Saturday, July 16, 2005

Adding to our culture

(I started writing this yesterday, but my computer crashed before I could hit "post". I wasn't sure if I could recapture it, or even if I wanted to, but I'm having one of those rare days, both quiet and disquiet because I have nothing in particular that I have to do, so I figure I’ll give it another shot. I have to write something today, so it may as well be this.)

Invariably, at whatever job I’m holding down or enduring, the word gets around that I write and make movies (“invariably” because I usually tell people, to prove to them—and to myself—that what I’m doing now is my job and not who I am). And also invariably, after the mixture of bemusement and indifference works its way through the office or dock, someone will suggest, “You should make a movie about this place.”

To which, someone else will answer, “No one would ever believe it.”

And God knows movies have been made about more mundane subjects, so I generally nod, or crack wise about something going on with the establishment, and then we move on. Or the conversation will veer towards the fact that I don’t make any money doing what I’m doing, and that the movies have not granted me international success and fortune, because, obviously, I’m here, doing what I’m being paid to do, and not out hobnobbing with the stars. Just as they were and were not. So then, invariably, the subject will be gradually dropped, as they return to their careers and the things that fill up their lives outside of work.

These jobs are usually whatever I can get at the time I need them, so it’s rare that I get to work with anyone who has any frame of reference for the film community I live in. Working at a rural post office at the ass end of Pennsylvania, just a few short miles from the West Virginia border, bringing up Shockheaded or Witchouse 3 is the same as discussing life on the moon. No reflection on the people I work with—this is just beyond their realm of experience. “Movies” to them, are whatever just came out at the theaters or at the Giant Eagle video section. For most “average” people, and this is a hard fact we’re all in the community very aware of, our movies would be viewed as some sort of cute experiment and not “real” movies.

Maybe the same can be said about foreign films to some of these folks as well, or quiet, but big budget, “indie” films that spew from Sundance annually. The most in-the-know people at my post office reference “indie” films like Run, Lola, Run and Sideways and act like they’re on the verge of joining a secret society for having seen them. I suspect that you throw Scrapbook or even Tromeo and Juliet at them, or any kind of punk underground movie, and they wouldn’t know whether to watch it or feed it.

Which makes our jobs just that much harder, doesn’t it? It’s impossible to make a movie, doubly-so to get distribution for it, and triply-so to get anyone to watch the damned thing if it does come out. So what is “impossible” cubed? What is the outcome of these Herculean tasks we’ve set for ourselves? And why are we so content to litter our narrow market with junk? Because we’re constantly told by distributors that only sex and gore sell? We need higher body-counts. We need a higher tit-count? Push the envelope—but not too hard. Serial killers are in, in, in.

Okay, so you make a crappy serial killer film and get distribution for it and then what? Make another one so you can get that one distributed? Further add to the bigotry that all indie-made horror movies are shitty and shot-on-video? Why is it that even when we do things right, it’s still wrong? Because the market dictates what we will make, comes the answer, and the market is set by analysts who know just what the audience wants to see and nothing beyond will play.

I’ve made this rallying cry before: what if we defied the “markets” and gave the audience something it didn’t know it wanted? What if we all started making intelligent horror movies, the kinds we all grew up on? What would the “market” reflect then?

No, there’s nothing wrong with escapism. It’s intrinsic—often the only thing keeping guns out of mouths at the end of the day. The working public needs its bread and circuses.

But as a culture, we need more than that. Every movie we make, in some way, adds to the zeitgeist of the culture we live in. Not just the snarky “ain’t I cool for knowing this” pop culture, but our collective unconscious, what makes our society more than just a collection of drones who work day in and out and wage war on different collectives. When we add shit to the culture, we’ve added nothing but shit. Add something interesting, even if unsuccessful, and you’ve added something that might just resonate enough to reach beyond the target audience hungry for boobs ‘n blood.

We’re all hungry. Everyone who makes movies outside of a studio, with our own tiny pockets of money, yearn to make bigger movies, to actually make a living doing this. So why start the career with the first steps taken adding to the mire? Why not make something that makes people think while they cheer the killer and drool over the naked girl? Even if the movie falls flat on its face, at least you tried to do something a little unusual. Why tell a story if its been told a thousand times before and a hundred times before better? Tell a story only you can tell. Don’t worry about developing a style. Tell a fucking story. And maybe a future generation will discover your movie for themselves and think it’s pretty cool and go on to be inspired to make something of their own. Now we’re adding to the culture, rather than just spreading the manure around. Ain’t none of us getting rich off this stuff. The best we can hope for is to make something we’re proud of at the end of the day. But project yourself into the last days of your life and look back. Do you really want to leave behind a legacy of noisy, forgettable schlock? Let Michael Bay have that epitaph.

No comments: