MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Of Monologues and Dialogues: Does Any Artist Really Work in a Vacuum?

Is it somehow beneficial for me to exempt myself from events featuring the likes of Coppola and Hara? If I socialize with critics and cinephiles, who swarm to such events and whose company I crave, do I complicate the matter of my identity? And if I socialize with “fellow” filmmakers by attending a half-dozen festivals, am I in danger of losing the edge thatMcCullers and Welles deem so necessary?”
– Alejandro Adams

Is the best art created when the artist isolates himself as much as possible from outside influences? Or is art, by its nature, collaborative?

Art isn’t made in a vacuum, and egos of artists aside, their visions are, at the very least, shaped and influenced by every experience they’ve had in their lives, by every person they’ve ever met, and by some things they may not even consciously remember. Art reflects the world surrounding its creator, refracted through the unique lens of the artist’s eye.

Even if you’d been born and grew up completely alone on an island with no other living creatures to interact with, and you somehow managed to survive that and evolve the idea of art without any outside influence driving that, how could you possibly make anything that wasn’t so navel-gazing as to be utterly irrelevant to anyone outside yourself? God knows, even when artists collaborate, there’s way too much navel-gazing in independent film.

Art is, by its very nature, a collaborative thing, no matter how lonely an artist thinks he is, how little he socializes with like-minded folk, how vehemently he tries to protect himself from being influenced by others. He already has been. He always will be.

The great classic artists chiseled marble and painted canvases and ceilings to capture the myths and stories of the times they lived in (or wished they lived in); modern architects learn from the work of those in their field who came before them and both build on and strive to surpass their designs; today’s filmmakers were all influenced, among other things, by the watching the movies themselves — and allowing an interest to blossom until it grew beyond being satisfied with just the dream.

This doesn’t mean that an artist has no individuation; we’re each unique expressions of the sum of our life experiences, and those who have the innate ability or urge to create art channel it down that path in the way that reflects them. Painters paint in styles as unique as their fingerprints, even when the periods of the work seem, on the surface, to be completely different.

Pablo Picasso‘s paintings, broken down by the periods in which they’re normally designated, reflect for each timeline what the artist was feeling at the time, to what influences around him he was acting and reacting, the people with whom he was spending his time, and where in the world he was at that moment. His Blue Period was influenced by the suicide of a friend, his Rose Period by his relationship with a female model, and his Cubist period was influenced by the advent of motion pictures (there’s an excellent doc called Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies that gives a good historical foundation for the influence of filmmaking on these artists’ work as it relates to the invention of moving pictures).

The world around Picasso, refracted through his unique eye; a slice of history, mood and memory as as seen by one artist. Original work, all of it, but also a collaboration with his life and the events that turned it, and its impact continues, over three decades after his death, to be a collaboration with the people who view it. I myself favor the Blue Period when I’m feeling morose and grumpy — misery loves company, you know — and the Cubist when I’m needing a jolt of creative energy.

Filmmaking, by its very nature, is even more collaborative. Every film was shaped both by the crew who helped form the film out of the ether of an idea and the cast whose performances bring the filmmaker’s ideas to life. And it will be seen on the screen by an audience who will react to it based on everything each of them individually brings to the table: all their own ideas, their philosophy, politics, religious beliefs, prejudices and world views, all of which were in turn shaped by their interactions and experiences with the world around them, whether they liked it or not. Many individuals, with varying ideas, colliding together in the 90 minutes or so that the ideas of the filmmaker and his team merge with the ideas of the audience to create the unique experience of watching a movie.

Martin Scorsese could not have made Taxi Driver without Paul Schrader‘s script andRobert DeNiro to bring Travis Bickle to life (and neither Scorsese nor Schrader, it should be noted, could have made a film like Taxi Driver without the respective religious upbringings — Scorsese’s Italian Roman Catholic, Schrader’s Dutch Reformed Church — that informed the men they would become and the worldviews that would drive them creatively). Francois Truffaut‘s Antoine Doinel series, starting with The 400 Blows — which essentially set the stage for the French New Wave movement — would not have existed as it did without both Truffaut’s own troubled childhood to form the bones of it and Jean-Pierre Leaud to give it its spirit. Charlie Chaplin‘s The Great Dictator resonated because it spoke through satire to what was going on in the world around him at the time, while Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List is an homage to those who died in the Holocaust by a director formed and influenced by his own religious heritage.

These are just a few examples that speak to the collaborative nature of filmmaking beyond even the cast and crew required to physically translate the vision of a director into a completed film. The ideas in a filmmaker’s head don’t form in a vacuum, they evolve there through every life experience he has, and the films a director makes over a long career, like Picasso’s art, can often be broken down into the periods of his life that mark, like the rings of a tree or layers of sediment in the bed of a body of water, how his philosophical ideas, evolving worldview and personal experiences shaped and informed his work at any given time. Isolate the artist from the influences that might shape him, and you lose the very ebb and flow of creativity that drives the best art around us, and allows that art to connect with others.

It’s not the job of a filmmaker to make a film that speaks to a particular audience — an artist should always be true to his own vision — but the best-made films nonetheless do achieve this connection because they speak, on some level, to a truth the audience connects with. If a filmmaker is making films that only resonate for him, what on earth is the point — at least, to anyone but him? Film is a shared experience of the filmmaker’s vision and the audience receiving and responding to it and that, too, is a part of its collaborative nature.

Once your film is in the hands of an audience, it no longer ever completely belongs to you again. It’s a bit like giving birth to a child — you were responsible for what went into making it, and you will help shape what it becomes — but you can’t ultimately control what it becomes once you release it to the world. It’s transformed into a communal experience: the filmmaker offering his creation to an audience who will chew, dissect, and critique it; who will love it or hate it — or worse, feel nothing for it at all.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was inspired by the Alejandro Adams (CanaryAround the Bay) piece titled “Regressive Taxonomy,” which is excerpted at the top of the page.  You may also want to check out his recent interview with Karina Longworth at Spout, one of the most lively, intelligent debates about film I’ve read.)

– by Kim Voynar

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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