May 27, 2022

The Cinema of Ideas pt2 by Barry Bliss

If film is the most collaborative of arts (which surely it is) then the process itself is hardly ever given the recognition it deserves. In the parallel world of creativity where ego strides alongside talent, the very act of “letting go” must be viewed as a minor miracle. Surely there are few disciplines that would allow the creator to hand over their vision to so many others to interpret and ultimately filter through their own respective lenses (I discount conceptual artists here who predominately have a single idea or vision for each artwork). In times gone by when collectivity seemed to be a right of passage for most great artists, it was not only accepted as a legitimate platform, but was deemed essential for the development of their own individual progress. It seemed that every other week a group would be formed (often by merely creating a manifesto) in which inter-disciplinary perspectives were pursued with often refreshingly original, if not startling results.


In making a film about an artist, and a musical to boot, I was fully aware of this tradition and its legacy that I would be drawing on for inspiration and support. And what more perfect a vehicle to celebrate this act of collectivity with than a musical where drama, photography, design, music, dance and painting all stand together – separate and yet indispensable to each other and to the project as a whole.


But within this acknowledgement of the collective process there were further debts to be honoured – specifically the role of women in the arts. One example would become the costumes worn by the dancers. A salute to the Ballet Russes’ but in particular to Natalia Goncharova who stood alongside Picasso, Leger, and Bakst in creating startling costumes to delight (and horrify) their audiences.


At times the references may seem obscure or even impenetrable – I refer in particular to the “No more masterpieces” canvas in our film which is an oblique reference to the events of May 1968 in Paris where an unknown person entered the Louvre and painted this slogan on one of their hanging collection.  However film is about creating its own world on the screen for a given period of time – and within this world the filmmaker has the duty to control where ever possible what is seen and what is heard. If an individual reference is not understood, it does not matter – what matters is that it contributes to creating a whole – a set of clues that condense into its own reality, so you are left in the belief that this was the only possible way you could think of experiencing this story. As a witness you have become a co-conspirator to this separate vision, this alternative view. Each reference (even if it doesn’t make sense on its own) contributes to creating this. My goal as a filmmaker, a maker of this fiction, is your suspension of disbelief. I must capture you through arresting characters, beautiful images and wonderful sounds. Is there anything less like our everyday lives than a musical? Is there anything more satisfy than surrendering yourself, if only momentarily, to a work of art?


To marshal all the creative minds towards a single purpose is a minor miracle in itself. No matter how strong the vision, if any of the talents become wayward then the whole could be compromised. And that is another of the unreported virtues of the filmic practitioners – their enormous discipline. I am not suggesting for a moment that all involved in film creation are unsung heroes – no there are collaborations that might seem less than fruitful – however if only the very fact of learning how to let go makes you stronger (because you must first understand what it is you want before you can delegate to others) then this alone must surely be worth all the compromise that inevitably comes with any creative process (not just film!). I hope the very act of collaboration makes one less egocentric and more equitable. I like to think the “No more masterpieces” slogan is a very positive perspective on a world driven by hyperbole and cash.


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