Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Film By...Kenji Fujishima?

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Over the years, a few friends of mine have insisted that I should try my hand at making a film of my own, that getting the experience of doing so might enhance my criticism in some way. I always listened to these people with a twinge of guilt. Deep down, I knew that there was certainly something to be said for what they were suggesting...but the truth is, I don't think I've ever really come up with any idea that I felt confident about trying to shoot and edit into some kind of movie. Furthermore, I don't think I've ever really felt a strong desire to put in the time, effort and money to make my own film; I guess, for a long time, I've felt content to merely watch, think and write about movies rather than getting my own hands dirty.

Until this past weekend, on Saturday, that is.

On Saturday, I went to see the last two screenings in the Museum of Modern Art's Jia Zhang-ke retrospective, which paired his 20-minute short Cry Me a River (2008) with Fei Mu's classic 1948 Chinese feature, Spring in a Small Town, the latter of which Jia has cited as an inspiration for his short. I was dazzled by both: Spring in a Small Town is a beautiful film full of wonderfully complex emotions, and the Jia short acts as an affecting modern elaboration on its themes of romantic yearning and regret amidst social and environmental change.

Walking out of MoMA into the bright sunshine, I found the rueful melancholy of Cry Me a River sticking to me pretty closely. The fact that I was by my lonesome in taking in this pair of films only increased that feeling, one I felt even more acutely than usual on a gorgeous 70°F day. I wanted to share my soaring feelings of ecstasy with someone, and found no one at my side with which to share them. I often tell myself I've become used to solitude over the years...but that day, I thought, Oh, who am I kidding? Company is a nice thing to have, especially on a day like today.

And then an unexpected thing happened, one that, in all my years of cinephilia, I've never experienced to the degree I experienced it Saturday afternoon: I started to feel a strong desire to pick up a camera and turn some of these emotions into a film. Inspired mostly by Jia Zhang-ke's long takes and careful framing, I started to map out camera moves in my head that I wanted to execute, and shards of a possible storyline started to come together. I thought maybe this desire might be merely a passing one...but then I saw more fascinating long takes, in a far different context, at Film Forum with a newly restored 35mm print of Joseph Losey's great film noir The Prowler (1951). As I walked out of that theater, that compulsion reared its head again as I walked up to the W. 4th St. train station to head home.

Only the next day, however, though, did I feel my mental engine really revving up to this idea. You know what?, I remember thinking. Maybe I should actually follow through on this. It's about time to perhaps get some experience in doing some filmmaking of your own. You're feeling a strong desire to express yourself in some way other than my own writing, and you know you've been thinking about doing this in the back of your mind. But you've never felt the full strength of inspiration hit you. Now you have. Act on it! Or you may well regret letting that flame of inspiration pass by.

Later that day, I started working on a treatment. And during my lunch break at work, I walked up a block from my office and just stood by a ledge, mentally parsing through visual and aural details, mapping out images and shots, considering details of mise-en-scène, and so on.

I think that mental vehicle is off and running.


I don't plan on doing anything overly ambitious for what I'm thinking will end up being merely a few minutes long. In fact, I don't even think it will have much of a story. Instead, feelings are what I'm interested in capturing. I do have some mild formal experimentation in mind, though nothing Stan Brakhage-like or anything (but of course; I don't have any film to manually distort).

Mostly, though, I'm thinking about doing this for the experience of making a film. And dammit, I could use such experience! When I was contemplating aspects of my film over the weekend, I couldn't help but reflect on just how little I actually know about the filmmaking process, for all that I crow about how much I love the cinema. And in thinking about what I might have to do in order to be able to get this thing successfully shot—buying equipment and editing software, rounding up friends, hiring some actors/technical hands, maybe even appealing to a producer for funds—some of that old reluctance started to kick in.

But no: I intend to not let skittishness get in the way of this effort. Besides, these days, I could use the feeling of accomplishment that completing such a project might inspire.


So I'm posting this for a few reasons:

1) Posting this on a public forum such as my blog is perhaps a good way to keep up my motivation in hopefully seeing this project through. You readers will be the ones keeping me honest!

2) If you find me blogging a bit less than usual here at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, then this is the reason. Thus, consider this a fair warning.

3) This is a direct appeal to all of you reading this who may or may not have filmmaking expertise: Any help in this adventure I plan to embark on would very much appreciated!


P.S. Though this would be my first attempt at fiction filmmaking, this isn't exactly my first film. Almost two years ago, when the family dog Dusty died, I made a short video to his memory. It's not much: With the help of iMovie, I stitched together a bunch of cellphone pics and scored it to the transcendent concluding bars of Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. But I'm still proud of the way it came out (even if the one asshole who gave it a 3/5 rating on YouTube disagrees).

If you haven't seen it, here it is:

No comments: