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🎬 #62 When Artists Become Directors.
All directors are artists in their own way, even the ones you might not think are. But there is an artistry to getting a performance, choreographing action, helping to get everyone, all the departments, working together and within the budget.
But there is a different flavour of film made by someone who’s come into filmmaking from a strictly art background. This week are two films made by artists turned filmmakers. One a Turner Prize Winning [video] artist, and the other a world renowned painter.
You can see their unique sensibilities shine through no matter what subject matter they choose to tackle.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: HUNGER
2008 Dir Steve McQueen
McQueen’s debut feature film takes us into the depths of Bobby Sand’s and his fellow prisoner’s mindsets as they protest to be treated as political prisoners not terrorists. Instead of a more procedural approach presenting us with an nuts and bolts look into The Troubles as a whole, McQueen uses his artists’ eye to paint a much more philosophical and - stupid to say - visual and visceral portrait of the emotions caused by the conflict. The body is key to McQueen’s vision of the violence.
Holding on single shots for minutes at a time, McQueen forces us to look at the imagery more as a work of art in and of itself - like staring at one of his video works in a gallery. It allows his intentions with the image truly seep in. Whereas another filmmaker might take a look at the script and use the ‘dirty’ protest scenes as just another story beat - in the hands of McQueen they become much more than a point along a plot’s roadmap - they become the thing itself - a single image of protest against the system. Like water, the prisoner’s urine can move around, through, under - it can get around the structures put in place to restrict freedom. Yet, through the body and its fluids, they can gain the one thing they don’t have physically, but spiritually retain. In this one image we see that they cannot be controlled or silenced. Whatever it takes they will be heard. Taken alone this scene could be put in a gallery and called something like ‘The Maze’ and you’d get it. That’s the power of artistic vision.
With their own shit, they paint the walls, works of disgusting art, and again in another filmmaker’s hands they might play up the disgust - the gross factor, but McQueen makes it kind of beautiful, it’s a painting on a wall. A spiral symbol of defiance, one that can only be washed away by the application of a pressure washer by anonymous men.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hrs 36 mins of my precious life watching this? This is a painful, gorgeous film that gets under the politics and weaves a visceral story of uprising.
*Available for a small rental fee on Apple TV, and Amazon in the US, as well as the UK.
Fact: One of the most famous scenes in the film, in which a priest played by Dominic Cunningham tries to talK Bobby out of doing a hunger strike, plays out in one continuous shot that lasts over 17 minutes.
FILM TWO: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY.
2007 Dir Julian Schnabel
The above image is one of the most stand out in a film of standout imagery. Like McQueen, Schnabel isn’t playing scenes and imagery purely as story beats. They’re not shooting just the words on the page - they’re painting in a mood, a feeling through a careful combination of images and sounds. They’re wrestling human emotion into colour, movement, and audio.
It tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who suffers a stroke and gets ‘locked in syndrome,’ where he can only communicate by moving one of his eyes. It’s a film that’s told purely from his perspective - savagely so.
The POV photography featured in the first 40 minutes is maybe the most realistic I’ve ever seen. I feel like we’re looking through his eyeballs, in the prison of his body but still free in his pin-sharp mind. Still to this day I’m not sure how they achieved it - Janusz Kaminski and his team really did something special here. They force us to face the trauma Bauby is feeling.
The imagery throughout is filled with emotion, the movement is painterly, the stillness devastating. The contrast of inner monologue and external actions keep us captivated, entertained and on the brink of tears till the very last frame. If you watch this film and aren’t distraught [in a lovely way] by the end of it I’m not sure what to tell you - you might not be human.
TL;DR why should I spend 1hrs 52 minutes of my precious life watching this? I still remember exactly how I felt when I first walked out of the cinema after seeing this in Belfast, it’s a romantic image of life and its cruel fate that never loses sight of just how special it is be alive, no matter what the circumstances.
*Available for for a small rental fee on Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and YouTube in the US, and on Amazon and Sky Store in the UK.
Fact: So committed he was to the project, Schnabel learned French during pre-production.
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