Saturday, February 16, 2008

BIDOUN -- Issue 13

BIDOUN -- Issue 13: "WJ: My work never develops in an efficient, linear fashion. The writer of a narrative film must know how a movie ends at an early stage of its script; to do anything else is to court disaster. I consistently make disasters, not knowing where the research or the writing will lead. In this respect, I have a lot in common with more conventional documentary filmmakers. Where my practice differs is in entertaining the kinds of digressions that most other filmmakers would cut out. For me the digressions are the body of the film.
BH: Part of your pursuit is biographical, and we both have come up against people who will not speak about what they know; people who will tell tales but only anonymously; subjects who are struck with the convenience of amnesia. Have you learned any tricks to woo revelation from the reluctant? And, if not, how do these silences and gaps become structural, paradoxically productive, in terms of changing your thinking as well as, potentially, a film's form?

WJ: I once worked at the offices of National Geographic, and I read their manual dictating how to make a film. The production of a program always began with images shot at great expense in various far-flung locales. Writers then composed narration to accompany the footage; their job was to tell the audience what it was seeing. With few resources at my disposal, I begin a film with words and collect images to accompany them. The distinction...explaining what is seen vs hearing or writing, then imagining, something to crucial.

In the US images are routinely censored and controlled, but words circulate much more freely. It is very difficult to suppress completely any text with some claim on literary merit. This disparity favors films that may deal with sex but avoid sexually explicit images. The situation abroad is different. Australian censors refused to sanction a screening of my video The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography, simply because the title mentioned what they were supposed to be guarding against. This episode was a pointed reminder of the power of a single word.

The dictionary definition of aporia...a passage in speech or writing incorporating or presenting a difficulty or doubt...also describes a generating principle of my work. Sometimes the difficulties come from without; at other times I impose them on myself. This method strikes the conventional as perverse. For Is It Really So Strange? (2004), I couldn't afford to license a constant stream of songs, and spectators expecting the kind of music documentary that merely advertises the recording industry were disappointed. In some quarters, I'm known as the person who takes the sex out of pornography. I prefer to concentrate on other, clandestine (though paradoxically, more chaste) desires co-present with the obvious ones.

I may be obliged to complete my current project without the use of footage from Fred Halsted's films. I will have to rely upon interviews with his friends and colleagues, an exceedingly small bunch of survivors, some of whom are reluctant to speak to me. The only promise I can make my subjects (and one that never works on young people) is that anything they offer me has some claim on posterity."


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