The Corpse Politic
by Alex D'Arata Newby
Hello readers! I’m Alex D’Arata-Newby, one of the staff interns working for Saltwater. I’ve got a background ranging across the most liberal of arts, with particular attention paid to poetry, the classics, and women’s studies. Despite my hilariously academic sensibilities, most of my actual work with Saltwater has been (and likely will continue to be) based on information technology, which is one of my few areas of practical skill. Anyway, that’s enough of about me. Over the lifecycle of my contribution to this blog, I hope to offer a few meager meditations on the nature of cinematic narrative, as well as attempt to expound upon the amorphous identities of the “independent” and the “community-based” film.
I’m going to start with one of the most essential quandaries of modern filmmaking, which is the paradox of authorship. I make no bones about my own personal belief in auteur theory. A John Ford film is a John Ford film; a Catherine Breillat film is a Catherine Breillat film. However, it would be a piece of Ayn-Randian head-in-the-sand madness to ignore the inherent and undeniable marrow of collaboration supporting the bone structure of any film. A film is built up from the collective sweat and under-slept nights of more people than you can functionally imagine.
On the other hand an authorless film would be some feverishly baroque manifestation of the Surrealist’s Exquisite Corpse. It’s less weird and creepy than it sounds. An Exquisite Corpse is simply a piece of prose generated without authorial oversight. It can be achieved by writing a short phrase on a piece of paper, folding that piece of paper to conceal some of that phrase, handing it to someone else who then continues the sentence, folds the paper again, and hands it to the next person, et cetera. The practice acquires its name from an early line in this play and practice by the Surrealists (“the exquisite/ corpse/ will drink/ the young/ wine”). It produces some interesting, maybe even thought-provoking, constructions, but it goes nowhere fast. It’s not a perfect analogy, but hopefully you can see where I’m coming from. The beast needs a head!
Community based filmmaking means many things to many people. From where I’m sitting, it appears to be something of a liberal democratic response to the necessary tyranny of the Author. It forms something of a social contract between a film’s author and the community, in which the Author takes on a role analogous to that of an elected official. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have something of a knee-jerk reaction to politicization of the creative process (I’m not talking about art with political content, that’s a whole different kettle of fish), but I’m cautiously optimistic towards it in this particular instance. Making a film is fundamentally different than governing a given principality. It is a means to an end (that end being a two hour thing that people can watch), rather than a sustained attempt to maintain civillization in the face of nature’s yawning void. If a film’s Author has a vision that is, unshaped by the hands of pandering and artifice, representative of the spirit and interests of a community of people- then a social contract can be drawn up to provide for the creation of a film. At the very least, it’s worth looking in to as an alternative to the prevalent hyper-capitalist way of doing things.