I first picked up the book after I read a review in Time Magazine last summer. It's some seriously fantastic storytelling -- not to mention, pretty revelatory. Purchase yourself a copy, asap.
(Great cover, right?)
Listening to Holmes speak was very much like reading his writing-- you become infected with his enthusiasm, not only for the subject, but for the way he describes it. He is one of those rare, fascinating creatures who is able to make even the malfunctioning of a microphone seem epic and philosophical.
But the golden gems of his talk were "6 Tenants of Non-Fiction Writing," which he sprinkled throughout the hour and a half with characteristic storytelling prowess-- foreshadowing the principals and then demonstrating with lovely anecdotes from his books and experiences. And, yes-- the ideas make his non-fiction absolutely dynamic-- but I also found that they stimulated my own thinking about my fiction writing.
See... I've been having a really rough time writing a short film. Usually, I can just put stuff down on paper. It's not always good, but I can put it down. However-- this short.. has some heavy implications.
And I was stuck. On page 3:
And I just, couldn't move forward. But then I sat down in this talk, and my mind started racing.
Holmes outlined 6 points:
1) Vertical Footnotes
2) Starting in the middle
3) Creating a relay race
4) The "Titanic Principle"
5) Big Window/Small Room
6) The significant anecdote
I'm going to take a stab and describing #1 because this is the one that I found most useful. (Mr. Holmes: If I massacre this, I significantly apologize.)
The concept of verticle footnotes is based on the idea that you engage your audience in a story written (basically) in chronological order. However, in "Age of Wonder" Holmes is dealing with ideas that benefit from historical and contemporary context. So, in order not to break the reader's engagement with the primary story-- he uses a footnote to jump vertically through time to provide contextualization. Essentially he makes his ideas timeless by using the footnote to add the wisdom of the ages-- while allowing his story to continue progressing in its own time-governed world in the body text. Literary Time Travel.
I found this device particularly useful because it provides you with opportunities to add significance to your story by juxtaposing it with the knowledge of time. It reminded me of why the first season of Lost was so good: the flash backs let you gradually understand characters' actions while they were isolated on the island by contextualizing people with their own past. You come to really see that, even though these events are happening vacuum, characters are informed by previous experience. And-- the previous experience also gains significance- because it becomes a defining event. Both stories gain more importance because you are watching one person--analogous to the scientific concepts in Holmes' vertical footnotes-- at different stages of knowledge and experience. So the gap between current and past becomes the story.
(so sue me, I might have a secret thing for Jack)
Long story short (not really if you watched the clip...) is that it got me thinking about how to tell a really good short story that focuses on communication of experience as opposed to a traditional "story arc..." yet still matters for the audience. Using that idea of the "gap" being profound may, in fact, be the "Why" that I've been looking for... I think.
My story is about an older couple, on the day that their last child leaves for college, dealing with the fact that they are now alone with each other. By juxtaposing that with a couple, perhaps the same couple, when they getting to know each other for the first time seems like it will add some heft that I, previously, couldn't muster.
Then again... perhaps I'm trying to make a career out of adding profundity to things that don't need it...
Last Saturday, my fantastic friend Jen invited me to join a visit to the Tim Burton exhibit currently at MoMA.
While Tim Burton's movies are always incredibly visually interesting, I don't think I ever really envisioned him as an "Artist." Yes, I tend to view filmmakers as artists in their own right-- but I don't think I had ever really thought of Tim Burton this way, for some reason. Maybe because his films are playful, even (or especially) when they depict the grotesque.
However-- seeing him on paper opened him up in some way. The exhibit not only displayed his evolution from sketching to film making, but also did a phenomenal job of laying bare his process. The most fascinating pieces were those around the creation of the short film "Vincent." Burton's character studies and storyboards were really excellent.
My favorite two individual pieces in the exhibition were a legal pad of notes from the making of Beetlejuice ... on which-- get this-- he reminded himself to remember Virginia Woolf during the story construction. How about that for a mind flip??
Also-- there was a glass display case with some of the Nightmare Before Christmas characters. I wish that I had a camera, because they had Jack-- and about 20 different versions of his head, with different facial expressions on each. I always thought that the models were mold-able. Luckily-- someone else got a partial pic here.
Overall-- my main reaction to the exhibit was that I wished MoMA regulated how many people were inside more closely...
But, more importantly, I thought the exhibit ultimately not only fantastically showcased Tim Burton's creativity, but also made the artistic process really accessible.
i.e. One of his early animations was in a condition where it still had lines in the picture showing how Burton was figuring out the form of his characters. Much like the below sketch-- but animated.
As someone who is currently trying to negotiate a day job and other creative efforts, I took particular notice of and interest in this earlier part of the exhibit-- everything before the "Beyond Burbank" [read: career as a film director] section-- where you could see Burton channeling his creativity outside of his (apparently frustrating) job at Disney-- but also utilizing his time there to contribute to his career-- i.e. his really fascinating Hansel and Gretal video adaptation which played only once on the Disney channel.
It was inspiring, as a relatively young artist, to see this development and negotiation. The online exhibition (though fantastic in its own right) does not do justice to this aspect of the physical exhibit. The experience of walking through his works -- seeing not only his notes and creative process on paper, but also their development as he aged -- is really worth actually going to see.
So if you are a young or aspiring artist-- get yourself to 53rd street, I say.
[I would argue that MoMA would agree with me on this point, as their Family Activity Guide for the exhibition utilizes the experience of the instillation to encourage children's understanding of creativity and process.]
"Untitled (Trick or Treat)," Tim Burton, 1980
On a side note... the phsyical objects on display were so richly deatailed and painstakingly crafted, one wonders if (what I believe is) the decline in quality of his films have something to do with his more frequent use of computer generated imagery (think Big Fish, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland) as opposed to phsycial fabrications (Beetle Juice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands). But, that is a question for another day...
Picture 1 from NYtimes.com, 2, 3, 5, 6 from MoMA online exhibition, 4 unkown.
Back in January, I did my one and only "Best of" for 2009:
"The Best Little Piece of Film Making I Saw"
Consistently, I have heard Pixar praised for being able to tell a story without dialogue-- which they do here, and, perhaps more notably, in the first 30 minutes of Wall-E.
The admiration attached to these very well crafted segments got me thinking about sound and storytelling. Are these pieces of film successful and especially emotionally evocative because they are operating exclusively on a visual level? I'd say no-- because by no means is Pixar making silent pieces of film. Music and sound effects play a hugely important role in your experience of the story. What then, makes the absense of dialogue notable?
Being the huge dork that I am, I went back to my massive, massive film theory book from college and looked up a few essays on sound.
(It's all beat up and pretty, isn't it?)
Anyway, one particular explanation caught my eye:
"If a man is heard speaking, his gestures and facial expression only appear as an accompaniment to underline the sense of what is said. But if one does not hear what it said, the meaning becomes indirectly clear and is artistically interpreted by muscles of the face, of the limbs, of the body. The emotional quality of the conversation is made obvious with a clarity and definiteness which are hardly possible in the medium of actual speech. ... The absence of the spoken word concentrates the spectator's attention more closely on the visible aspect of behavior, and thus the whole event draws particular interest to itself. ... If the words are omitted, the spectator surrenders entirely to the expressive power of the gestures."
-- Rudolf Arnheim, "The Making of a Film," Film as Art, 1933.
Pixar is doing exactly this-- but they are also using the sound to bolster the image. The sounds are pure in a way that dialogue is not. Sound effects and music are manifestation of direct emotion. Where-- dialogue....
One thing that I think we tend to disregard about the importance of speech is our ability to use words to hide what we are feeling instead of actually expressing ourselves. Which is one reason why, by removing dialogue, the gestures become expressive. The characters have nothing to hide behind.
However, the camera can change this-- adding a level of artistic expression that is even more rich than the 'definite' and 'clear' presentation in the absence of dialogue.
For example-- one of my favorite scenes of all time:
(You need only watch until around 6:00)
We look at the beginning of Up and are able to recognize the story for what it is in it's purest sense-- an expression of bare emotion-- because there is no dialogue to either muddle our perception or to distract us from the gesture. But-- The Age of Innocence-- forces us to reconcile what is being spoken with the character's true meaning in their body language and the way it is revealed to the audience by the camera. It uses form to express meaning.
So, yes-- Up is lovely filmmaking-- economical and emotionally stirring. But, The Age of Innocence reaches an entirely different level. It is...impressionistic.
[Disclaimer-- this post was mainly written to help me figure through some writers block. You may enjoy it for whatever you so choose.]
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can talk for years about Anthropologie and how everything that they do is brilliant. And I think that my dedication to this brand not only comes from the fact that I want to look like I stepped out of 1895, but also because they engage me in an incredibly tactile way-- not only through their photos (the way that they channel the baguette brown above makes me hear the crackle of the crust), but by providing me with glimpses of the lifestyle that I want to embody.
What Anthropologie has managed to do to hook girls like me--who don't make enough to routinely spend $138 on a phenomenally beautiful dress-- is provide ways to insert their lifestyle into my daily existence... for free.
The examples below, I think, are incredibly instructive for anyone trying to build up a brand--what you are marketing is a feeling. And if you give people tiny pieces of the feeling for free, it's like a gateway drug. And then they will buy your products. Even if that amazing purse is out of their price range. They need the hit.
1) Their catalog
Anthro works for each of their catalogs to be as rich with beauty as Vogue. And I don't need to go and buy Vogue to see it. I get it delivered to my mailbox, for free, every month.
Currently, I am staring at their 89 page long March 2010 catalog, in which they are providing me with not only one, but 5 visual stories featuring their products.
The important thing, though-- is that they let me construct, for myself, meaning behind each series. They put together pictures that are rich enough with detail, that it allows me to lose myself in trying to construct a narrative for each one. That way-- I get to spend a significant amount of time daydreaming myself into these worlds-- with their products as my props. So yes, I will purchase that dress eventually... especially if it means that it will transport me from my no-windows cubicle into a mini-greenhouse.
The Anthropologist was started late last year and basically showcases artists that fit the Anthropologie aesthetic. The first three artists were Photographer David Eustace, Filmmaker/Photographer Andrew Zuckerman and Filmmaker Jane Campion. Each section has an online gallery that represents an experience which Anthropologie has curated with key words.
Interested in "Passing through alright to get to wonderful..." Andrew Zuckerman.
How about experiencing "Quiet moments where nothing is said..." David Eustace.
(The Eustace section is particularly wonderful)
Each gallery is Anthropologie curating art for you-- and saying "This is our aesthetic. We know good art and we want to share it with you. We are not just selling a product. We are opening up doors to new experience." Both by introducing you to new artists and curating the artistic content into stories-- you start to associate cultrual taste with the brand.
3) Facebook Exclusives-- Music Playlist
They also curate music for me. I won't lie, I downloaded this playlist-- paying for all of the songs I didn't already have.
And every time I play it on my iPod I think about the experience of being in their store-- which is a journey unto itself. (I often go into the store just to make myself feel better after work.)
Again-- it's about taste, about culture, about adding little pieces to my day that make me feel like I don't spend the majority of my time staring at a computer screen-- but that I am experiencing something else.
Listen to "Pencil Full of Lead" by Paolo Nuntini and tell me that you are actually still sitting at your desk and not having late afternoon lunch in a Caribbean cafe.
The point is-- Anthro compounds their dresses and purses and shoes with all of these other elements. Every time they post something, music, pictures, etc.-- I will relate it back to the things that they sell. They are endeavoring for a totality of involvement. Sound, image, touch of the cloth. Creating a lifestyle and drawing you in by engaging every sense possible.
Next thing: Original Short films? (I'll make them for you Anthro!! Call me!)
Photo 1 from Anthropologie January 2010 Catalog, 2 from Anthropologie March 2010 Catalog, 3 and 4 from www.thanthropologist.org, 5 from facebook.
I see a lot of movies. I'm just throwing that out there for you up front. So, you can't say that I didn't warn you that 70% of my conversation revolves around these movies-- and another 5-10% around the creation of my own.
But, that is because I think that movies are the most complete form of storytelling that we have.**
And, in particular movie-centric fashion, I want to use a quote from a particularly beautiful movie from the past year to introduce my little blog and what I hope to do here.
"A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake. To luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought."
Here, at Drawing the Eye, I want to look at how we understand stories and emotion through our sensory perception. Why is it that the variations of purple in the still from Bright Star make me feel the same all engrossing interest that the letter brings to Fanny? Is it about lust? Or is this about just being-- total. The letter makes her whole-- the colors, mirror?
I don't know. And while it may seem like I am trying to 'work the lake out,' here-- I don't want to probe too deep, but rather to identify the senses that are engaged by this image. For my own practical purposes, if not anything else, I want to understand how to use color to make people smell flowers.
And, part of me thinks that just surrounding myself with all of the things that engage me... that I will be able to get some element of transference into my own work. So, I won't just be talking about movies, but about pictures, paintings, design, clothes, perfumes... anything that I think tells a story by engaging me in an experience beyond thought.
In the future-- posts will not be this text heavy. Hopefully, we'll all just be able to immerse ourselves in experience.
**We can talk about video games another time, but I think they're still working on figuring out that whole story + interactivity bit...
I am a video and multimedia creator, who spends my days at The New York Public Library and my nights in Brooklyn. I want to discover not simply that things are beautiful, but why we perceive them this way. That being said-- I also just like to stare at pretty pictures.