jeff smith is a
Diane Lane and Francis Ford Coppola on-set of Rumble Fish (1983)
"Where would you go?"
"Oh, wherever men of my sort used to go, long ago. Wandering on paths that other men have not seen. Behind the sky. On the other side of the rain."
STEVEN SODERBERGH: I have dreams where I hit people. I also have dreams where people are chasing me. We haven’t talked about dreams.
THE BELIEVER: Do you remember your dreams every day? Are they recurring?
SS: They recur in their theme. Mostly they involve me not being able to move fast enough. Or I’ll have baseball dreams. I had one the other night. They put me on first base, and the guy hits a ball to me and I’m going to turn a table play by stepping on first base, and I throw the ball to second and it only goes halfway and it bounces. I’m going, “What the fuck?” I can’t throw. My legs feel like lead. I have those dreams a lot. It’s just garden-variety frustration. It’s residue from doing my work, feeling like, “Why aren’t I better? Why can’t I do this better?” It’s an expression of that feeling. That’s the feeling I have sometimes—my legs not moving fast enough. It’s the same thing as sitting on the set and going, “Why can’t I figure out how to make this scene come alive?”
BLVR: Do you generally blame yourself when that happens?
SS: When I’m on the set? Yeah. Everything is the director’s fault—you can quote me on that. There are no excuses. And I do have dreams where I get into fights, but again, I’ll try and hit someone and I’ll miss them, I’ll graze them, I can’t clock somebody. It’s never successful. They’re not successful dreams.
BLVR: What is the hardest thing about filmmaking?
SS: I will say, and coming from someone who’s made some of the movies and TV I’ve made, it may seem disingenuous—but the hardest thing in the world is to be good and clear when creating anything. It’s the hardest thing in the world. It’s really easy to be obscure and elliptical and so fucking hard to be good and clear. It breaks people. Because you don’t often get encouragement to do that, to be good and clear.
BLVR: Rather than, if you’re talking film—having a plot that runs backwards.
SS: Yeah. Now, luckily for me, I don’t like to do any one thing all the time, so sometimes I get to be clear and sometimes I get to be—
BLVR: Schizopolis was pretty straightforward.
SS: [Laughs] That’s what I thought. It wasn’t good but it was clear.
BLVR: That was a great movie! Nobody ever asks you about that?
SS: No. Except maybe the ones with the crazy look in their eyes when I go to festivals.
When I finished Schizopolis, I honestly thought—I need to come up with a German word for this, too—I honestly thought that I was really onto something that was going to be very, very popular. I thought that movie was going to be a hit. I thought people would go, “This is a new thing.” I thought it was going to be bigger than Sex, Lies, and Videotape. You have to believe that while you’re making it. Once I started showing it, I didn’t believe it anymore. I made that movie for four hundred thousand. The plan was to make one of those every two years, and make enough money to subsist on a crazy movie every two years, and make enough just to live. I don’t think anyone who was involved with Schizopolis made money. My plan was to have the films finance themselves, and just keep making these crazy movies. In my opinion, as nutty as Schizopolis is, Full Frontal was less accessible. Schizopolis is about the breakdown of a marriage. It’s very simple, in a way. It’s about two people who can’t communicate. It’s all in the service of expressing this emotional detachment and frustration. As crazy as it gets, it’s not actually an obscure movie to me. Full Frontal is like a real… it’s odd because it’s about aesthetics. It’s a live-action discussion about the phoniness of aesthetics, and at the end of the movie the wrong aesthetic is exposed as being phony, the one that you think is real. And so it pisses people off, because basically the movie’s just saying you shouldn’t be too pulled in by any of these tricks. That may not be a discussion that needs to take place in front of an audience. At the time, I was interested in the contract between the filmmaker and the audience. What’s the fine print? What are you allowed to do and not to do? For two million dollars, let’s find out. And I learned something—I learned that, for most people, I really went off the reservation there.
But that’s fine. You’ve got to be able to chart that. If I hadn’t made Full Frontal, I wouldn’t have been able to make Bubble the way I did in terms of the control of the aesthetic. What I learned from Full Frontal was that you need to apply some of these ideas to something that is clearer. A lot of people who write about art don’t understand the importance of failure, the importance of process. Woody Allen can’t leap from Annie Hall to Manhattan.He has to make Interiors in between to get to Manhattan. You’ve got to let him do that.
BLVR: But if someone’s making a good number of films regularly, the margin for error is greater than if you’re only making three in your life.
SS: Yeah, but you’re going to make some mistakes. Every time you make something that somebody likes, your impulse is to remind them that if you hadn’t made some of these other things that they hated, you wouldn’t have been able to make the thing that they liked. The attitude toward the stuff they don’t like is so extreme because they don’t understand the role that it has in your development.
“Most people have a certain understanding of what a horror film is, namely, that it is emotionally juvenile, ignorant, supremely non-intellectual and dumb. You know, just basically stupid. […] A lot of people think of film, in general, as an escape, an escape to entertainment. But I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontation. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you’re making a horror film doesn’t mean you can’t make an artful film. Tell me the difference between someone’s favorite horror film and someone else’s favorite art film. There really isn’t any, you know. Emotions, imagery, intellect, your own sense of self—all of this can be included in a horror film.” — David Cronenberg
I made a dumb thing.
Sometime last week I was staring at a screen unable to think, and in an effort to shuffle up the contents of my head I changed the track entirely. I decided what I and the world needed was another nonsense twitter robot.
It works by querying twitter for a random recent tweet. From this it selects the first word and discards the rest, returning and asking twitter for another tweet containing the same word. From this second tweet it garners a second word, the word that follows the first, and from this second word a third tweet, and from the third a fourth and so on.
What fascinates me more than the mess of incoherence the method generates is the wandering path it takes to get there. On this page you can see the most recent robot output, followed by the sequence of tweets used in its manufacture. They run the range from eloquent to absurd, tragic to comic; heartfelt whines and heartless urges all entwined. Maybe it means something, sometimes. Probably it doesn’t.
As a mental exercise I give it a C+, 69 points. Would buy again.