Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Genius or deluded fool?

I remember seeing a film about Charlie Chaplin, years ago, that discussed his method of making his greatest films, and I halfway think that influenced my writing, subconsciously. By that, I mean the way I keep rewriting...and rewriting...and rewriting because I rarely start a story with a definite outline but instead only an idea and some notes. Here's what his bio in Wikipedia says --

Until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator, Chaplin never shot from a completed script.[353] Many of his early films began with only a vague premise – for example "Charlie enters a health spa" or "Charlie works in a pawn shop."[354] He then had sets constructed and worked with his stock company to improvise gags and "business" using them, almost always working the ideas out on film.[352] As ideas were accepted and discarded, a narrative structure would emerge, frequently requiring Chaplin to re-shoot an already-completed scene that might have otherwise contradicted the story.[355][clarification needed] From A Woman of Paris onward Chaplin began the filming process with a prepared plot,[356] but Robinson writes that every film up to Modern Times "went through many metamorphoses and permutations before the story took its final form."[357]

Producing films in this manner meant Chaplin took longer to complete his pictures than almost any other filmmaker at the time.[358] If he was out of ideas, he often took a break from the shoot, which could last for days, while keeping the studio ready for when inspiration returned.[359] Delaying the process further was Chaplin's rigorous perfectionism.[360] According to his friend Ivor Montagu, "nothing but perfection would be right" for the filmmaker.[361] Because he personally funded his films, Chaplin was at liberty to strive for this goal and shoot as many takes as he wished.[362] The number was often excessive, for instance 53 takes for every finished take in The Kid.[363] For The Immigrant, a 20 minute-short, Chaplin shot 40,000 feet of film – enough for a feature-length.[364]
"No other filmmaker ever so completely dominated every aspect of the work, did every job. If he could have done so, Chaplin would have played every role and (as his son Sydney humorously but perceptively observed) sewn every costume."[350]
—Chaplin biographer David Robinson
Describing his working method as "sheer perseverance to the point of madness",[365] Chaplin would be completely consumed by the production of a picture.[366] Robinson writes that even in Chaplin's later years, his work continued "to take precedence over everything and everyone else."[367] The combination of story improvisation and relentless perfectionism – which resulted in days of effort and thousands of feet of film being wasted, all at enormous expense – often proved taxing for Chaplin who, in frustration, would lash out at his actors and crew.[368]

Chaplin exercised complete control over his pictures,[350] to the extent that he would act out the other roles for his cast, expecting them to imitate him exactly.[369] He personally edited all of his films, trawling through the large amounts of footage to create the exact picture he wanted.[370] As a result of his complete independence, he was identified by the film historian Andrew Sarris as one of the first auteur filmmakers.[371] Chaplin did receive help, notably from his long-time cinematographer Roland Totheroh, brother Sydney Chaplin, and various assistant directors such as Harry Crocker and Charles Reisner.[372]
I don't compare myself to Chaplin in anyway except how damned long it takes to get to the core of the story. Which I am, apparently, still doing with a light little piece like The Alice '65...but which I can't help but do because I want it to be right.

And to paraphrase what someone once said about pornography, "I don't know that is, yet; I'll just know it when I see it."

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