I have finally begun reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning. It has been recommended to me for years and I’m just now catching up to those recommendations (my therapist was the most recent and final impetus). Good thing I did, too. I hadn’t even gotten through the Preface when I was presented with a quote I will remember and attempt to incorporate into my life:
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I, for one, am not excited by the notion that director Steven Soderbergh has decided to stop making films. Of course, we all hope he changes his mind and either doesn’t stop, or just takes a short hiatus and returns sooner than later. But no matter what decision he ultimately makes, it’s invigorating and inspiring to know that he’s pushing the envelope right up to the end. Well, almost. I have yet to see his last two films, SIDE EFFECTS and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. But if his two films before these are any indication, something tells me I’m gonna like them.
HAYWIRE took me by surprise. With a leading actress few of us ever heard of but who is startlingly charismatic, beautiful and kicks some serious on-screen ass, and a smart script that moves around in time as it unravels its intriguing mystery thriller of intelligence agency betrayals, HAYWIRE plays like a film smack out of the 70’s. Though some critics essentially called it a poor man’s BOURNE IDENTITY, the film has far more in common with cinematic masterpieces like John Boorman’s POINT BLANK than it does with anything more contemporary. Poor man’s, my ass. There’s nothing poor man’s about HAYWIRE. It’s the work of a director at the top of his game and, while I enjoyed the first BOURNE movie, if there’s any relation to be found here, HAYWIRE is its wiser and far more accomplished (and extraordinarily distant) much older cousin (ten times removed).
Gina Carano, a former professional Muay Thai kickboxer and Mixed Martial Arts world champion, carries HAYWIRE from first frame to last. She is backed by an extraordinary cast that includes, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton. The action erupts out of quiet tension and is startlingly vivid and naturalistic as Soderbergh chooses to present these breathtaking and completely non-digitally-altered fight sequences sans music, giving the action an incredibly raw, unsettling and unexpectedly potent kick.
For me, HAYWIRE is simply a terrific film, a rare treat that shows us that American cinema is not dead, it’s just currently relegated to the shadows. At least on its home turf.
Soderberg followed HAYWIRE with the outstanding and vastly entertaining MAGIC MIKE, which also stars Channing Tatum, an actor I never bothered to pay attention to until Soderbergh forced me. I’m glad he did because Tatum shines in both films (despite my aversion to guys that remind me of frat boys). MAGIC MIKE is, in a way, Soderbergh’s BOOGIE NIGHTS only (and I’ll catch a world of shit for this), I think MAGIC MIKE is a far better, far more accomplished film. Where BOOGIE NIGHTS felt like a talented and not quite mature young filmmaker let off the leash in a room full of really amazing film toys and celebrity actors, MAGIC MIKE shows the subtlety, restraint and nuance of a mature and practiced artist at the top of his game. Yeah, I know many will disagree with me here, but like it or not, this is what the world looks like from where I stand.
Soderbergh’s humor and compassion, mixed with his love of actors and fantastically 70’s-influenced storytelling skills (as well as a much-needed-and-sorely-lacking-in-most-American-films desire for narrative risk-taking), makes MAGIC MIKE an incredibly welcome movie-watching experience for this oft disappointed filmgoer.
I hope if it comes to pass that Soderberg does, indeed, move on from his filmmaking career, that other young filmmakers will take his lead and find a way to express themselves without compromise and push the medium where it needs to go: Ahead, and not stagnating in the realm of bigger-is-better rehashes that all feel far too moribund and homogeneous.
Francis Ford Coppola has, thankfully, been very vocal about his feelings and experiences regarding films, filmmaking and the Hollywood filmmaking industry. And so it is that I find myself needing to share more of his statements and observations as I stumble upon them. If we cannot learn from our elders, from those who walk ahead of us, then our growth will be that much slower.
Coppola on GODFATHER 3 and the claustrophobic nature of making the same film over and over again:
And if you’re really feeling like diving in, here’s FFC on Inside The Actor’s Studio:
In a recent review of John Ford’s classic film The Searchers for The Hollywood Reporter, Martin Scorsese discusses why he believes (as so many do) that The Searchers is not just a great western, but a great film. Quite possibly one of cinema’s greatest films. Throughout his review of this classic, as well as Glenn Frankel’s new book The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, Scorsese explores what makes a film like stand out from so many others. And part of that story takes into account the film’s backstory and the many characters –Ford, Wayne, Hunter, Archuletta, Steiner– that came together both personally and professionally to create this moment in time.
What resonated most with me from Scorsese’s article, however, was his description of the film:
“Like all great works of art, it’s uncomfortable.”
As someone who is rabid about exploring –both as a filmmaker and a film-viewer– those areas that worm their way under my skin and stir those places oft left in darkness or unspoken, this description resonated in a way that helped articulate and validate many of the feelings and experiences I’ve been having on my own creative journey. I yearn to embrace those parts of my psyche that thrive more in my subconscious than on the surface. That is, until I either face them in my writing and filmmaking or in the taking-in of someone else’s exploratory work.
Later in the same article, Scorsese elaborates on his perception and interpretation of what constitutes a great film. And I wholeheartedly concur:
“In truly great films — the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable — nothing’s ever simple or neatly resolved. You’re left with a mystery.”
This describes most of my favorite films, as well as what I strive to achieve –in some small, personal way– in my writing and filmmaking. Ironically enough, these are also the very same qualities that many others have focused on in their negative criticisms of both my favorite films and my own attempts at self-reflection and self-expression via my writing.
But the exploration of these uncomfortable places and the mysteries they leave behind have always been, and will remain, what drives me.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham
I found this quote on Allison Iris’s web site showcasing her incredible abstract paintings. The quote resonated for me. Enough so that I wanted to repost it here. Martha Graham’s observation embodies my approach to filmmaking, one that has taken me many years and many trials and tribulations to begin to understand. It is why I am now wholly committed to making “my” films, the way I want to make them, and not playing by anybody else’s rules. This is not to be stubborn or to be a rebel, but to honor myself and what it is I want to say and what the experience is I want to impart. Accepted or rejected, it will be the truest sense of who I am. This has always been the goal for me. However, I am only now coming to understand its great importance to me and the sacrifices that attaining such a goal entails.
Unique expression –and the undisguised vulnerability that inevitably comes with it– is one of the main things I focus on in my Acting Workshops. Each actor –each artist– has the ability to create and express something wholly personal, something no one else ever could in quite the same way. It is what separates us from all others in the audition room. This form of expression is our most personal gift and –though it sometimes requires as much un-learning as it does learning– our greatest strengths rise to the surface when we embrace it.
“…if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”