Friday, June 15, 2012
In Part One of this post, intended to be published in Summer, 2011, I talked of making 7 films. I then went on about the "auteur" theory of film, that in which the director and his or her sense of the completed film informs all aspects of the film even and especially that of the performers.
I can speak to that part of the theory. It is undeniably true. My two stars never gave performances of such depth and breadth. Everyone who saw it commented that the two leads hardly caused much excitement or anticipation about the film. Afterwards those same viewers remarked that they were "amazed", "astonished" and "astounded" that two such usually predictable and static performers could break out and reveal aspects of themselves never before caught on film.
A Lamp and A Basket of Leaves.
My 2 stars.
It is completely true that through my lens, they became what they had never been before: stars giving multi-layered performances.
It wasn't easy.
I needed a break from a series of linked films following the lives of people coming and going in "Laura's House". A fictional residence, it is never quite what it appears. It appears, however, always what it is: a beautiful repository of collections. Collections of collections. Thousands of artifacts, memorabilia, displays, gathered together and intertwined with the an astonishing array of plants.
The films use this astonishing house as a backdrop brought to the forefront. The people we meet in Laura's House are revealed to us by their relationship with the objects in the house. And because Laura's House is never exactly committed to existing in only one dimension, it can be perceived as a place of great beauty and solace or a sinister, faintly evil dwelling where one's death is only a quickly passed over event.
I had filmed about 12 hours of footage and from that had edited 6 films totaling not even 60 minutes in length. I was exhausted.
As I said, I needed a break.
My break came in the form of a challenge I set for myself. Given the extraordinary number of objects adorning Laura's House, could I make a film that was interesting and compelling that was focused on only 2 items: A lamp on my dresser and the basket of dried leaves behind it.
I could only use those two items as my subjects and the film had to include only those 2 items in each scene. That was my challenge to myself.
You'd have thought for being so exhausted I'd have gone a bit easier on myself.
But in taking up the challenge, I learned more about a director's relationship with his stars than one would think possible.
For one thing, I wanted to show audiences all the sides I could see to these fairly conventional pieces of room decor. The surprise to me was how many additional sides I began to see as I filmed.
The film is approxiamtely 10 minutes of montage. Photographs and mini-snippets of film comprise the images, only 5 of which are repeated more than once--and then for a specific new purpose in each repetition.
The images become servants of the 2 musical numbers used in the film. The music was chosen to underscore the mood of the piece by complimenting and enhancing the images. What I did not anticipate was that the music began to draw my attention to perspectives of the lamp and the leaves I had previously not seen. In creating additional images suggested by the music, I then saw the images bring an amazing synergy to the 2 pieces of music. The pieces, one a haunting melody from a 40's film and the other a pop rock hit from the 1980's, superficially couldn't be more disparate. But because both are heard in relation to each other, back to back, while we watch interlinked images of the same 2 objects during each piece, a causal relationship is created. In the first piece, we are given a description of a woman that encompasses everything from her beauty, her mystery her eternal appeal to the stark fact that she doesn't actually exist. "Except in your dreams".
In the second song, the singer is not talking to us, but rather to the woman described to us in the first song. This time the singer does mention all the things we heard about the woman in the first song, but this time we also hear how that beauty, mystery, eternal appeal affect the singer. It goes from an objective, if sympathetic, narrative to the singer of the second song, into a heartfelt description of what it is like to have loved such a woman...who doesn't even really seem to exist, except in his dreams and in the light of the "whole of the moon."
The images make this link for us. It is impossible not to begin to personify the lamp and the basket of leaves when they are all we see and yet the music speaks to us of two humans, a lover and his beloved. One the object of desire and passion, the other such a slave to his emotions that he cannot see the actual woman who precipitated them...if in fact she ever existed at all.
The beginning and ending of the film are marked by comments from the person in whose room the lamp and basket sit. He tells us how he sometimes just stares at the lamp and the leaves, amazed at all the varied ways they appear to him. We begin to see those same variations as image after image of the same lamp and the same leaves appear to us, often in images amazingly different from the previous ones. Behind those images are the lyrics describing this mysterious beauty. The singer is speaking to the guy infatuated with her. The complex jazz segment that is the instrumental piece of the song allows the lamp to become one of the instruments and the leaves to display visually the orchestral variations on the theme.
The last image we see as the first song ends seems to be the final statement possible about that lamp and those leaves.
And it would have been the final image...if the perspective of the singer hadn't shifted. But now we are seeing our familiar lamp and leaves from the vantage point of the one who is infatuated, not the one describing the object of the infatuation.
Because of that shift, new perspectives, one quite surprising given how late in the film it occurs, become possible and people who have seen it share that while they may have tired a bit of the same 2 pieces of decor, they were amazed at how many ways it was possible to present them...
Which of course is what our invisible narrator told us from the beginning of the film. When, at the end, he repeats the first part of one of his sentences from the beginning, "Sometimes I just sit and stare..." we don't think him dim witted or that he is wasting his time--and ours--by imagining that there are actually many many ways to look at things--in his case, a lamp and a basket of leaves, in the singers' worlds, a woman of multi-layered motive and meaning...instead his final remark seems almost like a farewell appraisal of our abilities to observe the nuanced differences in those things, alive and not, imaginary and real, that surround us each day.
It was a struggle, but I believe I did succeed in getting from my 2 stars, a set of astonishing performances that balance, clarify, distinguish and define the other.
And Hitch thought Paul Newman was difficult to direct!
Below is the link to the film, "Leaf and Lamp - a Meditation". You'll enjoy it most in full screen. And I'd love to know how you felt watching it. Thanks for your gift of 10 minutes. My stars and I are, truly, eternally grateful.
Click the link below or cut and paste it in your browser window. Be certain your speakers are on and at the desired volume. Then just click to play.