Unreal Nature

February 5, 2015

We’re Always Failing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… we know there’s more potential that we haven’t realized. But because we’re trying, we develop more and more talent, or muscles, or strategies to improve, each time.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Murch: … In making a film you’re trying to get the most interesting orchestration of all these elements, which, like music, need to be harmonic yet contradictory. If they’re completely contradictory, then there’s chaos. It’s like when instruments are tuning up before a performance, you can’t make anything coherent out of it. It’s a fascinating, evocative sound, but only for about fifteen seconds. If, on the other hand, all the instruments play the same notes — if they’re too harmonic, in other words — yes, there’s coherence, but I’m bored after a few minutes. Just as bored as with the chaos of tuning up.

A symphony can last for an hour or more because the composer and the performers have developed a harmonic argument, musical questions and answers and contradictions, affirmations and resolutions, all tumbling together in a continually surprising and yet ultimately self-evident way.

A film is really trying to do the same thing, by bringing together all the different cinematic crafts, including music.

[ … ]

Ondaatje: But surely on one level, the lack of rules and codes, and the lack of a too premeditated theory is what keeps film alive. Obviously film is an art form and it’s a made form, but what’s wonderful about film is how it also catches an uncontrolled reality. There’s the chance of the accidental, which then can be selected, chosen, and shaped by the director and the editor. But to begin with something too controlled … it’s why I cannot stand cartoons, which are a hundred percent premeditated, totally manipulative, and therefore completely artificial.

[ … ]

O: Do you think success and failure can distort the lessons an artist is able to learn?

M: There’s that wonderful line in Rilke’s, “The point of life is to fail at greater and greater things.” Recognizing that all our achievements are doomed, in one sense — the earth will be consumed by the sun in a billion years or so — but in another sense the purpose of our journey is to go farther each time. So you’re trying things out in every film you make, with the potential of failure. I think we’re always failing, in Rilke’s sense — we know there’s more potential that we haven’t realized. But because we’re trying, we develop more and more talent, or muscles, or strategies to improve, each time.

Every film has lessons to teach us — if we receive those lessons in the right way. That’s the trick. It’s especially tricky, I think, in worlds where there’s either complete rejection or complete adoration, inexplicable anonymity or soul-destroying celebrity. How do you deal with that? Those things obviously have an emotional impact that is undeniable.

… Truly great lessons can be learned from work that fails, but failure is stamped on the product and there’s a tendency to think everything you did was wrong, and you vow not to go there again. You have to resist this impulse, just as you have to resist the syrupy entanglements of success. These are, almost, religious issues.

[ … ]

O: And there’s always something I remember in a previous book that I was not able to get right. That’s what I somehow carry with me into the next work — I’ll have to deal with that the next time.

My most recent previous post from Ondaatje’s book is here.

-Julie

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