7 Oct 2010
Social Film and Visual discourse. First Part
LUCKY 13 There is no love without tragedy
Essay by David Caneva Akle. First part.
“If to regain what was lost
I had to first lose what I had
If to accomplish a goal
I had to endure pain
If in order to be in love
it was necessary to have been hurt
I have then suffered enough
I have then shed my share of tears
Because after all, I have realized
that we don't enjoy it as much
until after we have suffered first
Because after all, I have understood
That what the tree has for blossoms
lives from what it has buried”
Soneto - Sonnet
Francisco Luis Bernardez
Taking into account different theories and approaches to the filmic, personal experiences and a lively interaction with the subjects while absorbing and assimilating each advice from people that is immersed in the documentary world, it is possible to have a reflection or at least an approach to the aims of this essay regarding the film “Lucky 13”. This is the final film of a trilogy were women and immigrant issues are linked through arts and social experiences of the subjects. The present is also a final support document where the director David Caneva Akle links his two previous visual pieces: “Immigrant of Expression” and “The Warrior” (2009).
The universe of the discourse and a more formal approach will be taken into consideration as backbones of the present essay regarding “Lucky 13”. On the one hand, issues such as the relationship between the author’s perceptions of the filmic and the notion of the feminine setting free from the dominant discourse in which it has been traditionally immersed will be discussed. The latter perspective of the feminine adopted by him and seen through various authors will determine what has been called the universe of the discourse. In this universe, “the feminine” is portrayed as vital to maintain and shape the idea of a film where female subjects, but also directors, are not subordinated to the dominant concept of the woman as a sexual object, diva or as the model of institutional representation . The film is a text, a space of the creation of mutual significations where it is allowed to discover the female subjects and not their phallic but social approach to film narratives, with love, tragedy, sexuality and the vision of society as a whole and not as a defined lecture of the image industry establishment. On the other hand, a formal approach to the concept of the film, its evolution, and its process, is also a part of the main assessments of this discussion. At some points both universes will be intertwined –being the feminine what holds them together- as the author conceives the film as a projection of both aesthetic and critical concerns.
In a simple way, an art object, in this case the documentary in question, is a kind of approach to normal life. It is the interaction with practice, narratives, mass media discourse and dominant approaches that regular sequences of situations in which some narratives and fragments were dropped are evaluated and that a film is discovered within a given process.
In the same order of ideas and analysis, which is part of the academic and scientific process inside the investigations about films, authors and interpretations -a natural subjective vision of the film and the creative process to obtain it-, are mediated by the addition of the concepts of who we are filming and why. The decision to make films where a portraiture nature is dominating over a natural approach to the journalistic style is the difference between an art piece and the massive production of images as an advert. This evolution is revealed within the process of rediscovering a film and a exploited TV show in which the main aim is the economic and the ideological, both part of the cinematographic apparel exploitation of the humans feelings and preoccupations.
On one hand, last century evolution looks like a portrait of different fragments of our humanity preoccupations towards the perception of success and recognition of our modernity. On the other hand, we have the unrepresented, the unsuccessfulness, and our barbarisms and failures as a group of humans.
To join those fragments it is necessary to “interpret what the portrait author (i.e. the creator behind the object) believes and find out how the subject is intended to be reproduced and recognised, whether if it is success and recognition, or failure, tragedy and loneliness.” (Zeldin, 2009)
However, there is a permanent relationship between these preoccupations established by the “civilization of image”, wherein the visual cultural predominance, in the modern western world, turn our individual fragments as collective ones. Those exchangeable relations are born when they are necessary to create a global historical approach to the local stories that art, as a general meaning, produces. Yet, artists are exposed and reflected, rather than related into its subjects when the genuine questions should be what is that thing that is the most valuable? What does our globality represent? and, does the exploration of a non-critic and homogeneous world –the world where we are used to stand- is the right one?
To know or film something about the small culture that surrounds us, whilst living that big space of ideas, is like taking a breath of incoherence in the logical discourse; it is to make from a piece, a public act with repercussions and longevity, something that will last but that is still part of the artist world. In addition, during this discourse interaction and social integration we, subject, object, directors, spectators, learn everything yet discover anything. Each thing is in time and space as an eternal unit where creation takes place, but it is subject to analysis, critic and deconstruction. Firstly, there are our constant approaches as humans, but as artists, we are polarized by different questions that define our own critic –crisis. Why must people listen, read or watch your films, books or music?, is there an imagery recognition to actually represent a spectator or for a spectator to feel identified with? Nevertheless, images are composed by various systems and fragments and there is no reason to think the whole unit of the image can be covered by a specific and unique code. A film has its own shapes, but it also integrates in its discourse exterior signs of different kinds. They belong to other artistic and specific languages, like the narrative, the dramatic construction, the images’ plastic composition, the colour relations inside the frame, the music, different things linked to the light, the expressive effects of photography, the fashion systems, the design and the decoration, the acting moment, the variety of expressions and socialized attitudes where daily communications relay and that relate us with our conversation codes, mimics, gestures, etc. Yet, then we need to add the cinematographic aspect: procedures, camera movements, size and time relations of the scenes, organization of narrative units, montage images and sound relations. At the end, cinematographic language is the composition of the filmic and the filmed.
Both of them, the filmic and the filmed, have to be linked in such a way that allows the main subject to fully develop and stand for him/herself. Some films show us strong characters; they can be like a breath of fresh air in a polluted world or a drink of poison in a magical life in which we succumb within the process of creation.
There is a moment when someone takes the picture and a human, not an object, is revealed. The same sensation of breathing is present when the director discovers that the film is already there before anyone even noticed. As soon as the author portrays images, some things about the humanity of the subject are going to be revealed as a breakthrough, but indeed, everything will also be about the author. Essentially, it is a mutual relationship, a two-way interaction with a degree of reserve, where the author is secondary or a mere spectator.
In Christian Metz’ words, the filmic field explores different dominant discourses, the culture, and genre in a symbiotic activity that produces significances in film languages and messages or transference codes. He is one of the authors from the semiotic movement that find in the linguistic structure an explanation field to different human activities, in terms of significant activities, of course, being film one very significant. Seen from this point of view, the filmic field exploration will bump into fragments, discourses and significances that were broken during the film process. That exploration is a reward, as the author does not have special messages during the process and the final cut of a documentary, since messages come from the subjects, men or women, and hopefully they will contribute and offer themselves up. In this way, the director is a mere observer of the process who by adopting a distance allows the character to emerge and constitute him/herself from all the fragments and significances. During this phase, the director shoots and photographs. If there is beauty, ugliness, obscenity or purity, it will not be seen until much later; he or she will discover what he or she has been unaware of until a given moment. The role of the director in this moment is that of recognising when there is a fragment with potential.
In addition, new codes of interaction with the film world severally affect what the author thinks others feel about a visual piece, but also about human reactions, language, pain and tragedy. All these explorations of the filmic, the film, the subjects and the genre were based and marked as important topics to develop after the study made by the author of the present essay of Gary Tharn’s film, Black Sun (2005) , focusing on the ideas that the others in front of us are humans rather than celebrities. It was also an influence to stop megalomaniac tendencies that naturally nourished the creation process of “Lucky 13”, by letting the author see through the disabled character of Tharn’s film different points of view, and deeply understand how some people with physical limitations and an attached tragedy, survived and still bring happiness to each person and moments surrounding them.
This film Black Sun, with its effects and animations pushed the author of “Lucky 13” to think about the parallel between what we think is reality and what others think about reality. The random use of images of people sharing spaces but without looking their eyes, juxtapositions of voices and images that evoke something led to shape dramatic circumstances were people is not aware of the importance of being alive, breathing and helping others. In the same order of ideas but from the filmmaker’s perception, there is an important value to rescue and to be critical about, which is capturing images and sounds of others, this means the author is part of their intimacy, an intimacy that the camera and the filmmaker is constantly breaking.
However, if there is a permanent disruption of that intimate areas, the subject, the filmic and the filmmaker’s points of view are subordinated to a general shape of our cultural representations, cultural repetitions where we are more often adapted to the idea that you need to believe what you see, conceiving some attitudes as facts that developed in non-objective conditions and perceptions of human beings. Our film culture is now more about consumerism, instead of something, which leads the audience to think about our sense and our projections of what art is. Films apparently have succumbed into arguments, which we just sit to watch as complete tales with happy endings, rather than to interpret values and codes from society on cinema.
Nevertheless, free and voluntarily, documentaries have also adapted to the idea that films are icon-idols and everything apart from the spectacular is boring. Without exciting scenes with guns and romantic clichés, seems as if films are set just to maintain a big market of deaf, blind and mute paranoid spectators, fed by a massive bombing of images of what is good or bad, of what the general code says, or of what the classic narrative proposes.
The model of institutional representation that this essay has been exposing is also represented in the sexual and genre interaction. Traditionally, the questions derived from the critic to classic films and its textual mechanisms of image construction, characterised patterns that reflect women’s position in the interior of a patriarchal unconsciousness. In this same order of ideas, this representation model denotes a merchant character of the film piece with formal characteristics or conventions that the representation produces and repeats, creating significations, like for example, making a woman part of the narrative structure. On the other hand, we can suppose that films, which do not portray women as a sexual object, have different characteristics, discourses and representations that differ from the cultural dominion. Firstly, the reflections about community-individual, the self-questioning, their own identity search against or opposed to what the symbolic order established. Secondly, feminist films and some of the films made by women, and so other movements, like gay, black or Latin, share with the vanguard film or with the countercultural film, experimental or artistic, the seal to crossover the habitual ways of cinematography representation, looking forward to find the diverse, interested in showing subjects closer to the natural or supernatural experiences, in contradiction to the stereotypes that the film and documentary industry produce.
In addition, the feminine -not feminist- reflection that the author intends to link in the film and to support in this essay, is not only to discover some elements from the dominant point of view, but to realise how can a male director talk or intend an approach to films were women struggles are a permanent source of topics and subjects. As a documentary maker is good to understand if the film copes with some pleasures or answers questions to the public about the feminine world even if they are part of the model of institutional representation or if they are following other paths of knowledge and dissertation. A formal approach to what these ways of thinking mean is part of a discovery not related to feminism, but to women in a state of art and work revolution.
“Lucky 13”, the film that follows this essay, is the complete spin of a trilogy were female subjects predominate. Three artists, three struggles, three Latin women in a common place with different migrant backgrounds in the United Kingdom.
These visual pieces are fields of broken colour, sounds and narratives, without any figurative reference points at all. There is nothing in these works for the viewer to respond to except for visual impressions. This is the hue and luminosity of the film itself, the subject and the dominant perception of a woman whether if it is sexual or miserable.
Yet, these feminine perceptions are also part of a general sensation in the films, which is the human struggle, happiness, honour, dignity or abstract words that sometimes arts afford to turn into concrete actions and that not only relate women around the world, but groups of people that have been diminish under the film laws and masculine narratives. Some natural existential fights are part of the act of being and are created from the scratch, were nobody wants to dig, where the industry does not want to look and give founding. At the beginning of this essay there is a poem of Francisco Luis Bernard, the Uruguayan poet whose life was marked by tragedy and struggles, explaining in a deep description what this essay and documentary artwork mean in general for the director and the internal feelings that provoke the following and filming of this third visual piece about the subject who is an immigrant that left her homeland looking for her biological mother residing in London.
Another inspiration materialized in front of the director’s eyes as he was excavating sensuality and women when Nobuyoshi Araki photography’s compilation appeared adding more messy thoughts about genre relations, sensuality and sexuality. Araki is like a forbidden fruit, and for the director, the perfect excuse to understand sexuality, tragedy, the contradiction, the erotic and the feminism.
Araki´s definition of visual pieces is like “Lucky 13” in terms that the film “is waiting for its subjects to give of themselves, offer themselves up to us”. However, this was a point of argumentation with the some other filmmakers and feedbacks because the journalistic style is not contemplated in the film world at all, or at least, it is not well seen, or maybe the director did not know how to do it, but for the author it is necessary to portrait reality as it is, like when she is explaining how she was recovering her life after an almost mortal accident with a bin lorry in the spot were everything happened. In addition, the subject made a big effort when she was asked to walk again over the same steps. As for the filmmaker, to push forward the situation trying to find tragedy. This endeavour, nonetheless, is related to the formal approach –subsequently in this writing- since it is part of the procedure used during the filming.
Johanna, who is a passionate soul with a contagious energy and a definite sense for social commitment appeared during a gig in central London, laughing with a group of friends. The stunning amazing blond woman with a walk stick approached the director of the band and said: “Where are you going so fast?” Instantly, the subject hooked the attention of the room; everybody was in love with her. From this moment on, the filming starts with her evidently realizing that something very sad happened to this woman years ago. First, she recovered from a tragedy with a strong determination which has been tested over burdensome circumstances managing to rise above- like being run over by a bin lorry, or not knowing her mother until her 20's- yet, she personifies a great spirit, inspiring others throughout her poetry. Second, progressively the fragments of her intimacy were slightly revealed. During the discovery journey of Johanna the approach to her life was purely passionate, observational and linked to anachronic ideas, that not everybody could be happy about or at least a little bit comfortable with in life. Moreover, the director was trapped in between the decision to produce a film about her or a film about her accident around central London.
A fearless contradiction of what a strong soul is when she is telling us what the witnesses said when they saw a rag doll smashed by the wheels of a truck. Firstly, the idea of reminding every circumstance that developed in a tragedy as a piece of a big labyrinth where future and past are marked by a permanent present is enough as topic of research and argumentation for a documentary, and sometimes some situations push us to do something in ways that we do not expect. The diary notes during the shooting, clearly showed that tales about cyclists are permanent and painful. Even if the first story was not about an accident, it was linked with the idea of a cyclist. Luis, “The rickshaw”, the subject that was supposed to be filmed five moths ago, is in prison now in a case that requires more research and permissions before going into deep film analysis; it is also the tale of a cyclist in the city. Nevertheless, those days’ different shootings that the director was doing for the previous two short films, and that were never used, were fundamental to produce and film this final one, as the main subject, Johanna, was permanently with the director.
Johanna was there, unaware of the filming process, but at the same time was open and collaborative during the film sessions. Following her histrionic personality for a nine-month period, her family ties, and her immediate past, -related to the group of people that was being filmed, but that she left just before the accident happened-, is a long journey of misinterpretations, collaborations, friendship, discussion and analysis about life and life in films. In that order of circumstances, one important and interesting thing happened when she was introduced to Diana Garcia, the subject from the first film of the director’s earlier “Immigrant of Expression” (2009) . While they were speaking about Diana’s work and Johanna’s life, they realised that both were members of “New generation”, a Latin artist collective based in Vauxhall, precisely the place were the director had been filming for a year. In some way, they were sharing the same codes and expressions as a male spectator filmed them with no interference over the situation. The circumstances became even better, when it was decided to film Laura, subject of the second film “The Warrior” (2009) , but at that stage, Laura disagreed with the person who was supposed to introduce the film crew, as she dislikes ”journalists searching for yellowish stories” the filmmaker was told.
A week after this response from this second subject of interest, Johanna took the director to a small office in which an International Refugee Migrant Organization (IRMO) is based and suddenly inside the office Johanna says hello to a red haired woman as they were not seeing each other for a while. The other woman was Laura.
Then the director realised that both characters, Johanna and Laura but also Diana, were very important and interesting in their communities and indeed as subjects of a Documentary Portrait as well. This evocative situation is the example of what the director believes is a real following of a subject and how three different stories can be linked in a document of life to shape some editorial decisions taken during a film process. In this case the script is based in suppositions of what its seen from the subjects and their way of life, rather than a rigid narrative with beginning and end, starring and co-starring. In addition, this discovery dropped an imminent parallel between the theory and the abstract concept of what an artistic experimental documentary is.
An urgent necessity of the use of colour arose and was now closer to what the director’s perception of feminism could be in a film. The three elements: film, colour and feminism, suddenly clicked at a moment when Laura accepted to be filmed. Subsequently, the tight tie between them was found, as well as the link among the arts and the final film subject, the junction between the exploration of the unknown, and between the technique and the theory.
The reserved definition of feminist film changed tremendously while shooting. In general thinking about a feminist film, there is a contradictory point when it’s believed that it is a society of women; although, it’s been mistaken all along with the terminology. Nonetheless, after these films, it has become evident what it really means. To begin with, it means someone who believes in being treated with equality and vice versa; believing in being humanitarian and trading fairness among all regardless of gender difference. It means feminist film can include men or women, subjects, actors, and directors. Secondly, this film has taught that discriminating women based on their gender role or discriminating Latin or western or black people is not going to solve the gender and social issues, rather, we all have to work together to create a stable and fair society. All these arguments are also based on previous research about the definition of the feminist film, shaped by different thesis of feminist filmmakers that include Gurinder Chadha, Jane Champion, Laura Mulvey, and Sally Potter because their work illustrate the fairness and equality, both in movies and documentaries, and because they portray the stories of reality. Another important element to choose them was their belief in being humanitarian.
This academic researchers and filmmakers related to the “feminist” world are not just part of a capricious exploration of the director to back up the theory about a film for or with women, done by men or by women, they are part of a long research that the author has been doing since he realised that women were part of constant life, a constant psychoanalysis of representations and codes inside the film culture where the women is in fact the narrative, the subject and the final meaning of the dominant culture of image. In this order of ideas, Laura Mulvey -who was also quoted in a previous essay by the author and is a permanent source for investigation-, deconstructs this way of seeing women in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" .
Mulvey's article engaged in no empirical research on film audiences, instead, she stated that she intended to make a "political use" of Freud and Lacan, and then used some of their concepts to argue that the cinematic apparatus of classical Hollywood cinema inevitably put the spectator in a masculine subject position, with the figure of the woman on screen as the object of desire. In the era of classical Hollywood cinema, viewers were encouraged to identify with the protagonist of the film, who tended to be a man. Meanwhile, Hollywood female characters of the 1950s and 60s were, according to Mulvey, coded with "to-be-looked-at-ness." Mulvey suggests that there were two distinct modes of the male gaze of this era: "voyeuristic" (i.e. seeing women as 'whores') and "fetishist" (i.e. seeing women as 'Madonna’s').
Mulvey argued that the only way to annihilate the "patriarchal" Hollywood system was to radically challenge and re-shape the filmic strategies of classical Hollywood with alternative feminist methods. She called for a new feminist avant-garde filmmaking that would rupture the magic and pleasure of classical Hollywood filmmaking. She wrote, "It is said that analysing pleasure or beauty annihilates it."
Some feminists criticized "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," like if she were denying the existence of lesbian women, gay men, heterosexual women, and those outside these identities. For the director of “Lucky 13”, those identities are also reflected in the film, when analysing pleasure or beauty, as well as when analysing pain and tragedy as permanent contradictions. Thus, these contradictions are an awakening to what the film process, the methods and the storytelling are. Moreover, these dissertations about feminism, discontinuity, post modernism, made the process of reflecting the contradictions of arts hard for the filmmaker, in terms of voyeurisms and fetishisms, lacking of modes and codes, and disruption of style. The author tried shaping an approach for that discontinuity of the narratives, as an alternative way to say that he is not interested in the spectator but in the film’s creative result as a an incoherent rant with a passionate voice of the difference.
Directors not always know where they are going and documentaries’ ideas and directions are constantly changing, for this reason, it is not essential to contextualise some situations by providing the audience with information about the past of the subject, this is the reason why she is still thinking and working in present time, and the director followed certain behaviours to show that eternal present. The film is also trying to capture that essence in fragments that build a story from different perspectives, in reverse, upside down, showing a feminine outline of the natural struggles and the many twist of the film’s narrative. The director made the choice not to film her family and past relationships, but her beliefs and thoughts about relationship dynamics, equality, literature and poetry.
Therefore, the constant quotations and discussions about poetry relay on the natural access that the subject has with poetry and recitation. The director realised that the different footages obtained during the filming process at some point needed to be visually organized and put together in such a way that the tragedy and determination of a great spirit could be conveyed with a sensation of a hallucinatory state of mind where the surreal is converted into real.
Normally, the director is not too aware of this process because he is used to shoot everything in an observational style, but during the pre production stage, after trying to break the news method where interviews were conducted whilst people sat down in armchairs, the subject was taken out of the home environment and it seemed to be a lot easier to film in terms of an observational style, however still using the journalistic point of view which was radically condemned and put into questions.
Then a singular approach to the film was revealed as the subject also pushed the daily interaction subtly giving some new clues of her life in a very fragile and honest pose of her intimacy. The fact that the subject is from a generation were women are successful in terms of profession, motherhood and leadership, made it possible to show how domination roles are turning, revealing a new female subject. The director believes that the suitable style was found during this interaction and through the possibility of entering her physical environment and very intimate moments during the night. However, the subsequent discussions and edition method dropped a new version of the film, apparently lacking timeline or story and were the subject was not at all described to the spectators, but indeed, that was one of the breaking points.
During the edition process, all these different faces were showed because of the editing style, but the visual piece was strong enough with the content of the film. After a rough-cut screening, it became obvious that the entire structure of the film needed to be changed. Furthermore, it was necessary to adapt the editing style to the way the film it was shoot. Therefore, it had to be slower and it had to challenge the audience more. Through the filmmakers’ advices, the film was encouraged to leave the audience a bit more in the dark and to have a more mysterious way of telling the story.
Then it was understood that it is important to think of story telling elements. This meant, for example, to make a past story interesting, accessible and relevant now, even if the director thinks is not necessary at all.
Then, during edition and supported by some styles, the definite approach for the documentary was that of a suspense film, leaving the audience to discover what had happened to her and why her determination was actually interesting. But then, that idea of taking the audience on a journey to discover in which context it occurred and why she became a victim, seemed obsolete and so obvious that the romantic, evocative and delicate ingredients of the visual document were lost.
Another element that was also found during the process was the music that the subject and director were listening to during all these months, which in fact derives in a folklore approach to her Caribbean environment and how tragic it is sometimes and, at the same time, so joyful and pleasant for the audience. The uses of “Cumbia” rhythms evoke the necessity of belonging and attachment to personal roots.
Besides music, all the existential fights of the subject and the artist dilemmas are also united by poetry with some sentences that the director found when he first arrived to the place where the subject was reciting and that the filmmaker was expecting to deconstruct to develop a natural approach to the film’s narrative. The aim was to build from the verses a suffered joy of techniques, dialogues and a nonsense repetition of colours and sounds. That is what the director found within the process of this film production in addition to the passion for women and immigrants, films and music.