Sunday, 20 March 2011
Friday, 11 March 2011
I Remember It Well
We are all pathological liars. Our brains are designed to make us always "feel" as if our recollections are true, regardless of whether or not they actually occurred. In fact, science has proven that a memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it, and that the more you remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes.
Pretty powerful stuff. It brings to mind a song from the 1958 movie, "Gigi", where Maurice Chevalier sings, "I Remember It Well". If you have never seen this charming musical interaction, it is between two "older" individuals, who do not agree on the details of their first date. Of course, with his undeniable charm, Maurice manages to agree with his former love, even though he openly disagrees. I love it. (Men, take a lesson from Mr. Chevalier.)
The subject of memory has recently become a topic of conversation between me and my British blogging counterpart, Sj. She is in the throes of promoting a new movie that deals with this very topic. Interestingly enough, as I write a book that is based on my parent's love story and family history, I have personally been thrown into a trip down memory lane.
As I sift through old family photos, some of which portray folks that are unidentified, yet related, I look to my ancestral past, recollecting my own memories of those who are now gone, and whose histories are a part of my life. I recall good times and bad, but , in the end, have discovered that I have modified those memories to fit the moment that I live in now. This is why my book is reality-based fiction.
Face it, memories are random, and often strange. Marcel Proust once wrote, "The past is never past. As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile. In their mercurial mirror, we see ourselves." Jonah Lehrer, in his book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, writes that Proust believed that, "we must misremember something in order to remember it." In other words, our mind is constantly reincarnating itself. It is ongoing and ever changing.
Lehrer writes that, "scientists have discovered that our brain is full of neurons that never touch, yet are responsible for brain activity. The spaces between these neurons are called synaptic clefts, and the area between these neurons is subject to change." Brain research has gained much knowledge of how those spaces effect memory, and how a memory is created, but only time will tell why our memories are "purely fiction."
My brother and oldest sister recall a set of parents that barely resemble the two that raised me. In fact, upon reading the love letters that my father wrote to my mother back in the 1940's, my sister remarked, "I had no idea that our father had such love in his heart." She remembered a different father than I did. For me, my father will remain tall, dark and handsome, with a smile that made women swoon.
Sigmund Freud coined the term, "Nachtraglickeit", to describe the phenomenon of transference. He surmised that we take memories of childhood trauma, and retell them at a later time in life, renamed with different characters, and through the eyes and ears of an older person. We create another version of a story, to meet the needs of our current situations and issues. Our past is actually quite different, but our memories disobey logic.
Hans W. Leowald, M.D., an early 20th Century psychiatrist, tells us that, "the ghosts of the underground that awaken, taste the blood of recognition and haunt us in ways not fully understood, gradually become ancestors, buried, and much less important." It really makes me think about my life, and question, "Who am I?"
The entire concept frightens me a bit. Could Proust be correct? Should we, "Treat the reality of our memories carefully, and with a degree of skepticism"? Proust contended that there was no need to keep track of the lies of our memories, as, "Every memory is full of errors." Am I really full of unintentional deceit?
Science has also discovered that most memories are triggered by taste and smell, and that exposure to certain combinations of these two senses can actually trigger "moments bienheureux", or fortunate moments. Author Jonah Lehrer, cites them as, "the blinding epiphanies that one experiences, like a beautiful apparition, and inspires an intense creative flare."
I happen to experience these "fortunate moments" on occasion, and revel in the rapture as they burn through my brain, carving new tattoos on my inner soul. Are these memories real? Of course they are. At least in my mind. And, who are you?
A figment of your own revisionist history?
Think about it. I do.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Five films that are rocking my world right now. (Actually, four films and a game... but nobody’s perfect).
Sanjuro – It really doesn’t matter how many times I watch this film, or the fact that I do have to rely on subtitles, because I don’t speak sufficient Japanese to make sense of the subtleties of dialogue; Akira Kurosawa rocks. Toshiro Mifune does more with expression and body language in this film than most Western actors achieve in a lifetime. And then you have the one against eight battle. They actually teach this in books on Kendo, Mifune’s form and movement is like a ballet. A beautiful, brutal ballet. Yet there is nothing gratuitous or creepy about this, no long lingering shots of dismembered corpses. Just a melancholic genius. By the time a karate master has risen to the level of master, through long and hard training, he may be capable of killing with his bare hands, but has also attained the self-discipline not to go postal and kill indiscriminately; so it is here, nothing gratuitous, no violence for violence’ sake, just pure swordsmanship.
Alien – FilmFour was doing an Alien weekend a couple of weekends back, and I tuned in. I have the box set. I fell in love with the movie when I slithered into the cinema to see it despite being underage. The tension, the claustrophobia and the creature. Especially the creature. I first discovered Giger in 1976, and his stuff was a revelation. I was quite an odd child, who found Goya fascinating, all dark, brooding and very intense, so Giger’s work plugged into that intense side of my nature instantly. Even today, my three favourite artists are Goya, Giger and the Spanish Surrealist, Salvador Dali. Add to that the complexity and construction of Escher’s work and you have a sense of what goes through my strange brain.
Dhoom 2 – okay, you’ve probably read the criticisms, you are probably thinking of this as simply silly, glossy fare... but... honestly, it has heart and charm. The set pieces are huge and wildly over the top, clearly the cast had a ball making it. Hrithik steals every scene he’s in. The songs are fun and advance the action nicely. So what’s not to like? At three o’clock in the morning when my brain is going a mile a minute and I cannot sleep it’s the perfect kick back movie.
Pig – okay I have an unfair advantage here, I’ve seen the film even though it was not yet finished, and my version is a rough cut. I could wax rhapsodically on lots of elements that add up to a completely satisfying, and emotionally engaging story. It is a thoroughly modern, twenty-first century tale, but retains a genetic blueprint of film story-telling that we last saw in the Noirs of the forties and fifties. It unfolds slowly, building in intensity as the man seeks clues to his past, and it isn’t an easy journey. Nothing is what it appears to be. Written and directed by Henry Barrial, the script asks questions of the audience that certainly, for me at any rate, made me start to re-examine the way I look at memory and identity.
With any movie it is rare for me to look and not re-cast in my head. There are a few notable exceptions, Casablanca is one... could you really see any one but Bogart and Bergman in those roles? So it is with Pig. The cast are just pitch perfect. Special mention has to go to Rudolf Martin, after all, he is the man; lost, confused, scared, finding out things about himself that he doesn’t necessarily like. And none of it really fits. So who’s lying to him? It would be easy to overplay this role, Martin keeps it simple and utterly convincing. The emotional payoff at the end is incredible.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Inspiration. Now there’s a word to conjure with.
It was the Oscars this week, and as usual there are a million different opinions out there, this should have won, that should have won. Etc... so forth, so on...
It’s no secret that the movies have informed a great deal of my writing, and sometimes, even the things I get up to on a daily basis.
Five Graves To Cairo put an idea into my head that is yet to be realised, but who knows where life is headed.
My mind is totally random, and always has been. So, I can see a film or watch a tv show and certain little incidents within the movie or the tv show have just totally spoken to me.
All of this led me to consider what I think might be the elements of a great movie.
The starting point of any great movie, regardless of length, has to be a great story. Do you have a real story to tell? Of course, then you need a great script. Having a story is all very well, if you can’t articulate that story in a way that captures the audience’s sympathy and imagination, you won’t coax anyone into going on the journey with you.
So a great script has to be part inspiration, and part seduction, with just enough intrigue to keep the audience guessing.
When I got the chance to see Henry Barrial’s new film, Pig, I knew I was in for something that would be very different from the standard join-the-dots, cookie-cutter stuff that the mainstream has been offering of late.
Pig is simply inspired. And inspiring. I have been utterly unable to get some of the images out of my head.
In part that is the writing. Henry Barrial can really write. The script is everything I hoped it would be. Intelligent, compelling, different. A puzzle. I love puzzles.
Of course, a compelling script then needs two further elements to bring the writing to the screen undiminished. A savvy director who can interpret the meaning, and actors who can get into the skin of the characters.
Probably the person best placed to direct a film is the person who wrote it in the first place. So it is with Pig. Henry creates an absolute gem of a film. (http://thepigpicture.com/Pig.html)
The main character is a man with no memory of his past, played with utter conviction by actor Rudolf Martin. I tend to have a more analytical approach to movies than most, and rarely find myself so engaged as to feel emotionally moved by a character’s situation. Between them, Barrial and Martin conjure up something that just speaks to me in ways I really hadn’t considered before. And that moved me.
I also started to think about character in a different way. You have character, and then you have the nature of the character inside. Then a friend mentioned something that her attorney had mentioned about her former husband... and my mind exploded in another direction entirely. Suddenly, a character who had been dull as ditchwater (and unsufferable besides) in one of my latest scratchings, turned into something completely different.
That’s the nature of inspiration.
Putting things together in your head until they fit. And they can be informed from anywhere.
I always have a notebook, usually a Moleskine, somewhere about my person. You do not know where your next inspiration may come from. In my case, most of it is humbly informed from the great writing of others.
It doesn’t need to be feature length either. Doug Rao’s short, War Hero, totally blew me away. (http://www.makeshortfilms.com/). Thankfully, Doug has decided to make this incredible piece of cinema available for download. Regardless of politics, this film speaks to the humanity in all of us.
You don’t have to look far outside of the mainstream to find film-makers who are making incredible cinema with very little in the way of budget. Using imagination and vision. They can’t cover holes in their plots and cardboard characters with tons of expensive CGI and explosions. They don’t need to. They’re already delivering inspiring, thought-provoking films to you.