I had an IM conversation with a friend today that infuriated me. Admittedly, I egged it on by using hyperbole to entertain myself. I do that sometimes -- use sweeping generalizations to get someone's goat. For instance stating that all experimental film is masturbation or saying that I don't think the study of film theory or history is important. I don't know why I do it, but sometimes I can't help myself. Anyway, one way or another my use of hyperbole led to this friend telling me that my films are only good, not great, because I use only simple visual language and rely heavily on actors and dialogue rather than camera movement to tell my stories. I shot back that I thought his films were visually stunning but lacking in human warmth. He probably meant what he said, and honestly, I meant what I said too -- not as objective fact but as personal preference. The truth is, I really don't like Kubrick's work. I find it to be artistically mouthwatering on a visual scale but cold, unempathetic, and distant. Not surprisingly, this friend worships Kubrick. There's nothing wrong with that.
What irked me wasn't that we approach filmmaking differently or prefer different kinds of films. What irked me was that he considered my "simple" approach to be pointless. Why make a movie, he asked, if I wasn't setting out to make something visually revolutionary? To me, this question is about as stupid as asking Hemingway why he wants to be a writer if he's not going to write flashy Faulknerian sentences. After all, the novel is a medium of language. Limiting oneself to a minimalist approach does not make full use of the medium.
That is the argument my friend made to me. Film is visual, so if your shots are not designed to impress first on a visual level and only secondly on a storytelling level, you might as well direct plays for the stage. If I had been in the same room as him, I honestly might have punched him. I would have apologized afterward, but I would have enjoyed it.
My friend pursues filmmaking because he is in love with the visual above all else. I pursue filmmaking because I am in love with the multitextual above all else. I like film because I love how you can shape an emotional moment through performance, through clothing, through sound, through set dressing, and yes, through placement of the camera. But as I said to my friend, for me, the camera is a machine. I trust the human communication of the actor over the machine any day. He likes lots of flashy movement. I like straightforward shots that focus on performance. In my book, neither one is wrong or right, just different flavors of filmmaking. Perhaps my friend would prefer to live in a world where everyone makes movies the same way he does. I thank God Faulkner never asked that of Hemingway. Otherwise perhaps no one would know the power of a good clean sentence.