The dispassionate mirror : towards a transcendental narrative in film practice
The use of Zen - advertent or inadvertent - in the practice of artistic creation is not new. From Japanese Haiku poetry, the early poetry of Wordsworth and even aspects of Shakespeare's Hamlet, to the paintings of Cezanne and Dali, to the novels of Ben Okri and the work of Samuel Becket and Peter Brooke, we see differing efforts to transcend the dominant mode of understanding ourselves and the world around us: namely that of the duality of thought, of the kind our conscious, logical intellect can comprehend. One could even point to contemporary physics - and in particular the physics emerging out of quantum mechanics' - to see that efforts to transcend the limitations of our own intellect in the quest to understand the phenomena of life are not confined to artists. One could describe this quest as spiritual, in that it is concerned with understanding life predominantly through feeling. As a relatively young art form, first conceived and developed within a mechanistic paradigm, the film medium does not have a tradition that both filmmakers and audience alike can relate to in terms of transcending modes of dualistic thought and exploring our spiritual nature. With some notable exceptions who remain on the whole on the fringes of popular film culture - Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer and Tarkovsky being the most prominent of these - filmmakers have been confined to working predominantly within the idiom of cause and effect, conflict and resolution, and the logic of psychologically explicable character motivation and consequent plot development. With relatively few reference points, the process of examining and exploring the film form beyond this psychological realism is difficult, not least because of the economic restraints that have traditionally hampered innovation within filmmaking. While our conscious thoughts and emotional lives are amply studied within the bounds of largely Freudian and humanistic psychology, there remain aspects of human experience - feelings connected to our transcendental natures - which film does not adequately explore or express. Here, I shall seek to illustrate and evaluate the efforts I have made as a practicing filmmaker through three films - One Day Tafo, Reunion and Signs of Life - to explore and develop a film form which seeks to reveal a truth about myself and the world in which I live: a truth which goes beyond what may be psychologically and intellectually explicable, a truth which is essentially experiential and devoid of traditional concepts of meaning. I am tempted to refer to this as `Zen and the art of filmmaking'? For me, this work is only the beginning of a life-long process, the outcomes of which I hope others may be able to use for further research and exploration.