When a friend of mine posted this quote from from a Bafta Television Lecture of David Lynch being asked to explain the spiritual roots of Eraserhead it struck a chord with me. The interviewer innocently asks about the spirituality of Eraserhead and David Lynch shuts him down quickly. We've all been in the situation where a person in authority (a parent, teacher or boss) asks us to tell them where the idea for something came from or what it's supposed to mean. Usually with implication that our creative act is somehow describing ourselves and us explaining it will reveal something about our internal world.
Why should we explain the beginnings of our ideas and tell people what it means to us? Isn't it true that once we've created something it exists on its own. If you could only enjoy or understand a work of art after the artist explains it, you're really not enjoying the art; you're enjoying the explanation. You've saved yourself the effort of bringing any part of yourself to it and filed it away neatly in your head as if it were a riddle and you now know the answer. Also, it puts the blame for your lack of understanding on the creator. If only the work of art were better, you'd understand it.
What I admire most about the Lynch quote is his confidence that he doesn't need to explain. In fact, he doesn't even need to explain his lack of explanation. He spent five years of his life making Eraserhead and knows that it stands on its own. His intentions and intended meanings are incidental to it. Why take something beautiful, creepy and strange and try to diminish it by explaining it away just to make the person experiencing it feel smarter and more comfortable?
The next time someone asks me to explain myself I'm going to smile, shrug and politely decline to answer. Other people not understanding you, when it comes to art, is a wonderful thing. Own your weirdness.
Federico Fellini directed some of the best films of the 20th century. He was an artist who changed the films that came after him. If you’ve never seen one of his films watch 8 1/2, La Strada or La Dolce Vita and you’ll be amazed at how many movies you’ve seen reference or outright copy him.
When choosing the image to accompany these quotes, I had to hold myself back from choosing an image from one his films. Not that Fellini would have minded, as you will see from the quotes below he didn’t distinguish between life an art. In fact, as he points out, he doesn’t see the difference between reality and imagination as a useful distinction.
Fellini’s films really explore what it means to be a movie. His own life, random occurrences on set, hallucinations and sharp shifts in tone all play into the story. For him, life and creativity were inseparable. Here are a few of his thoughts.
A created thing is never invented and it is never true: it is always and ever itself.
All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.
Realism is a bad word. In a sense everything is realistic. I see no line between the imaginary and the real.
What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a
physical reality and a metaphysical one…. It’s this in-between that
I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible
world and the intangible one—which is really the realm of the artist.
The artist is the medium between his fantasies and the rest of the world.
You exist only in what you do.
I’m perhaps a special type of spectator. I experience pleasure when I find myself in front of something that is the absolute truth, not because it resembles life, but because it’s true as an image for itself, as a gesture. And therefore vital. It’s the vitality that makes me appreciate and feel that the action succeeded. I think the expression of an artist’s work finds consensus when, whoever enjoys it feels as if they’re receiving a charge of energy, like a growing plant does, of something pulsing, mysterious, vibrant with life.
A good opening and a good ending make for a good film provide they come close together.
Money is everywhere but so is poetry. What we lack are the poets.
I don’t believe in total freedom for the artist. Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all. If there’s one thing that’s dangerous for an artist, it’s precisely this question of total freedom, waiting for inspiration and the rest of it.
For every creative person, fantasy has certain aspects of obsession. Being unable to free oneself from these fantasies is a kind of torture.
Work is a protective canopy from dark thoughts about the flying time. Creativity creates energy, and energy stimulates the feeling of life.
You may have read about it in Vanity Fair. In the early 80s, a group of boys in Southern Mississippi decided they were going to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark shot by shot using a video camera, their friends and whatever props and locations they could scrounge together. It took them seven years to complete. Seven years is a long time to work on something as an adult, but to a 10 and 11-year-old, that’s a lifetime.
I was lucky enough to attend a screening hosted by the director a while ago. The quality of the film is as rough as you would imagine a 20-year-old video tape to be. Despite technical flaws, this movie is a powerful testament to what it means to be a creative nerd. If you have ever wondered why people get obsessed with movies or TV shows to the point of distraction, this movie has the answer. Children from divorced families getting together to create their own fantasy world every summer while people made fun of them.
Technically, the movie has every fault you would imagine. But, those faults pale in comparison to how much they got so very very right. The giant boulder is a giant boulder, the fire in the bar scene is a fire in a bar (admittedly, a bar they built in someone’s cellar) and when Indiana goes under a truck while holding onto his whip and is then dragged behind in the dust, you find yourself cheering in excitement that they pulled it off.
One of the great pleasures of the movie is watching them solve problems that don’t occur to the casual viewer. You wonder how they’ll do the boulder, what the ark will look like and how they’ll pull off the chase scene. The real interest is in the tiny moments. For instance, if you are in a small town in Mississippi, where are you going to get a monkey? When the solution appears on-screen, I found myself laughing not so much because it was funny, but because the solution is so clever.
They just used a Beagle mutt named Snickers.
When Marion is trying to get the monkey off of her shoulder, it’s just a dog trying to figure out why a girl is shaking him around. Snickers rides around on the shoulder of “the Arab” with a look of disinterest and whenever he gets put down, he immediately curls up and goes to sleep. The shot of him on the floor after eating bad dates is just him sleeping in an odd position.
The plane at the end of the first scene is replaced with a boat in a swamp. The natives that chase him there are 11-year-old boys in grass skirts. Time after time they just pull it off in an obvious but tremendously clever way.
In the question and answer after the movie, someone actually had the audacity to point out what scenes and shots were missed. For a split second, I thought the audience, all awestruck at the work and creativity on display, was going to collectively hit him in the back of the head. Chris Stromopolis, the co-director and Indiana Jones, shushed the crowd and started to explain. You see, he said, for the first few years, we could only see the movie at the theater. There were no video stores and it wasn’t on TV. They worked from memory and a Marvel Comic adaptation. It wasn’t until 84 or 85 that they actually could compare what they’d filmed to the actual movie. At one point, they went into the theater with a tape recorder taped to their chests in the hopes of being able to get something, ANYTHING, that they could use. The first time, they were caught. The second time, they got a good tape with dialog.
The most touching moment for me was Chris telling us that scene where Marion kisses Indy in the ship’s cabin is his actual first kiss from a girl and it was captured on film. Which makes me think that what started as an attempt to duplicate an action adventure movie turned, as the years passed, into an elaborate plot to get a kiss from a girl.
In the blooper reel there’s a shot of a kid that they set on fire with gasoline rolling around on the floor asking if they got the shot while someone is standing off to the side trying to quickly read the instructions on a fire extinguisher.
When they tried to make a plaster cast of the kid who played the Nazi Toht’s head for the melting scene at the end. You know, the weird-looking torture Nazi whose face melts, well in this version he’s played by a kid who looks like Ernie from My Three Sons only skinnier and nerdier. Turns out they accidentally used construction plaster instead of plain plaster, so when they put it on his head, it started to heat up to about 107 degrees. They had given him a pad of paper to write on and he wrote the word “hot.” Then, they realized that they hadn’t properly soaped his eyes and they were plastered shut. He reached for the pad again and wrote the word “hospital.” They called an ambulance, but the police got there first. The policeman looked at the plaster coated boy, shook his head and said, “What in the hell are you kids doing?”
One store owner called the police and told them that they were filming child pornography.
Chris is now trying to turn all this attention into a career of some kind. He’s been in LA for 14 years with no luck, but they might be the thing that pushes him over the edge. Their story has been sold and is going to be a movie and a documentary. Hopefully, by the grace of Lucas, this will be released on DVD so every nerd in the world can see it.
In the credits, the movie is dedicated to the memory of Snickers. He was hit by a car before the movie was complete. When an audience member asked about Snickers, Chris almost teared up and said, “Good old Snicks.”
It’s like watching someone’s home movies, but the sheer scope and magnitude of what they pulled off makes me feel like I can do anything. The biggest lesson in all of this is that if they had only half-made the movie, it wouldn’t be that interesting. Remember to finish things no matter what!
Just search for Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made and you can watch it on Netflix.
Fiction Menu is a site that lets you search for books and movies by plot details. The methodology is very unscientific, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to find a book you half remember reading as a child. Really, it lets you search other people’s descriptions of recommended books and vote their description up and down. The descriptions vary in quality. Here’s the description for Crime and Punishment:
A poor student kills an old woman, money-lender. But money is not the only stimulus. The murder is grounded on the student’s theory of morality.
Wow. Not much to go on.
Still, it’s a great idea. If the site takes off it could become incredibly useful.
Billy Wilder wrote and directed some of the best movies ever made, including Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. In Conversations with Bill WIlder, Cameron Crowe interviews him in great detail about all his films. It’s one of the best books about making movies I’ve ever read.
In the appendix Crowe included Bill Wilder’s 10 tips for writers. I recommend picking up the book for a further discussion of all these points, but there’s a lot of practical wisdom in the list itself.
Billy Wilder’s Tips For Writers
The audience is fickle.
Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
Know where you’re going.
The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is the first act.
A tip from Lubitsch. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.
The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then-
I just finished reading Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew, which deals with the making of his acclaimed low budget film El Mariachi. Rodriguez has some strong views on creativity, which include the following points:
1. Lack of money and resources leads to creativity. When films have a high budget, they try to solve every problem with money.
2. Do as much as you can yourself instead of leaning on partnerships
(or in the case of film, a big crew), because you have to learn more
and also, it’s too easy to blame someone else for any mistakes that
come up in the process if you’re collaborating.
3. Don’t believe the cliche about “learning the rules before you break
them”; just jump in and learn as you go. Always question the accepted
method of doing things.
‘Remember when you were nine years old and that favorite TV show of yours and all your friends just began to not be as good as it once was? How it used to be this thing you worshipped, but now the formula has gone a tad tepid and like 3 of your friends are over for a sleepover and you’re all hopped up on too much sugar talking about what the coolest episode ever would be? You’re vibrating from the energy of just unleashed possibilities and your Mom is telling you to get to sleep, but that Nine Year Old creative force is just shaking… running a thousand words a minute, spilling everything you ever dreamt of to your buddies and it feels like the greatest thing any of you have ever heard? Well that’s where you have to write from. You have to write with that energy and that fire. It is all about that magic 9 year old unleashed.’