Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.
Today: Paul Wie ponders a new generation of storytellers:
For the past twenty years, I’ve been a cinephile, immersing myself in a century of movies up to its present day, so I could understand the art form inside and out and one day be part of its future. The future of film excites me more than anything, because I believe cinema has yet to reach its artistic peak, it has yet to go through its true Renaissance. With new technologies and bigger canvases, the freedom of cinematic storytelling has now become synonymous to the freedom of writing — the limits of our art are only defined by the limits of our imagination. So the question I’ve often asked myself, especially in these last two weeks of prepping my story, is how can we, a new generation of storytellers, make movies that will be richer, more compelling, more beautiful, and more powerful than those that have come before us?
I believe a part of the answer lies in the great achievements of our older art forms: music, literature, and painting. In works such as Mozart and Bach’s concertos, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Carvaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, a common thread seems to bind them together. At a glance, these masterpieces are beautiful expressions of the human experience; they capture with incredible artistry and feeling the joys and pains of living in this world. But what elevates these works to another level is their ability to fulfill our profound need for transcendence — to go beyond ourselves and be in union with something or someone greater than our own lives. Regardless of one’s religion or faith, I believe this spiritual sensibility, this very human longing for a transcendent love and understanding will make a work stand the test of time.
In recent memory, I can point to three movies that have had this impact on me: Schindler’s List, The New World, In the Mood for Love. These films, now timeless classics of cinema, left me in an emotional state of awe after watching them. Even today, moments and moods from these movies linger in my memory, because they struck some deeper chord in me that I can’t even fully articulate. So what separates these works from a movie like The Avengers (which I enjoyed immensely in theaters, but can now hardly remember the story or even one truly memorable scene) is that these storytellers, Spielberg, Malick, and Wong, working at the height of their artistic powers, crafted a cinematic experience that transported their audience beyond the emotions of their characters and elevated their journeys to a higher plateau where their lives resonated beyond their time. Because these stories chose to end their films with this spiritual, more universal view of the human experience, I felt the stories had a bigger, deeper impact on me than they would have had otherwise.
Three of the greatest filmmakers in the last century — Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman — came to similar conclusions about the spiritual fabric of films. Tarkovsky stated, “I believe that an enormous task has been entrusted to art. This is the task of resurrecting spirituality.” It’s clear from Tarkovsky’s films such as Andrey Rublev and Mirror that he made movies with this sense of purpose — he wanted his work to reflect a spiritual view of the world that was both relevant to his time and went beyond it. Fellini also expressed this idea. He said: “What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one. It’s this in-between that I’m a calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one — which is really the realm of the artist.” Fellini’s films such as 8 1/2 and La Strada lie very much in this province — where a man’s personal concerns are dramatized and juxtaposed against the expanse of time and memory. So in this vision and spirit, Fellini’s films have gone beyond their own time — they ring true today as they did in the past. Lastly and ironically, it’s Ingmar Bergman, an atheist, who gives the most detailed statement about his spiritual approach to movies. He said:
“People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days, the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal. Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil— or perhaps a saint— out of stone. It does not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts. Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.”
Bergman’s cathedral was an incredible body of work that grappled with almost every idea from death to war to love to familial struggles, but through this attitude of revering not the individual, but a narrative experience that could enlighten and expand our understanding of life, Bergman left one of the most enduring legacies in cinema history.
So my point of all this is that the future of cinema will be a great one if we can do two things: 1) master storytelling — the craft of entertaining an audience and 2) use that mastery to tell universal stories with genuine beauty, power, and meaning — meaning which can only come from a deep, spiritual appreciation of life. So with in this mind, I really have big hopes for our new generation who now have the ability to tell any story they want, on any size canvas, with any tool imaginable. We owe it to ourselves and the world to make works worthy of this amazing artistic freedom, to create the new masterpieces, to build the Sistine Chapels and Notre Dames of the future.
Interesting to see how the Questers have gotten quite reflective with this last set of Dispatches, posting about Big Issues. I wonder if this is the result of them ending Prep and getting ready — on Monday! – to type FADE IN. Having gone through the rigorous process they have, now a chance to put things into perspective to help them find the proper perspective for the page-writing part of the process.
To Paul’s point, I do think there is a new wave of talented filmmakers and storytellers. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the entertainment business.
Here’s to the Questers and everyone who will Go On Your Own Quest. May you nail your script and find your way into Hollywood.
Tomorrow: Another Dispatch From The Quest.
About Paul: Director + Writer. Loves Spielberg, Truffaut, Abrams, Kurosawa, Attack the Block, cinematic stories beautifully told. @paulhwie.