My final project, “This THING Could Have Been Better,” went through a lot of changes after my initial outline. Originally I wanted to incorporate the use of poetic cinema to make the introduction to my film unique. However, after writing down the poems and listening to them in post-production, I genuinely did not enjoy the way it came out. So I decided to scrap the poetic cinema connections and instead focused on avant-garde documentary for the beginning of my film.
Thinking more in this realm, I was able to find ways to incorporate the modes of documentary into my project; specifically the reflexive and performative modes. The mini speech in the beginning, which I actually did write out despite saying that its unscripted and from the heart, was a way that I wanted to call attention to the fact that you are watching a video project. I personally find videos that are aware of themselves more entertaining to watch and I drew inspiration from a web series called Alan Tutorials created by Alan Resnick. Both my speech pattern and the way that I get off topic draw parallels with Resnick’s work.
Also, by including the shot of myself painting on the computer before showing the digital painting montage, I tried to pay a brief homage to Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929). In that film we see Vertov’s wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, editing the film that we are watching. It is a very creative addition that I took away from the film and allowed my work to be inspired by.
Finally, the whole introduction and ending follow the performative mode of documentary. The director, me, is in front the camera the whole time and is the main subject of the film. I am performing for the camera and providing context through my voice over narration. While I am still placing place this piece into the category of abstract art, I think this is the closest I gotten to creating my own avant-garde documentary.
One of the main topics that we discussed in class and were assigned as a reading was on “The Mind’s Eye,” by Bruce Kawin. One thing Kawin says in his article is that “Film is a dream – but who’s?” In my film, I tried to structure it like the dream of the director. I used black screens to differentiate between the different sequences throughout the film and add to the dream like atmosphere. Juxtaposing the different sequences with each other, each providing their own mood and seemingly no connection with each other, is just like how dreams work. We have multiple dreams in one night and it is said that a dream is our minds attempting to organize our thought from the day. With that said, my film is a replaying of the thoughts that I’ve had in the past weeks that I wanted to share with my viewers.
Part one is the dream of how I doubt myself and want to be a great director like the others. It also serves as the dream I have been having while knowing that I need to complete this project. Part two is of the girl that I have been spending a lot of time with recently. We are not dating at all, but I wanted to incorporate her in my project because I know that my dreams would incorporate her due to how much I’ve been seeing her.
Speaking of Jasmine, the reason I included her as well was to try and challenge the idea of the male gaze while also following it. It was stated in class that the male gaze is prevalent throughout cinema and is shown in three forms: male gaze of the director, male gaze of the camera, and male gaze of the audience. Its main concept is that male directors write or cast women as “spectacles to be looked at.” In this case, the audience doesn’t know who Jasmine is, but I do and I know how much she has gone through in life. The goal I wanted to accomplish by recording her was to try and allow her inner beauty to show on camera. That is something that most directors don’t attempt to put on screen and why female critics attack these directors, with good reason. To me and most viewers, it is obvious that Jasmine in a beautiful girl that the camera is showing us. However, through the use of the voice over from one shot and the cutting to other shots, I was trying to showcase the beauty in tangent with her personality to paint an overall great picture of her. We see images of her being serious while hearing her giggling. For many of the clips I recorded of her, I treated her as a model, but I wanted that juxtaposed with the sound of her playful nature and personality.
Both Jasmine’s sequence and my sequences are inspired by the stories I was told by my professor, Jason Martin, when learning about the early stages of camera availability, especially in New York City. Cinematographers and artists, like Andy Warhol, would hold parties and have a camera set up in their basement studio for anyone to turn on and sit in front of. Those were some of the first screen tests and many people enjoyed doing them. A small nod in this film was to one of Andy Warhol’s subjects that did the screen test, Ann. Many argue that Ann’s screen test was the most powerful among them all because she stared directly into the camera as a tear rolled down her cheek. In my third shot, where my face is bathed in blue, I was able to stare directly into the camera during my “screen test” and have a tear roll down as well. The beginning middle and end of my film were inspired by this idea of just sitting in front of the camera and letting the viewers see the small details.
Finally, the third part of my film was a mini tribute to Stan Brakhage. Brakhage painted on film and scratched the surface to create these beautiful color collage pieces. What I did as a part of my challenge was to paint 100 different frames in Photoshop using the paint brush tool, and adding digital scratches through the use of the eraser tool. In post-production, I even was able to find stock footage of film roll which I overlaid on top of my collage to emulate that film flickering effect. Each painting was different and I used them to create a 15 fps collage for 1 minute. Stan Brakhage did not accompany his film with sound; however I am personally not a fan of silence when I can see a clear way to add to the emotion through the inclusion of a song. In this case I incorporated “56 Nights” by Future and slowed it down to 50% because of the monotonous tone that in gives off. I listened to the track on repeat while creating the paintings and it was a perfect song to accompany me while doing such a monotonous task. In the song, Future keeps repeating “I think 56 Nights is crazy,” which is based on the time that the producer of the song (DJ Esco) spent 56 Nights in an Arabian prison.
The reason I took on this challenge was because there is a huge debate on the advantages of film vs. digital and vice versa. In a project like this, Stan Brakhage had the advantage in my opinion. Painting a whole film strip in different colors is a task that is more physical and probably less time consuming. Even just the technical side of opening a new file, adding a new layer, selecting the color, appropriate brush, saving to a JPEG, making sure the photo was in RGB and not CMYK, importing each on into my editing software, then resizing each on to get the tempo right took so much time that it would be easy to lose the creative drive. To get the perfect 30 second, 16 fps animation for this, I would need to have done about 460 unique paintings (something I will probably continue as I find more time.)
I hope that others will be able to find many more symbolic meaning in my work since I tried to leave room for different interpretations of colors, inclusion of Jasmine, secret messages within the color collage itself, and my ending. The ending has many different things that I wanted it to symbolize about me, my life, my mentality, and where I am going after this project. The simplest one that can be taken away is that if this was a dream project, I awoke.