As grumpy French man and beret-embracerJohn-Paul Sartre opined in one of his more fictitious moments, “we are all the stars of our own film”. Except he said it in French so it sounded sexier. Except that he didn’t say it at all. I don’t know a massive amount about twentieth century existentialist philosophy (apart that gleaned from a sketch that my excellent friend Dave wrote many years ago – and Dave actually knows a lot about existentialist philosophy; and planes – in which JPS complains about the unbearable lightness of beans) but it seems like a fair place to start in this “blog” (such a ugly word) which may eventually come to reference something to do with filmmaking. For the second time running. Which is a first.
I went to Sainsbury’s earlier. I bought some food. Such is the stuff of dreams. Actually it was quite jolly; there was barely anyone there as most people in west London seem to be dealing with the SNOW APOCALYPSE (about five centimetres or 1.969 inches for the two Americans who visited this blog a few days ago) by staying at home. So I was free to glide around the produce aisles like a hairy Bond, elegantly steering my trolley past the reasonably priced meat and exciting offers on toothpaste. And little by little, tin by tin, I began not to exist. Or rather I did exist but I was able to view myself objectively. I was the star of my own film. I was the hairy male lead in the much anticipated new Long Arm production – “JAMES REMEMBERS THE NOODLES”, a clever and subtle titular reference to the moment when I remembered to, and you’re ahead of me I am sure, buy noodles. And believe me, if the title makes you a little bit dicky downstairs with excitement then that is as nothing compared to actually being there. Actually remembering to buy them.
I am going to hope that such moments are not exclusive to me. I am pretty sure they’re not; there must have been a thousand terrible films that have begun with a breathy late-teenage voiceover along the lines of:
That Saturday in Aspen which is in Colorado in America I dreamt I was the star of my own movie. As I plucked the last of Virginia’s purple hair from my fisherman’s knit sweater I could see myself in close-up; my fingers trembling, my hair strangely retro, as if I were channelling Cheryl Baker from 1981 . . . . .
(Note to Jimmy – get that down pal; we’ve written worse)
The invention of the walkman must have seen a surge in such moments. Suddenly ordinary non-sexy mortals could wipe out the banal, workaday soundtrack of 80s life (the maniacal laughter of coked-up capitalists as they waved their genitals in the faces of the disenfranchised poor; thank God we’ve moved on as a society) and replace it with the hits of Spandau Ballet or Aswad. Now it was possible to scrape the ice heroically from your windscreen with Oscar-troubling intensity to the sound of Adagio for Strings or attempt to leap a small stream whilst carrying a bag full of miscellaneous groceries that you’d bought from Mr Pierce’s now long-defunct corner shop IN SLOW MOTION as you were scored by the theme from Chariots of Fire by Vangellis.
It was ace. And it still is. And now you don’t have to turn the tape over or have your moment of rooster-like strutting in front of some pretty girls ruined terminally by needing to stop and fast-forward through three tedious tracks in a row on Side 3 of Now That’s What I Call Music 10.
And so there go all of us (I hope). All of us matinee idols and screen sirens, stars of our own meta-realities, shot on location and for millions of pounds and showing to an audience of one.
Now that cinema has been around for over a century we are more than film-literate. We are film-unconcious. We direct these internal epics with the skill and flair of a great director. And we do it instinctively. We know the moments that will require the intimate close up or those that would look glorious from a crane shot, the camera shooting upwards as our lives shrink and tilt amongst the boxed fields and arterial roads below. Cinema has given us a whole new concept of self-examination, self-actualisation, and one that could not have been conceivable to our ancestors. Or could it? Did the people who painted the walls of Lascaux see themselves hunting bulls with a camera hurtling alongside them on the back of a Toyota pick-up? Did they wish for Wagner in their ears as they pitched their spears beast-wards? Maybe they did (apart from the Wagner bit – they preferred East European hard trace music) – certainly their images are full of movement and energy. Or in Rome? As the centurions pounded the peoples of Europe with their miraculously advanced weaponry or did that cool thing where they all crouched down beneath their shields and shuffled along, part rugby scrum part drunken conga late at night in some shitty wine bar – did they exchange looks and dream of how amazing it would look shot from above? Did they think that “this, this is A MOMENT FOR T’PAU) Who knows? But take one look at the friezes around Trajan’s column (not a euphemism) and you’ll see that filmic vistas and the directorial perspective were very much in evidence in 113AD. They just hadn’t worked out how to move the images yet. Or that what they really needed was a shouty Australian man to bring their violent history to life by gurning and waving his arms about like a dick.
Some directors have successfully rendered the experience of “head cinema” (as no one is calling it) and one who I really like is Michel Gondry. At some point in recent years answering “Michel Gondry” when asked about your favourite director has led to a certain amount of derision. It as if he’s become the de facto choice for anyone who wished to impress with a slightly left-field choice but not one so extreme as to put the girl off that you are obviously trying to sleep with. This is a shame. I like Michel Gondy. I think “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a masterpiece. And I am saying that and I don’t want to sleep with you. Carrey and Winslett have rarely been better and for all the broken magic of Kaufman’s screenplay it is Gondry’s realisation of the internal world, the vast majority of the trickery being done in camera, that lifts the film to greatness.
I like the fact that his visual style is consistent. Jimmy would probably say that this makes him an “auteur” (when I think of the word auteur I think of the 90s indie band, the lead singer of whom lived next door to my friend Kris) but I just warm to someone who has been playing with the same themes and imagery throughout his career.
One of Gondry’s finest moments remains the video for Massive Attack’s masterpiece “Protection”.
I think this is stunning. And not just because it fits the music perfectly (again that word is not used lightly), not just because it seems to be shot in one take, not just because Tracey Thorn leaning on the kitchen table in her leopard print dress is one of the coolest things ever, but because it is the most faithful rendition I know of those moments when your mind slips out of the window. Those moments when you become the director, panning through the different rooms of your life, capturing yourself in close-up
and then cutting to black.
P.S. – If this phenomena does turn out to be exclusive to me and tedious imbibers of hallucinogens then I sincerely apologise. I am an arse. I do realise this.
STOP PRESS: GONDRY IS NOT AN AUTEUR SAYS FILM MAKER AND LECTURER JIMMY.M. HAY.
I quote –
the only thing I would contest is that I would actually say Gondry ISN’T an auteur, but in fact just a stylist. Like the aforementioned Tarantino, Anderson and Burton, his films all look the same, but is there that much going on under the hood of the car?
So now you know. Gondry isn’t an auteur. He is a car with a low-performance engine.