Friday, November 25, 2011


“We're artists too, but we do a good job hiding it, don't we?”

Roberto Bolaño, "The Savage Detectives"

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I have always loved the writer Jim Thompson. I can't think of a single writer who could whipcrack a sentence, a line of dialogue or a chapter the way he could. So, you're a romantic, well try this on for size:
"She looked cute-mad and funny-sweet. She looked like she'd started somewhere and been mussed up along the way. She was a honey. She was sugar and pie. She was a bitch."
Jim Thompson, 'Nothing More Than Murder'

(from 1953, Dell Publication)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Festival. Night.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping Quiet

"If one could learn the most important things in life, one would still have to learn how to keep quiet about them."
Péter Nádas, 'The Book of Memories'

image: Jerry Hsu

That Obscure Pride

I feel like a beginner. I've made a handful of little fiction flicks and couple of longish non-fiction flicks. And, each of them, at numerous stages, has demanded sitting in a room with people, often hostile, occasionally sympathetic, and explaining not only what the story of each film is, but also responding to the ever present fallback question these days, why we need to tell that story. This discussion usually finds its origin, quite reasonably, in the request for money, financing, investment from a third party; and the third party earns their right, through that request, to tear the project into strips as they look for reasons to not provide money, financing, investment. As anyone who has been in this situation knows, it is always a bizarre dialogue guided largely by the film equivalent of 90s economic rationalism. Nothing ephemeral. Nothing intuitive. Nothing irrational. Everything must be able to refer to tangible events of the past deemed to be successful/profitable/marketable. Supply and demand.  

Why this story? Why do we need it? Why bother?

This is always the most difficult part of any meeting for me. What do you say? Really, what do you say? Films don't save lives. But films save lives. Stories don't save lives. But stories save lives. Do we need any film, any story. Hell yes. But how the fuck do you explain why? Is it possible to look someone in the eye and say, this story - obscurely veiled, hiding like a coward, in it's film form - is just a story... but stories, whatever their form, are life and death, and where do I begin to make sense of life and death. Instead, you hang your head, deliver a few glib phrases of director's treatments, or writers intentions, talk a bit about character, about the narrative, about genre, and why this story is a little bit different from other stories that have come before (as if that is possible) and then walk out of the room with hands in pockets... With the why? buried deep inside like a haunting.

If there was an answer or an easy explanation to the why? there would be no story in the first place.

So... I was returning from one of these meetings recently, trying to drum up some cash for a film that may never get made, and, on the train home, I was reading John Berger's book of essays 'The Sense of Sight'. In it, I read his essay 'The Secretary of Death', in which he destroys the reader in the opening sentences by describing the violent suicide of a close friend, before veering into an exploration of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' - one of those perfect works of prose that I covet. It is an extraordinary essay - one of many of Berger's essays about the vital function of art and the vital function of stories - but what is especially interesting about this story is the way he introduces his idea of the storyteller, in this case Marquez, as 'death's secretary'.

Death's Secretary. Yes.

This is what he writes:
"A moment's reflection shows that any story drawn from life begins, for the storyteller, with its end. The story of Dick Whittington becomes that story when he has at last become the mayor of London. The story of Romeo and Juliet first begins as a story after they are dead. Most, if not all, stories begin with the death of the principal protagonist. It is in this sense that one can say that storytellers are Death's secretaries. It is death who hands them the file. The file is full of sheets of uniformly black paper but they have eyes for reading them and from this file they construct a story for the living. Here the question of invention, so much insisted upon by certain schools of modern critics and professors, becomes patently absurd. All that the storyteller needs or has is the capacity to read what is written in black…."
He goes on:
"We Death's secretaries all carry the same sense of duty, the same oblique shame (we have survived, the best have departed) and the same obscure pride which belongs to us personally no more than do the stories we tell."
To my mind, this is not to say that every story has death at it's centre, at it's beginning, at it's end - in the way that 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' does - but that a story is propelled by the urgency we feel when we look back from the point of view of the moment of death, whether ours or that of another. Who doesn't feel the panic of hurtling action when imagining the moment of death (except, maybe, those lucky few with paradise, virgins, eternal chillout zones waiting for them)? For the rest of the heathen swine, it's an impossible thought, and one that accelerates, that avalanches, that forces all else before it into a cascading and coherent logic of story (this, then this, then this, then this). Likewise, when we think back from the point of view of the death of a friend, a lover, a character - one we love or despise or feel affinity for or whom we desire - the same domino effect transpires. Life orders itself in ways it will never do as we live it. There is order, because there is an end. It is something lived. Something experienced intuitively. It is the rational mind's equivalent of dreaming. An ordering of the incomprehensible.

The irony of a blog post clumsily teasing out this idea in this moment in time is not lost on me. That is to say, in this moment in time, so many contemporary screen professionals - in Australia in particular, where a script can be talked about in the same breath as 'branding', 'content', 'likeability' - are adamant about 'story' and the tradition of 'story' (mostly as espoused/regurgitated by the industry evangelists for whichever American screenwriting book is in vogue) in the same moment as they want story to be divorced from it's very reason for being. That is to say, they talk about story without understanding it's purpose. The real why? Over and over you hear people shunning stories that retain at their core the mortal; those that are derided as 'bleak'; that embody dark themes, that include death, degeneration, profound loss or tragedy. Of course, it is death, that gives rise to story. It is the desire to preserve a moment of existence, in the face of decay, loss, forgetting, that drives stories drawn from life. This is when stories are at their most celebratory, whatever their theme or content. Film, when it revels in the mortal or plays in the face of death, is a never-ending Day of the Dead celebration.

So, with these thoughts playing across my mind, that is why, when I went to my next financing meeting and, when asked why I want to make this film (more on the film in question later), I raised my eyes, met their gaze, and declared, "because... because... we are all in this room, playing our roles as death's secretaries". Okay. I didn't say that. But I wanted to.

How do you justify your desire to tell a story? And, how in living hell do you justify your desire to tell a story in the medium of film? How does anyone?

Film is, by it's very definition, excess. It is like the construction of a grand cathedral - which first must be sketched by the architect, funded by the clergy, built by slaves or the under-paid, adorned by the artisans, painted by the artists. Only this cathedral is torn down 90 minutes after completion in the sight of the few people who come along to witness it's unveiling. Even the most modest film, the barest, tiniest work, has at it's heart, this conceit.

So, how do you sit in a room surrounded by a bunch of people who guard the coffers and explain why you want to tell the story or make the film you want to make without simultaneously seeing the madness and decadence of it all.

You either reconcile yourself with the decadence, live for the materialistic excess that surrounds film, fool yourself with the trappings, the tricks and the technology. Or you stare in the spare, harsh face of your own fear that you cannot possibly ever justify the production of a film unless you tangle deeply with the idea of art. And this, over recent decades has become anathema to cinema. But what hasn't become so taboo, thanks mostly to Hollywood screenwriting manuals  - which commodify the act of writing, is the equally amorphous but somehow rational term: 'story'. So we have to be realistic, we have to be honest, we have to be unashamed to tangle with what that means.

So, what's this all about? If you know me, you know I've been slugging away trying to get up a film that I hold dear. I wrote it originally to be a little handmade flick, then slowly, too slowly, realised it was too expansive to be handmade and so I threw it to the wolves of finance. It has made the film more robust, the script better, and the ideas a little less fragile. This is a good thing. Yet, it still feels like a difficult story to tell and the struggles we have in getting it almost made, then not, almost financed, then not, suggest that there are still questions that I have to answer to the folks with the cash. But are those questions, are those why?'s unanswerable. Does the very nature of rationalising and explaining away every element of a story damage the tiny remnants of intuition, mystery and possibility that hide in the architecture of a film.

Galore is a tiny film. It is about young people in a small pocket of a small suburb in a small place. It takes place over a short period of time, but what I hoped to do was tell, within this miniature, of all the things that preoccupy me when I think about love; How to live well. How to love well. How not to despair that we will always carry death with us in each of those moments that we feel most vital and alive. How to feel joy. How to lie with someone. How to lie to someone. How to keep a secret. How to protect yourself from harm. How to deceive yourself. How to fall in love. How to fall out of love. I never wanted to tell a story that addresses the other things that I feel when I don't think about love. About this insane end point culture, with it's mad materialism, isolation and corruption. The pettiness of our day to days. The evaporation of guiding principles like justice and compassion in the face of guiding aspirations like wealth, security, celebrity. I wouldn't know where to begin. I'm not an orator. But I think I'm a good pillow talker. So I want to tell a story that is like one of those memories we recall in incredible detail in the first weeks of a new love, when we lie around in bed, spilling our secrets, feeling invincible and knowing that we are beyond judgement (the sense of grave mortality, the fear, the judging, the closing down of early memories all comes later). The kind of story that's whispered sleepily but makes the new love weep with familiarity and warmth and pain.

Try telling that to a room full of strangers with ball point pens and a bunch of boxes to tick. Try even telling that to your DOP or to your executive producer. But I'm telling it to you, because, that is the reason I am prepared to embark on this madness. Why else am I going to try and con you all into seeing it while hiding in the lobby puking my guts up with fear.

So, in answer to the why? of this film and every other, we keep our mouths shut. We take ourselves or our cameras to the places we want to film and look for the right way to be. We look at faces in the street as if we're already filming them in scenes. We look for words in books, song lyrics, images and impressions that speak to the film and answer the why? better than any explanation. We imagine the film over and over and love it for what it still is, unbeaten, perfect and pure. No mistakes, no flaws. We live in the face of loss and death and hope that one day we get to make that perfect tiny celebration of life that exists at the heart of film. We imagine people loving it the way we love it. And we get terrified, lose all hope and then claw it back again. And we are ashamed to admit, all the while that we "all carry the same sense of duty, the same oblique shame (we have survived, the best have departed) and the same obscure pride which belongs to us personally no more than do the stories we tell."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The One That I See

"The viewer has to dig into the film and make an open interpretation of things. The kind of atmosphere – or the universe – created by the film uses illusionary elements to speak about a problem that is real, based on true stories, but it creates this possibility of talking about reality through the eyes of the viewer. The film becomes a prism that you can relate to in different ways, depending on your point of view. If you are from this culture you will relate to the film in a very different way than if you are from abroad. You are not supposed to understand all of it, but you can follow the emotional flow of the film and somehow grab your own story and go with it and somehow get a glimpse of a little picture of one story. A film can never represent reality. Which reality? The one that you see? The one that I see"
 image from: 'La Teta Asustada', de Claudia Llosa

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sky. Night.

to resist 
the night sky