17/09/2014

Moore and Berlinger

Michael Moore's 5th rule of documentary film making says: "The Left is boring [... ],  we've lost our sense of humor and we need to be less boring. We used to be funny. The Left was funny in the 60s, and then we got really too damn serious. I don't think it did us any good."

As you can see it's hardly a rule - more a statement - but that's ok.

Another renowned documentary film maker, Joe Berlinger, replies (in one phrasing): "Not every filmmaker can or wants to be funny, and not every subject lends itself to humor".

Who is right? If you've been here before you know my stand; that it is probably better to fight adversary to humor than making a non-humorus film - even on a very important topic.


But how can you treat a serious problem with un-seriousness? Well, it's up to every film maker, of course, but I think it's really the other way around: Taking a humorous, satrical look at ANYTHING only shows the utmost respect for the people (even victims) involved. And if you feel otherwise, if you get offended, if you feel that the humourus approach is despicable - who is the one having the real problems? You or the funny guy?

I mean, I don't get offended when someone makes a serious documentary (hey, I even produce them), but I do raise my eyebrow in disbelief if someone get's offended by a humorous (or even entertaining) approach in another documentary.



PS. "Rape in the military ("Invisible War"), for example, is not fertile ground for humor", says Berlinger. Hmm, I find that treating this extremely serious matter with a satire of the macho culture in the military as a very fertile way to go... it will take some work and thinking, but nevertheless...

08/07/2014

Are melodies and stories related?

Thoughts during the opening concert with Aaron Parks at Copenhagen Jazz Festival, July 2014.

Over the years I have been frustrated with and curious about myself regarding many things, but I’ve wondered why it is that I more and more tend to favour music with a strong melodic approach and at the same time have become less and less interested in films (and literature) with a strong emphasis on plot and story. Does that make me an inconsistent person or – more likely - a complex and highly interesting individual?


Or is rather because melody and plot are not that related at all? More second cousins than brother and sister? On the surface you would think that the arrangement of notes and/or words in a logically progressing way would be sort of in the same family, but if you think deeper, maybe not. A melody can be entertaining and have surprises built in, but it doesn’t have to end a specific place. Well, it sort of does, but not in the way a plot needs to be structured. Maybe it’s because music really IS math with emotions whilst words are farther away from arithmetic and shouldn’t be treated as such. Like when you calculate at what page or after how many minutes a certain event of the plot should take place. I mean, a turning point measured out to be after for instance 24 minutes in a film doesn’t make sense if those 24 minutes feels like 45, does it? On the other hand is structure in film not a bad thing… but I guess what I mean is, that what the plot brings to a film is not the same thing the melody brings to a piece of music.

Like these guys on stage: they start a tune with a terrific melodic theme but soon something else takes over, rhythmic or harmonic or improvisational ideas and changes, and only once in a while does the melody step up again and remind us what started this thing. Jazz have these possibilities.

A film cannot start a story and abandon it… or rather: I would like to see more films do just that… as long as something else steps in and takes its place. The melody can carry through and soar over a jazz tune, but the plot and the story are way too often too important for the progression of the film to be interesting…

And on this happy note I will go out and enjoy some more jazz in the Copenhagen summer – as should you. Stop and say hello if you see me: I’m the one with a beer in my hand, wearing short trousers grossly inappropriate for my age. I should be the only one...

10/05/2014

Four reasons as to why making documentaries is such a pain in the ass.

1. You need to do research
For some reason, people seem to expect that especially documentaries need to be journalistically researched. No harm in that – more knowledge will not hurt you – but there IS a risk of reality ruling over fantasy and no real film needs that. (Besides, it sounds like a lot of work).

2. You need to convince other people about the importance of your project.
That goes for every film, of course, but in the documentary world the topic itself must be of interest to the commissioning editors. Well, no harm in that, but like a fiction film is not the same as its script, so is a documentary film so much more (or should be) than its topic.

3. You cannot make a living of making documentaries.
That’s okay; my wife has a real job. So no real harm in that for me - as long as no one files for divorce.

4. You cannot make fun of anything.
Use of humor equals insincerity and shallowness and is neither artistically nor journalistically viable. That’s just the way it is and always has been with people of the right and true faith (be it a religion or a specific school of filmmaking). No harm in that… oops… well, maybe just a bit, because lack of humor, satire or self-irony in my mind equals a risk of one-sided depictions of reality, self-righteousness and even propaganda. Docs should be multi-facetted, ambiguous and thought-provoking, and deliberate use of humor is a wonderful tool for just that (Did I say “tool”? I meant “fool”).

So all in all, I can live with up to three out of the four truisms above. Guess which one I cannot accept.


05/03/2014

Humor in Docs 4

So I did it again: while writing an application for a grant from The Danish Arts Foundation (Statens Kunstfond) where I had to explain what I intend to use the grant for, I failed to be honest to myself. The grants from the foundation are not for specific projects, but they can support your artistic work and ideas in general. I have applied for a grant – and failed - for the last ten years, so that's rather embarrassing. But I don't mind being just that.

This year, I decided to emphasize my efforts on making films where humor and the film's representation of reality are interwoven according to my ideas of DOComedy. But after submitting, I realized that I had send a boring and maybe even self-righteous application. As I wrote in a previous blog, one tends to approach authorities with a frown all over one’s face in order to appear as a serious contender.

Why is that? Well, when you bring up comedy people have a tendency to either think of something stupid - like one of Three Stooges getting his fingers repeatedly stuck in a door, or something lame - like the run-of-the-mill stand-up comedian talking about getting his balls stuck in his zipper. Only rarely do people immediately think of clever and witty representations of humor dealing with essential issues even though there is plenty to think of: Jacques Tati, Marx Brothers, Stephen Fry, Hasse&Tage, Monty Python, Dario Fo, Dave Allen, Buster Keaton, “Dr. Strangelove”, “Manhattan” or “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller. The last one I read between and during calls at my old student job as a phone attendant at a newspaper. To the dismay of my co-workers and boss and to the callers’ mild wondering, I couldn’t stop reading and laughing out loudly. And yes, you do remember it wrong, if you don’t think “Catch 22” is (also) a hilariously funny book.

Okay, I’m not saying that I’m half as amusing as any of these pillars, but what I AM saying is that I have learned as much (if not more) about life or certain facts of mankind from those mentioned above than from any well-meaning and serious (if not frowning) approach in any book, film or documentary. Yes, there ARE funny and clever documentaries – but they are often regarded of having a smell of being too “American” or “entertaining” or something.

I strongly believe that I can make a thought-provoking AND funny film about surveillance and inter-human distrust (a sequel to this film) or the national health system (here's a moodboard), which accidently are two of the DOComedies I am working on. As a matter of fact, as I wrote in the same old blog as mentioned above, there seem to be some proof that the remedy of humor can enhance critical out-of-the-box-thinking.


Back to my application. I should of course have made a funny essay instead of having my application meet the demands mentioned on the website of the foundation. I guess I was afraid of my own prejudice of people’s prejudice towards humor, so I ended up writing that I want to be funny and thought-provoking and may have been momentarily in the past; not that I am just that…

But on the other hand: I kind of like the idea that I’ll BE funny - IF they give me some money.

And now if you’ll excuse me: I got my one remaining ball stuck in my zipper, darn it. And no!, don’t smack the door, my hand is still on the doorframe…

APPENDIX, May 2nd 2014: Sure enough I didn't get the grant, so now I'm (in alphabetical order) angry, bitter, disillusioned, jealous, mad and sad. But that goes with the territory. Now I will either go vacuum the flat or open a shiraz from Coppola's Diamond Collection. What will it be?


Previous posts:
Humor and Docs 1
Humor and Docs 2
Humor and Docs 3

21/02/2014

My Avatar and Me-me-ME!

Yeah, I know. It both shows poor form and absence of  new ideas, but nevertheless - this is what I have for you today:

"My Avatar and Me" is now available for rent and you can also still buy it and own it for good if you are that kind of person. The years that were deducted from my life while making the film will of course make the accumulated costs of my life a bit smaller, but still we support the idea of actually - once in a while - paying for content on the internet. Alas, it's a struggle and rightfully so a topic for debate.

So while debating, slip us a dime, won't you?

Photo: Rob Danton

06/02/2014

Swordfishtrombones

I mentioned Tom Waits in a previous blog and that was no coincidence. I have become more and more convinced that music in general and Tom Waits in particular has meant a lot to me as a filmmaker and a (re)viewer.

I was first introduced to Waits by a mate in 1983 when the album “Swordfishtrombones” was released. I pricked up my ears when the first instrumental track on side 2 started. It was short, strange and beautiful and when the Hammond organ introduced the next song and Tom started singing, I was sold. I fell in love with the mix of unusual instruments, askew rhythms, his voice, the lyrics, the quite beautiful melodies… and not least the humor which I at that point more sensed that actually understood.


I never thought much about it in those days but years later I found out that my views on films and filmmaking was tightly connected to my views on music. I’ve tried to study it further and to theorize on it and I even tried to work out a musical film lecture to highlight the similarities of ways of thinking in certain films and certain music. I gave that up, because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really make sense. (Plus that I would have had to play piano and lecture at the same time to prove my points and that would probably involve me practicing a hell of a lot on the piano, and I am a lazy bastard…)

Instead, I’ve started writing a book on the records of Waits, and you can read the first version of the intro chapter in Danish here. If you like that, well, tell it to a publisher you know.

15/01/2014

Storm P.


Whilst working on an updated definition and a new set of rules for true DOComedy-films, I came by this old favorite of mine by Danish artist, writer, humorist etc., Robert Storm Petersen (1882-1949).

The caption is: "I hope that my lecture here has shed some light on the concept of humor".