What does it really mean to be an “auteur” filmmaker? To be the singular artist that puts his or her stamp on their work? I don’t really believe in the auteur theory entirely because it eliminates the participation of the others that must be involved in the process of creating a film. But this idea aside, my collection of films is almost all comprised of work by “auteurs,” filmmakers who create films from their very unique views and experiences of the world.
I watched “Mister Lonely” a few years ago. Harmony Korine has been one of my favorite filmmakers for a while, and this film to me is perhaps more human than his others have been. Beyond weirdness for weirdness sake (which is legit reason to make films, but not always interesting to watch for 90 minutes), there were characters here searching for something, undergoing loss, change, hope, and the cyclical return to searching again for whatever they “lack” as people. This film struck me for many reasons beyond the odd characters and the unusual imagery. I was reminded again that my favorite filmmakers play with their own obsessions, let them filter into their stories as randomly unexplained as life is in itself, and this is what makes these filmmakers great and unique.
Great filmmakers have an honest and open dialogue with their own curiosities, the things that make them tick, images and characters that vibrate in them. There is a passion in them that asks them to play with these obsessions and questions, examine dreams and personal magnetisms, despite how their curiosities fit into a story-formula, or how they resonate with an audience. They are genuine in their curiosities. They do not inherit the tastes of others, but find their own. This is not to suggest they are unaffected by the influences of other artists, but they integrate their own idiosyncrasies with the art that resonates with them.
I wonder where these fascinations come from? Why does Tim Burton repeatedly make the dark, quirky, highly stylized films he does? Why does Mike Leigh take that same darkness but humanize it, place it in a contemporary gritty “real” England? What is Korine’s interest in characters that seem to come from basements, or the circus, characters that have “socially unacceptable” identities? Why does Jodorowsky dabble in the surreal and occult with such a raw disturbing power?
I feel the impressions and experiences they receive in childhood are partially the explanation for why auteur filmmakers make the style of work they do. But I think this is terribly limiting, and eventually as a creative resource, quickly exhausts itself. If a narrow well of childhood memories and impressions is the only source for a filmmaker, I would think he or she has a fairly short career ahead, and perhaps this does explain why many artists do in fact have short careers. They are only exploring the same psychological material over and over again.
But I hate to think that we can’t still have the same powerful impressions as adults that we did as children. As adults, it seems it takes a fucking tornado to make us become “impressionable,” to alert our senses. But I don’t think we need to witness murders or undergo divorces in order to become effected by life’s processes. I understand it is harder to be as open as kids are once we are adults. As adults, we mostly live in such static habits and unexamined routines. I often watch people driving in their cars, and really wonder how many of them are truly in their cars. They are probably thinking about something from the past, or what needs to get done tomorrow or next month. Adults never seem to really be open to the moment right before them.
But I refuse to let this be an excuse. I think remaining impressionable and vulnerable is not a difficult task at all, but a practice that takes work and time, and an appreciation of its simplicity. It is something we can do even in our daily responsibilities. Here is a quick example. I sit here at work. I listen. I hear a clock. I taste the peppermint gum in my mouth. I listen to the rhythm of a copier machine against the ticking of the clock. My typing. The cacophony of someone’s keys jangling. A man’s voice. I bite a taste bud. Then my lip. I feel one leg crossed over the other. A tingling in my toes. The earrings hanging from my earlobes.
Okay. This is simple, and I’m probably not going to make a film about this moment. But my point is that this simple practice of awareness leads us to becoming impressionable, and as a filmmaker, I want to keep filling the well of things I want to obsess about, write about, make characters about.
Kids are sensual. Aware. Sucking in the world. Watching. Touching. Playing. Neither in the past nor in the future. And if this is the state of mind we need to be in to gather the experiences that give us the obsessions that inform our work as artists, then we simply have to be more mindful about our daily lives.