Monday, February 16, 2015

Intelligence #2

Cinema in this country is dumbing down. Novels in this country, with some notable exceptions, are dumbing down. Music, strangely, is doing the opposite and is becoming more intelligent and mysterious and sophisticated and the evidence is profound, that audiences are responding as they cherish and obsess and curate and promote Australian musicians who, in turn, are becoming world beaters. I'm no musician. I write imitative prose. I write screenplays. And I die to make films. So, my reminder is always to avoid the dumb shit (which I do with marginal success) and watch and listen and read those who are dizzying in their intellect and skill and ambition.

The smart ones. The crazy ones. The inventive ones. I want them to drag me along in their wake and confuse me and make me feel like I am speaking another language and that I urgently need to study and learn that beautiful, mysterious language with which they are speaking and laughing and singing.

A writer like Roberto Bolaño does that to me. I read his words and reel at the intelligence and fire and wit and aggression. Yet I also know I am in the hands of someone who is trying to nurture me with the brilliance of their own insight and knowledge. Something the rest of us can only dream of and, more importantly, aspire to. Filmmakers like Claire Denis and Nuri Bilge Ceylan do that to me. The mystery of their images, rhythms and narratives makes me surrender my laziness in listening and open my senses, pores and unconscious to another way of seeing.

These are celebrated names yet a wise filmmaker in Australia never mentions names like these when looking for support or financing. A wise filmmaker mentions the populists or the pragmatic ideologues. But why? Populism has become a violent dogma in our art and politics. Yet populism, having conservatism at it's core, diminishes us. Stories, art, words (as with dance and song) have sustained us since forever with their ability to guide us and provide us with transcendence. Yet, they are not expected to be a fleeting experience. With mystery and intelligence and riddles within riddles at their core, they are designed to be retold, reread, reviewed, rethought over and over. The populists demand neatness, explicitness, resolution, clarity. All things which allow us to watch, forget and never learn. Why? Because the populists live off the culture of consumption. A film is just another product. Why are so many filmmakers now straddling advertising and filmmaking. Yes, you make a living. But it's more sinister than that. The filmmakers are no longer having to disappear into bravery, audacity and adventure. They no longer bring stories back from the brink. They sell us stories already told. And, for me, I could care less. Our films now sells us values just as ads sell us products. The films I watch that sell the inflated myth of Australian hypermasculinity or anglo mateship or feminine romanticism are just as much bullshit and fiction as an ad that sells me a deodorant the use of which will wash me like an ocean wave.

It's not that I wasn't made for these times. I don't harken back to any glory days of cinema, as much as I might cherish films of those eras. I am more excited by the speed with which words, images, rhythms, wit and intelligence are used, recycled and reused in contemporary times. Yet, the populist dogmatics (most easily identified as those who can recite certain books of 'how to write a screenplay' but also disguised in the form of many more apparently forward thinking filmmakers with a dark heart of fear of failure or commercial (!) irrelevance lurking beneath the skin) don't see the sinister and retrogressive conservatism that lies at the heart of their desire to push a 'way of telling'. They don't see that this anti-intellectualism, this fear of the new, is just as phony and dangerous as that espoused by the maniac conservatives running our country. There should no longer be a way of telling. These should be set free. The dogmatics talk lies. They are nostalgics afraid to let stories embody the recklessness and progressiveness of youth, the intelligence of the young women and men beating down the doors of the ways we speak and think and the implicit violence that lies at their heart. They should be run out of the institutions and off the film sets. Let them face the insecurity of those others who have no choice but to find a new way to speak because, outside of the institutions and off the sets, the language of life is changing and accelerating all the time. All the time.

1 comment:

adrian h said...

That is as true as it gets. Our priorities are all business now. We don't seem to have a freestanding moral code separate of commerce. I've been reading Sculpting in Time again and its so disheartening to read Tarkovsky writing about the potential of cinema as he saw it and what he thought it would become, knowing that the art form has been almost entirely appropriated by the commercial machine. Most of the stories we hear now are, as you say, a blunt and artless form of cultural propaganda.