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“What Can Be Shown”

When I took my first steps in moviemaking some eight years ago, I apologized to a friend of mine to whom I was showing some footage: "I don't think that this is worth watching at all. There are thousands of films in the world which are immeasurably better, both technically add artistically."

He replied, "But that's not the same. This is your film, and it has a value that no other film can replace."

At the time I thought he was being polite (he was, indeed). Now I am convinced that he was also right. Doing something cannot be compared with just watching what someone else has done. The artistic process has its own internal logic, and only when this logic is grasped can one understand what others have produced as well.

Since cinema is an expensive and complex art, one has to know one's limitations and learn to work, and cope, with them. It would be preposterous for an amateur moviemaker to undertake a cinema epic, requiring hundreds of thousands of feet of film, dozens of superb actors, and a myriad optical and sound effects.

A certain amount of technical competence is a necessary ingredient of all moviemaking. Cinema is a language, and it has to be learned just like any other language. Once the elementary level of technical competence is achieved, however, one has to be able to say something: covey some idea, arouse some emotion, provide some atmosphere.

Trying to say something without knowing how to say it is pretty bad. But knowing how to say something without having anything at all to say is even worse.

I have always tried to say something in my films. They are of two kinds, all of them short enough to be economically feasible and reasonably (or perhaps I should say emotionally) appealing.

Some of my films have a very simple, although by no means—or so I hope—naive plot. Most of them fall under a series called "Exemplary Stories," after Cervantes and Unamuno—exemplary not because they want to lay down norms, but only because they aim at presenting typical examples of some perplexing or disturbing human situation.

Such is the case with "Everydayness"—the story of a woman who attempts suicide, fails, and doesn't care; or with "The Call"—the story of another woman who fails to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary: she becomes insane, but then she is able to "convince" her psychiatrist that the dividing line between reality and imagination is at best an imaginary line, perhaps invented by psychiatrists, after all.

Some of my other films lack a plot, but not necessarily a structure. They are as it were, impressionistic documentaries. Thus "Skin of the Earth" is a picture of one of the Canary Islands. Its 360 volcanoes are contrasted with its pastoral landscapes. The human element is reduced to a minimum. All is texture, rock, sand, fire.

"The Suit of Night"—the title is taken from an expression of Shakespeare—tries to give an "idea" of the night, from sunset to sundawn, with some of the many mysterious things that happen on the dark side of the earth.

In some sense, films and, in general, works of art are indescribable. They are, in a philosopher's phrase, what can be shown, not what can be said. It makes little sense to talk about them but it would make a lot of sense to show them. That is, of course, why I make them, so that they can be seen. I cannot guarantee that they would be of interest to everyone, but perhaps this is not anything against them. That a work of art interests some people deeply and leaves others cold is—all things considered—a good thing.

Bryn Mawr Now (November 1975)
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