A Little ‘The Canyons’ Self-Interrogation

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‘…a piece of string

and a rock to wind the string around’

A little The Canyons Self-Interrogation

by Pablo D’Stair

PABLO D’STAIR:      I know you’d said you were going to refrain from chiming in on The Canyons anymore until it sees official release, so I appreciate your coming out to chit chat. It just seems to me, with the attention to the film of late, that it so fits in line with your oft stated opinion about films and their audience, you should be broached for comment.

pablo d’stair:    That the proper audience for a film doesn’t show up until the picture is a number of years old?

PD:      Yeah (thanks for keeping succinct with the theory there this time, I appreciate it). I guess I figured in the climate of contemporary cinema, you must find yourself of two minds about that—with meta aspects of audience-participation so entrenched in things from conception and all, these days.

pd:       Films are more and more a split-brain thing, I suppose—or at least consciously to audience and makers.  And I am of two minds about it, as I have been of two minds regarding aspects of The Canyons since my limited and peripheral interactions with it began.  Because you’re correct to speak of it as a meta-film, a film even more-than-meta perhaps, one which seems to be bent on being ‘interfaced with’ even ‘reviewed’ completely a priori. I admit I have to wonder if it isn’t so much a matter of The Canyons, like all films, having to wait for ‘proper audience’—audience coming to it removed from fresh-release-expectations, discovering it the way one would a piece of cinema from ages ago, no merit to consider but the film itself—or that it’s a film distinctly designed to exist for two audiences.

PD:      Because—not to put words in your mouth—there is an entire life to it, already, it is altogether an extant thing despite no public having viewed it. And this is far from accidental. Part of, maybe, the ‘post-Empire’ aesthetic those who made it are so wrapped up in.

pd:       Post-Empire is something I’ve come to more earnestly consider and appreciate as an actuality due to The Canyons, frankly. When I first became cognizant of that term being bandied around, I was a bit…dubious. It struck me, initially, as just a new word for ‘underground’ or ‘punk’ or whatever, and in it seeming a kind of rehash of an always existing ‘movement’ in all art, I was bugged by it trying to, as I saw it then, pawn of a freshness.

PD:      No more?

pd:       Not so much. It isn’t, for example (or so it seems to me) the same animal as ‘punk’ or ‘outsider’ art, quite the contrary. While ‘punk,’ to stick with one term, has to it a sense of ‘Fuck off, we don’t need your establishment or approval,’ ‘post-Empire’ has a bit more angst-ridden a subversiveness to it. It seems to say ‘Fuck off, sure—but know that we are exactly the establishment you are and belong in the establishment and to be regarded in the establishment’s terms just as much as anything else’—an aggressive head, not wanting to build its own world and rule set, but to strangle an…a kind of admission out of those it might rub raw.

PD:      Whereas punk or underground turn their back of the traditional or hep, post-Empire is a statement that to turn ones back on IT is a kind of lie, a willful taking on of a tacit involvement with a status quo?

pd:       Eh. Sounds blowhard and…roundabout…the way you put it there, so let me side step to give a better, more exact flavor to what I mean.  It seems in a lot of contemporary cinema—from inception through pre-release—there is a need for spin, for a kind of narrative to accompany the film’s arrival—nothing to do with the film or the artists or the commentary of the artwork, as a whole, but a narrative-reason to get people to come to the film and to view it through the filter of a spin-doctored mindset.

PD:      Lies?

pd:       Lies, yeah—or at least bullshit.  The Canyons, for example, it never (to my memory) touted itself as even a ‘Lindsay Lohan film,’ let alone did it suggest its existence had anything to do with a redemption narrative for the actress, professionally or personally. Now, it could have, it could have gripped on to that spin and sought to control those elements to have an approaching initial audience consider that line the way the producers and filmmakers might like, to some generally positive, warm-hearted effect. The Canyons didn’t do that, though—so the awaiting public supplied it for themselves (minus the warm heart, largely).  Not given a behind-the-scenes storyline to fall in step with, a storyline prestidigitated itself out of the collective-unconscious of contemporary US film watcher.

PD:      But surely a kind of pre-narrative was given—the crowdsourcing method of funding, the teaser trailers?

pd:       Too much about the Art, too inside-the-loop for a casual orbiter of the thing.  See—we’re all over the place here, but I will press on—the game of the teaser trailers was an in-joke for people interested in Film (the art form), but it was people interested in Films (the product, the currency) that needed a pre-game, the teasers not quite filling it (filling it a crumb, but no meat). Why I say that a proper audience won’t show up for any film until a film is a bit older is because until that time the question of the film trying to ‘get something’ (in the form of money or accolades or fame or whatever) is too much with people watching it. ‘I wouldn’t pay to see this,’ is a statement that is sadly second nature to make when it seems the film is trying to get back its investment.  But when a film has just been around, when it can be viewed any number of ways (even if these involve money, technically) it just doesn’t have the same imperative—no one is mad that they spent five bucks to rent Enemy At The Gates, one way or another: if they don’t like it, they just say why, for what aesthetic, response-based reason they didn’t, not because they’re annoyed Jude Law and Ed Harris might be getting a cut of the rental fee.

PD:      Sure.  But you say—and I agree—the filmmakers wanted this a priori storyline of ‘baseless interaction and review’. You mean that, in your view of things, they just didn’t want to be the ones to supply it?

pd:       Right. The first audience is the audience-wholly-outside-the-film, the pop culture commentators, the armchair theorists—they would rather not have specifics, because those ruin the fun of What If?  To make (again, in my understanding of the term) a post-Empire comment though, the folks involved in making the film could neither seek to defend or inflame the views developing—it would be wrong to, because (as with all established, ‘hep films’) these unfounded-views etc. need to exist, it’s a form of audience interaction. By the filmmakers leaving out a ‘defensive posture,’ the statements (as anyone can see) that the pre-audience are arguing and defending are entities entirely existing only in their own fabricated imaginations. Which is very, very interesting to observe.

PD:      To use a polite phrase.

pd:       It doesn’t matter what is said before a film releases, but it is undeniable that a fuck-lot of people have their industry in doing just that—casual, hobbyist, professional—it would not be post-Empire to ignore that or avoid it, that would be ‘underground’ or ‘outsider’.

PD:      I follow.  And the second audience?

pd:       Will find The Canyons on a shelf in two years and watch it in the casual way one might watch anything that doesn’t have its feet to the coals of immediate expectation.  It will be viewed as a film, purely. Nothing earth shattering. No commentary. I mean, I can watch a controversial film or one that had a lot of expectation when first released twenty-years later, but it’d be silly if I was wrapped up in the two decade’s old debate.

PD:      Like a teenage in 2013 who won’t shut up about The Beatles being the most important, influential band of all time?

pd:       Exactly, right. Kind of…I guess.  My own feeling—likely not shared by the filmmakers, because I’m clearly off in my own left field—is that to let the audience incite their own pre-film-existing narrative (both positive and negative) allows the film to skip past, or at least shorten, the immediate waste of time (my opinion) or early reviews and blurbs and ‘thumbs up or down.’ The majority of first-viewers of the film will see what they have already seen in their head—barring that, many will be simply left deflate that the film was nothing at all like what they expected.

PD:      How will you be able to watch it? Out of curiosity—is your ‘involvement’ and pointed pre-interest going to be a detriment?

pd:       It will sully the ‘pristine viewing experience,’ initially, sure (if there is still such a thing). I will not be Pablo-watching-a-film, I will be Pablo-dissecting-and-dismantling a pre-review. Which is not altogether unpleasant.

PD:      And what do you expect of the film?

pd:       Don’t know. A thriller. But, see, that is a loaded thing. As a genre, it does not lend itself to hype or pre-examination, the thriller.  Especially something with an erotic element (however much it is or isn’t there in the final analysis of the actual film). Folks went in to Eyes Wide Shut expecting, I don’t know, full frontal and cum shots of Tom and Nicole, so it was ages before most people could get perspective and watch the film that was made.  If you’re ‘in suspense’ waiting to see how explicit the sex is, the actual suspense of the film is largely ignored—like being a teenager renting soft core ‘mystery/thrillers’, who cares what the movies are about, the real intrigue is ‘are we going to see tits and ass?’

PD:      And if you’re watching, consciously, ‘James Deen acting a part’ or ‘Lohan doing a scene’ then you aren’t, cleanly, watching the film.

pd:       Sure. And that’s going to happen. And The Canyons knows it.

PD:      Okay—I want to take one more track before you have to split, and that has to do with the film being looked at as a micro-budget film. Which it is. But if there is ever anything you are of two minds about, it must be the fact that particular attention is given The Canyons on that front.

pd:       I watch many, many, many films that are micro budget—of all genres, lengths, etc.  Most are superb. But to the typical, lay, contemporary American audience, the notion of smaller budget is synonymous with ‘shitty’—and if one is not shitty, it’s for some miraculous reason.  I, personally, expect more from a film with the budget set low—not talking about The Asylum here (though I do love the lads and ladies at The Asylum)—because it sets the thing up to be art, to be rough-refined, to have actual edge and imperativeness.  So, yes, I have noted a kind of…both defensive use of the term ‘micro budget’ (as though it will excuse some defect, allow perceived flaws to be set on one side) and also a kind of aggrandizing, neither of which I dig.

PD:      Aggrandizing on the part of the filmmakers?

pd:       To be straight, yes.  ‘The film looks like it cost ten million to make’ and such things (I paraphrase that, I’ve heard several such statements), the quality measured in terms of financing and all.  But, let me be really fair: this does return to the post-Empire discussion. Because many micro-budget filmmakers are, and want to be, ‘punk’ and ‘underground’ and relish in the fact that there will be a certain physicality to their films particularly because of what equipment (pre-during-and-post production) they have access to (or don’t)—these filmmakers eschew the gloss even of excellent ‘hep films’ because they find it to be unneeded. My heart is there. The post-Empire kick of The Canyons, it seems to treat the micro-budget more as a von Trier-ian obstruction: it is part of the statement and artistic challenge to play inside of the traditional, common-audience aesthetic without the traditional funds and reach to easily achieve such.

PD:      And this is you saying ‘so that takes the curse off it’? Or this is you being really nice and playing your own bit of spinning pre-audience expectation?

pd:       Well, I’m imbued in the pre-film as much as I’m in honest anticipation of the film just being out there, so it has to be a bit of both.

PD:      If it’s shit will you call it shit?

pd:       You’re asking if I’m bought and paid for?

PD:      Seems appropriate. You have a whoreishness about you. What is it Mamet says? ‘And you think you’re a ballerina because you work with your legs?’

pd:       And it seems just as appropriate to stay mum on that point.  Ask me again in two years.

PD:      I’ll do that.

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