Tuesday, July 31, 2012

silent movie

Since I'm in California film is even more on my mind than usual. The 2-dimensional spectacle afforded by the car window speeding along freeways or winding through canyons and parks (one of the most common surnames for neighborhoods in LA) or even just stopped in traffic at all of these intersections of abutting and wildly divergent paths and populations-- it's no wonder so many people feel like filmmakers here. We are all gathered at the fountain of inspiration and every standstill is a potential frame in a future story. I love being in different cities because the physical geography of the place lays out like a map in my brain and my brain in turn shifts its own patterns and processes to mimic the shape of the city itself. I feel like my coding mechanisms shift from vertical orientations to wide and flat sprawls of information and memories and thoughts with pockets of room around them to breathe in. I sit in large rooms in large houses or hike in canyons with vistas stretching from mountains to the sea and without another human being in sight and the thoughts in my head un-stack each other too and the little thoughts that might have been towards the bottom of the pile, or maybe just kept being piled on top of, those thoughts can suddenly stretch out and unpack their insides and exist with all the space they need again. It feels expansive here. I feel expansive. Two of my film-world heroes passed away recently and I want to share a few details about them here. Chris Marker was an 'experimental' filmmaker-- experimental in the sense that he tried things that no one had ever tried before to marvelous and powerful effect and was a major force in modern cinema-- passed away yesterday in Paris. He was 91. His full obituary is here but my favorite part is at the end: "Mr. Marker gave one of his final interviews-- in 2008 to the French magazing Les Inrockuptibles-- through the virtual medium of Second Life. In response to a question about pseudonyms as masks, he said: "I'm much more pragmatic than that. I chose a pseudonym, Chris Marker, pronounceable in most languages, because I was very intent on traveling. No need to delve further." (He was 87 at the time of this quote.) His objective as an artist was to: "capture life in the process of becoming history." Another hero of mine, Andrew Sarris, passed away in June at the age of 83. I had the pleasure of taking Sarris' Modern Film class at Columbia where every Friday 10 or so of us would gather in the screening room at Dodge and make our way through great and sometimes obscure films from the likes of Bunuel, Rohmer, Resnais, Kurosawa, Varda and Godard. Each viewing would be followed by an animated conversation and we were tasked with writing a paper in response as well. Sarris was one of the first professors to offer encouragement about my attention to detail, or maybe his attention just made me feel more special than other professors because I admired him so much. He loved to provoke contentious debate in the class-- and was just as happy to hear how much somebody hated a film as how much they liked it. Like many of my favorite teachers and artists-- he seemed nostalgic for the late 50s - early 70s, when, I get the sense anyway, art mattered so much more to people. [From his NYT obituary:] “We were so gloriously contentious, everyone bitching at everyone,” Mr. Sarris recalled in a 2009 interview with The New York Times. “We all said some stupid things, but film seemed to matter so much. “Urgency” — his smile on this point was wistful — “seemed unavoidable.”