"Filmmaking is a matter of asking questions to which you don’t know the answers, and holding yourself tenderly open, ready to come across new questions at any moment. The work that results is an admission of what you don’t know and might never be able to understand. It is not about moving from confusion to clarity—for the actor, the director, or the viewer. Getting lost is the goal—being forced to break old habits and understandings, giving up your old forms of complacency. The way to wisdom is through not-knowing."
From the dead of an Australian winter, let me offer this opportunity to rub your hands at least temporarily on the work and ideas of pioneer, independent filmmaker, John Cassavetes. Assembled in one place - at the WHERE'S THE DRAMA? website What you will find is a creative and compelling storyteller, none of whose films was considered for admission into the artistic canon during his lifetime.
As Ray Carney has said: "Almost without exception, American filmmakers and critics take for granted that art is essentially a Faustian enterprise — a display of intellectual power, control, and mastery. They assume that a work's greatness is traceable to its ability to limit, shape, and organize what the viewer sees, hears, knows, and feels in each shot. In a word, their conception of artistic performance is virtuosic. Leaf through the pages of the standard film textbooks and what you will find is an implicit equation of virtuosity and greatness that extends to every aspect of a film's creation: from the writer's ability to create "revelatory" dialogue; to the director's, cameraman's, and lighting supervisor's ability to use lighting, framing, camera angles, and movements to manipulate what the viewer knows and feels; to the editor's and musical supervisor's ability to orchestrate the pacing and dramatic intensity of events down to the last beat.
"No set of values could be more opposed to Cassavetes' belief about either the process of living or the function of art. For him making a film was not a display of power and prowess, but was rather an act of humility. It did not involve virtuosic arrangement and masterful organization, but patient exploration and tentative discovery. As he often said, for his actors, his crew, his viewers, and himself, filmmaking was a matter of asking questions to which you didn't know the answers and holding yourself tenderly open, ready to come across new questions at any moment."
Have a look inside the life and films of Cassavetes this month (July, 2012) at Where's the Drama? You can view the complete version of his first feature, Shadows, and the full version of his last film, Love Streams. There are also interviews with friends and cast and fly-on-the-wall observations of a man obsessed.
CASSAVETES ON DIRECTING
I try to make it comfortable for the actor by realising what they’re doing is so personal. If you’re doing a movie and somebody slaps a slate in front of you and everybody stands around expecting you to be brilliant, then it’s gonna be like a contest. I like to develop an atmosphere where that doesn’t exist; where nobody is looking at you to see how good you are; where people can function. It’s very hard to let the technical processes of film take over and then expect the actors to reveal themselves. I mean, you can’t take a shower at a dinner party. You make a movie to tell what you know about life – about your life. But after waiting around for eight hours, for setups, for lights, all of it, when it comes time to shoot, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t wanna tell you about my life anymore! Why should I tell you about my life?’ On a set there’s really a lot that can hamper the actors. For example, in this film, here’s maybe the most important moment in two people’s lives: a guy is committing his wife to a mental hospital. In a normal movie, while this is going on someone is also fiddling with your hair, putting lipstick on you, placing lights above you, sitting you down, marking your feet, moving cameras, yelling, ‘Hey. She doesn’t look good; her skin is out of focus.’ Now, I ask you, how can the actors concentrate? So we do all this before the actors come on stage.
LINK: CASSAVETES IN JULY