So there have been many threads on this board about whether theory is more or less important than technical knowledge, but this thread is a little bit different. We will move ahead on the assumption that so-called art house filmmakers have and value some technical knowledge to go along with their ideas.
There are many examples of cases in art house cinema where a great amount of technical knowledge is required (long takes in the films of Tarr, Sokurov, and Angelopoulos, for example). Why then does there seem to be less interest in tackling art house movies in this way or celebrating their technical accomplishments?
Take “Behind the Scenes” or “Making Of” videos as an example. When we think of behind the scenes material, we think of David Fincher, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson. I have trouble even imagining such a video for a film by someone like Pasolini or Bresson. Even higher budget, flashier, more recent, more mainstream, and technically great movies like Enter the Void have little behind the scenes or making of material released (none, as far as I’m aware). Meanwhile, this material is quite common for mainstream releases.
Using this material as a barometer for what kind of films this material is made for, http://www.digititles.com/movies features a compilation of videos, photos, scripts, and other material for tons of recent Hollywood movies and their selection at the moment is only a fraction of the many Hollywood movies for which such material is available. If we’re agreeing that non-mainstream filmmakers also have technical knowledge and also make films that require jumping through many technical hoops, then why does there seem to be such a huge difference?
Some possible factors:
1) Studios pay for this material to be made and art house films have less funding and thus don’t invest in superfluous footage.
2) Art house audiences are less interested in technical flourishes and thus the market (which is already smaller than mainstream audiences to begin with) is too small for this product to be worth the cost and effort it takes to produce.
3) Art house directors might value technique but they pride themselves and market themselves on their ideas.
So here are some questions for you guys:
1) Is there really less of a market for behind the scenes material for art house cinema or is it a perception thing?
2) Is there a desire for more of this material?
3) Do you know any exceptions to this rule? i.e. art house movies with especially good DVD bonus features or good behind the scenes content available?
4) Any other thoughts on the way art house filmmakers value or undervalue technique.
Couldn’t we just say that “technique” is how “ideas” are realized in a work. Or by “technical knowledge” do we mean specifically as it applies to contemporary Hollywood filmmaking norms?
Behind the scenes/making of material is largely commercial in nature and though it presents a few interesting factoids here and there, is actually not significantly informative in truly understanding technical terminology and technique. That’s not to say that all DVD extras material is like that, but that the genre mostly is. My experience has been that filmmakers are largely willing to share technical knowledge and advice, regardless of which industry (commercial, national, or independent) they work in.
I have noticed in much of my research about crowdfunding and networking that of late ‘bonus materials’ have become a bigger concern of independent filmmakers in order to both attract more investors and provide a more professional appearance to their project. So over time our relationship to bonus material may change. Craig Baldwin, owner of Other Cinema Digital, recommends that self-produced DVDs contain at least 80 minutes of primary content and 40 minutes of bonus content. Baldwin himself is far from a ‘commercial’ filmmaker and his DVD label is not intended to be competing with widespread commercial DVD releases. He just sees that amount of content as being a reasonable exchange for the money people are putting into owning a DVD, or at least that is how I understood his advice when I asked him about it.
Truly ‘making of’ pieces are in a sense rarer and could use some better support in the world. We have movies like Lost in La Mancha, Hearts of Darkness, and Burden of Dreams to look toward as a dramatic narrative portrayal of filmmaking, but to my memory I cannot really think of equally as artful technical documentaries.
As I have personal experience and interest in institutional (technical) video, this topic is intriguing me to look into the possibilities of creating technical documentation to art-house movies.
I would think the lack of films about the filmmaking in arthouse films stems from a lack of interest in arthouse films—compared to Hollywood films.
Any other thoughts on the way art house filmmakers value or undervalue technique.
If there is a lack of technique in arthouse films, I would guess this is due to lack of resources versus a lack of skill or interest on the filmmakers part. I’d be intersted in hearing why you think something else is going on, Michael.
I have trouble even imagining such a video for a film by someone like Pasolini or Bresson
There is plenty of footage of Bresson “behind the scenes.” You are definitely conflating “technical knowledge” with special effects and a moving camera. Directors like Jackson and Tarkovsky don’t have the technical knowledge of a Bresson. Their technique is very restricted, though the results are the best they can muster.
I once played a best-out-of-40 table tennis marathon with Craig Baldwin.
Arthouse film deals creatively with a dearth of resources, so as a result a strong sector of arthouse filmmaking values the creativeness of limitations as a value of the film in and of itself. The thing is that there is a difference between concepts of ‘technique’, ‘technical skills’, and ‘technical resources (tools),’ and all three involve creativity in different ways. If you reject Hollywood narrative and production values, for instance, you are using a particular type of technique and creative skill even if you are rejecting specific technical tools and resources. That’s the irony of Dogme 95, is that as a list of filmmaking priorities it requires technical documentation (i.e., a manifesto and the observance of the manifesto’s rules) and thus imposes limitations as a technique in and of itself.
So I am not entirely sure there is ever such thing as ‘a lack of technique’ so much as a lack of conscious technique or a rejection of various technical methods.
Edit: I already regret the confusion that is going to ensue out of my own semantic arguments. Apologies.
“I once played a best-out-of-40 table tennis marathon with Craig Baldwin.”
Matt, by technique, I mean pulling off difficult technical feats and then sharing tricks and methods with aspiring filmmakers and fans. I’m not talking about “form.”
Jazz, I’m not talking about a lack of technique in art house films but of a lack of celebration of the technique that goes into those films. We’ll talk about the making of Jaws or the costumes and make up for Lord of the Rings but not the making of Syndromes and a Century.
Polaris and everybody else, we can also bring up directors revealing technical feats in their interviews. David Lynch has said that he never gives any of that stuff away because it ruins the magic and mystery of the movie. PT Anderson is also general reluctant to give anything away in his interviews (but both of these guys have worked with Hollywood and there is a documentary available on the making of Magnolia).
“David Lynch has said that he never gives any of that stuff away because it ruins the magic and mystery of the movie.”
Honestly, Lynch’s technical skills are not that difficult to figure out with a bit of technical knowledge of your own, except maybe the famous ongoing argument about what he designed the Eraserhead baby prop out of. One thing that’s interesting about Inland Empire is how he sometimes uses very basic video editing tricks to pretty decent effect (the melting face of Laura Dern being one example).
Another thing about Lynch’s technical skills is that he’s very good at sound editing or at least consistently gets good sound editors, so a lot of what you ‘feel’ in a scene is actually happening in the soundtrack than solely upon the power of the images, and Lynch is pretty damned good at doing it in a way that is not immediately obvious.
On the other hand, Lynch tends to like to leave, well, a lot of his own movies to the viewer’s imagination anyway, not only of how they were technically produced but also what they mean, what the narrative is about, etc. In the exact same manner, the answers are simpler than they seem at first but nevertheless effective. It’s here where people tend to leap on Lynch, but again my credit goes to the fact that simple answers aside, they are effective ones.
PT Anderson certainly enjoys a high production value and overall technical skills, he is a lot like David Fincher in that regard. Fincher shares a lot more knowledge than Anderson, in my experience, so I think the idea of what they offer in terms of shared knowledge is just a personality trait of either and not so much a result of how they make their movies. Fincher movies are typically loaded with useful making-of and behind-the-scenes documentation.
I thrashed him 40-0. He never gave up. I’ve never seen such commitment. He’s a fucking badass. Which translates to more success from an unrelenting moral position than I could ever dream of.
Oscilloscope films usually or at least often has behind the scenes features on their films, like Bellflower and Meek’s Cutoff. It’s a good little company in both what they put out generally and the packaging for those releases. Oh, and I tend to think about these sorts of things as being about the production craft, which in Hollywood is a realm unto itself, rather than “technique” which can apply more broadly.
Oh, and I tend to think about these sorts of things as being about the production craft, which in Hollywood is a realm unto itself,
Great point. In Hollywood B films (and most A films as well), the DP’s job was to light it up and get the fuck out of the way. As speed of shooting was of paramount importance, “technical collaboration” between DP and director was not a priority. Hence, “production craft” takes over.
“I thrashed him 40-0. He never gave up. I’ve never seen such commitment. He’s a fucking badass. Which translates to more success from an unrelenting moral position than I could ever dream of.”
Yeah, Craig in general is very committed to whatever he tries to do. And very committed to dismissing whatever he has no intention of doing. I saw this short made by Linda Scobey called “Craig’s Cutting Room Floor” of footage he had discarded (mostly single frames of), and word on the street is he hates it while everyone else who knows him loves it because it’s like a rapid-fire onslaught of everything he does (which is already a rapid-fire onslaught anyway).
“Oh, and I tend to think about these sorts of things as being about the production craft, which in Hollywood is a realm unto itself, rather than “technique” which can apply more broadly.”
Yeah better to focus on this area than my semantic argument that can lead the thread too many tangential directions.
3) Do you know any exceptions to this rule?
The Criterion Collection DVD containing Mouchette provides a half-hour featurette that amounts to a making-of documentary. It is accessed by selecting the menu option “Au hasard Bresson,” but the documentary is German-made and titled “Zum Beispiel Bresson.” However, only French is heard as we watch behind-the-scenes footage of Bresson directing cast and crew in making Mouchette. There are some interesting remarks by Bresson, such as, “I think the muse of painting can be friends with cinema, but the muse of literature can’t really.”
Also on the DVD is seven-and-a-half additional minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of Mouchette, this having aired on French TV as an installment of Cinema’s “Travelling” segment. Here we learn that the movie was shot in the Vaucluse, a region in southeastern France. We also find out that the actress playing Mouchette was actually 18 and the actor who plays the poacher Arsène is in real life a mason. When the interviewer asks Bresson if he can summarize Mouchette, the filmmaker responds, “No. It can’t be summarized. If it could, it’d be awful.”
There is also footage of Bresson (and I wish I could reference where I saw it, but I can’t remember) giving his actors eyeball instructions: “Lift your hand here, then look at the ground, then look here, then look down again”…etc. This is technique.
To go off on a slight tangent, one could almost suggest that Manny Farber’s emphasis on termite art was the celebration of technique over “craft” as the so-called white elephant art can often be defined as much by the sheer amount of craft applied to a film as anything else. This, even more off topic, also relates somewhat to the idea of the “auteur” as those who were given the status tended, with few exceptions like Tourneur, to be noted for forcing their way out of the most rigorous constraints of the studio system, so the "craft’ of their films was more individualized. Autuers, basically, weren’t really “born” but self-made as the desire for control is what gave them the possibilities for expression as much as any raw talent.
^ In that case should auteurs share their techniques or would that cause issue with the auteur theory?
Just a perhaps silly question — who defines auteurs – a theory, or the filmmakers themselves? I mean, do “auteurs” really follow a theory about them in terms of self-definition?
@Odi “auteurs” really follow a theory about them in terms of self-definition?
Historically speaking, no. The raw material for auteur theory came out of the studio system – the directors didn’t know they were being auteurish.
the directors didn’t know they were auteurish.
That’s what I thought.
So then, what would it matter if they share techniques if they don’t pay attention to the auteur theory, DiB?…
Heh, I don’t think so since it is the individuality which is the main distinguishing feature of an “auteur” I’d think, so while another director might pick up something from any discussion of technique, if they don’t transform it into something more uniquely expressive it is simply going to fall back into the realm of craft, which is to say a “familiarized” mode of expression which can be learned or purchased. A craft has a known end result, a design which is, at least largely, replicable, art doesn’t fit that definition as direct replication is antithetical to the experience of art which is part of what separates it from a craft, crudely speaking. At least that is my take on one way to look at the issue, one which is laid out much better and in more depth here
Edit: Oh, and actually, I would sort of argue that many or most of the directors later labelled as auteurs, the early ones before the term was purposefully adopted by later directors and writers in a different sense, may not have thought of themselves as auteurs, but they became such by actively fighting for independence as artists, which amounted to something close to the same thing. Guys like Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, and Huston basically forced their way out of the most constrained aspects of the studio system to where they could make films more as they wanted them to be made by starting their own independent production units where they would hire themselves to work on films they were interested in on terms they could agree with, or they simply gained clout putting out money making films which allowed them to continue to work as they wished with less interference. I don’t mean it was that way for every film of theirs, Hitchcock had to contend with Selznick when he first came over for example, but the struggle for independent productions themselves seems to be as significant a marker for an “auteur” as anything else, which makes some sense when you think about it, but it goes against something of the myth of the auteur as it has often been passed down. As I kinda hinted, Tourneur is an interesting figure in that he actually does seem to fit the more mythic definition of the director working from within the system far better than most of the other big names.
the directors didn’t know they were being auteurish.
Exactly. Smart directors were exploiting a set-up that allowed anything as long as a minimum box-office standard was maintained. (Thom Schatz called it the “Genius of the System.”) This goes back to my old argument that a Tourneur enjoyed much more creative freedom than a von Trier does. Tourneur only had to impress his production supervisor and a week’s worth of midddle America box office. Von Trier has to impress the Cannes elite.
^ True story.
Heh, as usual when talking of “auteurs” the problem is in the vagueness of the definition or the wide range of uses the term has been put to over the years. Personally, I think the concept has become so vague and ill-defined as to almost of no reasonable use anymore as you’ll come across people claiming or implying things with its use that are simply counterfactual or otherwise misguided. We’ve discussed this all before of course, so I’ll just say that Jerry and I are in agreement over the facts of the issue even if it may sound like we are saying different things in interpreting those facts. We’re just speaking about different ways in which the term “auteur” has been used I think.
Guys like Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, and Huston basically forced their way out of the most constrained aspects of the studio system
For example, Ford left no coverage options for the studio to re-edit (he edited the film “in-can”). Of course,this means he also abandoned the post-production process, and so his films have the worst musical scores of any director in history. Hawks, Hitchcock, and Huston (unless he was drunk) were heavily involved in post-production
I’ll just say that Jerry and I are in agreement over the facts of the issue even if it may sound like we are saying different things in interpreting those facts
I can’t define auteur, but I know it when I see it.
But don’t you think difference in celebration stems primarily from the fact that Hollywood is a huge commercial industry, while arthouse films come from more of a cottage industry?
Jerry wrote:There is also footage of Bresson (and I wish I could reference where I saw it, but I can’t remember) giving his actors eyeball instructions: “Lift your hand here, then look at the ground, then look here, then look down again”…etc. This is technique.
I think that’s from the extras on the criterion disc for Mouchette.