Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: weiluc06

Notes on Story(telling) and Film

Lucas Weisman

  • Strong set-ups are just as important as strong reactions.
    • In my film, my character throws out his brother’s sneakers. However, the idea that the sneakers had any value you to the brother was not properly established, and therefore the reaction of throwing out the sneakers was less meaningful.
  • Documentary and fiction techniques can be combined
    • Work by Jean-Luc Godard and W.G. Sebald was neither documentary or fiction, but instead somewhere in between.
    • Documentary and fiction can be equally True as well as equally false
    • In film, documentary techniques can add a sense of realism while decreasing production costs!
  • Suspense is of the utmost importance and is created by telling the audience more than the characters know.
    • Suspense is not surprise!
  • Characters actually have to do stuff, they can’t just be thinking about doing stuff; in the words of Bill Ransom, “you must get literal before you get literary”
  • Adjectives are the least descriptive kind of word—using an active verb and noun is always going to be more descriptive than the use of an adjective.
  • The world is complex and great fiction addresses that complexity. there are no “good guys” or “bad guys”; only irony and contradiction.
  • Time can be slowed up and sped up to control suspense.

How Ozu Has influenced My Work

When I started, I thought my project was going to be more documentary in nature. It was going to focus on the lived experience of my friends in the DIY music scene and their life at home. However, after I got started it quickly became about me—my life growing up in the suburbs, struggling with depression, and the solace I found in the music scene. What developed as a central conflict in the film was loosely based around my relationship with my brother.

Ozu’s films are about domestic drama. Drama which is often fueled by differences in values between older and younger generations in a changing Japan. While the conflict in my film has little to do with the relationship between different generations, it does focus on the cultural and the domestic. The culture of people who find loud music liberating—people who help out and go to shows. It is fascinating to me how my project evolved from something that was non fiction and became entirely fiction.

Close Reading: Sex & Death

Lucas Weisman

The first sequence of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amor is intensely disturbing. This is surprising, because superficially it is what would be called in Hollywood vernacular a “love scene”. We see close ups of two people in bed together, a heterosexual (albeit mixed-race) couple is having sex. The scene cuts to show stinging imagery of the damage caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. This is a graphic scene. What possible connection could there be between a couple copulating and the horrors of the Second World War? I am not completely sure that there is a single answer, however many of the authors we have read this quarter have grappled with the intersection of sex and death.

Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than juxtaposing sex and death, is taking pleasure in the matter. In Joan Didion’s collection of essays The White Album, Didion paints a dark picture of Hollywood in the late 1960’s. Her essay on The Doors characterizes the era, describing them as disillusioned aftermath of the flower-power generation. For Didion, The Doors’ lyrics embody an unusually dark fascination with sexuality in a way that transcends their contemporaries. Maybe, Didion’s own world was unusually dark, having been personally affected by the Manson murders. Didion makes the claim that “The doors’ music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation.” (21, Didion) It is common for people to take pleasure in sex, however it is extraordinarily rare for people to openly take pleasure in death. In her discussion of The Doors’ hedonistic lyrics, I get the impression that for Didion, Hollywood (and perhaps the world) are far more troubling than most people would like to believe. And that in fact we all at some level have a strange fascination, and perhaps (at least for Jim Morrison and his revealing vinyl pants) fetishization of death.

The connections W.G. Sebald makes between sex and death in his book The Rings of Saturn are far more unsettling than those in The White Album. Saturn is a far darker novel then it appears to be on the surface, and a perfect example of this is when the narrator encounters a couple making love on the beach. The narrator is confused in his memory whether the couple was two humans or a single sea monster, explaining that he “…turned to look back down the deserted stretch I had come by, and could no longer have said whether I had really seen the pale sea monster at the foot of the Covehithe cliffs or whether I had imagined it.” (69, Sebald) Sex—a process often associated with the beginning of life—is juxtaposed with the image of a sea monster, a manifestation of death. Throughout the entire novel, Sebald’s narrator is grappling to make life meaningful in spite of humanity’s hatred and the certainty of death. The book delves deeply into the worst parts of human history, namely genocide. For Sebald, Sex is a process that represents life, a process that forces people to answer seemingly impossible questions about why we should live. This connection is made most clear when Sebald makes his one of few real textual references to the Holocaust in his discussions of silkworms. He discusses the silkworm explaining that “the only purpose it has is to propagate. The male dies soon after mating. The Female lays three to five hundred eggs over the course of several days, and then also dies.” (275, Sebald) Yet again, there is a connection that is being made between sex and death, however this one strikes at the jugular. Is Sebald asking his readership if the sole purpose of human life is to propagate? For one generation to give birth to another generation who is equally clueless about where humans belong in the cosmos, another generation perhaps just as likely to commit genocide?

 

Godard Close Viewing

Lucas Weisman

There is so much to write about regarding Godard’s work: his craft, his politics, and his persona all warrant discussion. I could have written about his use of the jump cut, his die-hard leftist politics, or his career-long descent into the abstract (or, depending on who you talk to, the pretentious). However, there is one aspect of Godard’s work that my mind continues to jump cut back to, and that is his use of the subjective shot: a shot where the subject’s eyes engage the camera and the audience is no longer free to be a passive observer or a “fly on the wall”.

Godard’s use of this kind of shot can be traced back to his belief that documentary and fiction films are the same at some level. In an interview, Godard was once quoted saying:

…there are two kinds of cinema, there is Flaherty and there is Eisenstein. That is to say that there is documentary realism and there is theatre, but ultimately, at the highest level they are one and the same. What I mean is that through documentary realism one arrives at the structure of theatre, and through theatrical imagination and fiction one arrives at the reality of life. (4)

Godard mentions the silent filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Robert Flaherty. Eisenstein is famous for films such as Battleship Potemkin, in which he combined carefully crafted shots and montages for dramatic effect, while Flaherty is famous for having made what is frequently considered to be the first documentary: Nanook of the North.

Godard’s early work can be characterized by a desire to prove this point, experimenting with techniques which attempt to bring these two styles of filmmaking together. The beginnings of these experiments trace all the back to Breathless, his first film. The film opens with Michel, the main character, talking directly to the camera. At the time, this was groundbreaking. In fact, it was revolutionary when these kinds of shots first appeared in documentaries. The Cinema Varité movement was just starting to experiment with documentary films where subjects acknowledge the existence of the camera. In hindsight it is hard to imagine how radical it must have been to see this sort of thing in a fictional narrative film. Apparently, at one point Godard wanted to collaborate with D.A. Pennebaker, the director of the documentary films Primary, and Don’t Look Back. However, at the time, Pennebaker could not see how his work was related to what Godard was doing.

While I find Godard’s early work to be compelling, I would still be reluctant to say that his use of documentary techniques, such as the subjective shot, make his films any more “True”. While the interrogations in Masculin Feminin may be entertaining and even emotional at times, I don’t get the sense that Godard has really unearthed any deep truths. Instead, I see superficial answers to superficial questions. Men want to appear sophisticated, while women try to be hip and fashionable. The argument could be made that almost everyone in Masculin Feminin is concerned with their appearance: Paul with Madeleine, Robert with Catherine, Catherine with Paul, and Godard with his audience. Do documentaries present the Truth, or merely a fallacy disguised as the Truth? After all, the first documentary, Nanook of the North was staged. While Godard may have played an indispensable role in the changing form of film, it is arguable whether his changes made cinema any more True. It is certain however, that Godard comes from a lineage of filmmakers who have authored the lexicon of contemporary cinema. He, along with Classical Hollywood, the Russian Formalists, the Italian Neo-Realists, Direct Cinema, Cinema Varité,  and the rest of the French New Wave have created an archive of feeling which continues to leave audiences asking the question “what is real”?

Reflections On My First Film

As my project is coming to an end, I am having a lot of realizations about the filmmaking process. The biggest thing that strikes me is how important each small step is towards improving the overall quality of the film. Something may only take a few seconds (like setting the white balance), however it can have a dramatic effect on how the entire project turns out. A lot of these smaller steps are similar to those that a stills photographer must take, however there are far more steps in creating a film then there are in creating a still photograph. The is a complex contraption and each part must work. I also learned how important the practical side of filmmaking is. Films are extraordinarily practical things. There are a lot of logistical problems to face, as well as story problems (and some problems that belong to both categories!). The two biggest flaws I see in my film are it’s obvious—and fatal—story and continuity problems. There are scenes in my film where my hair suddenly grows and shortens with the flash of a frame on the screen. This film was a good learning experience, but it’s definitely not something I really want to show to that many people. On my next film I will spend much more time in pre production, and keep a book filled with continuity information.

Notes on Breathless

 

14 February 2016

Lucas Weisman

I am grateful for this program, because had it not been for this class, I would have never seen another film by Jean Luc Godard in my life. Prior to watching Masculin Feminin, I had seen Godard’s film Weekend. I hated Weekend, I found it to be pseudo-intellectual and pretentious. I can hardly remember any redeeming qualities of it. It was long and boring.

Luckily, Masculin Feminin was everything Weekend was not. It was engaging and it led me to give Godard a second chance. As I am writing my close viewing on Masculin Feminin, I thought I’d do some research on Godard. I took out a few books from the library and watched his first film Breathless.

I was happy to find that Breathless was as compelling as Masculin Feminin. To be honest, I noticed a lot of similarities between the two films, especially regarding their developments in the history of cinema. Both films are fictional narratives, however their form has a noticeable influence from Cinéma Varité. Breathless has interesting characters and enough spine to keep a viewer interested throughout the entirety of the film.

Michel, the main character, is a crook guilty of the murder of a police officer. He is a self proclaimed “asshole” and Humphrey Bogart wannabe. He wears traditional American mobster clothing and calls his lover “kid”. While he is French, one gets the sense that he romanticizes American culture. When he steals a car’s, his preferred makes are American. Even his love interest is American.

Interestingly, Michel has fallen in love with a woman who seems to have an opposite obsession—she is an American who romanticizes French culture. She puts up posters with the artwork of famous french painters like Monet, Matisse, and Renoir. She is a young reporter for the New York Tribune (who also sells subscriptions walking up and down the champs elysées; everyone needs to start somewhere).

Michel didn’t lie when he said he was an asshole—he really is. He doesn’t listen to the woman he loves and he often accuses her of being a coward (a trait he believes to be the absolute quality for person to possess). Of what he is accusing her of being afraid of is not always clear. These remarks do more to characterize him as a classic misogynist than anything else, perhaps he is influenced by Bogart.

Journal Entry #3

Lucas Weisman

1/24/16

I hate moments like this one. The kind when it’s just my brother and I. When I just want to go along with my day, but I know that my brother is like a pile of dynamite with a short fuse—just waiting to go off at any moment. So I act coy. I don’t express how I really feel, I act agreeably (at least I try to). I am coy. However, the dynamite inevitably explodes. He eggs me on. I am defensive. I retaliate. It’s a chain reaction. Now, I am not coy; I am armed and loaded. I am prepared to fire—shots are heard. With a bang I fly through the air, a cannonball born by fire, propelled by gunpowder.

It’s always been this way with my brother, I don’t know why. My mother’s theory is that because I am the youngest, he is jealous of the attention of I “stole” from him by being born. Part of me thinks that on some level, I want to fight him. At least that’s what my family tells me. Maybe it’s true. Maybe I want to fight him because he pisses me the fuck off. Maybe I want to fight him because he pisses me the fuck off and my family validates his intentions. At my core, I guess I’m just as petty, dogmatic, and malicious as my brother. But I start by being coy.

The worst is that there was a time when I would fight him, and I wanted to lose. I wanted to get hurt. I sought to light his fuse, watch the sparks fly, and be exploded. When I hated myself so much that I wanted him to hurt me. I wanted someone to reaffirm my self centered, self hating world view. I wanted him to provide evidence to my psyche that in fact, I was as tortured and mistreated as I told myself I was.

I’m largely past that now. By putting myself in positions where people think of me as someone they can rely on for help, by putting myself in communities, I am growing. I fight my brother. While we are still explosive, still fraught with potential energy, at least I don’t go out looking for it like I used to.

Week Two Journal – Lucas Weisman

 

FILM OUTLINE AND LOGISTICS:

 

SCENE 1: INT. HERO’S BEDROOM

HERO wakes up in a bedroom that is dark except for the small amount of light that is managing to make its way through the blinds. The CLOCK on HERO’s nightstand reads that it is 12:00pm. HERO falls out of bed and walks to the BATHROOM.

 

SCENE 2: INT. BATHROOM

In the BATHROOM, HERO reaches for his toothbrush. Grabbing some toothpaste from a medicine cabinet, HERO sees a BOTTLE OF PILLS. HERO puts down the toothpaste and reaches for the BOTTLE OF PILLS. HERO examines the PILLS for a second, then puts them back into the medicine cabinet.

 

SCENE 3: INT. KITCHEN

The scene cuts to show HERO eating an APPLE with his BROTHER in the KITCHEN. BROTHER insults HERO for waking up late and skipping class. When HERO sets off to leave, he takes a PERMANENT MARKER out of his BACKPACK and scribbles on his brother’s SNEAKERS. HERO sets the sneakers down, then exits to the FRONT YARD.

 

SCENE 4: EXT. DAY FRONT YARD

HERO starts on his way to school from the FRONT YARD, when a CAR passes by. BROS yell “fag” at HERO.

 

SCENE 5: INT. SCHOOL

Once at SCHOOL, FRIEND meets up with HERO. FRIEND hands HERO a FLYER and tries to get HERO to go to a show that night (we learn that HERO has never been to a show, but that friend has been trying to get him to go to one for a while). HERO takes the FLYER from her. When HERO leaves SCHOOL, he puts the FLYER in the TRASH.

 

SCENE 6: INT. KITCHEN Pt.II

HERO returns to the KITCHEN, where BROTHER is sitting. BROTHER stands up, walks to HERO, and slaps him. HERO runs out the door.

 

SCENE 7: EXT. DAY BASKETBALL HOOP (LONELY TREE)

HERO runs to the BASKETBALL HOOP (or LONELY TREE). HERO sits down and puts his head in his hands. FRIEND walks into frame and gives HERO a hug.

 

SCENE 8: EXT. VENUE

HERO and FRIEND walk into the VENUE, where loud music is playing. After the loud music finishes, HERO and FRIEND walk out with SHOW-GOERS. SHOW-GOER puts an arm around HERO’s shoulder, and HERO smiles.

 

CHARACTERS:

  • Hero
  • Brother
  • Friend

 

PROPS:

  • Alarm Clock
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Bottle of Pills
  • Apple
  • Backpack
  • Permanent Marker
  • Sneakers (that can be destroyed)
  • Flyers
  • Trash

 

Locations (Test Stills are Below):

  • Bedroom
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen
  • Front Yard
  • School
  • Basketball Hoop (or Lonely Tree)
  • Venue

On “Do The Right Thing”

I am very glad that Caryn read those passages from Lee’s notes before we viewed the film. Hearing Lee’s notes on his goals for the film encouraged my eye to look out for different things in the movie. I really liked having a window into how Lee envisioned the film before seeing the film. It was cool to see how how Lee had such an acute concept for the tone of the film, and you can see how that concept influenced all of the decisions that went into the film. Lee set out to make a film about the hottest day in Brooklyn, and the film looks and feels like the hottest day in Brooklyn (physically and metaphorically). Everything from story elements such as the playing with the fire hydrants to the burning of the pizza parlour, and production elements such as the incredibly loud, boisterous sound track and irregular, “dutch” camera angles sent the message that this was indeed the hottest day Brooklyn. I think this idea of starting a film with a feeling in mind and trying to use every technique available to you is an idea I would like to incorporate into my own work.

Thematically and content wise, I thought this film was especially remarkable. It dealt with broad, often discussed topics like hate, love, and racism in a refreshingly honest and nuanced way. There isn’t an obvious distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, and we get the idea that “the right thing” isn’t as easy or simple as we would like it to be. This film talks about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in a way scarcely found in white public school history classes (at least in my experience). The movie promotes the fatal and threatening idea (to those in power that is) that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were not adversaries, weakening the civil rights movement by standing in opposition to one another, but instead they were both men with the same goal in mind: equality and equity. The film shatters this mythological dichotomy with a trash can when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. This action illustrates how the ideologies our minds would like to think of as mutually exclusive can at times be one in the same. When Mookie throws that trash can he is committing an act of “violence” (I put violence in quotes because actions are only labeled as such when they appear to compromise the institutions in power) which Malcolm X would call self defence, in an action of such altruism that white liberals would have you associating it with Martin Luther King Jr. before you you could spell PRIVILEGE out loud. This message that the ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are not mutually exclusive is brought home when a picture of the two men smiling together is shown before the credits.

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The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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