Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You Just Missed It At Light Industry: Last Chants For A Slow Dance

Real independent films can be trying. The first issue is budgetary. You'll never really know where the money of a Hollywood film goes till you've seen a film made without any - without lights, without sound design, without a crew, without re-shoots, coverage, script supervisor, or real actors. Film history regresses, the crudities of silent and early sound film reappear. Without an experienced cinematographer who can organize the grammar of shots in his head with an intuitive, musical sense as much as a methodical technical one, the director can throw his Eisenstein and Pudovkin in the trash, montage falls apart on set and there is no guarantee it will recover in the editing room, especially when the director is doing that too.

The second reason is internal to the idea of independence itself. Real independence - not the $3 million Sundance movie kind, but the Alex Kluge or the Troma kind - represents a way of thinking that is fundamentally at odds with its society, or at least the public as the vertically integrated film industry has imagined and defined it. This can be equally as frustrating. This can be an excuse for the shots that don't cut together, scenes the drag on without a script or actors who can improvise convincingly, for poor exposures and soft focus.

Sometimes we can let these little cinematic crimes go. Small time crooks like Jonas Mekas and Amos Poe are such competent men with little movie cameras. But there are so many more low budget filmmakers who have made worthwhile, important work but who ask us to suffer a little (as they did) for their independent vision.

Jon Jost is this kind of filmmaker. Mr. Jost was on hand to present the film and take questions at his screening at Light Industry. I liked hearing him talk. It reminded me of seeing Ernie Gehr at Light Industry not too long ago, another outsider auteur of the 60's now in his 60's. Both take their time to speak. If there's anything worthwhile saying, its worth taking several stabs at saying it just right, of letting the words come to terms with themselves at their own pace.

Their films share the same attitude, as if the real fiat these young men made for their counterculture radicalism was to take hold of their personal sense of time. When considering whether a sequence has too many fudged shots or a scene covered in a long take goes on too long, one is not just thinking about the audience's patience, but their sense of time, their sense of how much time they should, by rights, give a filmmaker to get to the point. Audiences are used to letting films falter, mistakes are there on screen all the time, but the audience doesn't see them as long as those mistakes fall within the margins of their allotted time commercial films are given to fuck up.

Part of what's so charming so many men and women who came of age in that era is that they fought with this time and won, that when you talk with them they act out the pyrrhic struggle with time over and over again during the course of a conversation. They're always pulling your words and interludes back into themselves and giving you back a new rhythm, one more in keeping with their sense of justice, their sense of and organic, democratic time.

Slow Dance does have some scenes covered in long takes that become a little tedious. They were shot this way for both aesthetic and budgetary reasons. There were no reshoots, almost all the footage shot for the film is up there on screen. Actors had to everything right on the first take, even when a scene didn't have a script but only a few key words for the amateur actors and non-professionals to riff off of.

Films like this produce images more controlled films cannot. Films like Jost's, Amos Poe's, and The LA Rebellion filmmaker's function on imagery that cannot be cleaned, pruned, and put in better relief inside the montage. Just as in Bresson every moment of poetry is a moment of awkwardness, the pleasure of these films is ultimately what looks wrong but was still chosen by the filmmakers as something worth seeing, it only to make you dream of what a moment could be. Independent film viewership is as much about trust as it is patience.

These kinds of films aren't always my cup of tea (I couldn't sit through a single Kucher Brothers movie) but they're worth seeking out and experiencing. A novelist, a painter, an independent animator can always just give a work more time if something doesn't work, can just make a deeper personal sacrifice to get something right. A filmmaker on a budget doesn't have this luxury. As his money disappears, so do his opportunities. He's not the only one making sacrifices and after awhile his favors run out, his actors quit, the film dies a very real death right in front of him, whereas a poet or a sculpture could play with a corpse for weeks before realizing it's time to let it go. Jost made this film in five days with a budget of $3,000 (around $10,000 in 2012 money (according to the internet)). It shows. Like independent film should.

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