I like to think of Errol Morris as the David Lynch of the doc world. His First Person series, as I understand it, was built around the work of his team of researchers, hunting down the weirdest bits of Americana they could find, like parrots who were murder trial witnesses, or autistic slaughterhouse designers who are so good at their job because they can fully empathize with the livestock.
I don’t know If Lynch consciously looks for the odd and surreal or if they’re drawn to him. Given his predilections I’d bet that he’s the magnet. One need only look at his art as well as his films to really understand his commitment to a singular vision. Inland Empire was the last of his films to grace the screen, and I was 100% convinced of everything I saw; I just couldn’t tell you what the hell any of it means.
I had a long running idea I never found expression for. It was just an idea with no story, about someone watching their actual lives on the screen; they’d see something they didn’t like, re-spool the film, and splice the bit they didn’t like out. Playing the reel back, everything would play the same until the bit that was no longer there. Now that it was gone, what follows played back differently. Or put another way; changed action, changed consequence.
I finally got it out of my system in the early-oughts, adapting Gogol’s Diary of a Madman for a contemporary setting. The film’s a mess, and I won’t subject you to it, but it was a catharsis. With that out of my system I could move on to other things (though they say you make the same damn film in different variations your whole life. We’ll see).
So now I’m thinking of a doc I worked on and which premiered last week: Fredrik Gertten’s Bikes vs Cars. The title seems pretty specific; the battle between cars and bikes. But one of the first things Fredrik explained to me was that that was not the meaning of the title. He’s an avid biker, who gets around not only his native Malmo, but every place he travels on a bike. His interest, he said, was not in painting it as a battle (which in the David and Goliath sense would have an obvious favorite anyway), but as an analysis: Do we build roads and infrastructure for bikes or cars? How do we choose between the two? Etc.
Fredrik comes from a journalist’s background, with an activist streak. Bananas was born of an examination of where our produce comes from, and exposed the rampant employee abuses by Dole, and Big Boys Gone Bananas was the immediate follow up that journeyed right along with him as Dole fought back. Bikes vs Cars comes from his own passion for biking, but is informed by his journalist’s nose.
I’ve got 3 big projects I’m working on, all of which to some degree talk about the world as we know it slipping away, whether by climate change, peak oil, psychotic militias… take your pick. I didn’t plan it that way, but I guess that’s what drives my inspiration now, in search of solutions, not getting on a soap box in Hyde Park barking out “the end is nigh!”
The challenge I run into is not to handle the inspiration to literally. If it sits for a while and gestates, if I doodle and imagine somebody involved somehow in that world, then sometimes it germinates into something useful; either a fictional character I can dive into, or a character I might hope to meet. I’m pretty absorbed with the migrant issue these days, especially refugees from Syria since that’s partly where I’m from. So I’ve gone out to where some of them are staying near Helsingborg, not with the goal of finding that right character, but just to meet people and get a sense. But if, and as, stories emerge… that’s where magic is born. I don’t think it has to be from an intent going in, but it does require open eyes and an open heart.
And just maybe, a wicked Lynchian pompadour.