Poetry in Filmmaking

I came upon this passage from John Cage’s book “Silence” during the first week of editing In Pursuit of Silence and it’s still messing with my head 4 weeks later.

From camera movements (or lack of) to composition, we have made many attempts to shoot this film in a way that is consistent with our perception of the world. In the field, you are in many ways at the mercy of the environment, a mere witness given the task of “reading the inner essence of a landscape” (Herzog). Each time the cameras rolled, we attempted to channel the wisdom of avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky (Devotional Cinema, 2005):

  • …Less visionary cinema is imbalanced toward one or the other of these two ways of seeing. One imbalance assumes that the world is out there and you are going to photograph it. In this case there is no view whatsoever; the subject matter seems somehow just to exist. That the film is even a film is somewhat arbitrary.
  • The other imbalance occurs when there is nothing but the view of the filmmaker, when nothing in the film is really permitted to exist in its own right.
  • These imbalances distort what life actually could be for humans. They are an inversion of the hierarchy of vision, language, and concept, a hierarchy that, if balanced properly, can sublimely inform our daily experience. That is, first we are in visual space, and then , within that three dimensional context, we speak and declare. This space allows us to both see and feel the world more clearly—our heart softens and opens and our intuition is in place.

Admittedly, it’s been a challenging balance to strike. It’s a new way of filmmaking for me, one that requires I relinquish a good degree of the control I’ve been trained to maintain over the process. It’s a meditation, a practice, and a performance all existing within one act. Challenging though it might be, it’s freeing and makes for a much more authentic sort of filmmaking. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there is any other alternative for me.

In the editing process I’m presented with a new variation of this challenge: how to maintain this balance of thoughtful witness to moments that do not yet exist? At face value, the accumulation of footage of seemingly random moments captured in digital form, amount to nothing tangible yet I’ve got to conjure up something from this “nothing”. Some days I wonder if I’m just taking it all too seriously. Other days, I think there’s nothing more important I could be doing than to discover the poetry in what I’m doing. Frankly, the back and forth is driving me a bit mad, but somehow amidst all the uncertainty I feel as though I’m right where I need to be.