Why I made an 'artsy' film and called it 'Resonance'

I'd like to think there's something to be said for the darkness that compels us to create. Think of all the writers, artists and thinkers who have been known to suffer from some form of mental and/or emotional stress; conditions our Western vocabulary might classify as disorders. Lars von Trier, a controversial Danish filmmaker who's work I admire, is a modern example of a 'tortured artist;' having crafted complex and insightful films seemingly from the depths of darkness within his mind. Additionally, he "struggle[s] from a ridiculous number of fears and phobias ... the only thing that doesn't scare me is making films."  Is it possible that depression, 'bipolarity', antagonizing self-reflection or similar conditions are the consequence of being creatively inclined? Or does 'art' precede and even stimulate these conditions?

One or two shots in my little film experiment, "Resonance," pay direct tribute to the images of von Trier. (See: Melancholia, 2011) Some accuse von Trier's films of being pretentious, or aiming to impress by boasting greater importance than is actually possessed. The same could easily be said for my own film, "Resonance," which is, truthfully, not much more than a scattered mosaic of abstract images and self-important ideas. I won't lie. It is not some labour of love or purposeful expression of inner truth (although it might have something to do with the latter). It was recklessly experimental, and in the end, it showed me things about myself that I didn't like.

 Screenshot from 'Resonance'

Screenshot from 'Resonance'

 Screenshot from Lars von Trier's  Melancholia  (2011)

Screenshot from Lars von Trier's Melancholia (2011)

I won't sit here and pretend that I know what it's like to struggle with clinical depression. I have friends that do, and the extent of their suffering is something I cannot possibly hope to fully understand. I won't sit here and pretend that my ability to empathise with people's struggles is any substitute for experiencing those struggles for myself. What I do know is this: in the absence of experience, ideas and fantasies take free reign of the mind. This results in an unearned sense of self-importance. Pride. Narcissism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, self-described artists are often guilty as charged. In the end, however, I can only truthfully speak for myself. Even then, it's probably unfair to say I can be trusted. Self-important fantasies are the most resilient roots of the imagination.

Right. So, with all of this more or less in the back of my mind, I pushed myself last November to put a short film together, without script or focus. Internally, I was teetering on the edge of a difficult life scenario, and the urgency felt in the film is more or less a reflection of the anxiety I was dealing with at that time. I couldn't be bothered putting a coherent script together; I had images in my head that felt pregnant with visual potential, and I had a strange YouTube clip of an American Instructional film from the 50's (the era of anti-communist paranoia and propaganda):

The uploader of the video aptly describes the film as "hosted by an unnamed 'psychologist' ... spouting Pavlovian claptrap such as 'Fear is triggered by loud noises' and 'Your emotions can be your own greatest enemy.'" The film compares human emotion to fire, and prescribes piety and self-control to everyday relational concerns. Emotional responses are literally categorized and labelled on wooden blocks. It was the perfect dose of irony for my very emotionally-saturated vision.

 "As the earth closes its final chapter, two women are forced to reconcile with their emotional identities."

"As the earth closes its final chapter, two women are forced to reconcile with their emotional identities."

My first thought was this: what if the Apocalypse was treated with something other than conventional survival mentality? What if a cataclysmal, cosmic event was imminent, and it was beautiful? (I know, I know - very emo.) So metaphorically, the end is not the end, but an opportunity for reflection and poetic consideration. This is more of a feeling than an idea, but I think this visual becomes the film's anchor in a way; a vantage point from which to draw interpretation.

Elsewhere, two young girls are finding some sort of comfort/solace through the visual motif of a rose. The two young actresses I worked with were Affia and Olivia. Olivia's rose is rendered on drawing paper; Affia's is frozen in a block of ice (so subtle). The rose is open to free association - consider feelings or attachments typically assigned by our culture. To me, this is what makes a good visual motif. Good art does not exist within a closed system, it is interactive in that it asks the viewer/appreciator to contribute something from their own experiences.

The same could be said for other things, such as the wine being poured into the glass and extinguishing the flame. Someone told me they thought it was a perfect metaphor for alcoholism. I can't say this is what I had in mind when I shot it, but through free association it meant something specific to at least one person. This makes me smile, because it says something important about what art is capable of! In the context of my film, that one shot could be a hint as to the struggles of one of the characters. Depending on how ambitious you feel (or how far you're willing to impose connections), you could theoretically draw association from alcoholism > liquid being poured on the rose > rose being dropped and abandoned. This could be common sense to some people; for others, it could be a ridiculous stretch. 

Just to make sure I'm still making sense here: these potential connections were not planned out in careful consideration before shooting. I'm not really that smart. My film is not that smart, either. It's only an experiment. But more than being mechanical, it was an outlet of emotional expression for me during a specific season of life. Some people sit down and write moody poetry. I get some friends together and craft moody images. I suppose it's a testament to the darkness that compels us to create. In my case, it turned out to be a reflection of my own pride and self-importance.

"If there are occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart." -- Jesse Jackson

Why am I reflecting now? Maybe it has to do with my regret that I haven't picked up a camera since December. My creative 'grape,' it would seem, was starting to look more like a raisin. I'm far from "giving up" or anything quite as dramatic - but as I reflect, I'm forced to associate my most recent burst of creative expression with the darkness I was experiencing at the time. I didn't plan for things to work out like that. I never really stopped and analysed my situation. Even now, my aimless pondering are largely unstructured and more abstract than they need to be. So what's the answer?

Maybe if I push myself to keep making films, I'll eventually figure it out.