Thursday, June 11, 2009

Locations #2

Recently, I've been developing a script with composer and long time collab Chris O'Young. The script he's written is this sublime exploration of an insomniac Chinese Australian man who returns to his parent's home in Beijing to help with the reburial of his Grandfather after the required seven years. While there, he falls into the Beijing punk scene and discovers long held family secrets. It's a beautiful combination of lightness, energy and the sexual and emotional charge of new love (found, sleep deprived, in the Beijing punk bars), and a melancholy founded on the difficulty of connecting - truly connecting - with culture and family when life is lived as an exile.

There is a sequence he has written set in the cricket fighting markets that are scattered around Chinese cities. We'd talked about using these markets as a location because there is something so singularly bizarre about a gambling den centred around tiny fighting insects. When I first saw one of these while visiting with Chris in Shanghai, I could only make sense of them visually... through my camera. That is, I had so little idea of what was going on, of all of the gestures, the calls, the labels, the significance of the pin sized fighting insects as opposed to the thumb sized crickets, of who was running the place, who was betting on what, and what it took to declare victory... The only thing that made sense was the colour and the movement.

For the most part, the one thing that film allows us to do is to make sense of mysteries in the everyday. The desire to overhear a conversation, to better understand someone, to be a part of the underworld, or to rub shoulders in the penthouses; these are the most common elements of human drama in film. But there is also the strong desire to understand spaces and cultures that we see that appear foreign or unusual or mysterious but which we know must have some anchor points that we can tie ourselves to in finding a connection. I used to feel a sense of guilt about writing films for this kind of cultural or emotional travel/escape, but slowly I'm approaching the idea that, in trying to make sense of film, what else is there? In such an ephemeral form, skimming across the skin of human lives or glimpsing fragments of intensity amid raucous action or spectacle is all we can really do. If we do this in the same meditative state as you wander or travel, then we can find the moments of connection constructed for us in a way they can never be in the real world.

So, my first fleeting visit to those cricket fights, where I wanted to be in the midst of it, can be delayed for gratification on screen when those same impressions and emotions can be reconstructed but with an insider's knowledge, an intimate glimpse of what exists at those moments, as seen by fictional characters who we've come to invest in. It's the beauty of cinema realism. Where the mysteries of the everyday that we know to be true can be unravelled through the eyes of fictional characters whose very falseness allows us to be agile in what and how we wrestle with life.

Now, just gotta get the cold hard cash and get that flick made...

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