Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Richard Linklater: Before Sunrise

Film history: the ferris wheel in The Third Man (the canted angles will also come up in Do The Right Thing) -- the same one where Jesse and Celine kiss:

Assignment: Required Reading & Writing

1. Here's an article by Brian Price, giving an overview of common themes in several of Linklater's films. It's a decent example of a kind of "auteurist" analysis, laying out the commonalities that make all the films seem like they come from the same personality:

2. Here's a very personal appreciation of Before Sunrise by the late critic Robin Wood. It's fussily written, but I like the informal, deliberately subjective nature of the piece. There are actually two essays on the page -- avoid the second piece if you want to avoid spoilers for Linklater's follow-up to Before Sunrise:

3. And here's a quote from Linklater, talking about time and film (he also talks about the "sequel" to Before Sunrise:

RS: One thing that ties your films together is that they seem to take place at one moment either before or after these defining thresholds of maturity. Tape, subUrbia, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, School of Rock. Is this something you work towards, or a natural tendency?

Linklater: It must be just the way my mind works. My early ideas about film were that it could capture a certain realism of a time, that’s a thing film can do unlike other art forms, they can capture reality in that moment. What better time than some kind of pivotal moment in your life. I guess I always liked the idea of people who are in the process of discovering themselves. I think we check in with Julie and Ethan and find they’re still in that process. I think that process never ends, and I’ll gladly pull out a gun and shoot myself if I start making films in which I’ve found all my answers and I’m here to impart great knowledge or wisdom to others.

RS: What’s the difference between making Before Sunset in your forties, as opposed to Before Sunrise in your thirties?

Linklater: On those films, it’s an interesting mix because roughly I’m ten years older than them [Delpy and Hawke]. They’re inhabiting it at that moment and I’ve got a ten-year lag time. There I was in my early thirties, them in their early twenties, so I was looking back at a younger time and they’re in that moment.

RS: Before Sunset seems more like an exploration and experiment on the representation of time than a straightforward sequel. You’re looking at these actors as actors, as people, hearing them discuss the lines on their faces, almost like Michael Apted’s 7 Up documentaries.

Linklater: It’s rare you’re given the opportunity in narrative, given the limitations of film, to actually have the same characters, have existing footage of them nine years previous and be able to use that in your storytelling methodology. It’s a nice luxury, a nice element to deal with. Two people encountering each other after all that time, it was a lot of fun to play with the notion of this huge gap in time. This film is real time, 80 minutes of real time. Whereas the other one was 14-16 hours of what seems like real time. And that’s all separated by nine years of life. I think the big idea that makes Before Sunset even a possibility was the notion of making it in real time. It probably begged for a bigger epic structure and I thought about it over the years. Something more traditional, telling the story on different continents. But that never worked out, it never took hold. Maybe I was somewhat emboldened by the experience on Tape, experimenting with real time.

It was somewhere after Before Sunrise and SubUrbia, everyone started telling me I was telling stories within 24 hours or 12 hours, and I joked, someday I’ll make a movie that takes place in real time, like Bergman’s Winter Light is as long as the film itself. It seemed to me like the ultimate cinematic challenge. While it was very dramatic, Before Sunset is kind of the opposite. It’s not a traditional drama. It’s closer to just existing. It can’t help but have a little dramatic structure that we impose on it. But I really just wanted to capture two people existing. And let the context take care of itself. Time and cinema. Tarkovsky put it so eloquently in his book Sculpting in Time. He articulates it as well as anyone, cinema’s particular relation to time. I was always kind of moved by what he talked about. I guess my idea of storytelling drifts in that direction.

Your assignment, due before Wednesday's class, is to make a blog post with your responses to the following questions, which relate to the above readings.

For reading #1:

What are the thematic commonalities in Linklater's films, according to Price?

For reading #2:

What do you think Wood means when he writes "style is the artist's means of defining the relationship of the spectator to the film"?

And what do you think of Linklater's approach to making Before Sunrise, as described by Wood -- bringing in collaborative scriptwriting, giving the actors the opportunity to draw on their own personal histories to shape incidents and scenes, incorporating improvisation and "accidental" meetings with real people, like the actors in the "play about the cow"? Do any of those techniques give the film a greater claim on "reality" or "realism?"

For reading #3:

Write a few sentences giving your own ideas on how film, as an artistic medium, can have a unique relationship to time -- ways film can address time in a manner that writing, painting, theater, music, dance, etc., cannot.

Recommended/Optional Reading and Viewing

Reverse Shot Linklater interview (from which the above "cinema and time" quotes are taken -- the third page has some spoilers for Before Sunset, so you might want to skip that one):

Production history for Before Sunrise:

Linklater on Netflix instant:
The Newton Boys

Good Linklater films not on instant view:
Dazed and Confused
Waking Life
The School of Rock
Before Sunset
A Scanner Darkly

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