Monday, May 30, 2011

The Seductive Idea of Movement

The Making of Revolutionary Road
I love the Bonus Features on DVD's almost as much as I love the movies themselves - especially those clips titled "The Making of...." in which you see the filming of a scene which seemed so natural in the movie, but you see it with all the intrusive cameras in the background. Suddenly, you become aware of what a collaborative art filmmaking is. And how can the actors ignore that huge machinery poking around at the edges of their vision??

In DVD  bonus material, you get to hear from artists known and respected by their peers but too far in the background to turn heads in a Culture of Celebrity -  - prop masters, production designers, cinematographers, costume designers, location masters. For example, the bonus material for Revolutionary Road includes insightful comments from the person in charge of props - about how important an object becomes if it is touched by one of the characters in a scene.

The person in charge of locations for that same film talks about how important it was to choose a real home to shoot scenes in - because in the film, when the main character played by Leonardo di Caprio is standing at the living room window, the audience has to believe that "all of suburbia is outside that window."

Woody Allen goes outside the window all the time - he uses cities in a way I like, letting Manhattan, Paris, Barcelona and London stand in for "romantic misery, domestic disappointment and erotic longing." He does know how to tell a good story about certain kinds of people and their ethical dilemmas. Still, the unfolding story seems secondary to the way he casts light (literally) on a city street. Maybe he should try poetry.

In recent interviews online, Jack Fisk, the production designer who collaborated with Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life, says fascinating things about Edward Hopper and the art of knowing what to put in/what to leave out of a scene and how to to make the background "drop out" in order to keep the setting from pulling the audience away from the story. You can read his comments while viewing a slide show of scenes from that movie.
A Scene from Malick's Tree of Life

As much as I love poetry, I do think about what it would take to write a piece of fiction where these kinds of decisions come into play - putting a person at a window, believing in the built-world you've provided for him or her, using setting as a character, putting in just enough but not too much, having a real narrative thrust that couldn't/shouldn't be interrupted. Some of my decisions about a poem as I write involve questions like this, but   my poetry really owes more to the music of words and to a single image. For me, poetry is static - not dull, but still - it captures "the decisive moment" in the way photographs do. But there's something very seductive about the idea of storytelling - because stories, as far as I can see, are about movement. I tend to like small stories that don't make grand leaps. But they do move - and movement - movement - such an attractive thought.


  1. Interesting--I never thought about the "movement versus stillness" line between prose and poetry. I don't know where a story told in poetry like mine would fit in--or a play like those of Horton Foote, where "nothing" seems to happen, but actually everything does?

  2. You're right, Shelley - there's narrative poetry. I should have limited what I was saying to poetry that is lyrical. Actually, what I should say is that MY poems seldom have well-developed narratives at their core.

  3. Fascinating, Julie. Because it seems to me to that some novels that move at breakneck pace but lack depth could benefit from well-placed touches of stillness. Oh, you always make me think outside the, um, window!

  4. Right, Uma - a frenetic pace doesn't interest me much - not in films, not in fiction. In fact, friends think I have a bizarre affection for talking heads, so there's not much movement in that. Hmmmm.....maybe I'm just looking for something that's calling to me in fiction right now. Maybe it's not movement. Maybe it's more like a spiral...something more than a circle (which a poem can be), similar to a spiral (one thread, wound around a core.)