words to it.

Surely that’s why we write!