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here's where the philosophical rather than the speculative debate is at


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#1 Jérôme Keller

Jérôme Keller
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Posted 14 July 2007 - 08:04 AM

It's a funny thing, my neighbor looks almost like Julia Roberts, especially at nighttime through her bedroom window. They are not Siamese twins, mind you, but with a little plastic surgery in the amount of let's say 17'500 $ she will look pretty much like the real deal. Now, even if the operation is successful and she turns out to be a perfect Roberts clone, I doubt that she will feel like a Roberts on the casting couch let alone in front of a RED movie camera, and I am not implying here that Julia Roberts had to rely on prostituting herself in order to get a Hollywood career, or am I? Seriously, I'm sure that Andrew Blake was one of the first in line for pre-ordering a RED, other than that, we can look forward to a whole wave of glossy commercials for instant noodles and diapers. What surprises me most in the whole RED debate is that the new technology is praised as some sort of saving grace for the indie filmmaker. Come on! We all know that state-of-the-art technology was never an issue for skilled storytellers and auteur directors, it's the top of the crop like Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg, Stephen Soderbergh oder Peter Jackson that can AFFORD to profit from these innovations, established professionals who are happy to have another tool in their bag. Beside that, the RED seems to have an irresistible appeal to wannabe filmmakers with a George Lucas inferiority complex who assume that now they can make movies like the big boys. Great, Daddy can buy me a Ferrari and Mommy still has enough pocket money for a decent digital cinema camera. In the end, it will take RED twice as long to keep half its promises until it fits nicely in a market niche. Nevertheless, it's amazing to see how everybody gets so worked up about a camera that right now is still a far cry from mass production. It's almost like the Second Coming of the Camera Obscura is at hand, and it shows what a great job the marketing department at RED did over the past year. They created emotion, real excitment for something that normally depends on sober facts, lots of abstruse numbers and endless nitpicky test reviews. We live in a technocratic society and people more than ever need to believe that true feelings can spring from an iPod even if the people wearing them are coldly ignoring each other. In that respect, the cine camera is historically speaking the ultimate instrument to capture and to create emotion, it's a symbol, the most powerful expression of our desire that all machines should be like humans. Thus, it is no coincidence that the RED executives chose the iconographic HAL-like red eye as their logo. It's full of passion, ready to take over, a Christ-like figure that is ready to suffer for us. Why? Because true emotion always springs from suffering, that's why it's so hard to be an artist, to suffer and to create at the same time, because suffering usually leads to apathy and self-pity. Of course, this is all highly ambiguous, if such a fusion of ghost and machine was to become reality the resulting apparatus would be a diabolical monstrosity, a satanus ex machina. With RED as with all fetishes (and in advertising there are but fetishes) the thing itself is elevated far beyond it's mere function, to a point where it is abstracted from the artist, full of passion, the cameraman, full of ideas, but also the guy who f***s up from time to time because he didn't sleep well enough or one of his children is sick, ah, the human factor! Right now, you get the impression that there is a revolution in the air, that the filmmaking industry will be forever changed because of RED. It's only natural that people want to believe in RED, I for one don't blame them for it, people need changes in their lives, the more dramatic the better, that's why we dream. The reality is that the RED camera is still far from becoming a mass-reproducible reality and when it does it will have a professional target clientele, can't see no indie filmmakers standing in queue. The spirit of any true indipendent production is to find own ways to tell a story, not to imitate the Hollywood bag. And what would be the point? The Hollywood way is too expensive for the low-budget filmmaker anyway, that's why, they are independent, you can't buy creative freedom. Example: I recently saw a terrific movie by Jon Moritsugu called "Scumrock" (2003). It was shot on a shoestring budget on a Sony Hi-8 camera. Wonderful movie, funny, raw, fresh, in your face, editing together different interconnected storylines, "Magnolia" with home movie esthetics. Up until now, the director has worked in every possible format, from 8mm to 35mm Panasonic cameras, and still he has the guts and the artistic integrity to choose the proper, in this case ultra cheap format for a movie in which the central character is a clueless indie filmmaker. The irony here is delicious and it took me about 1 minute to get used to and to absorb the scruffy look, after that I was completely foccused on the action for the whole running time. A more mainstream example would be Vinterberg's "Festen" or Lynch's "Inland Empire". Who cares if it looks crappy, it's the stories you tell that make the difference and that will capture the imagination of your audience. A good director always relies on his pen first before he relies on a fancy piece of camera equipment. The key to it lies - as I have mentioned before - in emotion. All those people behind the camera who fell so much in love with the concept of the RED (right now, they scream for RED t-shirts and RED baseball caps, for God's sake!) are those who are insecure about their own ability to project real emotion onto the screen. Here the RED acts as an ingenious catalyst between the fear of failure and huge box office receipts, it accelerates the road to success, it sells instant dreams to filmmakers who are dreaming of telling larger than life stories and instantly winning larger than life time achievement awards. Just add some hot water to it and you will find out what hot air tastes like. It seems that in a time where everything is about self-promotion there's money to be made as much with the people who want to dream as with those wo want to tell dreams. The business accommodates, it always does, and the Fellinesque illusion persists that the process of filmmaking is lighter than air. A cruel illusion that is motivated by profits rather than truth and beauty, nevertheless, it protects us and lets us forget pain. The art of entertainment (and advertising) consists in making suffering appear easy and of no consequence (think of your average stepmaster commercial), that's where a lot of practice and a lot of hard work comes in. In the end, it's all a clever marketing gimmick, playing with people's dreams on and off the screen, the source of a good story is still the heart of the storyteller and not a 17'500 $ camera body, revolutions in cinema and in the real world are started by people not by a piece of equipment. If anything, a revolution will lose its impetus if it is facilitated by outside forces too much. The incentive to make better films has to be found within, it's always been that way, everything else is - let me repeat this - clever marketing in an oversaturated consumer society. The RED is, similar to Julia Roberts, all about sexy looks, no wonder its inventor is all about cool sunglasses.

Edited by Jérôme Keller, 14 July 2007 - 08:05 AM.

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