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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Oscar09: Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir

2681124188_065abbd441.jpgImages and moments from movies past sift through the mind all the time, and dozens from the past year would in spirited conversation tumble forth at daunting speed. Still, the one movie that wells up again and again as I go through the day is Ari Folman’s Oscar-nominated animated film about memories of young soldiers recollecting in middle age what the Israeli Army did in the 1982 Lebanon war. I’ve seen it three times and it’s a mystery in plain sight. I have my ideas about why children empathize better with cartoon characters than human ones and why melodrama can sometimes demonstrate emotional truths better than naturalism. But Waltz with Bashir‘s grace, ease and simple brilliance comes from the form he chose to work in, a sort of sui generis that breaks boundaries: it’s an animated documentary.
“If this film was shot by a DV camera and it was screened on a big screen, on a television, it doesn’t matter [because] the image in the end would be made out of pixels, out of dots and lines,” the bearded, elegantly dressed Folman tells me the morning after disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, but before his film’s Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Considering the question of how on earth such a thing as an “animated documentary” could exist, he continues, “It’s not the real me in your TV set, y’know. This image is made by beautiful drawings [by] very talented people. The voice is the same. The voice over would be the same. So what is more real? The pixelized image with the dots or the drawing? I mean, who decides what is more ‘real’? I dunno. I don’t have an answer to that. I don’t think it makes a big difference. It’s a matter of taste.”

With the effortlessness Folman demonstrates in his transitions between time and space, I ask if he’d always been a moviegoer. “No, only in film school I started. I was 24. I was not interested. I didn’t have more than the average interest of a teenager before. But luckily enough, the history of film is hsort, and if you really want, you can complete all the essentials really quick.”
Similarly, I mention, Orhan Pamuk recently wrote that he thinks he’s read every book published in Turkish. “Really!” Folman says, impressed. He started as a child buying up all the crappy books, moldy novels, dusty cookbooks, in the used bookstores. He could do that because so few books had ever been published. The collective memory of cultural clashes that comes readily to him in his writing is from this experience. Which also seems to apply to “Waltz With Bashir.” It’s steeped in so many things, and it’s partly about reconciliation with yourself. “Yeah! Thank you.”
The subject shifts to an American parallel. There is the danger of unexpressed communal memories, I venture, when a society doesn’t speak of something, attempts not to think of it. There’s a clamor among some in this country, “No, no, let’s forgive. Let’s forgive.” Folman shrugs. “It will take time. No one can deal with [the subject] of Iraq, the war. You can’t. It takes time. Those issues, I mean, they have to steam. It has to go through a process. I told my wife when we saw the elections in the U.S., I told her the images were as if America is just out of slavery. You know what I mean? People were so emotional; it was as if they were waltzw.jpgspared from slavery after thousands of years. I think that in situations like this in life, you remember the last shot of Easy Rider? There’s a shot and then there’s a crane rising above the motorcycles, above the road, it’s a helicopter shot. In seconds! I really like that. Simple. It goes like wsssssh! Sometimes in life, it can be a relationship between a man and a woman; it can be what I did with myself in the army. Very quickly when you’re out of something, you’re so far away. You just don’t, you don’t, you don’t go through any process. I think maybe in a few months, the Bush era will look as if it was a hundred years ago, it will be incredible to even think about it.”
In the four-year production, Folman worked on multiple projects. “I am a consistent writer. I write another thing. If I don’t direct, I just write. Mainly it’s TV series that my wife produces. This way I feel obliged! I can’t run away. So I do it.” Folman was a writer on the original Israeli series remade by HBO as “The Treatment.” Two people in a room with lots of words? “Honestly, I got bored really quick. After you get the principle of two people in a room… I need space. I need traveling in films. Just landscape. I need more. It’s not for me.”
Another advantage of Folman’s mix of animation techniques, composed over four years, is shared with shows like “The Simpsons.” You can go to the moon in cartoon form and not spend a billion dollars to go there or a million to recreate it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. I’m more of a ‘South Park’ collector than ‘Simpsons,” Folman says. “‘South Park’? Incredible. Genius. Did you see the episode about Indiana Jones‘?” Sirens crease the cold Michigan Avenue air outside. We smile.

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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