Iíll Be Your Eyes,
Youíll Be Mine
Keja Kramer: For the past couple of months weíve been working on our film Ė Iíll Be Your Eyes, Youíll Be Mine (2006) Ė and weíve been having these particular discussions about the way we undertook fabricating it. One of these discussions mainly had to do with the vocabulary: how do you go about explaining your work, explaining how you work, what words do you use?
Stephen Dwoskin: Yeah, itís an improvisation of image-making, in a way. The activity of putting together a piece of work is a cumulative process, which is usually the way you paint or write music Ė in that you donít really have a conclusive idea of which elements will go where, but you have an idea of what youíre driving at. So itís a process of using images, or collecting images, without conceiving of an overall structure until you have this collection Ė and then applying these images in a stream-of-consciousness, as if placed down onto the palette (which is the time line) and using the images as a way of thinking about the sequence. Whatever image you put down first triggers what the next one is going to be. Thereís not really any rule about how to do it; itís very much an instinctive process of connecting things through how you think about what you are trying to say, and how much those images contribute to that thought. Then the connection between these different images begins to build up as a kind of under-narrative. It becomes very much like painting, where you put down your basic colours or basic shapes, and then you begin to manipulate them in an additive or subtractive way. You build on the first elements you put down, the first impulsive images or colours and, as you work through it, you modulate the various elements Ė say for example, the various colours Ė until it takes shape.
K: What did video give you in this process?
S: Well, video gives you Ė donít take pictures while I talk, I canít think Ė video brings ... I think itís more the computer, rather than video. The computer offers a very flexible palette which allows you to be in control of all the elements in application. Also, economically, it allows you to have a broader palette; you can have many more elements, less expensively. It means you can go off and immediately shoot something, or make something which appears to be missing, without going into a large production. So, if you suddenly think you need a light switch or a table, or another component or another piece of your palette, the video actually makes it possible, a bit like a Polaroid. You can go and create the thing instantly and put it into the larger picture; it has that flexibility. But itís really in the computer that you can put everything down in front of you at once, so that it becomes like a canvas. It doesnít require other people or other techniques such as going to labs or other places; you have everything in front of you. Itís very much like the painterís palette, where you can squeeze as many tubes of paint as you want onto the palette or use as many different brushes as you feel fit. So, in a sense, the computer, and the editing on the computer, gives you that space to work in, without having to use other mechanisms Ė which you often have to do in film. Also it means, because of the time line and the way you edit, you can move pieces (shots and sequences) around quite easily and flexibly, trying out different connections, without having to go through the lengthy process of gigantic spools of film being moved around on big editing tables. So the process is more like thinking, and the looking is much more spontaneous Ė much more rapid and much more total; you can work on it in a more complete way, without breaking off to find splicing tape or whatever. In a way, itís more compact.
K: When you were working on the video letters with Robert [Video Letters Robert Kramer/Stephen Dwoskin, 1991], you were both working in Hi-8. Do you think they would have changed a lot if you had both evolved to virtual editing?
S: Well, the letters had a particular rule when we started Ė not to edit! That was more to do with video, in the sense that we could make up the diaries or letters in the most basic way. We could talk to ourselves, do everything ourselves as much as possible. You didnít need anyone to work the camera for you, you didnít have to send your material to the labs Ė it was very direct. It was more like writing, in that you didnít have to involve anyone else in it. Not including editing was again like doing a written letter Ė you donít really edit your letters when you write to friends Ė so the idea was simply to just do whatever we could in the camera.
K: Did you respect that, or did you cheat sometimes?
S: I respected it. Robert respected it, to some extent. I think the problem after the first letters became the sound in combination with the image. Both of us Ė without being aware that each was doing it Ė began to cheat on the original rule by effectively doing the sound separately. We played the sound into the camera while we shot something, because the first letters became a problem: whatever you looked at in the camera became what you talked about. What you were looking at or how you were doing it distracted a lot from other thoughts. So what began to happen is we started to talk into tape recorders, voice recorders Ė at least I did, and Robert said he did as well. We started to have technical trouble about mic inputs into the camera, because of impedence problems with SONY inputs. In the last letter Robert did, he actually prerecorded the voice describing the house, and then filmed it separately while playing the sound into the camera. So, in fact, the soundtrack or voices were done in one space and the pictures in another space.
K: Did the video letters come about as some type of rebellion to a certain kind of filmmaking you were both doing at that time?
S: I wouldnít say it was a rebellion. I would say it was in annoyance, a reaction to the sort of formality we were getting into in terms of making films. Having to write scripts and do all those production things to raise money, and all that. The idea of the letters was a really spontaneous way of working without having to do all this preparation, writing applications, working in a formal way. It was really trying to get back to a basic filmmaking process.
K: Were the two of you communicating outside of the letters?
S: Yeah, in a very obtuse sort of way. We were emailing and making comments, but nothing detailed. The letters started when we were both considering where we where in relation to being in Europe. Robert was beginning the debate of whether to take a French passport; it actually started around the time when the American government allowed you to have dual nationality, so there was a thought about applying Ė in my case for British nationality and, in Robertís case, French nationality. It was a question about our relationship as Americans being in Europe Ė I think more so for Robert Ė and the question as to whether to go back, and what happens if we change our nationality, change our allegiance ... the whole question of our position in the European context. The Europeans never completely accepted us as Europeans, and the idea of going back to America was a bit daunting Ė what does it all mean? It was a question; we didnít know what the answer was, which made up part of the reason for our dialogue to begin.
K: Did you end up getting British citizenship?
K: Did the discussion come to any particular conclusions?
S: No. The letters themselves started with a mention of these things. Robert started when he was in Berlin with the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service]. I donít know what space I was in, thinking about going back, but I didnít have the flexibility ... It was also about building a relationship between Robert and myself; although we had known each other for a long time, we had never spoken much, we never had a dialogue Ė so it was finally settling down to make that dialogue between each other. As Americans, as filmmakers of the same generation, of the same age, and so forth!
K: Because your filmmaking is quite different.
S: Not really Ė different stylistically, but theyíre motivated by similar positions. They both search for some way of dealing with oneís personal ideas, or oneís attempt to deal with the world that concerns either of us Ė a way of expressing that relationship between ourselves personally and those things that we see and want everyone to find out about. Like Route One/ USA (1989) is, in many ways, a search for Robert to find out about his relationship to America. To go up and down that road, which he did and I did separately, when we were twenty years old. The films are different, yes, but they are not created out of a different type of world, they are created out of the same type of world of searching for something, using the film as a way of documenting that search, and perhaps making a decision in terms of the films we make. Stylistically, theyíre different Ė I mean, Robert worked more with the verbal and open space, and I more with the visual and enclosed space Ė but they both were experiments in how to put it all down, a form of journalism, in a way: how to search through the questions, and the question of film in general. These questions are never answered, but we are trying to deal with the elements inside, to see if there is some kind of answer. In that sense, the making of the film has a similar motivation Ė itís like looking for the unanswered question by going through a process of trying to externalise that question through film, so that it can be responded to.
K: Can you imagine what your dialogue would have been like today had Robert still been around?
S: Yes! I think it would have been more personal. I think the question about where we are and where weíve been would have changed a lot. We were about to start the letters again, it was actually two months before he died [in 1999] that we talked about it. We were going to start again after he finished the last film, and we had discussed it two or three times by email, and we had met at Dunkirk a few months before. We probably would have started it after the film, we were getting ready for it ... Itís hard to say what would have happened. I think the letters then would have been better constructed; also, technically, things would have changed a lot, because Hi-8 wasnít really satisfactory. Now, with DV, the image-making would have been probably more interesting, or certainly different.
K: So, in making the film we are now finishing, has that put you in a retrospective/introspective mood, about memories and going back?
S: Actually, it didnít make me go back into memories because itís more about you, actually, and Robert. It didnít make me have memories about Robert as it does you. It made me connect differently to Robert as a friend, it made me see him differently, and it made me see him better. It taught me things about him I didnít know. It was more a process of seeing you deal with your father.
K: Which you didnít really go through when you made Dad (2003), because that is very particular as well.
S: Oh well, Dad is different, I think! I had a different relationship with my fatherís images, or images of my father, because my father had no voice. Your relationship to Robert is much more immediate, because my father died twenty-seven years ago. Making my film Dad was reflective, full of very dreamy, respectful memories of him: the kind of expressions he had, the gestures, the way he would do things. Itís like a poem, a choreographed poem about images that I remember about my father, because those images were captured. It made me respect my father much more by looking at them. The film is a gesture of love and respect for my father, maybe to resurrect him, in a way Ė because I never really thought that much about my father until I began to approach his age, you see. It made me wish I knew my father better or had a chance to talk to him more. But now itís too late, too far, too long ago! I think what you had to go through on this film is a very different process than what I had to go through with Dad. With you, even though itís six years ago, itís more immediate. You see, you inherited something, you inherited a legacy, which I didnít. You inherited a treasure chest, an archive, so much Ė and all I inherited was a few bits of film and a lot of memories with a lot of stuff missing. You actually had a lot of stuff not missing, a lot more, an excess of stuff. Itís a big difference between having a lot of something and a very little of something to work from. Also, of course, you had a different relationship to your father than I did to mine,
K: What do you mean?
S: Well, youíre a daughter, and just in the way you refer to Robert as Daddy, itís the father-daughter thing ... And you worked with him, you were very much a sort of elusive extension of him Ė which both annoyed and pleased you at the same time. I never worked with my father, I never had that connection. My father was like a phantom, and my film Dad resurrects his image Ė putting the picture on the tombstone, like they used to do in Russia.
K: So, whatís your next film going to look like, after Oblivion (2005)?
S: I donít know, exactly! I have a few ideas, but finding the people and the money seems out of reach. I wish I had a better idea; I would like to work with other people more, now.
K: Did it surprise you to make Oblivion, in the sense that it looks the way it does after Visitors (2005)?
S: I donít think Oblivion is a major breakthrough Ė because, in some ways, itís taking a way of working in a smaller scale, like with Dad or Visitors, and putting it into a bigger frame, a bigger picture Ė in other words, a feature-length work. To sustain the idea through that type of process of working is like going from a short story to a novel. I mean, I have made long films before, but they were much more Ďscriptedí, with many more concrete points to follow in making them. I think Trying to Kiss the Moon (1994) was the first attempt to put a film together like a painting Ė but in film, so itís more like a collage/montage process of associations. Oblivion is much more painterly, in its more physical tactility Ė the aesthetics of painting enter the film frame. I was surprised it reached the intensity it did without falling apart. I would like to continue that process into other thoughts or stories or narratives; I guess my problem is that I donít know if I have the energy or the effort to do it Ė itís not the absence of ideas but the absence of strength. Oblivion was sort of a big burnout in some ways, an emotional burnout, because from Visitors to Another Time (2002) before that Ė all this closing in tighter and tighter into an internal space! You canít go any closer into it, somehow. I have to get out of it instead of going further in, and thereís not so much room you can move into. But itís also a state of mind Ė thatís the difficulty with personal films. They are a manifestation of oneís position and feelings; so, if you feel suffocated, itís very hard to make a film after Oblivion thatís even more suffocating without killing yourself. So, unless circumstances change, I donít know what would follow, really.
K: Do you think Robert felt that way after his last film? Were you in contact at all after Cities of the Plain (1999/2000)?
S: I think he was arriving at that point. I think he was getting worn out in his search a bit, finding a way through, in an abstract sort of way, not knowing any longer exactly how to handle the material without getting into a repetition. Not knowing how far to go! You need a lot of energy to do it, you need a lot of motivation, because making films is a bit like a drug Ė and if you OD on it, itís pretty hard. You can get lost very easily in it, like being stoned, and then demobilised, donít you agree? I donít know where Robert was in his private life, you probably know better.
K: I donít think thereís another life than the film when you are in it.
S: Well, making a film is life!
K: Exactly, so he wasnít living at home; he was shooting every day.
S: But itís also about how one feels about a relationship to oneís self at that time. To keep the ball bouncing Ė sometimes itís very easy to give up. Making films for many people ... itís really hard work. If you lose your motivation for a moment, the whole thing could fall apart; itís very heavy, very intense, and that intensity can be very exhausting ...
K: I was laughing to myself about shooting Iíll Be Your Eyes, and the idea of all those situations of dragging the tripod on a bicycle because it was too heavy to carry, and all these cameras on my back, walking out to the middle of a field to change into that green suit and turning the camera on, having nobody behind the camera, wandering around ... In those moments, when youíre working within such a lonely configuration, you have only your own motivation to go on, your own self ...
S: Yeah, itís the same.
K: ... for acknowledgement. But, even working here, when itís just the two of us, you feel like thereís no world Ė the whole world is just this world, these images that weíve pulled in. I guess you could go mad after a while ...
S: Yes, like Boris [Lehman], or Tonino [Debernardi], or so many of us ... it is madness in itself really, in a broader sense of the word.
K: It seems like Robert would recreate that space when he would go out to the country to edit alone. He would pre-edit his films before he brought them into the editing room with an editor; he would get into this high-strung intensity. Since I grew up around that kind of energy, to me it seems very natural Ė the opposite would be more destabilising. Iím wondering if it would have changed the way Robert worked, had he gone into virtual editing, since he only ever worked in analogical.
S: It probably would have gotten more intense. You probably know better; I was never around him when he worked. I was around him mostly when he was exposed to the public world outside ... I think making this film with you has been an experience for me, too. Itís been difficult; I had to restrain myself a lot more than I normally would have done, since itís more your space, more your search than mine. For me, it was trying to figure out how to let you get it out more and not imposing myself into it, trying to get you through it ...
K: Thank you!
S: ... because itís about you and your relationship to Robert, and everyone else. I was sort of like the chief of police, and you were the detective. You had to report back to me to see if the evidence you had accrued was legitimate, or if it would hold up in court.
K: Yeah, somewhat, but I also think there was a pretty definite transmission as well Ė about a way of working I was beginning to touch on when I came and edited my São Paolo film [Le Ciel est mon plafond, 2005]. But it was more precise in this case, something I really wanted to learn and get more of a grip on. I think Iím somewhere between Robertís way of making films and the next step I want to take. This film was really about understanding a certain kind of freedom, experiencing it and seeing how it can work. I think Robertís way was much more structured in a certain sense.
S: Yeah, Erika [Kramer] said itís a different type of structure. I have a structure which physically looks much looser, but is guided by a very affirmative point of staying and making sure all the elements Ė as obtuse as they might appear at first Ė remain within the very tight structure of an idea. I try not to lose sight of the idea at all, and not actually waver or change it, which allows me to bring and hold together what appear to be random pieces of imagery. Whereas Robert worked from a much more, if you like, architectural structure; he worked on making sure the elements were in keeping more with his thought process, rather than using the material to create a thought process. But I think these are different ways of structuring your idea. Perhaps structure can also be thought of as a discipline. To work the way I work, and the way you worked on this film, requires a discipline, a continuity of thinking. If you lose that continuity of thinking, then you lose the structure of the film. So itís a matter of trying to sustain the continuity of thinking rather than relate to a diagram outside of that ... if you know what I mean ...
K: Yeah, since I experienced it, I know it very well ...
S: I like that way of working, because it makes the editing process almost part of the filming process; normally they are two separate activities, but this way itís almost like the shooting and the editing mesh together as a singular process. You have to do both things, making the picture and structuring it, at the same time Ė then be able to change and move it around, keep manipulating it like a piece of clay, until it gets the right shape. Itís a process of discovering as you go along, letting the material you find or use talk back to you. Itís a dialogue with the work, a dialogue with the film in the process of making it. Effectively, that dialogue becomes part of the film which other people then begin to feel and understand Ė so it has a life of its own, that way. Thereís very little presupposition, because itís all a process of discovery. Itís almost like discovering accidents and letting accidents become part of your vocabulary. Not saying: ĎWell, I canít use that because itís not what I had plannedí, but: ĎI can use that now because itís contributing something to my ideaí.
|Conversation recorded in English 11 February 2006; originally published in French translation in Robert Kramer (Bobigny: Magic Cinéma, 2006).|
© Keja Ho Kramer & Stephen Dwoskin June 2006. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the authors.