Like a lot of people of my generation when I wasn’t reading and attempting to be a precocious literary talent I was going to the movies. At that time Seattle, particularly the University District and Capital Hill was full of art house cinemas, showing every imaginable type of film, everything from Silent classics to the modernist anguish of Ingmar Bergman, to avant-garde masterpieces by Maya Deren or Kenneth Anger and everything else you can imagine. Naturally, I got it into my head to be a filmmaker too.
Beginning in my twenties I began to seriously write screenplays. Due to family obligations I was unable to take the trip to LA. I was often told that breaking through was going to be ten times harder if I wasn’t actually there (And the people who told me this were right). I did get several scripts considered during my long campaign, did succeed in teaming up with producers and directors to attempt to raise money to produce screenplays that I had written and did end up turning a million somersaults and twisting myself into a pretzel shape in order to try to finesse projects into being despite being a guy from a dead broke background who was still dead broke and having no connections to speak of. I came close several times. It only took a few years for my fantasy of becoming a kind of art film director in Hollywood to die quickly, as I drifted into writing low budget horror and erotic thriller scripts. During the decades of mostly running into brick walls relieved of utter despair by the occasional tantalizing near miss I learned a great deal about the industry, what gets made and why, the various ways that financing is arranged, and how foreign sales agents and distributors operate.
One crucial fact that was demonstrated to me over and over again is that it is the films in the so-called body genres--thrillers, horror, action and erotic--that are the ones most likely to sell in the International market. Comedy and domestic drama generally do not translate well to other cultures. If your film is low budget (Especially shot-on-video) and features no name actors and you want your film to sell Internationally you need to have what are called "elements:" violence/gore or nudity/sex. These are the visceral, physical things that anybody in any culture can understand and appreciate. They transcend the need for complex thought or comprehension because they elicit bodily responses. That’s a reality of the marketplace.
As somebody who loves film as an art film thinking in terms of the market is more than a little distasteful. I know to some of my friends who are avant-garde cinematic purists the idea that you would spend one-second consideration commercial realities is an absolute anathema. My counter to my friends is that there are artistically viable, complex, challenging films that still engage to a certain degree with the pleasures of narrative. And that also contain one or more of the elements, not necessary from any crass commercial motive but from an authentic concern for a particular arena of human experience, such as human sexuality.
My current project is to abandon the highly formulaic and narrow dimension of the three-act restorative structure (The classical Hollywood model) and to develop an approach consonant with the types of film I have always preferred. I am now free to draw on a range of exemplars from the radical theater practice of people like Robert Wilson and Antonin Artaud to the great generation of 1960’s art film directors such as Bergman, Fellini, Polanski, and Fassbinder and so on. I can further draw from later generations of an increasingly global cinema culture. What kind of synthesis is possible between the strange minimalism of Tsai Ming-Liang (The Hole; The Wayward Cloud) and the propulsive and hysterical extremity of Andrzrej Zulawski? How do I reconcile the profound effect of Chantal Akerman’sRendezvous with Anna with the grainy marginal perversity of the New York underground Cinema of Transgression movement of the 1990’s? And what influence can such directors as Werner Schroeter, Koji Wakamatsu and Ulrike Ottinger have when almost none of their work is available in the U.S? If I have managed to watch some of their films and had my idea of what is possible and desirable in filmmaking altered by the experience how many potential viewers could possibly recognize the debt? (One this is certain the Criterion collection is not going to bring out deluxe versions of any of these directors in my and probably in anybody else’s lifetime). And as I have a profound interest in the life of the body and eroticism the work of people like Radley Metzger and Maria Beatty among others is also very important. It is important to do this in a way that is complex, sophisticated, challenging and that provides an opportunity to portray characters in a variety of emotional states and situations, some of them extreme.
The body is the locus of our experiences, our sensations and perceptions, pleasure and anxiety. It is what locks you into systems of power, economic, social, sexual and otherwise. Your body is an object of exchange, a kind of currency. You either make it available as vehicle for performing the labor of others or as an image for display. You are a commodity in one way or another even as you struggle to preserve that aspect of yourself that feels as if it transcends your status as mere material, as hungry and vulnerable organism. You must lend your body to the designs of others in order to feed that body and therefore to preserve the dreaming psyche, the roiling cloud of aspirations, desires, thoughts and wonder.
The desire to make movies about the body, no matter how serious the intent, presents some very high hurdles when one is working with few resources. Finding collaborators both behind and especially in front of the camera is a daunting obstacle. Profit sharing arrangements don’t seem to cut it. One can hope that new technologies and methods that have come into existence with the Internet will make it possible to find novel ways to make such work possible.