Shooting With John: Lest We Forget
Perhaps it was no coincidence, then, that on the morning of my return flight from LGA, my stomach peppered on too little bagel and too much coffee, I came across the tidbit of news that traffic would be jammed due to an animal convoy truck that had crashed wide open, spilling several cows to run rampant across Dallas-Fort Worth. Several had been killed in the wreckage, a few had laid down to rest, and yet an even bigger number had mustered their courage to brave the zig-zagging pattern of screeching 18-wheelers and high tail it to the fields that must surely lay beyond certain asphalt death.
Perhaps it was also because, on this same flight, I knew, just as surely as I felt the swell of acid rushing upstream from aforementioned too little bagel and too much coffee, and though I was going home to the Lone Star state that represented the wild blue expanse of pioneer freedom for so long and for so many, (crossing my aching legs in aisle seat wearing snakeskin boots, no less!) that the very next time I would be in the air would be a trip back to New York.
And a one-way ticket, at that.
I felt gutted and released simultaneously. I wistfully re-crossed my legs again. Seppuku on a red eye.
Traitor? I hadn’t outgrown my home. Home will always be home because that is where you come from. Christmas will always bring me back to those friends and family. My brain still teems with memories of so many projects created with a great and talented art community which I care deeply about. I hadn’t even outgrown the actual state. In fact, there were many Texas spectacles that had eluded me for the past 28 years.
Those Marfa Lights would probably just shrug. Well, he’s headed across that highway toward those fields, isn’t he?
I had simply outgrown my canvas.
Milton had said, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, or a Hell of Heaven.” Indeed.
So it felt rather appropriate that Yost and I had been talking about an examination of current cinema. My thoughts here aren’t so much on what cinema is saying right now, but how it’s being said.
It was this very interest that had connected me to Yost in the first place. I peruse other filmmakers’ work on Vimeo, but Yost’s had caught my eye because his canvas was wide, his expanse varied in shades. He had short films that acted not just as shorts, but as installations for galleries and art spaces. I was (and still am) in the middle of completing my latest project, a multi-platform work called Her Wilderness, which works as a short film, a gallery video installation, a feature film, and finally, an interactive video website. So there was this immediate connection with the two of us. But I knew that yearning was not limited to a few. All around us, projects can be seen in theaters, in galleries, in subways on someone’s new iPhone. Movie theaters feared the arrival of the dreaded VCR at one point, because, though movies were more accessible to the masses, it would mean a loss in business. But what people need to remember is how that venue, or that medium of the medium, can change not just how you see the story, but how you feel the work being presented. It’s quite obvious, but Lawrence of Arabia isn’t the same in cropped “TV pan” in the afternoon as it is on 70mm in a huge darkened auditorium, right? Some projects to me just can’t simply translate. And if they can, one has to be careful not to get caught up in the idea of having more accessibility as better than seeing it in only one way… especially if that might be the right way.
When does one know that his/her space is too small? Even after they’ve become acclimated to it for so long and told it was the perfect space to live? To work? To express oneself? A monkey in a zoo, even with an African jungle tableaux and a few ferns tossed in, is still just a monkey in a zoo. The monkey’s been subjugated to one state of being in one kind of prism for our eyes to see it in that one way. A proscenium for the wild. Contained, but feral. The same way people are thrilled by watching violence in those voyeuristic ways where storytelling can place them closely in death’s grip, then release them at the very last second, sending them out of the dark theater and into the blinding white of the parking lot, again contemplating the grave matter of mortality felt in that experience, but doing it SAFELY and HAPPILY….in the form of entertainment. That duality causes an exuberance in the interaction of art and spectator. And though that harkens back to the theater in that sense of breaking down walls Brecht-style to INVOLVE the audience more…to make them accomplices in the story being told…the very fact that film is not a live experience also stops that experience dead in its tracks. That’s why, over the years, there’s been numerous multimedia projects that have demanded many of these arts coming together. A marriage of film and theater.
And maybe 3-D becoming more popular and consistent in mainstream films (used by masters like Scorsese, rumors of Von Trier) is a sign of people’s hunger, but maybe it’s not enough. Only the beginning, if you will.
So, then, the question not only is: What’s next? What other limitations will be broken down, what new ways of seeing do we have?…. But also: how much of these self-imposed limitations are necessary to keeping spectator and art separate? Should they even be separate to exist? Just as you can’t have an existence of “evil” without its necessary opposite of “good.” Or should just they meld together in a dinner theater party setting? I know several relatives who would never want to go see plays with me if they would be asked to stand up and participate. My grandparents never wanted to see foreign films because “they didn’t want to read.” But how much great art have they missed out on because of that? That’s entirely their own prerogative, just as it takes a lot of pressure to convince me to see movies in 3-D. Why am I prejudiced toward embracing this? Or is it merely an acceptable matter of taste?
It’s evident in the film festivals that cast ruminations on what is popular in presenting art: Sundance and SXSW have all notably begun new categories over the past few years that are pieces of “film” not limited by the walls of a theater, or even by the intimacy of a monitor, but deemed “installation works.” Braden King’s Here with Ben Foster is a great example of this. And in a marketing sense, the futuristic “instructional videos” for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and the short Hotel Chevalier Wes Anderson released online before the premiere of his feature The Darjeeling Limited are similar, but more common examples. The very fact these festival categories have been created to house demands of such work should be a sign. Video art, though still the minority in most museums and galleries, is slowly becoming more popular in public art spaces and not just limited to websites and site-specific exhibitions.
In this way, the art gallery for films today is parallel to the Universal Studios amusement park, albeit one that is more for “the thinking man.” The shlock tactics of William Castle by using 3-D for ghosts are now being used for ballet sequences in art house films by Wim Wenders.
But why should one tool be limited to one type of story? Or one type of medium contained for a specific sort of venue? New York’s Rooftop Films was one of the top festival choices on my list for a long time, but by the time I’d finished making my first feature a few years ago, I realized the strength in the film was its restraint and quiet. And to play on a beautiful evening on a rooftop in N.Y.C. was appealing, but the surrounding city would become an active participant in my story in a way that I felt would only hurt the piece.
At the end of the day, just because the average Joe seems to be seeking out more alternative “indie” cinema (big studios creating sub-studios for genre pieces, lower budget, foreign fare; “AMC Selects” being the quaint coinage for multiplex art house films), doesn’t mean there might just be a more ravenous hunger brewing. Let’s just not forget that cinema is only a little over 100 years old, a speck in the grand scheme of things, but an important one. Technology has evolved so much in such little time that that hunger is only going to build. And it may require my grandparents not only to read, but to stand up and provide rebuttal for the inquiring actor.
And for yours truly to finally suck it up and reach for those 3-D glasses under my seat.
His first feature film, Hold, a 2010 Venice Days candidate, top 20 IFP Narrative Labs Finalist, and deemed “one of the best films of 2010” by CINEMALOGUE, premiered at the reRun Theater in Brooklyn.
He was a juror for the Dallas Video Festival (2009), a panelist for the Lone Star International Film Festival (2007/2011), and has talked about his films on NPR and Good Morning Texas. He is a consultant for the distribution line Fifth Column Features and the founder of the monthly improvisational film collective, Backyard Movies, Inc. His award winning short films, video essays, and music videos that have been exhibited at various U.S. film festivals and other venues such as The Dallas Museum of Art, 500X Gallery, and The Metrognome Collective, are now available for viewing on MUBI. Of his directing, Gordon and the Whale says, “Frank Mosley was born to make movies.”
“Shooting with John” is a new column and web-series by the folks who brought you “The Microbudget Conversation.” We are in production right now on a new feature film; White Creek. Please feel free to contact us with ideas, suggestions, and possible guests: email@example.com