Notes on Cinema
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A collection of notes, and quotes from various interviews and essays
2013 – Present
Darkness has always been a prerequisite to truly enter the world on the screen, and its importance in granting experiential resonance cannot be overstated. In the auditorium, the lights go down. We wait in a darkened room for a world of light to open up to us, and while our body may remain in our seat, the incorporeal essence in all of us wades toward the flickering light, haunting it, as it haunts us. Our souls invest, they search in curiosity and hunger in the images and sounds. Cinema is a symbiosis of haunts. We enter it as it enters us. To enter a film’s world is a very spectral thing. To truly submit to the cinema experience is like letting the waves of the ocean crash over you and not be afraid of drowning. To be in that darkness and let the film envelop and pervade us is the very definition of surrender. To give oneself up to the other.
The importance of darkness and the underexposed image also come from my desire to bring a tactility to vision – to go beyond figuration, beyond the object, and to feel the liminality between light and darkness itself as its own subject, to feel the weight of what is known and what is unknown. Cinema’s strength can also be its weakness. With so much of cinema’s power coming from its unique distinction in the arts as a bastardization of two arts—image and sound—creating vivid audio-visual scenarios, often there isn’t enough room for the spectator to dream, to imagine, to question. Darkness, obfuscation—both visual and metaphorical—can assist in creating an environment where one’s imagination can coexist and harmonize with the film’s body, and create an utterly unique, polysemic experience for each individual, fulfilling that symbiosis.
Darkness is a texture, a veil, mystical, an immaterial hinterland. It is the backwoods from which everything enters and leaves. We have all at one time or another felt like we have at least for a moment seen something passing through beyond that veil, where we have stared into deep darkness—true darkness—and felt our optical nerve pushed to its limits, seeing strange lights emanating, dancing, from seemingly nothing, beyond the boundary of our vision, never quite sure if it is our eye or something else that is part of us, within us, yet unknown to us, permitting us a witness to it.
Darkness allows the mind’s eye to open, for our imagination to wander. It recalibrates and nurtures our relationship with our body, our senses, and the landscape beyond us. I want to create a world that makes the known feel unknown again, allowing that fragile, profoundly intense pulse of childlike curiosity that beats inside us to take hold once more. Darkness allows us to surrender ourselves to that mystery, that wonder, and to swim in it, and reclaim our profound and even paroxysmal relationship with ourselves and what lies beyond ourselves; to fearlessly drown it is infinite pool.
Like those apparitions that lurk, then dance with us, that disarm us, seduce us even, as we turn our necks, and stare back down the path we tread, and into the dark, beyond the trees, I too, want to disarm, and seduce through rendering the invisible visible. I want to seduce through obfuscation, true obfuscation, to suggest a beyond, a liminality suspiciously cloaked within the 'fuscus'. Darkness is where all the things are working. Where all the mouths and hands are dancing. The dark is always prepossessing. And the dark is always hungry. It wants its meal. And sometimes, it devours.
My aim is to make you - the viewer - become the protagonist of the film, to be the avatar itself, wherein you are emblazoning yourself upon the images, through and into them, exploring its worlds, through darkness and light, along with me. We wade through it together, and the moon in the night sky is always like seeing it for the first time. The aim too, is to make a film where each figure, each object, every landscape is as real and yet as spectral as the wind; utterly present but immaterial in itself – it can only be seen or felt through its manipulation on “others”. A film, where the incorporeal is the flesh of the film, the body and extremes of representation and of perception, that of the senses – a further place – because that is what is most strong and real, and I believe only cinema can get us to that point.
As filmmakers — genuine filmmakers — we must not be afraid to venture toward and into what is considered the inexpressible, that which cannot be said in words, but instead what surfaces only in dreams, to create a cinema that passes beyond figuration, beyond the object, and instead renders the liminality between light and darkness itself as its own subject, movement and stillness as its own subject, paroxysms of experience as its own subject, to express and experience the weight of what is known and what is unknown to us. The unknown should be our light, our lure, our guide to pursue new images, new sounds, new ideas, and to fear it; but we must submit to that fear. You are not making anything worth making if you do not feel fear.
Science has proven we are literally made of stardust. We can look upon - in awe - of the night sky. Because of how far the light has to travel, to gaze at the stars is to stare back into time itself. This infinite black pool is a cathedral full of ghosts; the ghosts of stars... stars that in some cases no longer exist - the very stars that we are now made of. It is like a fossil – but also, a reflection. Perhaps we have no purpose except to one day return, to pass through that mirror, and reunify with the stars that birthed us. To become the Whole – again.
I am still obsessed with language, and I adore reading and writing so much - and it's that very reason why I don't like to use it in my films. They're different mediums. I see language as sacred. And I see images... the world as sacred. But we are facing a time where language is increasingly becoming an objectifier, an itemiser, an explainer of what we see before our eyes. When we use language to describe, or explain an image, we are in a sense, objectifying it, and in turn, we are killing it. We kill its mysteries and silent beauty through our inane objectification. Let's just bask in the sonorous silence of the sunset, of the moon, the stars, the lake, in the presence of the horses, the deer, the owls, in the mountains, and the forest. Let's not, through folly, attempt to claim the Unknown as known to us. Let us leave the unknowable to be what it is: unknowable. Beauty lies in the things that are not fully known to us. I would rather look upon the world with silent wonder and awe, rather than savage it with all the words in the world, that in this context are meaningless and hideous. Words conjure images. If the image already exists, there is nothing to be conjured. Instead, we are only using words to conquer the image. And I am not interested in conquering anything.
Cinema is us, staring into a shivered mirror. It is a life that dances, hidden behind the trees, beyond the horizon. The cinema is not our construction. Cinema is us – deconstructed.
As artists utilise the bastardisation of image and sound to explore the architecture of film, the cracks, the liminality, where the light gets in to these worlds of darkness, we get closer to a cinema of the body. I wonder whether we will eventually live utterly inside ourselves. It is not hard to imagine, as we sit, immersed in the cyberspace of our smartphones. Perhaps we will ultimately become the body without organs. The body without organs that Artaud and Deleuze proposed. Our body will be emptied, rendered void, it will be nothing but a husk... and then cinema will take its place. It will assume us, and transcend us. A body without organs. Perhaps that is death. A body without organs is death. And death is cinema. We fly over a tear in the image, an ocean. We hear the wind singing. Then a perennial nothingness. A prisoner's cinema. The movie on our eyelids. The projector's flicker. A black screen of sonorous nothing. We are a nothing within nothing. A silent ring. We drift, held within it; the body's echo chamber, screaming and hearing nothing but our own silent, bone-shattering howls.
As Emil Cioran said, 'Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.' The same applies to filmmaking. And I would add, you put into your work what you would never even dare to confide to oneself, or even wish to understand. It is not a reveal, or a "pouring" of logic, it is nothing but a deluge of pure, unadulterated feeling; feeling alone. And pure feeling cannot and should not be translated into rational thought.
For me, cinema's true essence is not simply to animate. It is to de-animate.
I always begin a film almost like one would keep a diary. I have no idea, or agenda to make a film. I simply document. I shoot what attracts me, random things, animals, variances in light, the water, the stars; simply what draws me in on different days, different nights, in different places. Once I have built up a body of footage, I start to see connections. These pieces of footage could be taken months or even years apart – and miles apart too. Just like in Hunter (2015) there are sequences in Sleep Has Her House which are comprised of shots filmed in two separate countries that are then invisibly stitched together. But these connections between different pieces of footage all happen organically. I never force these connections. I never force a film when it doesn’t come. The films find me – not the other way round. When they come alive and start to writhe, I simply hold on. All my films have been made this way. Some happen quicker than others. Once these connections are established, a narrative - through images - begins to germinate.
The internet is an interesting place. I like how I can democratise my work, make it available for free… how I am able to reach such a wide diversity of people, and in some cases, create a dialogue with these people from around the world. I have often said that once I finish a film, and I put it out there in the world, it is no longer mine. It is yours… anybody’s. And I think that the internet nourishes that; this ongoing dialogue, this continuation. But as far as my own aesthetics and interests in how my own work should be contextualised, the internet is not perfect. There are many problems. The internet succeeds on the foundation that it is predominantly a place for instant gratification, but from another vantage point, this very foundation condemns it to its own failure as a platform. The internet has been shaped to satisfy our needs, often in a swift, superficial, “dopamine rush” manner. When the internet is utilised in tandem with the moving image, with art, with patience, with time, with work that challenges us, the failings of the internet and the way we have come to utilise it (and of course, how it is coded for us to utilise) are lamentably apparent. The internet is a world built upon instant gratification and distraction. My work is all about immersion. It is antonymic in that way to how the internet predominantly operates. The potential for networking with others however, of creating an ongoing dialogue between my work and the people who experience it is huge, and exciting, and is something I am really pursuing right now. But I am still very much a person who believes in the power, the intensity, and resonance of the auditorium; the cinema space, and the immersion that it uniquely offers. So in that sense, I feel like I don’t fully belong in either place fully; not the internet, not the cinema. And I don’t believe this will change any time soon. But one can look at this and perhaps regard this ‘problem’ as not the real problem at all. Instead, the true problem is behind all of this, and that problem is us. It simply reveals the inherent, reductive trappings of the way we, as human beings have been rendered to think – desiring to compartmentalise, to label, to categorise, to create borders, which are inane, reductive, and pointless when we are talking about complex matters. There is little use to discuss the problems between the internet and the cinema dialectically, because it leads us down a path of false truths, and empty confirmations. There is perhaps more truth to be found in understanding the tension that holds disparate elements together, in this case, the internet, and the cinema. Both are necessary, and both are true, and in the end, there is only the indeterminable whole and the tension within.
I think that the internet has a cardinal role to play in bringing down the walls of economic elitism and socio-political censorship that prevent a lot of people from accessing the arts, information, and truth. An artist needs to be paid, but also, an artist’s work needs to be available to all those who wish to seek it.
The reality of sensation comes first. The logic comes afterwards. In these moments of the camera becoming the body, we, the spectator assume the body of the protagonist. We harbour the screen. We haunt the image’s own ghost, we emblazon the avatar impregnated into the image. We continue ourselves outside of ourselves, and with it, we unmoor the image. It fractures. We become the very vibration of the image's reality; a spectral reality that is in agglutinated flux with our own.
I think about the weight of the dark. Rather, I feel it. The heaviness. Sometimes you can feel the heaviness of the night. The dark - on different nights - has different colours. I feel its heaviness most when it is red or green. I do not mean that the colour of the night is red, or green, but I feel a colour around me. It absorbs me. It goes from the air into my core. Sometimes, the night has a hunger. It devours everything. In these moments, everything is unknown to me again. I listen. I hear. I feel the air. I feel the earth. The only thing I know is the earth under my feet. Everything is elsewhere. I am a child. I think about the same things that I try to show in my films. I think about all the things that are beyond me. I sense things dancing within the dark, out of reach. They disarm us. They seduce us. I remain quiet. I remain still. Sometimes, I close my eyes, and I try to dance with them.
To be real is to forge. To be real is to deceive. Cinema is real because it deceives; it is forged. To become real, we must deceive ourselves, and once more, become the animal. The animal is what we see on the screen.
What is more real than our own unadulterated being? Our innateness? Throughout Cinema’s history, the definition of realist cinema has been encumbered by a damningly narrow criteria. Films that have made the grade are almost always about socio-political circumstance. Regardless of how important and well-made these films are, aren’t these explorations simply concerned with man-made constructs, of man-made excess; too often plagued by a deluge of spurious verisimilitude? If so, can it truly be considered authentic reality? The tabulae rasae is uncivilised. It hunts. It fucks. It screams. It trembles…What is more authentic, more real than our own innateness?