Mar 23, 2017
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The Way of Seeming
by Rob Nilsson
Scene from Nilsson's 'Love Twice', which will premiere Oct. 6th, the Mill Valley Film Festival, with Carl Lumbly, Bay Area actor of TV, cinema and theater fame, and Anita Argent, from Nilsson's Citizen Cinema Workshop. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
This article is published in tandem with the '
The YGroup Manifesto
'The Way of Seeming' was originally published in 'The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics', by
(2016), and is reprinted with their permission. CineSOURCE itself has been covering Rob Nilsson since 2008, see
Rob Nilsson: Indie Master
Survival of Imbued: On Location with Nilsson
Upcoming Nilsson Premieres and Showings
The world premiere of Nilsson’s new film 'Love Twice', with appearances by lead actors Jeff Kao, Carl Lumbly and John Cale, will screen on opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival: Oct. 6, 7:15, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th St., San Rafael. For tickets, go
‘Next Week in Bologna’ directed by Nilsson and produced with the International Filmmaking Academy and Citizen Cinema will have its world premiere at the
Syracuse International Film Festival
on Oct. 21, time and location TBA.
in New York City will play Nilsson's films, 'Heat and Sunlight', 'Permission to Touch', and 'Northern Lights' on the weekend of Oct. 22. Showtimes, TBA.
‘Heat and Sunlight’ will play at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center , 1118 4th. St., San Rafael, on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 27 and ‘Permission to Touch’ on Thursday Nov. 10th. For tickets, go
The Way of Seeming
I’ve never been able to take Hollywood seriously.
So much money, so many mansions, Beamers and better, so many flacks touting talent which has decided, like Osceola, to come in out of the terrifying and contradiction ridden Okefenokees of personal art making and surrender to THE MOVIES made, as we used to say, “for the Man.”
And I’m serious when I say “talent.” They are smart down there, feral smart for sure, but also book smart, in many cases, well-read, aware of high art, even collecting it with the cash they make, and often liberal in politics, and charming of personality. They are generally kind down there (although the connection between killing and kindness has been noted) and they don’t ask you to sell out. They re-define the terms and over time, so that before you really notice it, you are different. You’re political where once you were passionate. You’re tolerant where once you insisted. You’re a team player where once you were a team leader. It’s been fully discussed in novels by Bud Schulberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nelson Algren, etc. and documented in movies Hollywood made about itself, such as the classic SUNSET BOULEVARD, the less than classic BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE, and the one I like best, albeit about musical theater, ALL THAT JAZZ. It’s all been said a million times before. And I say some of it in my new book WILD SURMISE, A Dissident View. The Power and the Glory, Amen.
In ON THE EDGE (1986), Nilsson works with with Production Designer Steve Burns (behind Nilsson) and Bruce Dern, playing Wes Holman, a banned college distance runner who returns to a footrace based on Marin County’s annual Dipsea Race. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I started following the impulses to make things which nagged at me to be made, the inner urge and the outer thrill of dropping into a slipstream which dragged me into their force fields demanding to be known… with poetry. And then, when I went to sea in 1960, leaving school and working on Swedish ships, one of which, the MS Iberia, took me to the port cities down the east coast of South America and a one month sojourn in Buenos Aires and then another, the MS Frederika, headed north to Hamburg and the better part of a year living in Paris and hitchhiking through Europe… when I started painting.
Filmmaking began for me while teaching in up country Nigeria four years later when I made a one hour dramatic spoof on Neo-Colonialism with friends and the tools at hand. Our used 8 mm. camera, a Bell and Howell Sun Dial 220, which could fit in the palm of your hand, sits on my book shelf to this day. It had a way of frequently jamming and Chuck, the smallest of our band of fellow thespian school teachers, would be jammed into the bottom drawer of a huge wooden armoire at my house, the only completely dark place for miles, where he would reset the single sprocket 8 mm. film, and shooting would resume.
The film had to be purchased in London and shipped to me in Okeagbe, Akoko via Ikare, Western Region, and I edited on a wooden board with brads hammered in to hold the sprockets. There was no sound but it was narrated by a teacher writing sub titles on a black board teaching THE LESSON to a group of Yoruba children. We had a World Premiere at the Automatic Cafeteria in Lagos, one of two screenings before the only copy was stolen, along with all my film equipment, from my apartment back in Boston. I’m sure it’s still decomposing in a land fill somewhere.
So that’s how I started out. No economic expectations. I had written my college thesis on the poet Conrad Aiken, who eked out a living with his novels and articles and never made much from poetry. So I took on the job of being a recorder of thoughts, feelings and observations as a personal mission. I’ve never wavered from the thought that this was what a creator should do. The work is personal. You might change a line or a color at prompting from a mentor or a talented friend. But you are following the mysterious dictates generated by… what? Voices from the regions of kinetic languages, wild surmises, flashes of neural lightning. What happens if you violate the trust and sanctity of this land of received messages and blithely beguiling elixirs? Entertainment? Work in the film industry?
Farmers and Nonpartisan League organizers meet in NORTHERN LIGHTS, Winner Camera d’Or, Cannes Film Festival (1979). photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I drove a night cab in Boston so I could paint during the day. While there I made my next dramatic film, THE COUNTRY MOUSE and a documentary, BAG, a film I shot while on the streets and cab stands. Later, in the early 70s I helped form Cine Manifest, a leftist filmmaking collective in San Francisco which operated on a “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” economic basis which freed all of us to combine art and politics with a form of communal collaboration. Then John Hanson and I made NORTHERN LIGHTS, which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes and I turned my attentions to full time filmmaking even though I continued to write and paint and in 2007 self published my poetry book FROM A REFUGEE OF TRISTAN DE CUNHA.
I bring up these early sign posts to make a point. If you want to be yourself in your work and follow out the skein of listening, as a dedicated schizophrenic might, to the inner voices, and express them in their full and unimpeded form (not excluding the demands of your brutal editor self), you have to find means you can control and collaborators willing to concede you final cut. You want to know who to blame, at the end, and who to praise. Few directors get that chance out in the real world. And so you have to create your own world with respect for the talents of those you work with and determination to follow the best idea in the room, with a rather Draconian insistence on your judgment as final arbiter. You can wish for an Ezra Pound to be the “miglior fabbro” of your Wasteland, but he might never show up. And so you’re stuck with yourself
So These Are Some of the Ways I Do It
The 9 @ Night Film Cycle (1996-2008) is the bell cow on this round up of ideas, techniques and experiences I experienced in the night streets and alleys of the San Francisco Tenderloin, and the windy days in homeless encampments we built along the Berkeley railroad tracks, and the hobo ruins we expropriated for our use out on the Albany Bulb. That’s where I learned the value of techniques, taken from an experience here or something I read there, and came to call the result Direct Action. You can read more about it in my book WILD SURMISE, A Dissident View but the short version is that’s it’s a way to prepare players to produce dramatic feature films using back story and production improvisation.
After working with a combination of professional actors and the farmers of North Dakota in NORTHERN LIGHTS, (Camera d’Or, Cannes, 1979), and with San Francisco cab drivers in SIGNAL 7, I developed a lot of faith in the miracles of the ordinary and the performances of everyday people, when prepared with certain basic techniques. This led to the formation of the Tenderloin Action Group, and later the Tenderloin yGroup which met at the Faithful Fools Street Ministry in the San Francisco Tenderloin. Between 1992 and 2007 I ran free workshops for homeless, street populations, inner city residents and all comers during which time we made 10 feature films featuring our workshop members, including CHALK, produced by Rand Crook and Ethan Sing. Robert Viharo performed in several 9 @ Night Film Cycle Productions and Ron Perlman also did a turn with us in the 9 @ Night feature STROKE.
Nilsson as photographer Mel Hurley in HEAT AND SUNLIGHT, Winner Grand Prize at Sundance Film Festival (1988). photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
Everybody’s expressive. But some people are more expressive than others. And some would say that even fewer are interesting when expressive. But I disagree. I think the most interesting thing to do is watch expressive people, even boring ones. Because if you arrange their performance in your film to include the idea of their being boring, that’s interesting. But what I don’t like is dishonesty. The worst kind of person is the “come on” party goer who buttonholes you, babbles on with a lot of baloney and won’t let up. But if you capture that honestly, using the babbler as a player in a movie scene, you’ve done a service to humanity. And you’ve provided the babblers the honesty they didn’t have, and maybe they’ve learned something as well.
Here’s a list of 10 common notions I employ in conducting Direct Action Movies, which are largely improvised, but always working for surprise, inspiration seemingly discovered on the hoof, raw as tarmac road rash.
1. There are no scenes. Junk that notion. You’re on going. You do, you say, you sulk and refuse to play. You’re rude. You’re tender and considerate. Joy, rage, despair and whatever intimate connection is. That’s what you’re doing. No scenes. Circumstances and the force of character (s).
2. Silence is best. Anyone can guess what’s up and why. And they do. Eyes go to the silent player. What is he/she thinking? This and that. Everything at once. The fact that it all happens at once is what makes language possible. And fascinating cinema.
3. Don’t pimp for the play. I don’t want to be pleased. I want to be challenged. Hide on me. This is not HIGH NOON where we march down the street towards each other and draw. Make a left and meander through the neighborhoods. There’s plenty of time for gunplay later.
4. Don’t jump on the first cliché. It will be wrong. Check out the second. Probably too easy. Move on until the apt word, the exact unexpected line occurs. Now you can talk. I can cut out all the rest.
5. Don’t be nice. Try on a suit two sizes too big. Yell and curse. Be selfish. Everyone wants to be. No one thinks its ok. But that’s the only way to break the mold. The best actor is selfish and expects you to be too. No grudges. Constant warfare. Save your empathy and human kindness for real life.
Nilsson's close collaborators and friends Irit Levi (lft) and David Hess, now deceased (RIP!) doing intense improv in THE STEPPES (2011). photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
6. Know what the scene is. Then start somewhere else. The non-sequitur is a blessing. Ride backwards, inside out. Gap out. Forget what you’re saying. The scene will come in its time. Almost no one forgets the scene. And if they do what’s a director for?
7. Talk to the players while you’re shooting. All the skein of both sense and energy is destroyed by the word “Cut”. Keep going and try to find a way to jump in between words, say something simple, non-complicated and SHORT. Then back out and let the scene do what its doing.
8. The unexpected. Trust it. We’re hungry for it. Not novelty. The unexpected.
9. Beauty is beautiful. Power is power. Neither is illusory. Embrace beauty and power. Different you say, with every person? Beware the kind of person who thinks so.
10. Tears are beautiful. Rage is like the thunder and lightning. Ravishing. Tenderness, sensitivity, empathy. Please love them, allow them, embrace them. Be joyous. If you can bear intimacy, show it, show us.
10 A. Keep your crews as small as possible. Work with friends and if you don’t have
any, make some. Tell them what you want to do. If they want to, you have a crew. If not remember, you can make a film with yourself. Even a dramatic feature requires no one but you. Dream the possible dream and you’ll figure it out.
I guess you can see from this that my system developed with comrades and collaborators in the alleys and warehouses of the San Francisco Tenderloin is a sort of anti-system, my cinema anti-cinema, my outlook eclectic, measured second by second, shot by shot in the peculiarities of the moment. I call what I do Direct Action and I see myself as a sort of infiltrator, a spy on reality as well as a sapper seeking to limpet a mine on the hull of what is expected and to let it free-fall into the abyss. Maybe the mine is a depth charge which will go off at a certain point in the free fall of an idea. Maybe a suggestion will trigger an unruly emotion which gives off smoke, or a violent fiery harangue which nobody wanted or expected, but which might provide an experience like that of the arrival of the Eskimo in the old Synanon game, someone you didn’t know you needed until they appeared.
Baby (Mantra Plonsey) and Retard Brother (Deniz Demirer) in the 'Loin during PAN (2006), a Direct Action Cinema project and 9 @ Night Feature number eight. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I think of jazz music, the small combos that started up in New York City in the late 40s when cabaret licenses were too expensive but you could have live music in small clubs as long as no one was dancing. $300 fees which suddenly became $3000, gave birth to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and the high wire quartets and quintets and even sextets of musical wizards whose improvisational trances made them the Sufis and shamanic seekers of their time .
During the shooting of THE STEPPES, (2011) a film I recently made featuring Irit Levi (Rest in Peace, Irit) I learned that the bar we were shooting in, (once the 222 club, the 3 Deuces, San Francisco version) back in 1957 connected with the Blackhawk, a famous jazz club next door (today a parking lot.) I was told that cables went through the adjoining wall to recording equipment making records of live performances including “Friday Night, Miles Davis in Person at the Blackhawk” (1961). I was there in 1958 as a kid just out of high school, sitting behind the chicken wire where minors could sit and take in the scene. That night I saw the Miles Davis sextet which had both John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, and I believe Bill Evans on piano. Miles turned his back on the audience and refused to play. Now maybe that was rude, but it was drama. It didn’t help the music that night, but it was a scene from a Direct Action movie I wish I had made.
Small combo jazz (bebop, hard bop and its various off-shoots) starts with virtuoso players. My view is that in cinema acting virtuosity is a personal talent. We are all soloists in our own lives and if, as players, we can conquer fear, relax, open up the emotional taps, and spelunk into nether regions of our characters and personalities, we can all play dynamic characters similar to ourselves. Yes, we can be dynamic in our own desuetude, our baggy-kneed selves. No we can’t do Shakespeare. That’s another kind of music. Nor can we be John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier or Gary Oldman or be a member of the great brother/sisterhood of chameleon actors, able to do either Hal or Falstaff, or Ophelia or Lady Macbeth on different nights after months of preparation.
But we can play the obvious characteristics as well as the difficult mysteries of ourselves in extended improvisational sessions if we learn and practice some simple rules: silence, patience, listening, limiting talk and emphasizing action, avoiding the obvious “High Noon” confrontations and seeking instead the unexpected outburst, the unthinking rude attack, the timid demur, the sudden burst of automatic speaking sometimes available and waiting to live out the ways in which we are uncertain handlers, somewhat bumbling practitioners of speaking and behaving the way humans do, half bright and half muted, half talkative and argumentative, half appeasers, kissing up to somebody for personal gain and half honest practitioners trying to discover the most cogent way of seeming.
In SCHEME C6 (2001), number six 9 @ Night Film, by the Direct Action Cinema, car thieves Grey (MC Mars) and Bid (Cory Duval survey their options. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
We need to “gap out” as we do in our lives, forgetting what we were saying and going off on apposite tangents and mixed modalities of impatience, self aggrandizement, false (or true) empathy, tenderness, skepticism, joy, rage, despair, intimate connection… anyone can do all of these with practice. And if we are able to have our language at the ready even during the incandescent moments of rising emotion, and not get too flustered (except in an interesting way) by the neural fireworks going on inside of us, and if we can avoid pimping for the play, narrating, rather than experiencing the dramatic context, avoiding the rescue operation the first cliché seems to offer, and waiting instead for the off-center, telling remark which has just enough sense in it to avoid sounding precious and calculating, well, we can do the drama of our emerging selves with quite a bit of talent, even genius, and with cinema’s magic last line of offense, editing, we can do a certain kind of film, the Direct Action film, as well as, and better than, a Viggo Mortensen or Willem Dafoe working from a script, with table readings, rigid set blocking, and hitting our light as the tears begin to flow. This is the insight I found down in the Tenderloin. Maybe it started that night behind the chicken wire when Miles refused to play, leaving Cannonball and Trane alone on the stage to pick up all the pieces and come out triumphant, inventing from Miles’ absence, a presence even more unique for all that it lacked.
One thing I’ve learned to value over the years is the power of contradiction and paradox. Many might think that I’m advocating a sort of hippie anarchism, but what we do is structured with what I call a script scenario which lays out a tentative scene order and dramatic objectives. As with jazz players, we have to have chops (self knowledge, awareness of the ensemble, a foundation of language and even literacy), and, wherever available, the imponderable: talent, genius, an ability to risk and to accept the results. My Favorite Things was just a silly Broadway tune until Coltrane got hold of it. We too have a starting point, and as soon as we can, we look for the miracles of the ordinary in character and circumstance.
Whenever I hear myself proclaiming the “truth” of something I hear the opposing distinct ring. “True… but.” Which is why I can’t use the word “truth”. It seems to end the discussion, but all there is is the on-going discussion. Bergman once said a couple of things I remember this way. The human face is the one great subject of cinema and the actor can only play one mood or mode on that face at a time. But the great actor plays one after the other in a masterful sequence which seems so simple and is yet highly pyrotechnic. Something like that. The great player, the great director lives in the closest possible approximation of saying one thing and its opposite at the same time. Light can be both a particle and a wave at the same time. Why should we think that we are put on earth to take sides?
Nilsson at showing of WHAT HAPPENED HERE (2012), Tel Aviv Cinematheque, with Mikhael Derenkovski, a Holocaust survivor from Trotsky’s home town, in the Ukraine. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
Why do politics seem to require that we honor the one thing that we all know for sure doesn’t work: the hushed declaration of the dubious shibboleth, the feet of clay beneath the perfect candidate, the Big Idea, the “ism” which says it all when, in our best moments we know that nothing works that way. “For sure” is for imposters and bag men, con artists, and three card monte specialists, all of whom know that they are basically fakers anyway. All art participates in a realm where the tangible presence of languages and techniques comes up against the intangible nature of reality, and therefore to a lamentable but very real place, where “on the one hand and on the other hand… and then on those other hands, and even a few feet thrown in”… uncertainty rules. The unknown rules, no matter how we struggle against it and eventually we come to the realization that all we really have is something I call “The Way of Seeming”, our personal collection of opinions which vies with everybody else’s personal opinions on “the way things seem to be.”
Last Thoughts on What I Do
Filmmakers. We’re all so important and mysterious about what we do. Most films begin in a rarefied military atmosphere. We gather in Albania to train for our campaign. But by the time we begin shooting, Albania is more like Albany. We have transformed it with our unwieldy crew with all its trucks, all those lights and dollies and grip equipment and smoke machines. We’ve lulled our actors into a stultified trance, driven off the local ecology and substituted “serious business” for “miraculous play” and so… we’re not shooting Albania, we’re shooting what our bucks have built from it… where big budgets and worried money types need the reassurance of a script, a budget, memorized dialogue, shooting diagrams, paid shepherds to herd paid sheep and feed bags… lots of them.
I can think of movies I love which have been done that way. COME AND SEE by Ellem Klimov, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, Oshima’s REALM OF THE SENSES, many others, in fact, but precious few considering the billions spent to make them. Why spend so much money on films which are so much less interesting than life? Life is the teacher and it is all around us. Only the sounds of grip trucks and screaming ADs can scare it away.
What’s the easiest way to lie? I’d say it was with words. Change facts and figures and cook reality… describe things differently from how you know them to be. Harder to do with emotion, with the interweave of behaviors, reactions, annoyances, hesitations, mind changes, twisted thoughts and broken ideas which comprise the reality of a given day in the life. Hard enough to know the truth there, let alone a lie. But that’s where we live everyday, in the eye of the present which is always the high wire act of not knowing anything exactly… what we think, where we are, what comes next, what went before. In response to knowing little, I like feeling, I like the little cataclysms of electricity, the mixed joy, rage and despair, the catalogue of smaller states… annoyance, impatience, momentary satisfaction mixed with worry and levels of anxiety.
In the 'Loin, actors in STROKE (2000) a Direct Action Cinema and 9 @ Night Feature (#5): RIP Johnny (Edwin Johnson) and Phil (Teddy Weiler). photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I hate lying, all forms of equivocating, disguising, concealing including the lie of the over-designed screenplay which pretends to be lifelike, the attitude-ridden youth genre picture with it’s simpleton view of life, the marketing argument disguised as a film … Hollywood’s stock in trade. But lying is good… if the result is that the lying is observed. Exposed. A lie stripped of its disguise… that’s drama. And sometimes we can depict that in a film. But most of the time it’s really more confusing and foggy than that. Because in the soup of what we do each day, there’s fibbing, exaggeration, and misconception, but not much outright lying. And the truth seems to be in seeing the brilliant mosaic of the undefined … and being fascinated by it. This idea is important to our films. When we look “over there” and the film emerges, it feels like what I just described.
So “looking over there.” The first step. I start to see things in various workshop members. The proverbial light bulb goes on and characters start coming to light. We talk about them, a scenario begins to form, maybe written down, maybe improv-ed, often experienced differently than conceived and seed moves toward seedling. A Direct Action film begins… the day it begins. But we have been filming the lives of these people way before that.
We create back story lives… by living them. On camera, in locations… we rehearse our character’s life experiences, the ones we choose amidst the potential thousands. Start at the beginning. The birth experience. We have improvised it with results which varied from groaning skepticism, to visionary epiphany and places in between. Primary experiences at different ages. Important events. The first date. The first meeting between characters. The arguments, misunderstandings, attractions and repulsions, the making love and the unmaking of it, the mud of what we do building up the bricks of who we think we are.
Instead of just talking about it, we do it and try to live it out in front of our rehearsal cameras, getting pregnant with circumstances, until one day the camera becomes the production instrument and now we’re living into our film.
Workshop exercises on expressivity and emotional availability are also included in this process and in WILD SURMISE I have given examples of some of them and how they contribute to the work. Although back stories can only cover high points of a character’s former life, one of its values is that it provides experiences rather than ideas, fictional (but actual) moments rather than character descriptions a player can only “know.” Writing out a character description is like looking at a map rather than traveling a road. Neither will produce a character with total self-knowledge, but, I quote Walt Whitman:
Allons! Whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.
Tenderloin yGroup shooting back story improvs in the Tenderloin: Cory Duval, Lenore Fayleaves, workshop cinematographer and Rob Nilsson. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I think this an honest way to begin a film: experiencing as much as possible, thinking analytically as little as possible, and moving into the unknown with an open heart and a freedom to go wherever whim, desire and design will lead. There is endless cant about story in the film business, but most of it is second rate. All the stories have been told and now they’re being used to sell us products. Let’s forget about stories for a while and think about starting points and possible areas of travel, about likes and dislikes, passions and aversions, places… milieus of mind and action, desire, curiosity and where it might lead. Cinema is the one art where searching within these places brings us magically not to a story… but to a film. And a film begins when we “look over there”, and follow our fascination. In the end, our film need not be much more than a record of how it became itself but if our gaze has been avid and alive… that is the film I want to see.
I’m tired of all those Independents out there. Hollywood is where most of them live and they’re so independent they need a minimum of $5-20 million to show how close to the ground they travel, and how deep their roots sink into the muck. But muck is not really the soil where good work sticks its innocent head out of the earth and cautions us not to see filmmaking as a business. Still the paradox, (and in my view when we get to contradiction and paradox we’re nearing “the way things seem to be”) is that the best of American film still comes out of that Moloch of a town. However, maybe once or twice a year, tops. Maybe that’s why I live in the SF Bay area and am a Dependent filmmaker, dependent on my wits, my friends and collaborators, on the brilliance of the everyday man and woman, and only marginally independent when I actually have the necessary money to do what I always do without it.
Re: the good Hollywood does. I’m talking about Paul Haggis with CRASH and with THIRD PERSON, a film with many faults but with the major virtue of sailing far over the heads of the Critical Majority which panned it. I’m saying that the best American filmmakers are English: Mike Figgis with LEAVING LAS VEGAS and, most of all, TIME CODE, a film I desperately wish I had been smart enough to make.
And they are Mexican. Alejandro Iñárritu made AMORES PERROS with Altavista Films in Mexico and BABEL with Paramount Pictures in tinsel town. It takes a very smart, a very talented man to do that. And Alfonso Cuarón made Y TU MADRE TAMBIEN with Anhelo Producciones in Mexico and CHILDREN OF GOD with Hollywood industry techniques and Universal Pictures. He also made GRAVITY which in 3D, leaving aside scuba diving, gave me the closest experience of the other-worldly in this very worldly world, of any I’ve ever had.
Sal (Deniz Demirer) the beleaguered screenwriter who can't seem to write.... or live... in 'Live Twice', Nilsson's latest. photo: courtesy R. Nilsson
I recently went to see Iñárritu’s latest film BIRDMAN. I e-mailed the young directors I value and asked them to come and see it again, and discuss it with me. I don’t know if they’re coming or not but I want to say that the film pushed all my buttons. It was mostly brilliant but, to me, kind of ruined at the end. But I hope it wins all the awards it’s up for. I hope that everyone goes to see it. Because this film is more about dead end and pretend America than almost anything I’ve seen since BABEL. Why is it that it’s made by a Mexican? Once this chapter is published we will all know how it turned out at the box office and at the Oscars but we won’t know the answer to my question.
But just to underline the contradictions and paradoxes of anything you want to say about film, or art, or about Hollywood or American politics, the film had at least three distinct endings, and the least interesting was the one they ended with. The second one would have been brilliant but this is, after all, tinsel town. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who thinks they know the ending I’m talking about. The ending they used felt like the result of the cliché studio executive’s dictum to append some kind of a positive ending to a comedy which had already ended with a tragic stroke of brilliance. That’s why I never wanted to work in that town. If I had been misguided enough to end a good film that badly, I would have preferred to blame myself.
Rob Nilsson is a painter, poet and teacher as well as prolific film director, producer, writer and actor, who won Cannes with his first film, ‘Northern Lights’ (1978), developed an improv filming method in the tradition of John Cassavetes, and used it in about 30 films, plus a number of scripted films and documentaries. See his site
or contact him
Posted on Sep 16, 2016 - 06:24 PM