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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Reflections about Mike Figgis' notes on where plot's gotten us

lil-figgis--6457.jpgAt Film in Focus, Mike Figgis has shared a couple of brief journal entries, one of which burst a small light bulb above my head. First, Figgis writes: “I guess I’m in a period of thinking about film and filmmaking. I made a feature last year, it’s called Love Live Long but everything about [it] was far removed from the what cinema has become… I have read lots of scripts and written a couple for other people. The ones I read were not interesting and the ones Figgis_hor_567k3.jpgI wrote all ended up in studio type confrontations. Executives who had big ideas about character and plot and particularly the 3rd act…. [T]he main thing that strikes me is this – Plot has killed script. Back in the day plot was a slightly sketchy framework for character development. The scripts I read now, the characters are there to supply the plot. It’s all to do with a misguided idea that the function of cinema is somehow to be realistic. I think the function of cinema is to be poetic and magic and original.” My revelation: I worked a couple years on a script with a New York-based director about watching. This was while the recording industry was beginning its slow, then sudden decline. Our plot points, unless couched in a period piece, began to fall in the present moment, let alone the indeterminate future in which movies are shot and released. Still, we worked variations on watchers and watchers watched. A male musician, lost in his meld of melodies and drift from session to session, wouldn’t, at first, rp_5692.jpgeven notice his most ardent admirer, always holding herself two steps back into shadow, admiring what she intuitively saw as his embodiment of rock performance as contemporary Dionysian spectacle. Once he saw her, and was struck, and he loved and pined, what if she grew immediately bored with her cock-of-the-walk? (Gamine on.) An elegant and truthful and telling dance of point-of-view was always our intention in several rewrites. Still, it startled me a few weeks ago when I shot an unbroken take of a friend at a clandestine basement post-Pitchfork party. There, freed from plot and finance, in a single shot—an image—the emotional swells we worked and worked to write were right in front of me, there to be simply seen, captured, distilled. (All you need to make a movie is a girl and a postpunk band.) Plus, it’s a turn I never thought to write: with the implication that this was shot by a man—me—from a male perspective—the idea of fixation or staring or “stalking” is all the more distilled, and if it had been in the context of our unproduced screenplay, it would be the musician’s gaze upon his unseeing suitor—jealous at her transport, even rapture, at the band in front of them, performers of another stripe. And when she’s not looking toward the band, what face or figure is she looking up toward? Her transport is lovely, but to confabulate a context for the point-of-view is sorrowful, perhaps poignant. A simple exercise was rich with what our sustained carpentry work had failed to capture. It makes me happy I happened onto Mike Figgis’ easygoing journal. The same illumination from two different experiences: my two-minute scene is after the jump; the band is No Age.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon