When is it self-indulgence & when would you call it courage?
When do you go from uncompromising to obscurantist, from individual to irrelevant, from subverting the dominant paradigm, to wilfully antagonistic?
I saw ‘Yes’ the other night at the Syd Film Festival, a film written/directed by Sally Potter starring Joan Allen and Sam Neil, delivered in verse. It impressed me. I enjoyed the Shakespearean grandeur of its language and concepts, enjoyed the shocking sensuality of it, enjoyed the ‘everyman’ implications of the 2 main characters’ names (or absence thereof), enjoyed the idea life and death are entwined, two are one, enjoyed the dirt of life, the unseen cleaners, enjoyed statements along the lines of ‘the only permanence is impermanence’ & the affirmation of life held in the final line.
Noticed K., to my left, checking her watch every so often.
I can understand that. Iambic pentameter & rhyming couplets are hard going, & the complexity of the language was tiring. I had to take a breath now & then & let it out in something akin to a sigh. But then there are scenes where the actors make the words (clearly carefully scripted words, words chosen for exact shape and length and sound) sound entirely natural. As if, lying in bed, they have just thought up these sentences & rhymed them with their partner’s because their brains really do work that fast on that level.
“Look,” I said as the credits rolled, “Potter even wrote the music.”
“Bit self-indulgent, don’t you think?” said K.
Now, that’s a good point. There must be a line, I figured, there must be a moment when control becomes destruction, when purity of vision becomes extraneous showmanship.
When Tom Hanks did almost every voice in that creepy-looking kiddy film about the train (OK, Polar Express, I went & looked it up), I had no problem thinking, ‘hmm, self-indulgent’ because what did it add to the project, really, to do *so many* of the voices? When the artist then known as Prince claimed to have played all the instruments on Purple Rain because he said he couldn’t bear working with musicians who weren’t thinking exactly the same thing he was, I thought, yup, self-indulgent.
But when Sally Potter writes a film in verse & then directs it & also does the music, I have to admit I’m impressed. I mean, OK, music, I don’t know if the project benefitted from that particular music, but I’m not very good with music (‘big surprise!’ sez anyone who’s ever examined my music collection), I can’t even remember what the music sounded like. But what courage, what effort, what strength, to write that damn thing that way & direct it that way & hold to that vision.
Self-indulgent? I can see that. But, say, generic? Not.