Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gonzo Filmmakers, Gonzo Poets

Yesterday, we did watch the film Salvador. It was the anniversary of Archbishop Romero's assassination in 1980, and since I own Salvador on both tape and DVD, that was an easy choice--although if Romero had been available via Netflix streaming, I'd have watched it too.  We watched the film with Oliver Stone's commentary on, and we also watched the documentary that was on the disc.  Fascinating information.

Oliver Stone made this movie on a shoestring of a budget, which meant he had to be creative in ways that he isn't forced to be creative now.  He had to be accepting of some shots, because he didn't have the money or time to shoot scenes over and over again.  He talked about some scenes which were unanticipated or which he had visualized as happening differently, yet he had to accept what happened.  And those scenes are often ones that he has come to realize are better than what he had planned.

Over and over again, he talked about how he was pushed to the edge, pushed over the edge, and there he found all sorts of resources that he didn't know he had.  He talked about the quality that everyone involved with the movie adopted, a quality of making it up as they went along.  This quality led them to be more creative, to go in directions they wouldn't have otherwise gone--which led them to a movie that was better than what they would have created, had they had more money, time, and other resources.

He brought up Hunter S. Thompson and that whole school of gonzo journalists, writers who plunged themselves right into the stories that they were covering and creating a different kind of journalism.  His filmmaking experience with Salvador was similar.

He talks about the quality of moviemakers in their youth, about not knowing that you can't do certain things, and so you attempt all sorts of things. And they often work brilliantly.

Why and how do we lose that quality?  How can we get it back?

In some ways, new technology can have that effect on many of us.  So much is possible and much of it is cheap to use or at least try.  We can get our work out there in ways that we wouldn't have been able to do in decades past.  On the other hand, all that technology can be overwhelming.

What would I create if I didn't have a preconceived notion of what I should be creating?  What would I create if I just did whatever I wanted?

Of course, Oliver Stone did have a preconceived notion of what he wanted to create, as did those gonzo journalists in many ways.  But even when they weren't achieving it, they persevered, and often created something brand new.

As I immerse myself in what will be the last half of my life, I'd like to adopt a similar attitude, both in my writing and in other areas of my life.


Lyle Daggett said...

I've seen Salvador two or three times, and pretty much liked it -- I've wondered how the film might have been different if Stone had had the resources to make it the way he wanted. (I also get what he says about the lucky accidents that resulted in scenes being stronger than they might have been if he'd done them the way he'd originally planned.)

I'm curious if you've seen the film Under Fire -- another film about journalists (played by Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, and Gene Hackman), which takes place in Nicaragua on the verge of the Sandinista revolution. I'm not remembering offhand who directed it, I don't think it was anyone I'd heard of previously. I like the film quite a bit, actually maybe a little better than Salvador, in part because the politics in Under Fire are, I think, a little more clearly drawn. I do like both films though.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

I've seen "Under Fire," but it's been a very long time. I remember seeing it around the same general time as "Salvador," and loving it too. And several years before that, I saw "Missing," a searing movie for me, when I was all of 16 or 17.