Film

Bruno Dumont and Arthouse Cinema

Does anyone sometimes feel that ‘Arthouse’ directors, although often studied in filmmaking and the arts, don’t always seem to know what they’re talking about when they discuss cinema?

I’d watched a masterclass Bruno Dumont, who’d learnt his craft as a director making industry commissioned films for businesses and manufacturers, but also an academic and teacher of philosophy and cinema, and ,like a typical artiste, wanted to combine the two interests to create ‘Art’. His technique is perhaps similar to Ken Loach or Robert Bresson, in that he relies upon non-professional actors to explore themes of life, war, hate, death, love and experience, in a poetic but ‘non-intellectual’ style, despite his knowledge and apparent in philosophy and religious themes. Dumont says he writes a story, or script, and then once he’s found the right actors to essentially play themselves, he completely abandons the ‘script’ and develops the story through the improvisations and multiple takes to shape the characters in the narrative. Interestingly, his producers have tried to persuade Dumont to hire professional actors but he rejects this offhand saying ‘I can’t direct them’; I suppose because the actor already has  an idea of what their performance is going to be. He’d also compared this approach as kindof psychoanalysis.


Weirdly, Dumont also says – ‘I’m not interested in social realism, it’s not supposed to be realistic, I’m trying to create a story about something I don’t understand’.  Somewhat ironically, during a masterclass seminar, Dumont recounted how an actress he’d worked with on, either L’Humanite  (1999) or Flanders (2006), once complained when he instructed her to stop acting and just ‘do nothing’ – which is perhaps closer unpredictably and unrehearsed experience of real-life and what he describes as the difference between art and entertainment, also calling Tom Cruise ‘an entertainer’. He’d also mentioned he’d took inspiration from work of Sophocles and Shakespeare, since was they who’d first theorised the art of entertainment and the basic principle of ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’, and that actors, like Tom Cruise, were really comics.


 Then I’d listened to Anton Corbijn, a photographer before he became an director, on the making of  Control (2007) and The American (2010), both being very well scripted, visual, character driven dramas, although the former was a period biopic about the rock Joy Division (focusing on the troubled front man), and the latter was an adaptation of a novel about an existential, nihilist hitman doing one last job before retiring, somewhat of a genre film. Both were extremely well made, but sometimes, as Corbijn commented, felt to critics like a series of interesting shots and scenes that could do with more interesting characters and dialogue – it’s weird listening to Corbijn say to himself whilst watching Control ‘I don’t know if this is interesting, but I like the look of it’.

It also makes me think of Kubrick making actors do thirty or fifty takes famously on the sets of Full Metal Jacket (1987) and The Shining (1980). I understand that the purpose of this could be to both force the actor do perform the scene without thinking, pushing them to exhaustion, a kindof ‘natural’ auto-state, and to give Kubrick, a perfectionist, as many takes as he could possibly choose from during the editing process, as process which fascinated Kubrick. Although, Kubrick’s method would create arguments with actors, famously Adam Baldwin lost patience during a scene and moaned ‘what does this guy want?!’ leaving the cast and crew aghast, and Kubrick to retort ‘why don’t you try better acting?’. Although the sedate, sometimes hysterical, sometimes completely withdrawn performances, still makes me wonder why it was necessary to make the actors do so many takes since Kubrick’s focus tends to be the visual design and composition of the scene. Although, I’d thought Peter Sellers was very good in Dr Strangelove (1964).



I’d also watched many interviews with Werner Herzog, possibly the most opinionated arthouse director on the subject of cinema, after Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and another filmmaker who has also worked, somewhat surprisingly, with Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher, 2012). A director I’d been fascinated with ever since I’d seen the surreal political satire Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), several short weird short documentaries, Nosferatu (1979) and his two masterpieces Fritzcarraldo (1982) and Aguire: The Wrath of God (1972). Arguably, part of the Herzog’s appeal is his celebrity and fame for extreme working conditions, themes about death, destruction and obsession, and his turbulent friendship with the tempestuous Klaus Kinski.


werner-herzog-rescue-main-image


In an article, with characteristic irony and bizarreness, Herzog critiques the equally strange, self-effacing style and celebrity of Kanye West. I’d also watched Herzog giving direction to the rock guitarist and composer Richard Thompson for the OST to the documentary Grizzly Man (2005), in which he’d interrupted him saying ‘no, play it like you own the mountain!’. By which I think he meant ‘play it louder and faster’.


Similarly, going off on a tangent now, another article in Indywire criticised actors like Leo DiCaprio, Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix for their obsession with the ‘method’ style of acting, particularly, Jared Leto’s research and preparation for the role of The Joker in Suicide Squad. That true method acting can only be achieved the actor has somehow undergone some painful, life-endangering episode, ie homelessness, starvation, mutilation, injury, suffering or physical abuse. This is real acting because it’s real and because it’s about suffering (!).

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