Monday, February 8, 2010

American History (abridged)

       I've labored under the illusion that I am a filmmaker for some time now.  In all honesty I'm a student of film.  I've got a lot to learn. 
       I am posting this film for Amy Carrelli.  She helped me to produce American History (abridged), a film that makes me cringe when I see it.  It's bad.  Real bad.  And I thought it smart to hide it away and pretend it didn't exist.  But it is a gross disservice to her and the hard work she did in helping me put this film together by keeping it under wraps.  I will be forever thankful for her efforts.  
      This film... I have a hard time putting it into words.  I'm a fan of Jean Luc Goddard, the Marxist French New Wave director.  I wanted very much to make an arty polemic of the American psyche with parallels to his work.  You can see right off I'm going in a bad direction with those types of lofty aspirations.  But I went for it!  With Amy's help, and the help of some great people, as well as a small grant from the Nevada Arts Council, we went off into the desert to shoot this film.  Which does have some interesting visuals at least.   

       Using many of the character traits of American mainstream and historical symbols I tried to make sense of a country that is filled with flaws as well as hope.  This film is marred by so many sweeping generalizations it's quite laughable in retrospect.  It's overwrought with symbolism and blind optimism but here's the gist of the film:  

       I scratch the surface of all the traits of American society which I could see through my narrow window, wherein each trait is metaphorically killed by the succeeding generational ideal who are in turn killed by the next generation.  These traits, or ideals, or whatever I was thinking, are a combinations of events, values, or social movements which lead to the America we know today.  The idea that these forces in history are killing each other is just a symbol.  Even though they die on screen their presence is supposed to paint the illusion that their effects are still felt.  The knife is hope in the next generation which is taken from the body of the preceding generation.  Each generation needs to kill what happened before them but the effects of the past are still being felt.     

       We start with Religion.  Puritan values, which we can agree are warped and unhealthy, extend all the way to talk shows airing today across the country.  The certainty of a people who believe they know god, and therefore truth, is a dangerous thing.  It's colored by the notion that we who know god can kill and rape the savages because we know the truth.  This concept is "killed" metaphorically by the traits of Republicanism.  A belief in the righteousness of the state and the idea that democracy is the one true way towards a greater society while also creaking under the weight of horrendously overlooked issues of inequality.  Specifically slavery.  Which leads to the South and Civil War "killing" the values of Republicanism.  I portray the South reveling in the power of individualism as the theoretical basis of the Civil War.  Something many still believe today, conveniently forgetting the implications of the slave issue.  The end result of the Civil War?  Individual liberty doesn't mean shit when it goes against the inner workings of the true basis of political power, economics.  Leading to the Industrial Age.  Where capitalism truly flowered into what it is today.  The birth of corporate power. Represented by the Railroad which helped to foster the Manifest Destiny. 

       After completing the film I began to wonder if I might have been too hard on the failings of the labor movement.  Being a current union member I wonder if I was hard enough.  In any event I think it's a bad idea to bash unions when they are already on the ropes.  The unions of today are a shell of their former selves and do more to damage their reputation then they do to usurp the reins of control from management to make life easier for the working man.  Years of corruption isn't addressed in the way it should have been in this film.  Instead I place the blame on the working man which was a mistake.   Today the socialist is still a pariah in America which is the dumbest bullshit ever.  The uneducated masses are still shaking in fear that communism will steal their individuality not realizing that unity is the only way to stand up to power.  The alternative to socialism is everybody fucking everybody else over.  Um.  There's way too much shit going on in this film.   

       Labor is killed by Nationalism which is basically World War Two.  The event that pushed America into it's current position of power and prestige bringing us into the misguided concept of America as the world's police.  That issue is bottomless and I won't even touch it here because it's so obviously fucked.  
       Civil Rights I portray as a double edge sword.  While Civil Rights had major triumphs I'm convinced that it's great promise still appears unrealized.  In the film Civil Rights unfolds into a codified politics of correctness instead reality.  Too simplistic but I think it's an issue that is still divisive and counterproductive today.  
       Finally ending with the corporate mentality of progress where corporations are seen as the parents of society providing comfort, direction, but ultimately empty meaning to a population desperate for some sort of meaning.  Later generations who may dream of hope are easily pushed away by the powerful machinations of a force that can not be confronted easily by individuals.  That's what we got.  Individuals content with their video games and snack foods who may not believe in a world outside that bubble, or may not be able to confront those truths.  Meanwhile corporate power assumes it's mantle in the power structure only tightening it's grip on the reins of power without shouldering the same amount of moral responsibility that the rest of humanity must face.  

       The soundtrack and location of the film are supposed to be metaphors for the emptiness of the rhetoric.  They sure do their job as the film is ultimately sterile, lifeless, and empty even though it is filled to the brim with ideas.  

       It was a tall order for one film to try and dissect the psyche of "mainstream" America and the history of a continent all within 11 minutes.  Doomed to fail from the start.  I knew it was a train wreck  once the script was done but I really wanted to see it collide.  I wanted to see the blood on the walls, casualties, survivors, dead bodies and all.     

       It's self indulgent, self absorbed, and despite my best efforts to be unbiased, it's preachy, stereotypical, and reeks of an agenda.  That agenda being that America is bad.  Misguided.  Full of itself and headed for it's final days as a world power.  This film was made in 1999.  I was a fool to think I was revealing some truth about America at that time.  I was oblivious to the fact that these truths I thought I understood were actual truths not characters in a film.  To think how pissed off I was at the actions of our government at that time.  What a crock of shit.  It blindsided me when Bush was elected shortly thereafter and all these elements took on a twisted sinister and very real face in the actions of the Bush administration.  I went from being angry to being stunned.  

       Upon making the final edit I hid it away, never screening the final cut.  I felt impotent and hid myself away.  My life was taking the shape of a cliche.   Looking at my younger self who appeared to know everything and that as I grew older I found I knew less and less.  To say it was humbling is an understatement.  I still don't like this film.  It destroyed my inclination to create and It would be years before I would pick up a camera.  It would be years before I could write again.  It's no coincidence that the film I made after this one was the barest simplicity of the Simples series.  And that film wouldn't be done until 2007.      

       I'm so glad that Amy pushed me to post this film.  It's like standing naked in front of the world for me to share this film.  To me this film is like a child who thinks his shit doesn't stink.  It is a lesson.  
       An interesting side note:  every now and again I see car commercials shot in that same desert location.  Brilliant.

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