🎬 #69 The Strength of Being Simple and Direct.
I think it’s really easy to get stuck in your own head when it comes to making anything, whether that be a decision, a creative endeavour, taking a course of action, ordering food, or deciding on what your next ‘look’ is. The second guessing, self-doubt, wondering what the hell it is you’re doing in the first place - it’s a limbo, a liminal space of indecision and double thoughts. Choosing between x,y,z, what’s the best?, is it this or that? maybe this does something better than that, this is more nuanced and interesting but is it too subtle, is this too over-the-top, does this clay pot make sense?
It’s good to take a step back and think back to first principles. Does this do what you wanted it to do when you first set off on this project or idea? Sometimes it’s best to not be too fancy, or nuanced - sometimes it’s best to do what you do, to be a freight train barreling towards a clear destination.
I’ve mentioned this idea before on this newsletter - from architecture - paraphrasing, if you want a wall to be thick, you have to make it thick - like 8 ft thick. There’s no time for dilly-dallying. You have to commit and go for it, make it thick.
I love, love, love this week’s filmmaker, I’ve written about his other work here before but I think no one beats him at what he does. He can make it ‘thick’ but make it amazing.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: THE TERMINATOR
1984 Dir James Cameron
Cameron has an uncanny ability to tell big universal stories, yet he does it with deceptively simple and straightforward choices. His use of action to tell a story and reveal character is at the heart of filmmaking and storytelling. If he wants to tell you something, he does it. If he wants you to feel something, he’ll make you feel it, but 10 times what you expect. Yet he doesn’t hammer it home incessantly; he’ll do it then swiftly move on, taking us with him at breakneck velocity.
The premise for Terminator, read cold, sounds like it’s straight out of a terrible sci-fi comic. But Cameron’s ability to tap into our deep human fears and desires elevates it. His design of the eco-skeleton Terminator through to his treatment of the time travel premise are all the things that take us very far away from what could be a terrible, hammy B Picture. His treatment of the world is unfussy, his shot choice is bold and simple - it tells the story without being ‘fancy.’ The story is fantastical but grounded, just like his approach to filmmaking - the mind of an engineer meets the vision of an artist - he’s a practitioner. Like Kyle Reese searching for civilian clothes in the empty mall, he quickly grabs shoes, trousers, a shirt, and a coat. He doesn’t browse; he takes what he needs and gets out - for Cameron, he makes the decision, it’s there to serve the story, and then he’s out. He cuts to the chase, gets us in and invested. If he wants The Terminator to be unrelenting, it is. If he wants it to be a ‘night’ movie, it’s set 90% at night. If he wants it to feel like a horror, it feels that way. There are few filmmakers who can handle filmmaking the way he does, unrelenting, bullet-proof, a strength of vision that’s uncommon.
TL;DR Why should I spend 1 hour and 47 minutes of my precious life watching this? A love story set within an unrelenting cat and mouse rain-soaked chase between human and advanced machine with the fate of the human race in the balance is as good a reason as any to relook at Cameron’s first masterpiece.
Available for a small rental fee on Apple, Google Play, YouTube, and Amazon in the US and on Apple TV and Sky Store in the UK.
Fact: The production of The Terminator was delayed by 9 months - not enough time to do an entire film, but Cameron wanted to continue working. He got a writing assignment which turned into Aliens, and on the same day was tasked with doing a draft of Rambo: First Blood Part 2. He also continued to work on the screenplay for The Terminator. Ever the engineer filmmaker, he calculated how many pages he would have to write each night to meet the deadlines by dividing the total number of pages by the number of waking hours, and of course, in true Cameron style, he made it happen through her grit and will.
FILM TWO: THE ABYSS
1989 Dir James Cameron
The poster for The Abyss reads - ‘He made your heart pound with The Terminator then he stopped it with Aliens now Writer/Director James Cameron presents…
This kind of sums up the trajectory of Cameron to this point. The Terminator was a huge sleeper hit, Aliens was a brilliant sequel to a film that’s very hard to live up to - now he was entrusted with a wholly original big-budget film that would push everyone involved to the limit. As legendarily challenging as the shoot, no one could really blame Cameron because he was leading from the trenches. He wasn’t calling the shots from a comfy seat on dry land - he was in the water 16 hours a day or more. He’s a soldier general, fighting day by day, shoulder to shoulder with crew and cast to accomplish a mission.
The Abyss to this point was his most heartfelt film - again it’s a science-fiction premise firmly anchored in real human emotion - action propelled by character. He takes us down into the pressure cooker of a deep-sea base, with conflict dramatically and instantly set-up within the tiny confines of their metal and perspex bubble. His choices remain as bold as the base is sturdy - a watertight adventure about love and what it means to care for someone despite everything that’s happened.
TL;DR Why should I spend 2 hours and 20 minutes of my precious life watching this? Maybe still to this day, Cameron’s film remains under-appreciated. It’s a dramatic, beautiful film with all the hallmarks of Cameron at his best.
Not available via traditional streaming platforms in the UK or US.
Fact: All the cast and main crew members became certified divers.Thanks for reading Video Shop! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
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