An overview of nine film genres, with videomaking tips for theme, script, camera technique, lighting, sets, props, talent, costumes, makeup, and music.
“Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. See, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time, you got nothin’ but time. Throw away a couple years here, a couple years there-it doesn ‘t matter. You know. But the older you get, you say: Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty five summers left. Think about it. Thirty-five summers.”
All films, great and small, are concerned with death-what the French call the little death, and the real thing.
Throughout its long history, Hollywood has devised a number of filmic paradigms to express its twin obsessions. French film critics spotted these paradigms in the late 1950s, and promptly named them genres.
Genre is a fancy foreign word for “category.” A film genre, then, is a particular kind of film. A western, say, or a musical. Genre movies are films that tell familiar stories with familiar characters in familiar situations. You know one when you see one. Now you’re going to make one.
One film genre is already shot almost exclusively on video-adult films. Film noir, screwball comedy, the courtroom drama-even westerns and science fiction features- are projects videomakers can attempt with a minimum of resources and an expectation of superior results.
The videomaker needn’t feel compelled to stick with any one genre. Many films successfully blend them. Blade Runner mixed the detective film with science fiction. It’s a Wondeiful Life moves from small-town comedy to film noir. Repo Man is a brilliant melange of black comedy, science fiction, and industrial horror. On The Waterfront has been described as aproto-western grafted onto a problem picture.
Not all genres are represented here, for various reasons. There’s no discussion of the hollow and artless melodrama, for instance, or the modern misogynist slash-and-burn horror film. The epic has become too expensive even for Hollywood. The gangster film goes unmentioned because the genre is dead: John Huston killed the last gangster in Key Largo in 1948.
This whole business of genre identification and evaluation got started when French critics isolated a bleak and sullen group of American films released in the years following World War II. They called this cinema film noir-“black film.” We’ll begin there.
“Your future is all used up.”
-Touch of Evil
Classic film noir (1945-1957) is the cinematic expression of American post-war disillusionment. You might call it a symptom of World War II post-traumatic stress syndrome.
This is made explicit in several noir films. A serviceman comes home from the war to his sweetheart unfaithful or dead, his business partner cheating him, and the whole society not worth fighting for. He might as well still be overseas: The world is beyond control of normal human order, and the only means of survival is power and violence.
The world of film noir is malevolent. It’s symbolized by the city at night: dark, silent, indifferent to human suffering, with the possibility of mayhem or murder around any corner. People are smalltime, unheroic, unredeemed. Life is cheap, and everyone will lie, cheat, steal, or kill in a desperate attempt to avoid their own inevitable, fated destruction.
“First you dream,” wrote noir stylist Cornell Woolrich, “then you die.”
Film noir is Greek tragedy with hats and gats. Males are destroyed or nearly destroyed by fate; women are fate’s emissaries, desirable but deadly sirens whose greed for wealth leads men to ruin and death (The Killers, Out of the Past, Lady From Shanghai).
Often, the woman induces the man to cheat or murder a second man to whom the woman is unhappily attached. She seduces, he kills, she betrays (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity).
Not all film noir portrays woman as Medusa. The men of Breathless and Badlands are doomed by their own chilling, empty amorality-the women are just along for the ride. In Touch of Evil and Chinatown the great evil is the inherent corruption of law. In Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, pure chance is the enemy: A string of absurd coincidences propels a man towards the gas chamber, and even his salvation is a ridiculous accident.
Film noir fuses the spatial and lighting experiments of German Expressionism, the cinema verite of Italian neo-realism, and the dialogue, style, and tone of American hardboiled detective fiction.
Those interested in film noir should consult Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the film with the greatest stylistic influence on the genre. The splintered structure, labyrinthian narrative, shadowed and shrouded compositions, expressionistic low lighting, exaggerated and claustrophobic camera angles, beaten and exposed characters, and unresolved ending are all key components of good noir. Throw in more crime and you’ve got it.
Film noir is ripe for revival. The drug culture cries out for noir treatment, and female videomakers should seize the opportunity to demisogynize the genre by crafting scripts featuring women lured to their doom by men.
Noir videomakers should consider working in black-and-white, since the play of light and shadow in this genre illuminates personality. Light from below and throw many shadows. The key word is “contrast.” Give the image plenty of grit.
Typical locations include cheap hotels, dirty bars, dimly-lit rooms, rundown bus stations, abandoned warehouses, seedy dives of every description. Add water, plenty of it. Noir films are permeated with rain, sleet, docks, pools, dams, swamps, canals, rivers, and bourbon chasers.
Choose talent who can mumble, slouch, and appear familiar with firearms. Cast knowing they’ll spend much of their time looking tired, confused, angry, dejected, or homicidal.
Regardless of period, noir characters dress like everybody else-just a little cheaper and sloppier. Makeup is necessary to doll up the femme fatale, and to apply the bloodstains.
Noir music is mournful and gloomy. Lean on the black keys. Try for that brooding Germanic effect, but don’t overdo.
It should be obvious that a video noir project won’t cost a lot of money. Your locations, props, costumes, and effects are basic, inexpensive, and accessible. As in any genre project, the most important element is the story. Compose with this feeling in mind, again from Woolrich:
“I was only trying to cheat death. I was only trying to surmount for a little while the darkness that all my life I surely knew was going to come rolling in on me some day and obliterate me. I was only trying to stay alive a little brief while longer, after I was already.”
“But why did you pick on me? Why me?”
I prefer the term “bent love” to “romance,” which is rarely used to describe a movie made after 1959. Bent love accurately describes a tradition that stretches from the weepy ’30s (Maw Han, Camille) through the sinister ’40s (Rebecca, Wuthering Heights), creepy ’50s (Vertigo, Rear Window), steamy ’60s and ’70s (Jules and Jim,Last Tango in Paris) and on into the twisted ’80s (After Hours, Something Wild).
This is a genre of unreasoning obsession, circumscribed by The Blue Angel and Blue Velvet. In the former, professor Emil Jannings sacrifices everything to publicly crawl for red light queen Marlene Dietrich. In the latter, Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini need gunplay, nitrous, and S&M to reach nirvana.
In Rebecca we have Laurence Olivier mistreating his sunny loving wife to moon over his dead unfaithful ex, with Judith Anderson lurking in the shadows, fondling Rebecca’s underwear. The pathetic rubberbrains of Wuthering Heights heedlessly dispense cruelty to the benign, achieving happiness only as ghosts upon the moor.
In Rear Window, voyeur Jimmy Stewart prefers the secretive, portly Swede across the courtyard to a roll in the hay with a willing Grace Kelly. The milquetoast hero in Something Wild is so smitten by his ditzy piece of tail he goes mano-a-mano with a psychopath. Vertigo is a monument to necrophilia.
Bent love people are not normal.
This is one of the most popular and enduring genres, because it features people so true to life-rendered by love into bunglers, imbeciles, the needlessly depressed, murderous lunatics.
To construct a bent love script, the videomaker should concentrate on one of three elements: (1) characters so deluded by false memories or perceptions they’re incapable of appreciating even perfection; (2) characters irresistibly drawn to people or situations that are dangerous, indifferent, or beyond their ability to handle; (3) characters seeking happiness who so muck things up happiness becomes impossible to attain.
The talent should be physically attractive. If you can’t find local versions of Greta Garbo and Laurence Olivier, people like Melanie Griffith and Griffin Dunne will do.
Bent love features are generally set in the present, which means you can keep your costume, set, and location costs down. Don’t try to recreate Manderley or erect London Bridge. Use whatever’s at hand. And don’t worry about special effects-you don’t need any.
You do need to invest in filters, gauze, and gels; this genre calls for lots of closeups and various degrees of nudity, and you’ll want your people to look their best.
The music is up to you, as long as you avoid the syrupy string trap.
Remember, the key to the form frustration. People can’t get what they think they want, and it drives them crazy. Or they do get what they think they want, and it kills them.
“This is is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
-The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Everybody loves a western. And any video crew that can master the lingo and learn to mount the equis should find it surprisingly easy to produce a feature in this genre.
First, the question of location. Although most westerns seem to be filmed in the deserts and arid plains of the American southwest, it doesn’t have to be that way. The Grey Fox was shot in Canada, The Far Country in Alaska, and most of One-Eyed Jacks is set in seaside Monterey. The final third of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid takes place in the jungles of Bolivia.
Disguised westerns like Deliverance, Southern Comfort, and Straw Dogs have been shot in the mountains of Georgia, the Louisiana bayou, and on the Irish coast. The world, I believe, is even ready for a New Jersey western.
You can shoot a western almost anywhere but a golf course. Just find land that is reasonably rugged, and keep cars, planes, and power poles out of the frame.
Interiors are likewise a snap. They can be shot in crumbling adobe, abandoned shacks, and scruffy bars and diners (with the neon and stainless steel modernalia removed).
Western costumes hang in most American closets. Even if you and your compatriots are inveterate city dudes, you can pick up all the western wear you need at any decent-sized thrift store.
No one in this country has any trouble getting their hands on a gun, and every state in the union is teeming with livestock.
Special effects requirements in the modern western involve gunfire and blood. You’ll need to consult works like Bernard Wilkie’s excellent Special Effects In Television (Focal Press) for the lowdown on squibs and bullet-hits.
Western music should be sparse and understated, relying on guitar, banjo, mandolin, harp, and fiddle.
The joy of the western script is the dialogue. Few of your characters will qualify as Rhodes scholars; their speech will be peppered with plenty of “yups,””ain’ts,” and “dudes.” Take this excerpt from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script for Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid:
“Us old boys ought not be doin’ this to each other. There ain’t that many of us left.”
“I’m lookin’ for sign, Black.”
“I don’t know where the Kid’s at, if that’s what you’re a-sniffin’ after. But if it’s straight-up one-to-one you want, then I’m your man.”
The thematic concerns of the western are simple. Usually the story will feature the reluctant hero, a man resisting involvement on any but his own terms (Shane, Shenandoah). Often, a western will pit an outlaw hero against an official hero (Duel in the Sun, The Big Country); even more often, the supposedly opposed heroes take on each other’s traits and work against a common enemy (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).
Also popular is the theme of the anachronistic outlaw/hero unable to assimilate into a changing society. This form reached its apotheosis in the work of Sam Peckinpah (Ride the High Country, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, The Wild Bunch).
The western hero lives by a personal code that transcends the law, human relationships, common sense, and the instinct for self-preservation.
In High Noon, Gary Cooper does not abandon his duty when the townspeople and even his wife desert him. In The Searchers, John Wayne obsessively pursues Indians who’ve abducted his niece even when it’s clear she doesn’t want him to-because that’s what he said he’d do. The Wild Bunch ride into certain death because “when you side with a man you stick with him till he’s finished, or else you’re nothing but some kind of animal.”
Like any genre, the western is littered with trash. But filmmakers like Walter Hill (The Long Riders) have demonstrated that it’s still possible to create deep, quality work using the western motif.
“Jim, this ship is dissolving. My hand just passed through a man and a table.”
Once you’ve decided the world does not need another expensive special effects blockbuster like Star Wars or E.T., you’ll be ready to work in this genre.
You can, in fact, regardless of budget, produce a more technically sound film than Star Wars by simply obeying a basic law of physics: There is no noise in the vacuum of space.
Most of the best SF films have minimal special effects. In THX1138, George Lucas obtained a claustrophobic futuristic look by shaving the actors’ heads and dressing them in antiseptic white, shooting with a light-hungry lens in underground train stations and tunnels.
In the 1951 version of The Thing, one of the brightest and wittiest of SF films, the monster is described as “some form of super carrot,” and the costume covering James Arness doesn’t aspire to more.
The horror in Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes not from some stupefying special effect, but from the flat, emotionless menace of familiar objects and people.
Unless you’re irresistibly drawn to camp, avoid storylines involving marauding amphibians or brains that cannot die. Classic science fiction is concerned less with sewer-stalking ants or belly-bursting aliens than with dehumanization and/or annihilation through technological hubris. In this context, films like Metropolis, Slaughterhouse Five, Testament, and 1984 represent the best SF has to offer.
The post-apocalypse feature is a natural for the low-budget videomaker. You can start right in with nothing but your five best friends and a recently-torched warehouse.
The bummer totalitarian state is equally easy to achieve. Michael Radford used little more than cruddy clothes, malodorous food, and dilapidated sections of London to invoke Orwell’s 1984.
If you insist on monsters, take a tip from Outer Limits, which did everything on the cheap. In one famous episode the unseen alien threat inhabited rocks, frogs, and tumbleweeds-not exactly highpriced props.
So you could tape the ecological thriller The Creeping Trash Heap at the local dump, or spend a couple dollars at the grocery store to expose the evil of Banana Pudding, the food that moves under its own power.
The alien can, of course, be “one of us,” as in Body Snatchers or John Sayles’ Brother From Another Planet. This can drop your effects costs to nil.
Costumes are less bother than you’d imagine. The post-apocalypse format, as Richard Lester demonstrated in The Bed Sitting Room, requires only tattered and torn remnants of regular clothing. For futuristic outfits, Star Trek got by with glorified T-shirts, spandex pants, and mod boots.
Spaceships and space paraphernalia are almost always miniatures. Tricky, time-consuming stuff. Study works like Jerome Agel’s The Making of 2001 or Bernard Wilkie’s Special Effects In Television for an understanding of the processes involved.
Music should come from the spookhouse; synthesized sounds work best.
“You guys are doin’ this to me. I wasn’t sick until I got here.”
-All That Jazz
This is the genre where supposedly ordinary people suddenly burst into song, the genre that demands we hear Lee Marvin sing.
If there is a place in the world for musicals, that place must be near reality. Most of the musicals recognized as clas-sics (Forty-Second Street, Top Hat, A Star Is Born) at least made an attempt to integrate the music into the story. Characters undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery didn’t start flailing about in the dance of St. Vitus, blowing big chunks of song.
The quality musical should feature reality-based elements like Nazis, Jewbashing, and bisexuality (Cabaret); a surreal skin disease brought on by sublimated Oedipal conflicts (The Singing Detective); heroin, biker bars, and bisexuality (The Rose); a pill-popping, chain-smoking director/choreographer in full cardiac arrest (All That Jazz); or May/ December bluesmen trying to slide out of a deal with the devil (Crossroads).
It also helps to profile an actual musician (Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Glenn Miller Story, Bird), though this sort of project may be beyond the scope of many videomakers. The anarcho-absurdo musical comedy (The Producers, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) or the ultra-dense art film (Renaldo and Clara, Don’t Look Back) are other possibilities.
While not strictly musicals, concert films (The Last Waltz, Stop Making Sense, So Far) can work as both music and film. If acquainted with musicians worthy of such attention, start here.
The simplest format for the low-budget videomaker is the gooey old “hey kids, lets put on a show” shtick. Your script could feature “the kids” trying to bring hip-hop or thrash metal to a backwash town dominated by blue hairs.
You could also use a device perfected in One From the Heart, where offscreen singers verbalize the thoughts and emotions of onscreen, non-musical characters.
When mounting a musical it’s essential to secure talent whose singing and playing will not aurally cripple the audience. Just as there is no comedy without people who are funny, so there can be no musical without people who know music.
Pay particular attention to your sound equipment. Murky sound will kill a musical.
Costumes could be a problem if you disinter vaudeville or some other moldering musical form. Check costume shops and the trunks of eccentric relatives.
Contemporary musicians can generally be clothed in shreds and rags obtained from winos and streetwalkers. When applying makeup, remember that musicians from Mozart to Mellencamp have sported a “studio tan”-a corpse like pallor indistinguishable from death.
Regardless of theme, your locations should be simple. Nothing in the Alps, or Paris. Keep the musical interludes realistic. All sorts of people sing on stage, even more in the shower; none but the mad sing in torrential downpours or on late-night New York streets.
Important note: a music video is not a musical. A music video is generally a series of random images illustrating a particular song or group of songs. There’s not often much of a story.
“I didn ‘t ride a horse. But If I did ride a horse, sho broke the windows on Fifth Avenue?”
-My Man Godfrey
Classic screwball comedy concerns the rich, the drunk, and the insane.
Usually one nearly normal individual is introduced into a house full of lunatics (My Man Godfrey, Arsenic and Old Lace), or a truckload of nutbags is dumped at the door of the sane (Beetlejuice). An exception is His Girl Friday, where no one seems to have a house and absolutely no one is sane.
Screwballs have plenty of time on their hands, being either rich (The Philadelphia Story) or dead (Topper). They tend to fill that time imbibing prodigious quantities of alcohol (The Thin Man), which only in rare cases (Cat Ballou) impairs their wit or motor skills.
This genre is dominated by a peculiar twist on the boy-meets-girl motif. A courtship ensues between an aggressive, borderline-psychotic female and a gibbering, incompetent male (Bringing Up Baby, Ball of Fire). Until the final reel, only the woman is aware the courtship exists.
Few screwball films have appeared since the ’40s, which is too bad. Most are genuinely funny, and there’s certainly plenty of material out there.
Take the rich, rudderless, and utterly wacky principals in the Pulitzer divorce case. With their crosscutting accusations of coke-soaked sexual adventuring, pathological shopping sprees, loony voodoo flirtation, and aberrant trumpet handling, they’re clearly ideal subjects for a sophisticated ’90s screwball comedy.
So there’s your idea. Now what?
First, you have to be funny. Unfortunately, comedy can’t be taught or even explained; like the Supreme Court says of pornography, “You know it when you see it.” If you know it and think you see it in yourself, proceed with the script.
When writing, remember that screwballs dwell in the land of luna. They live in an insular world bounded by money, liquor, and the eccentric workings of their own minds. Many have heads that are hollow, and are congenitally unable to make sense. They’re apolitical and unaware. In the screwball zone there are no problems weightier than debating whether duck hunting should be discouraged in passenger trains.
Your locations must be ritzy and grand. Attempt to obtain permission to shoot in a well-maintained historic structure big and brassy enough to spawn screwballs.
You will also need to acquire the accoutrements of rich people. There are many ways to do this, and some of them are legal.
Makeup, costumes, lighting, and lenses are very important. Even when they’re downing scotch like coneheads, screwballs should look glamourous.
The talent should be attractive, or able to appear attractive without promethean effort. Don’t be afraid to cast the numbingly dumb; there are no screwballs in Mensa.
Boozy-woozy piano doodling punctuated by the occasional duck call or kazoo provides appropriate musical accompaniment.
“Mein Fuehrer! I can walk!”
Black comedy has been defmed as “humor with a mortal sting.” In print, it’s been around sihce Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which promoted the consumption of babies to ease Irish famine.
It took longer for black comedy to reach the screen. An early entry was the 1947 film Monsieur Verdoux. In this dark groundbreaker, Charlie Chaplin portrays a merry variant of the infamous Landru, cheerily marrying and murdering old women.
Three years later Billy Wilder checked in with Sunset Boulevard , a vicious filmic fork that personified Hollywood in Gloria Swanson and then pronounced her insane.
With the release of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, black comedy went bigtime. The next 20 years saw films contending that Marxists are gorillas (Morgan); British lads wish to machinegun their families (Billy Liar); British lords are Jesus Christ and/or Jack The Ripper (The Ruling Class); television is the home of the crazed (Network); flimmaking is the toy of sadistic megalomaniacs (The Stunt Man); medicine is infested with the incompetent, impotent, and insane (The Hospital); the U.S. Air Force is owned and controlled by profiteering psychopaths (Catch-22); and the entire world is one enormous loonbin (Brazil).
The dark heart of black comedy is most clearly exposed in Dr. Strangelove: species incompetency. The human race is a pathetic collection of nimrods and buffoons, wholly unable to control its creations. In portraying this dismal state of affairs, the black humorist grafts comedy to chaos, attacking the sacred, skewering established institutions, brooding moodily on macabre sex and meaningless death.
Sound like something you’d like to do?
It’s best to begin with a bleak, resentful, misanthropic personality. Those cursed with a bright and breezy nature are not at home in this genre. Eeyore the donkey could write good black comedy. Winnie The Pooh couldn’t.
Once assured you’re a foul and hurtful curmudgeon, you need next to find a suitable subject to carve. Anything will do. Everything’s wrong, unfair, and insane; your job is to make it obvious.
Slather your script with irony. A character who’s frantically suicidal dies only when he’s desperately trying to live (S.O.B.). A misspelling caused by a smashed bug in a typewriter leads to the bureaucratized death of a totally innocent victim (Brazil); A man hunts the killer of his president-brother only to find that the culprit is their father (Winter Kills).
Remember the cardinal rule of black comedy: no heroic action. Anyone stupid enough to so indulge must be rewarded with death.
It’s permissible to violate certain other conventions in this genre. Sunset Boulevard, for instance, was narrated by a dead man floating face down in a swimming pool.
When casting, remember your lead character(s) will spend much of the time looking bewildered and/or terrified. Other characters must be capable of projecting unreasonable and unhinged menace.
Set, costume, and prop considerations will depend on what target you attack. For this reason, steer clear of the military unless you have easy access to airplanes, bombs, and tanks.
If you require institutional cooperation for location shooting, secure permission with a skeletal script-or none at all. A treatment visiting mayhem on the public school system will not get you into PS 109 if the school board gets a gander at it.
Your lighting scheme will be similar to film noir, though not quite so heavy. Lots of dark, brooding shadows and ghastly werewolf underlighting.
The music should be incongruous. “Can’t Buy Me Love” in a brothel, “White Christmas” in nuclear winter, “My Way” in an ant farm…that sort of thing.
“There are no other cases. This is the case.”
The courtroom drama is a genre many find irresistible. It’s been a television staple from Perry Mason to LA Law, and quality films like The Verdict, Compulsion, and To Kill a Mockingbird have all revolved around the courtroom.
Any reasonably responsible videomaker should be able to secure access to a courtroom, your only essential location. Jails are a little tougher, but you can construct a convincing visiting room using a table, two stools, and a large sheet of thick glass.
Judge’s robes, prison blues, and bailiff wear are available at prop shops. Briefcases, yellow legal pads, pencils, and three-piece suits aren’t hard to come by. Don’t forget the gavel.
You’ll need some special effects know-how if you choose to enact an actual crime.
The music should be spare, low-key, and brooding. Vast stretches of most courtroom scenes offer no music at all. Just words, words, and more words.
That’s right: Your script must be literate. Very. Whatever else we might say about them, it’s a fact that lawyers can talk real good.
The courtroom drama offers a veritable cornucopia of possible themes. Anatomy of a Murderer,features James Stewart as an attorney cheerfully defending a man he knows to be guilty of murder. Witness for the Prosecution is a dazzling display of triple-crossing plot twists. Sergeant Ryker flirts with the notion of “innocence.” The Onion Field concentrates on the ability of a pair of wily cop killers to manipulate the judicial system.
The Verdict reveals in excruciating detail Paul Newman’s pathetic alcoholism and resultant professional negligence, but allows him to beat the system and win one “for the little people.” The Execution of Private Slovik takes precisely the opposite approach, painfully tracing a monstrous miscarriage of bureaucratic justice.
Please study the rules of law and evidence before writing a courtroom drama. We don’t need any more soap opera imbecilities impossible in a real courtroom. If personally acquainted with a shyster, try to convince the mouthpiece to review your script for accuracy. Propose a consulting credit in lieu of a fee.
The Art Film
“There is nowhere else to go. There is nothing more to be gained. There is nothing more to be learned. Searching is pointless.”
This one’s hard to defme, so I’ll let Pam Cook do it:
“In art cinema, the audience looks for the marks of authorship to make sense of the film rather than to the rambling story of the characters, who are often aimless victims rather than controlling agents.
“There is a preoccupation with myths and symbols. Symbols perform several functions in art cinema: they indicate that the self-enclosed world of art is separate from the ‘real’ world; they present an element of difficulty to the art cinema audience, which is encouraged to think, to recognise and decode signs, rather than follow the narrative; and they maintain a level of unresolved ambiguity in the film, the principal strategy employed by art cinema to indicate that art cannot provide any final truths.”
Right. How this works in practice is best expressed by Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend.
Weekend is the story of a young married couple in search of a gas station, and later, a town. Their journey is filled with grisly highway carnage, political diatribes from Third World garbage men, a frantic love psalm sung in a phone booth, intertitles reading “A Film Found On The Scrapheap” and “A Film Lost In The Cosmos,” a Mozart sonata, sociological readings from Frederich Engels and Fritz Fanon, battles with paint sprayers and tennis balls, and Carrollian riddles a la Alice in Wonderland.
A final confrontation involves a band of guerillas who kill and eat strayed members of the bourgeoisie. The film ends with the wife, a guerilla convert, munching on her husband’s rib.
It used to be assumed that such work could only come from across the water-via Godard, Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal), Federico Feffini (La Dolce Vita), Michelangelo Antonioni (The Passenger), or Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas).
No more. Robert Altman (Images, Quintet), Francis Coppola (Rumble Fish), Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness ofBeing), and John Cassavetes (Husbands, A Woman Under the influence) have all produced films as deep, dark, and dense as any European.
The videomaker interested in this sort of thing is in luck. Of all genres, the art film offers the most freedom. The laws of time, space, logic, mortality, and conventional narrative do not apply.
You could easily shape an art feature around nothing more than a man and his meat loaf. The man can undergo an autopsy and come out singing, while the meat loaf can dance, cry, or run the government.
In an art project, your set, prop, costume, music, and even talent costs can scrape rock bottom-as long as you develop a strong, vigorous storyline.
Remember that just because it’s weird, or surreal, an art script cannot be gibberish. This is not an improvisational or haphazard form. The story must make some internal sort of sense. The videomaker is freed from the rigidities of linear thinking, not from thinking altogether.
Popular art themes are questions. Among them:
“What is the meaning of life?”
“How does a moral meat loaf behave?”
“Is there a God, and where is the slacker?”
“When do we shoot the government?”
“Why do I make movies?”
“Why do I get out of bed?”
These questions can really keep your camcorder humming. Pause now and again to speak directly to the camera. In this genre, it’s allowed.
Kevin Jeys is managing editor of Videomaker.