Dreaming the Shot List

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“For a long time, I tackled each shot as if it were the last, as if someone would be taking my camera away just after I finished shooting with it. Therefore, I had the feeling I was stealing each shot, and in this state of mind it’s impossible to think in terms of “grammar” or even “logic.” Even today, I prepare nothing in advance. In fact, I try to dream in my sleep the shots I will be shooting the next day on my set. With a little luck, I’m able to do it. If not, when I arrive on set in the morning I ask to be alone for a while, and I roam around the set with my viewfinder. I look through it and try to imagine the characters moving and saying their lines. It’s almost as if the scene were already there, invisible or impalpable, with me trying to seek it out and give it life.”

Bernardo Bertolucci interviewed in Moviemakers’ Masterclass by Laurent Tirard. Reminds me of Buster Keaton’s, “By God, when we was making movies, we ate, slept and dreamt ’em.” My problem as filmmaker, in common with many others, is that I’m an insomniac whenever I travel or whenever I make a movie (the two processes are related). My theory is that directors are usually grouchy for this reason, and films are usually bad for this reason. They’re made by people who haven’t slept and can’t think clearly.

Tirard’s book is enjoyable and informative and he has rounded up an amazing array of talent — Woody Allen, Almodovar, Boorman, the Coens, Cronenberg, Godard, Kusturica, Lynch, Pollack, Scorsese, Wenders, Wong Kar-Wai… I wish he asked a wider range of questions, more tailored to his subjects. I think Bert, above, is the only guy with a really good answer to the boilerplate question “Does film have a grammar?” Most of those asked say it does, but you can break it, but you have to know it to break it, blah blah. Listening to Cronenberg, who, for all his wild imagery, has never really done anything with the interplay of shots that broke with the tradition of Griffith, coming out with this pablum is mildly irritating. He could give a better answer to a better question.

Still, it’s a great array of interviewees. Some of them give slightly more practical advice than Bertolucci, too.

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4 Responses to “Dreaming the Shot List”

  1. At his best Bertolucci dreams the shots. See Before the Revolution, Partner, The Conformist, Agonia, Last Tango in Paris, La Luna and his grievously underrated adaptation of Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. When he’s not dreaming things get far more prosaic as in his epics Novecentoand The Last Emperor, the deeply unfortunate Little Buddha ( yes I find Keanu as pretty as you do, Bernardo, but what’s with the stupid modern story that accompanies it?) and the sadly mistitled The Dreamers. That was an adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s novel (must look up its title, don’t have it offhand) which was inspired by Cocteau’s “Les Enfants Terrible” set in and around May 68 in which the brother and sister make an American friend at the Cinematheque Francaise resulting in a ménage a trois. This was delightful on the age. But by the time the screen adaptation was made Gilbert had decided that he was straight, this upsetting the apple cart. The truth was past 50 he was no longer about to attract the “ephebes” he so desired and his “Grace du Jour” elected to seduce Gilbert — her “Will” o The Wisp. It didn’t take ultimately. But the film was made without the key male sex scenes of the book. Thus we never got to see Louis Garrel (always up for “Le Same-Sex” cinematic) get it on with the lovely Michael Pitt.

    Now Gilbert’s gone and Bernardo is wheelchair-bound. Haven’t seen the one he’s made since. Him and Me I believe it’s called. A No Star study of a kid who doesn’t want to leave his room.
    I hear he’s planning something in the near future. Hope he gets to make it.

  2. The Holy Innocents is Adair’s excellent novel, which he then traduced as a screenplay.

    Bert’s apparently felt much better since he chose to use a wheelchair — his chronic back pain is now under control, so I hope he can make more movies. I’d love him to get back with Storaro for one last go-round.

  3. So would I. He had been working on an opera-related project.

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