I didn't recognize anybody in the class which is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because as a graduate I don't want to be seen as a returning loser who can't let go of college, even if that's not the case (although it might be.) Bad because it means I don't have anyone to talk to and if I want to do the "make a documentary" project I'll have to actually like try to make a friend, a prospect that is as daunting as it is unlikely.
Those who might suggest a partnered project as an opportunity to hit on women are remanded to back entries of this journal.
The professor remembered me. He said he missed me over the summer and it was good to see me again, then later in the class he patted my back. I see that as a good sign, since I was in a class of over 70 people the first time and he singled me out out of over 60 this time. Being fat and talkative makes you hard to forget. If I play my cards right and work hard this semester I could get a good recommendation with him, and maybe even get into a third tier film school despite utterly lacking creative skills or vision of any kind. Go go gadget impersonation of competence.
Now for the films.
First was some Lumiere stuff, which is always...the same. It's okay, and I appreciate more now that my filmic knowledge has improved. The professor was careful to point out how spectacular that stuff was back in its day and it's easy to accept but hard to imagine. A 60 second clip of old guys playing cards set to music.
I guess it's better than Gigli.
Next up was Ballet Mecanique. That's such a visual film it's not worth discussing except to say that you should see it and if you don't enjoy it then you need to get a liberal arts degree. If you have one and you don't enjoy it, you should have gotten a better one. Also it's a shame that films like this can't be made anymore. The issue is, ironically, attention spans. While Ballet Mecanique consists of virtually nothing but a montage of related movements and images, one must actually pay attention to and remember patterns and visual themes. It demands your attention and creates a lengthy seamless work created entirely out of short and simple clips. By not holding your hand it manages to force the same level of attention that must be given to a lengthy work of byzantine plot and clever wordplay. The modern audience doesn't only need predigested tidbits, it needs big ugly signs directing it how to interpret the tidbits, or at least that's what Hollywood seems to think. No longer can one ask the audience to do the heavy lifting in making a work meaningful. It has turned from partner into consumer.
The last film we watched was Sherman's March . Instead of actually writing about this film I was going to talk about myself for 80 pages, which would have been clever for those who have seen the film and slightly confusing for those who have not. Instead I'm going to separate out the thoughts it inspired from my impressions of the film and write each up. Ross McElwee, the film maker, deserves at least that.
Sherman's March is a 2 and a half hour documentary that is about Sherman's march to the sea through the South for approximately 7 minutes of its 153 minute running time. For the rest of the time it is about Ross McElwee and his choice to abandon his historical project about the south for the noble goal of chasing trim. This is quite impressive, since there are a great number of people who are out there trying to document history and very few trying to have sex with women. Of course it's not just sex he's trying to have, it's a relationship, something that he has very little to no understanding of. Thus begins his saga to, as he puts it, "contemplate whether romantic love is possible in an age of potential nuclear war" or something very similar. What he really means is that he wants to know if romantic love is possible for HIM in an age of nuclear war, and specifically can they do it doggy style without thinking about Kruschev. That last statement may be a bit of an embellishment.
Now I fully admit that a 2 and a half hour documentary about a bearded dweeb's search for sex with women is just the sort of self indulgent film that appeals to me. Add in McElwee's wry sense of humor and emotional honesty about everything from his lust to loneliness (plus the occasional bare patch of breast flesh and one of his girlfriends doing an exercise that is clearly a pantomime of humping) and you have quite a feature. Ironically the film has one big flaw, and that is editing. It's quite simply too long. This is ironic because McElwee was actually an editor in his paying life, but apparently he wasn't paying himself well enough to actually edit his film. While there's no individual piece of the film that's boring per se, each segment drags and the women start to blend into one another. The project is naturally quite self-indulgent but becomes even more so as Ross spends a lot of time on moments that are personally important to him but are not interesting or important to his audience. On occasion he spices them up with humor or flesh, but it would be a stronger piece with more trimming, even it meant fewer pieces of trim.
There are other flaws in the film. The lighting is natural and the film stock sort of poor, so scenes sometimes appear washed out or difficult to see, including one sequence where a young woman is sunbathing nude on her back. There's no excuse for shooting such a scene poorly. NONE! The film also doesn't do, in my opinion, a good enough job at weaving Sherman into the story, although it does mention quite a few tidbits about him. I know it might seem odd for a young lad to ask for less cunt and more Tecumseh but I think it would help the balance of the film. It would have been nice to know more about McElwee's personal relationships with the women as well. When they go well he doesn't really talk about them, maybe to preserve privacy, but when they are unsuccessful he gives extended periods of whining. This leaves the viewer feeling like that friend who doesn't hear from a guy for months when he's boning some chick, but as soon as they break up finds himself the subject of lengthy bourbon fueled sobbing about the inherent lack of fairness in the female soul.
Despite the problems it has I think the film is definitely worth viewing. It's intensely personal, gives a good vision of Southern women of a certain age (30s) during the late 80s, and is a great meditation on the thought processes of lonely men. It is the sort of film I would like to eventually make, although I'd probably try to be a good deal more clever and honest and allow less space for the women to just be themselves. That's a stylistic choice, though, and neither choice is necessarily better than the other. Some of these women are incredible characters.
If you do decide to watch the film, watch for camera awareness. It grows over the course of it and has "Very Important Symbolic Meaning" according to me. I'll leave it to you to figure out what that is. It isn't particularly hard.