Monthly Archives: March 2008

COTMC, pt. 3

Cassavetes is willing to present characters who are so, as he says, socially and emotionally inept that it’s impossible to be around them, and we retreat from them instinctively. And we’d like to put them into more comfortable or familiar categories, even if that makes them more loathsome than they really are. For us, as the audience, it would be easier if these characters were somehow so immoral or beyond acceptability that we could hate them. So, for example, this review at culturevulture.net seems to me very much to miss the emotional and philosophical tensions at play in the film, and to reduce them to easy moral/judgemental categories. The author, Dan Schneider, calls Mabel a “deranged cocktease” and “clinically insane” and a “flaming nut case,” and sees Nick as a “clueless, bigoted bastard,” while unaccountably referring to the children as “bratty.” There’s a real anger to that kind of phrasing that suggests a total alienation from these characters. And they are alienating, but no more so than many essentially harmless but inept people are alienating. They are unable to make others comfortable or to do the right thing — they are terrible at soothing, at the little gliding movements that make social intercourse possible.

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COTMC, pt.2

When I was on the independent scene in Atlanta, I heard people speak with reverence about a guy who had shot an entire film in a single day, using a single location and breathtaking logistical finesse, shooting several scenes at once on the same location and hopping around so he could shoot one while changing setups on another. I also once heard a guy bragging that he would shoot at a ratio of 1.5 or 2 to 1, never allowing himself more than two takes per setup.

There’s an astrigent virtue to this kind of exacting planning and control, and I sometimes used similar methods in my own video work. I was able to shoot movies for less than $100 a minute, and the exercise was useful in teaching me to go in with a plan and think things through, especially on the technical side. But there was another kind of filmmaking that I think we in the Atlanta scene didn’t do enough of (I only remember it happening once in my group), the kind where on Monday somebody says, “We should make a movie,” and on Wednesday somebody throws out a scenario and on Saturday afternoon you’re making props and on Saturday night you’re shooting in somebody’s apartment, and you don’t have a schedule — you just have an idea of some things you want to see on screen. Sometimes planning a film too completely can kill it, and sometimes giving it some space can bring out some surprising things.

Welles once said that “a director is someone who presides over accidents.” Cassavetes’ great virtue, apart from the cooperative, familial atmosphere he seemed to generate with his cast and crew, was that he knew how to get out of the way of the accidents.

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