Friday, 19 September 2008

Watch Me Slap Myself In The Face With A Glove

For many moons now I've been planning to write about Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, a film that seemed to have difficulty finding an audience upon release. It sounded a gong in my head when I saw it, but I never got around to blogging about it. So why now? Partially because I recently watched a documentary about the great man on Sky Arts. I had hoped it would be as illuminating as I've Been 12 Forever, the superb documentary on the Michel Gondry music video collection DVD, which had been as playful as his music videos. Sadly, as directed by a former colleague of his, it was a charmless and incoherent mess, with Gondry seemingly annoyed by the process. Except for some fun B-roll footage from the Science of Sleep shoot, and some rough and ready early animations, it was not very interesting.

Mostly I feel compelled to talk about Be Kind Rewind because it's been playing on my worry-addled mind. Compared to the poor saps who have been sold a lie about The Market being a Perpetual Motion Machine, and who are now staring terrible defeat in the face, my woes are pretty much inconsequential, but of course, from where I'm standing, they're pretty bloody awful. Job insecurity has been plaguing me for a long time now, and has become worse in recent months. With the rest of the world in a bad place, a steady job is a necessity.

Unfortunately uncreative jobs make me feel dead in the soul (I'm certainly not the only one, and would never presume to be unique in this respect), and this state of affairs has been getting me down for as long as I can remember. As with most people who have their own blog as a repository for their amateur writings, the possibility of a life as a writer is the dream that excites me (and Canyon). Of course, with nothing published already and inspiration hiding behind a cloud, it's almost as frustrating as it is heartening, which tends to retard the growth of any ideas. Why else would I try to manhandle a dream into some kind of movie featuring persecution of atheists and elderly pervert Allan Quatermain?

Even so, Be Kind Rewind remains important to me. The DVD of Michel Gondry's video work has long been one of my very favourite things, not just for the staggering imagination on display within those videos, but because Gondry's imagination and urge to create is so irrepressible. While I vacillate and complain, Gondry just does his thing. During the I've Been 12 Forever documentary, while being interviewed Gondry is constantly drawing, and the film is punctuated with little videos made by him and his family, often featuring some corny humour but all with endearing lo-fi visuals. That Gondry is able to have an idea and commit it to film and paper almost instantly, without doubt or excuse or fear, lifts my spirit more than almost anything.

Which is why I enjoyed Be Kind Rewind so much. Though I appreciated that The Science of Sleep was probably equally as personal a movie, it was also a pretty bleak critique of his own impulsive psyche and the gap between his childish worldview and the unforgiving reality. Rather selfishly, as I usually take a great deal of pleasure from Gondry's work, I reacted badly to Science of Sleep, as it attributed the ill fortune of Stephane to an overindulgence of that wonderful imagination. That's not a message I'm willing to absorb.

Be Kind Rewind, on the other hand, shows two characters forced by circumstance to rely upon their ingenuity to survive, though at first only to replicate the work of others, a plan that is wrecked by the intervention of a team of outlandishly rapacious and evil lawyers headed up by Sigourney Weaver in one of the funniest cameos of the year. The movie ends with a lovely sequence, as the town comes together to make and appreciate their own art, their stories told by themselves with no corporate interference, and featuring some astonishing ideas. It's the most uplifting expression of Gondry's personal philosophy yet made, and it made me came out of the cinema with a spring in my step, just as I had hoped. If I want to have a creative life, there is no impediment except my own bullshit. Say what you like about his movies, and you might hate them, but it cannot be denied that Gondry is the perfect example of someone who is living an artistic life. Though I can't animate or draw or build anything, I still envy him. He's doing what I wish I could be doing. So why am I not doing it?

It's fear, obviously. Fear is the mindkiller, as all Dune/Kyle MacLachlan fans will know. Pitiful though it might seem to the readers of this blog, but while I'm fine blapping away on here about how much I hated Happy-Go-Lucky or how much I want everyone to listen to the new album by Bound Stems (it's a corker!), I'm not really doing anything new. Though the urge to dissect the latest episodes of various shows is strong, the urge to make something new is even stronger, and yet I don't. It's apt that I write this long-pondered post this week, as my first real attempt at a book, a long time back, was scuppered by David Foster Wallace, who tragically committed suicide last weekend. A promising crack at writing a novel was scuppered when I read Infinite Jest, after which I gave up on any writing plans for ages.

My modest ambitions were shown up completely by this vast, terrifyingly complex work of baffling brilliance, something so bold and uncompromising and utterly breathtaking, that I ran from my word processor in terror and hid for a few years, waiting to be hit by an idea so good that it could tempt me back. Of course, as time has passed I realise now just how wondrous Infinite Jest is, how its scope and fearlessness shows just what can be done with fiction in the right hands. I'll never be able to write anything even as good as the better footnotes in that book, but I should at least give it a try.

So I did, once more, return to the keyboard, but the slow pace of my creative process ruined my plans again. Another attempt at finishing a book hit a brick wall after I stumbled across a newly published book with a plot so similar to the one I was working on that I would be hit with a fat lawsuit the moment I tried to get it published. The mortification, frustration, and brainfreeze I suffered after that was enough to stop me trying to write anything longer than a blog post ever since.

The urge doesn't disappear, though. The thrill I get from watching Gondry at work is enough to get me dreaming of creating, and by doing it in such a lo-fi way makes me think that it might be possible to do something even more ambitious than writing a few pages of turgid prose before giving up. It gets me out of this mindset that you can only live the creative life once you have been granted access by some panel of impassive, heartless fraternity presidents who give precedence to friends and family members while turning away strangers. The internet has made it easier to just throw this stuff out there, and video cameras are easy to come by. I mean, we have one sitting around the house, and all it needs is a power adapter that I can buy from eBay for about $20. I know because I've searched for it. And yet, I never bought it. Fear again? Laziness? The thought that $20 would buy me a copy of Speed Racer? (Available now, kids!)

Hell, who needs a camera? I could just go video sniffing and create something with that. Or construct something using found footage, just grab some free archived footage and figure out a way to tell a story with them. The software to do that is easily available. Or, if I'm unwilling to do things the easy way, I could take out a huge loan and buy a proper digital camera from Red, who make cameras so amazing apparently they "render obsolescence obsolete", which is pretty impressive, and surely worthy of my custom (note to Canyon: I'm just spitballing!). The question then is what would I make with it, but with the right connections, anything is possible. Just this week I saw the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society production of The Call of Cthulhu, which was, again, an inspirational experience. The movie itself featured some shaky writing; I don't think it's possible to get away with a flashback within a flashback within a flashback even when pretending to be making a film in the 1920s, though it might be following the narrative line of the original story. It's been a while since I read it so I can't be 100% sure of that. Here it is if you want to check it out. Nevertheless, in terms of the quality of the production, the imagination on display, and the scale of the thing (especially considering the miniscule budget), it's a huge success. Here's the trailer if you don't believe me.

The production feature on the DVD shows some amazing moments. The utterly convincing swamp miniature (I do not exaggerate when I say I was sure it was the real thing), the beautiful props, the slick use of digital compositing, and my favourite of all, the city of R'lyeh, constructed in a backyard from scaffolding, hardboard, canvas and a sheet covered with glitter to serve as the sea. It might not be a huge, complex set, but it's impossible not to be impressed by the ingenuity and devotion shown by all involved. (Note to Canyon: I have no plans to erect an enormous model of the resting place of Great Cthulhu in our backyard!)

Even if the thought of making something visual does not appeal, there is a market for creating trinkets and doodads and other assorted gubbins. Until last week I had never heard of Etsy, but it has become Canyon's new obsession. It's embarrassing to admit that I have become so used to the concept of product created by the monolith that is the corporate-owned and run manufacturing industry that the thought of these individualised, hand-made objects is startling, just as the thought of just saying, "I want to create something that other people might like, and I'm going to do that right now, without agonising over it first and without seekign the permission of anyone else," thrills me and terrifies me at the same time. Of course, considering how bad I am at making things with my hands, I doubt I'll be adding things to Etsy any time soon, and yes, this admission makes a joke out of my claim to be inspired by the handiest of handy-men Gondry, who could probably make every prop and set in his films, given the chance, while I would end up a miserable paralysed blob of glue and cardboard. So perhaps it will all boil down to writing, and me getting over my fear of coincidental similarities or the wonder of the literary world that is Infinite Jest.

It's going to happen one day. I'm sure of it. I'll just snap and bang out a shitload of words one day (it's happened before). Maybe I'll follow Warren Ellis' advice and start small. His exhortation to "Be Short, Be Bold, and Get It Done" is a pithy clarion call, echoed by Russell T. Davies on BBC Breakfast yesterday, yelling, "If you want to be a writer, write, now, do it today!" Or I could take it as a sign that this week The Guardian is including a series of booklets on writing, featuring advice from many knowledgable writers. RL and online friends have always been nice enough to suggest I should go for it (and many thanks to all of them for saying so; you all know who you are), and Canyon has been unbelievably, wonderfully supportive and insistent that I should, even though the doubt remains, and the one idea I have is way too similar to M. John Harrison's Viriconium series for my comfort, and my brain is addled with worry and excuses excuses excuses excuses!!!

Fuck it. Consider this a public shaming that will hopefully get me off my arse. My first project will be a fourteen part science fiction tale set in our house starring our cats, of such complexity that it will make The Amory Wars look like a traditionally underachieving episode of Torchwood. Or a screenplay about Nathan Fillion saving atheism from murder by ninja-biker. It's now or never, I guess, otherwise I might end up like a character from a Charlie Kaufman movie that has yet to secure a release date in the UK and therefore will only be reliably shown twice during the London Film Festival and might not end up seeing at all which is a fact that brings out the cold chills across my back.

I'm so desperate to see that film I'll write, finish, and try to sell a book or screenplay despite my fears and doubts if it means I might someone finagle a ticket!!!

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