Four Self-Interviews About Cinema: The Short Films Of Director Norman Reedus (1 Of 4)
Four Self-Interviews About Cinema: the short films of director Norman Reedus
No. 1: INTRODUCTION
by Pablo D’Stair
NOTES: (1) This series originally appeared in the Montage: Cultural Paradigm (Sri Lanka) in September/October of 2011. The paperback and FREE E-BOOK has now been re-issued by Pocketful Of Scoundrel (an Imprint of KUBOA). (2) Though not essential to the reading of this series, the three films by Norman Reedus being discussed are available through Big Bald Head Productions
Concrete: Very quickly, to have it out of the way, I think we should agree with each other, as Godard asked the others at the Cahiers du Cinema roundtable concerning Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour to do, that we will be discussing Cinema as Literature.
Abstract: Certainly. And thankfully I think this is less of a suggestive stretch these days—not that we’re very likely to proceed using established terms-of-art or anything, no scholarly patter, but I think the agreement is less a radical thing, these days, that Cinema—not movies, but Cinema—is literature, without having to be broken into its component parts, that the result of cinema on an individual, so to speak, can be perfectly equated to the result of any form of written-word literature.
C: And just to put the pin in it—so that the idea isn’t understood too out in the ether—I’ll just say that most specifically we won’t be concerned with review or even really critique of any kind. Art is to be responded to, we will respond to it, and this response is best to be kept in flux, not strangled into some pronouncement or another.
A: Which is precisely why (I suppose we should move on to explaining) the form of self-interview has been adopted. Cinema—and quite in particular the short cinema of Norman Reedus under discussion here—is something not meant to elicit a single reaction-per-viewer, but something that should unhinge a viewer—maybe rather say an observer—into a contemplation, and the very flow of that contemplation, the paths and side paths and side-side paths it wanders is the reaction. It would be a mistake to take the form even of analytical essay when discussing these films, in that even if multiple perspectives are brought in, it is quite difficult to avoid in that format, just through structure and incidental, the notion of there being primary and subordinate reactions/observations. With any individual, there is no primary and subordinate in the multiple responses to a work of art and it is certainly folly to allow any suggestion otherwise.
C: There’s no other way to approach it with Reedus’ work, certainly, and with short film in general, even more so, I would say, than long form cinema.
A: Mmn. Well. We’ll touch on that a bit here and there, but we’d better step carefully not to set up short film as subordinate or alternative or footnote to long-form, I’d think.
C: And you’re right, I stepped into the trap I was warning against.
A: So maybe despite the titular presence of the term short films in this series we’ll just refer to the works as films? Do you agree?
C: I do. And with that out of the way, the matter of self-introduction should take place and I’ll go first. I am the Concrete Reaction or, to put it another way, I am the reaction based on and held in by the concrete aspects of each of the three films we will be discussing. My compatriot, Abstract, has a tendency—neither good nor bad—to take certain aspects of or moments in a given film and to investigate and propound on them outside of the tethered whole of the single piece of cinema. That is what I consider a film: a single piece of cinema—each moment, while it can be individuated, actually exerts a specific and important gravity on the others. In a sense, I suggest that films have rules—rules they set themselves, but rules—so that if a moment late in the film seems to be about something when taken as its own singular expression, I suggest that what has come before and what comes after must be considered, and in no incidental way, to truly get this moment in particular. Just for one example, there. I don’t let Abstract wander too far out into the ether, making points—fine as they may be—that are just general riffs of philosophy, I keep this discussion, as far as I am able (and at the risk of being unpopular, here) grounded by and in the actual films as they are, not the films they may be or might have been et cetera.
A: Well—if kind of repetitiously—put. And picking up from that, I am the Abstract Reaction—I introduce myself by touching on the fact that while a film may well be considered a singular entity—and I do consider films such, though Concrete doesn’t seem to accept this—the undeniable tension, even in something singular, between the conscious and the unconscious elements of its origination does necessitate, and necessitate often, an examination outside of letting one part of the film influence the other, in that undercurrents or stories-within-particular-moments should be isolated and not really so flatly considered only as part of the linear, conscious construction of filmmaking. Which is to say that, sure, as Concrete would have it, one could not argue that a scene of a man giving his girlfriend a necklace and telling her ‘I love you’ should be seen as happy in the face of other scenes in the film of the fellow being adulterous or physically abusive or something, but it is not to say that, really, a kind of isolation and exploration of that excised moment of intimacy should not be explored. Only more so—and Reedus’ films aren’t as simplistic as that example. Just as much as the conscious elements of a film help define it or set rules, so do the suggestive, unconscious-moments-in-abstraction, and indeed these moments—which sometimes in the face of the conscious/linear-whole may just seem glitches, flourishes, little quirks amounting to nothing—actually do inform the conscious and, at times, unspool it.
C: And you’ll make it clear what any of that means if and when it comes up?
A: Yes, I will—and it might be easier to do it in the moment as opposed to—
C: In the abstract?
A: Yes. Ha ha. You have the benefit of simplicity in introducing yourself—concrete specifics can be discussed even in the absence of concrete specifics, right? Doesn’t make a bit of difference. My lot is based, counter intuitively as it might seem, on direct stimuli. But maybe we should move along?
C: I think we should. I led last time, so have at it.
A: The series of films we will be discussing—three in number, The Rub, A Filthy Little Fruit, and I Thought Of You—we are going to be coming at, primarily, by treating them as commentaries on Identity, the flux of identity, the impermanence and, I would go so far as to say, the morality of identity, or the morality of selected identity, at any rate. Much of what we discuss will center on particular moments in the films and much will focus on broader, even impressionistic response. But I think Reedus, both in the most basic script aspect of the films (some scripts he wrote, some he did not) and in the more volatile actuality of the technique and imagery used, seems fairly obsessed with the notion of identity, often filtering it through myriad layers of grime, of thoughtlessness, of choice-and-anti-choice—identity in flux, darting character-to-character (or fracturing single characters into multiple) and identity as situation, by which I mean that an overall tone of a film, even if the film contains multiple individuals really seems a commentary on The Individual, writ large.
C: Just cutting in with a question, alright? Do you think it is Reedus who ‘seems fairly obsessed’ or do you think it is the films which seem this way, or is it just we as reactors who do? Just as a point of clarity.
A: Right you are. Reedus’ actual intentions, thoughts, ideas are somewhat irrelevant in this discussion—not as a slight, but as a philosophical absolute. The artists’ intentions are little to do with the audiences’ reaction and, indeed, nothing to do with the statement of the actualized artwork. I mean, Reedus might’ve intended to create a romantic comedy with The Rub but no matter how much that was his intention, the film on display is nothing of the kind.
C: And to be less simplistic—and quickly pointing out that he did not, literally, intend The Rub to be a romantic comedy—even if Reedus did not think the films were meditations or explorations of identity it’s irrelevant to the examination of art—the examination of art is the examination of reaction to art, if we are being truthful with ourselves.
A: Certainly, the originator is the most helpless (or hopeless) at being able to access or interpret their work. They made it, that is their interpretation of something outside of it and after that they are reduced, removed. I agree.
C: And from my vantage point I want to hammer home that removing the idea of Reedus’ intention etc. is kind of essential due to the irrevocably collaborative aspect of these films. In some instances, he wrote them, but in others not—so already there, flatly, Reedus’ intentions and the intentions of the writer and the intentions of performers (to keep moving out with this idea) and the intentions of the musicians or the cinematographer (when Reedus did not serve in that role, also) have no choice but to be different things and so the film is too multiple in expression to be said to be saying any one thing. Kind of a kindergarten statement about film, but easy to overlook, even as casually as to say ‘Reedus’ intention’ when we are discussing our reaction to a whole of which Reedus, intentions et al., is only component. Are we going to swap theories on the role of director and all of that?
A: I wasn’t thinking to, no. We’d wind up coming off sounding like blowhards, I think, failing miserably, laughably, as did David Mamet in his abhorrent On Directing Films. A consideration such as that, especially in the face of discussing Art, is death and folly.
C: Mamet did make kind of a fool of himself there, yeah?
A: Only in his choice of defining—he, for example, seems to have a mix-up between storytelling and filmmaking between movie and film. This is why it was so pointed to take up the Cinema-is-Literature stance as we did right away, because literature (film) such as Reedus’ is not the sort of thing to be treated as a movie. ‘Will the audience like this?’ and such questions I doubt very much were a concern—it’d be like imagining Jorgen Leth is disappointed that The Perfect Human didn’t do as good at the box office as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, you know?
C: Sure. And at least we got a good point out of that aside. Pleasure or enjoyment in the lowest-common-denominator sense (even in the general sense) is not what we’re concerning ourselves with, nor is it what we think these films are interested in. They certainly aren’t inviting, they certainly aren’t solicitous, and if we were to examine them as pieces meant to casually engage or to reveal themselves to viewers nothing would come of it.
A: No. They are contained, permanent. The static artwork I think it might’ve been Joyce was always going on about. Even in certain…what could be interpreted as pornographic elements (I don’t say that term exactly fits the films, but to cut to the chase I admit I think it certainly is something to be considered in some instances, even if to be moved away from) the films reveal that salaciousness and/or titillation is not on the menu, that instead things laid bare and elemental and lingered on without regard for sentiment serve equally to disquiet, repel, intrigue and stir.
A: Or, indeed—not to put words in your mouth—it could be said that the films often, if not always, utilize a kind of inversion-of-comfortable-symbolism to get at their point. The presence of something seemingly disturbing, for example, which the film might seem to be wrongly indicating as a soporific element, might, on investigation, actually be meant to be a soporific element and not something disturbing at all, thus putting a buzzing into the mix, disorienting a casually interpretive audience member.
C: Other than I don’t exactly know what soporific means—or if you’re using the word correctly if it means what I think it might—I’m with you. Exactly.
A: The films often uses the opposite to mean the actual and the audience being put in the position of having to perpetually reorient itself mirrors the headspace of the films. ‘They are what they seem like, even if they say they aren’t,’ to make a phrase of it.
C: And soporific comes into this how?
A: Balm-like—what first seems to be introduced as a comforting, stabilizing element and then might appear to be perverse, might really, despite the visual presence of the perverse, be expressing comfort, calm, stability, correctness and commonness.
C: Point that out when it happens.
A: I’m thinking of I Thought Of You most specifically.
C: Bring it up when we’re talking about I Thought Of You, then.
A: I will. And please, by all means, do feel free to bring any of your own thoughts up, too, I’d be interested to know some specific aspect of what you’re thinking, as long as we’re both here.
C: Reedus himself, just to give those unfamiliar with him some loose reference—or would you like to do this bit?
A: Seems better suited to you.
C: Norman Reedus himself, while a filmmaker, photographer and just all around variable artist, is best known as an actor. Though he’s been around for quite some time and turning in fantastic work in usually quite artful, outside-of-the-establishment-films, cutting out a solid identity as a gifted character actor, he’s unfortunately most known for some of his more current, mainstream work—one of the two leads in the Boondock Saints franchise, a regular role on the American television series The Walking Dead and an appearance as Judas in a recent video by musician/performance artist Lady Gaga.
A: Not unfortunate in that his work in these was bad, certainly you don’t mean to say.
C: No, no. Unfortunate in that I don’t run into many people who seem aware of him as an artist but run into slews of somewhat vapid individuals who know him as the guy who was awesome in that Boondocks movie or young ladies with an older man fetish who are keen on the contemporary US zombie genre.
A: That just sounds like jealousy, there.
C: I say unfortunate primarily because, in my opinion, a more mainstream presence tends to dilute the impactfulness of outside-the-mainstream pursuits, what always get labeled secondary artistic pursuits. So, the more generic name recognition he has, the less likely his filmmaking (particularly of the nature of these three we are discussing) is to be seen as anything except a hobbyist’s pursuit—you see it all the time, as though if someone is recognized and gains success as a celebrity in one vein they are expected to firmly stick to the story that that is their heart and soul and anything else—music, photography, writing, etc.—is like someone playing a game. Reedus, as a filmmaker, does not seem to be at all interested in having a laugh, it does not seem the films he makes are mere follies or halfhearted stabs at something for the sake of self-aggrandizing, they don’t come off as just a thing he does that should rightfully be shrugged off to better focus on the comic book adaptations of some film he was in, you know?
A: Sure. I second that. I also would not want this discussion to be looked at as a quaint fluff piece examining the secondary residue of a celeb. Point taken.
C: If Tom Cruise was all of a sudden to say he was a filmmaker, even if he came out with Persona or Epidemic those would still just be looked on, for the most part, as those weird movies Jerry McGuire made.
A: Sure. Did you want to dwell on this point much longer, or were we moving on?
C: I’ll move on—and I think I should field this last bit. It should be pointed out that, while a familiarity with the films under discussion here is not essential to following this series, it is rather encouraged. As some of the commentary in this series will dwell particularly on atmosphere and specific variations in film technique (not through usage of technical terminology, but by way of descriptivism) it would only be beneficial to have actually seen the films.
A: Closing thoughts, now? Or closing introductory thoughts?
A: A reiteration, on my part, of the fact that the interface with art, the coupling with art, can only result in a Reaction-to-Art (opinions are silly and nothing to do with art) and that while some particular object of art may be the namesake, the totem under discussion/scrutiny, it is always and only the reaction itself which is being examined—this is central to the design of art (not just of creation, as not everything is art, I’m going to have to emphatically say) and so the purpose of any of my remarks—and likely any of Concrete’s remarks—is not to define, but to explore.
C: And as much as what Abstract says there is (or may be) true, the actual understanding of the components, workings, and nuances of an artwork do have to be examined outside of the protective umbrella of art, least one simply assign the identity of art to something not only not befitting it but not desiring it, leading to the only folly I feel can come of an interface with a subject matter, namely: to believe that everything can be said to be the same, when nothing—nothing—is the same, even one thing in the eyes of a single individual.
A: You’re sounding like me, there—careful.
C: Heaven forbid.
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