Inside my car is a private space. A place where I am sheltered from the watching eye of the world. Well not any more. The cameras have been rolling in my car, filming the ups and the downs. The car is a secret space for many, a small haven unique to our time and though often it is home to the mundane it is in these moments we can learn something of ourselves.
The Creative Process
I Think I’ve been very honest, possibly too honest about my feelings towards making a film the whole way through this process. I’ve always found the skill behind using a camera, or editing software particularly confusing, but it’s more than that, it’s like there is this hue block in my mind, a hurdle I just can’t get over. I think it may have something to do with my dyspraxia, if it was all physically in front of me opposed to on a screen i feel i’d been much better, but I just find it so difficult to conceive of. My own inability teamed with my very critical sense for the films or photography I like, has meant that I’ve always been a big appreciator of film, but have never had any desires to make one. Similarly with Visual anthropology I think it is a wonderful gift for the anthropologist, and surrounding debates for the future of anthropology, i think visual anthropology could be an answer, however due to personal issues with my class and teaching staff during the first term of this year when we studied the theory of visual anthropology I found myself less and less inspired. Subsequently the prospect of making a film was becoming far more daunting and even less desirable in my eyes. All of this combined with the fact i had no other choice than to be on this course meant i didn’t exactly start the term with an open mind. Further trepidation stemmed from this desire for quality, and self doubt surrounding my ability to do so, not only that, but my greatest fear in anything I do, or any way of being is always arrogance, self involvement or indulgence. To me film making is a delicate balance, in much the same way as anthropology more generally. It is always going to be personal, but one’s own emotions and feelings, one’s image of oneself should, in my opinion not be indulged, even when creating a film you are very much part of, because the image we have of ourselves is always a different picture than the image others have of us, to indulge our own egos, in my humble opinion is to warp reality. Once we indulge ourselves then we lose any more overriding themes of humanity, which surely visual anthropology is all about. Needless to say, my fears juxtaposed one another, my stubborn attitude was preventing me, and my resentment for where I was made it even harder for me to open my mind to embarking on this adventure. But I was going to have to.
So regardless of my stubborn nature or apprehension, I was going to have to make a film, but what? It’s hard to be inspired when you’re harboring tension. I had been at the film screening for this module the year before, and seen a few of the previous films to that too, and though i had nothing against anything I’d seen, it just wasn’t me. There was a certain similarity to them all, the majority anyway, not exclusively followed a similar structure, interview, observations, back to interview, a more traditional documentary style if you will. But this just didn’t inspire me. If we’re being honest, i think there was more of a rebellious teenager in me, that secretly wanted to be the punk rocker of the class.
My initial inspiration came in the form of Cinema Verite in the first term. Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, Spoke to me in a way few others had. It was somewhere between art and reality, and it seemed to expose a new truth. Camera’s had the ability to change the way we see reality, so why not embrace that to expose something we may not have noticed before. This felt like a breakthrough for me. I then began reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and was equally inspired as he by Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The idea of isolating something, obscuring it from its reality to expose it for what it really was seemed to me to be a gift of the camera’s and yes, something bordering closer to art than ethnography, but all of the reading I had done to this point into ethnographic film seemed so conservative and afraid of closer movements towards art, as if by doing so you more away from ethnography. This myth was what I wanted to expose.
I work in a cocktail bar in town, I have now for the past two years almost. Although ours is little, a not so raucous kind of late night establishment, we get our fair share of inebriated activities. Alcohol has always been part of our history, and changing one’s state of mind seems to be its biggest selling point, intoxicated activities have become normalised and accepted. It was this I thought I wished to focus on, pulling on my Cinema Verite muses. But how does one abstract what is normal. My idea was simple to film from my vantage point as bartender the behaviour of those in the bar, but with a slow motion camera, to expose the nuances of of human behaviour. This Idea unfortunately when discussed with my film student housemate seemed to be slipping further and further from my grasp. Ethical questions of permission to film, to expose the truth of the speed at which the camera is rolling? The issue of light and slow motion cameras in dark spaces. The practicality of getting hold of a slow motion camera itself. It was all piling up, and time was slipping away.
So What Next?
I was lucky enough to be gifted a car last June by my grandmother, and so this time around, i made the long drive down from Newcastle to Canterbury myself at the start of this academic year. I’d had the use previously whilst at home, of the family car, and we’ve always had cars in the family, it’s a given now generally in middle class england. But it wasn’t until this year that I really started thinking about what it was that this transient space actually means. Amongst the hustle and bustle of living with a group of others, my car became my haven, a moment of complete isolation, even though together we were interacting with the world outside. A place where I’ve been able to have quiet moments of reflection, or even at one point an honest confession to my mother. There’s something about it as a space where one can speak openly with ones passengers, or visa versa. At the same time, It’s a utility, it serves a purpose, and since my acquisition of it, we’ve both been required for shopping trips, moving homes, or lifts up the mount Everest that Elliot hill up to the uni has become since I’ve owned it. It is a strange place, a transient space between places where people interact differently. And this is what I had to examine.
Inspiration, or rather validation that this could be an anthropological topic came from a lectures given by Matt Hodges which referenced marc auge’s Non- Places (1992). Which discusses those places which exist beyond the realm of the traditional community study, these homogenized places where we spend so much of our time, supermarkets, train stations, airports and motorways all become these ‘non-spaces’ where we perceive a utopian cosmopolitanism but in fact we exist in isolation. The space of the car seems to me to almost fit this bracket. Surely a result of technological and capitalist consumption, a space of transience, where interaction is mutated, and yet, a space of homeliness and community, entry to which is reserved primarily to those we care about, but with whom we interact differently in this space? This is what my film aims to find out.
Putting Myself In font of The Camera!
The inspiration for this film primarily came from personal experiences and discoveries of this space, inside my car, but this did not mean I should be the one in front of the camera. But who? It seemed to me that if I was to truly expose the space of the car then I could not restrict my film to only one vehicle. But this is not going to be a feature length film, I don’t have hours to play with in the editing suite, I have 12 minutes, and as much as I want this film to be an expose of the space within a car, in order for my short to have heart, to have anything to say about humanity at all, it can’t just be snapshots of people’s lives. I want the audience to get to know the characters in my film, to see familiar faces and understand the different ways they interact within the film. So although more vehicles, more footage, more families would make for an interesting comparison, less is often more. I’m not sure narrative is really the word, but for me to be able to create a relationship between the audience and those on screen with my time restraint I feel I really must reserve it only to ONE vehicle.
So inevitably, it just sort of became me, it was a way of exploring my curiosity and creativity potentially amateurishly, but honestly. I understood my goals, the observational nature I wanted my film to possess and knowing I and potentially my Housemate Michel were the only ones who were going to see the footage took the pressure off the presence of the camera and allowed me to be myself.
The Curse Of The Camera.
Although the Knowledge that I had complete control over the footage of myself aided my awareness and alteration of my behavior somewhat, the presence of the camera is an undeniable force, one which no filmmaker can ignore. McDougal, even when as far as to strap the camera to his body in an attempt to normalise its presence as part of him.
Initially I fell into comfort with the camera quite nicely, it’s relatively small and insignificant, and sits on my dashboard in a similar position to a sat-nav, so one forgets quite quickly. The process of setting them up when getting in and out of the car became habitual and was non time consuming, so didn’t interfere much with the routine of my life. But for some reason this gradually changed. It was not that I was acting up for the camera, quite the opposite, I became irritated by its presence. The filming took place during a relatively stressful period of my life, and the presence of the camera in what had previously been my safe haven from the world of uni and home was becoming invasive. It made me feel vulnerable and violated, as if the outside world was coming in and I was no- longer ever truly alone.