Note-taking while reading Berliner’s essays

Alan Berliner là một nhà làm phim tài liệu người Mỹ. Ông bằng tuổi bố, đang sống ở New York – thành phố không ngủ, cũng trở thành ẩn dụ cho chứng mất ngủ chủ đề phim Wide Awake (2006) của ông. Bộ phim Wide Awake ông làm về chứng mất ngủ của mình và không phải ngoại lệ, Alan Berliner làm phim về bản thân trong hầu hết các phim. Cách của ông là khiến một câu chuyện rất riêng tư, rất cá nhân trở thành một câu chuyện phổ quát mà ai khi xem cũng có thể liên hệ. Điều này nghệ sĩ nào cũng mong muốn, nhưng không phải dễ dàng gì.

Một trong những việc rất khó ấy là phải đối diện được với nỗi sợ hãi của bản thân. Trong xã hội mà ai cũng phải phây phây, ai cũng phải vui cười, nói về mình ở khía cạnh tiêu cực nhất, và dùng câu của ông, “to be able to laugh at yourself”, không phải điều mà ai cũng làm được và thậm chí là sẵn sàng thử. Đó là một điều mình cảm thấy được an ủi nhiều.

Một điều nữa mình có thể chia sẻ được với Berliner, ấy là khi ông nói về quá trình dựng phim không phải như việc, dựng trong đầu trước rồi dựng trên máy. Ông nói về quá trình ấy như một việc thêu dệt âm thanh và hình ảnh. Mình cũng cảm giác muốn trải qua quá trình gian khổ ấy, vặn xoắn và thử đi thử lại. Mình không muốn/thể ngẫu nhiên, cảm tính. Mình cũng cần học cách kiên trì đến như thế với phim.

Và thực ra, trong thời điểm này, mình thấy kết nối được với Berliner vì he has done such an amazing body of work that strongly articulates the power of home movies from a first-person point of view, something that’s worthwhile for everyone to look right through it and to think around themselves.


Artist Statement


Just young enough not to know any better. Just old enough to really care. Just young enough not to ask anybody’s permission. Just old enough to realize that if I didn’t do it now, I might never have another chance. Young enough to rush in recklessly. Old enough to take my time leaving. Young enough to ask ten thousand questions. Old enough to let a few go unanswered. Young enough to have a quick left jab. Old enough to know when to take a punch. Young enough to hate losing. Old enough to let him win. (Some of the time, anyway.) Young enough to still be his dutiful son. Too old to still call him Daddy. Young enough to still think I can change him. Old enough to realize I am already alot like him. Young enough to think I can keep him from growing old. Old enough to know better. Young enough to be exasperated, even angry. Old enough to show my love. Young and stubborn. Older and even more stubborn.

Like My Father Before Me


And while, I’m on that subject, I had a choice – to stand behind the camera and film Eli’s birth —- or —- to actively participate in it. To witness with my own eyes, the miraculous, tumultuous, transcendent moment, when Shari – with the most intense combination of courage and strength and intensity and soul I’ve ever witnessed, pushed his tiny body out of her own and into the world —- or —- I could have chosen to stand back and watch it through the viewfinder of a camera. That is to say, to make a family home movie of it.

Cũng giống như có lần mẹ từng chỉ trích mình trong footage: “Con cầm máy quay ngay cả khi mẹ cáu giận, mẹ đánh mắng em. Lúc đấy con có thể chia sẻ với mẹ, chia sẻ với em, đứng về phía mẹ hoặc em. Đằng này cứ cầm máy thản nhiên như không.” Mẹ đang yêu cầu từ mình một sự tham gia chủ động vào tình huống căng thẳng giữa mẹ và Phong khi ấy – khi mẹ rất đau lưng, cần dặn dò Phong trước khi đi Nhật còn Phong thì vẫn mải chơi điện thoại, đến mức mẹ nhảy ra oánh Phong. Mình cầm máy ghi lại toàn bộ quá trình ấy, không một cử chỉ can thiệp từ phía mình. Một phân đoạn thú vị, mình đã nghĩ.    

For the record, to be perfectly honest, I wish I could film every waking second of Eli’s life. I really do. I’d love to hide a camera in his crib, in his car seat, on my forehead, in Shari’s breast, in the trees of the park, behind the blackboard of every school he attends (OK, maybe every place except the bathroom). I’d love to be able to make a film about him that was edited from the raw footage of every waking second of his life.

Such a dilemma. Nếu như không có sự tham gia chủ động, không phải là một thành viên trong gia đình thì làm sao đẩy diễn tiến của phim với bản thân là một nhân vật trong đó. Nhưng nếu không ghi lại tất cả mọi diễn tiến được (vì bận tham gia chủ động) thì làm gì có bao giờ đủ tất cả footage kể được mọi thứ mình muốn. Vậy làm sao để trọn vẹn cả hai vai trò khi là một nhà làm phim ngôi thứ nhất?

But like my father before me, I want him to love me, not hate me. I want him to find his own way in his own world, not feel oppressed with the burden of becoming a character in mine.

Đêm hôm qua khi (cũng) không ngủ được (note là Alan Berliner is an insomniac), mình trằn trọc về việc liệu mình có lạm dụng vai trò một nhà làm phim để khai thác mẹ với tư cách nhân vật không? Dù mình có vô tình hay cố ý, không thể phủ nhận có những khi, mình đã đặt bộ phim mình đang làm lên trên cảm xúc và tình trạng khi ấy của mẹ – đồng nghĩa với việc khai thác quá ư lên mối quan hệ mẹ – con của mình. Việc làm phim, khi này trở thành con dao hai lưỡi. Nó không chỉ, như mình biện minh, còn trinh nguyên ý nghĩa sơ khai là để tìm hiểu thêm về mẹ. Mà nó còn gây khó chịu cho mẹ khi mình ý thức hơn về tư cách đạo diễn về mình trong quá trình này.

I take images of Eli crying because I want him to be able to see the beauty and the willfulness, the power and the strength in the language of his cry. Just like I savor the solemnity and grace of his repose. They go together.

Reminds me of when Phong cries and I was deeply hurt by the one single teardop on the top of his nose. Slowly did it go.

I take them because I can’t help it. Because I’d suffocate if I didn’t. Because I know there’s gold to be mined in what’s taking place both in front of — and behind — the camera.

Wide Awake Director’s Statement


… realizing that (like my paternal grand-father, Benjamin Berliner before me), I am just a tailor. Instead of wool and thread, I sew information. Sound and image. Light and shadow. Time and space. I weave the fragments of my life, my history, my memory, my dreams – everything up to and including my best and worst instincts – into every film I make. But when all is said and done, I’m just a glorified tailor. A tailor who works the night shift.

Everyone has an unexplored wilderness. Most of us have several. I keep asking myself why I felt such an urgency to dive inside and look behind the shadows of my sleep problem. Why I was finally willing to risk revealing some of the conflicts and contradictions that have shaped my life for so long. Why I felt strong enough to admit that the very condition that prevents me from sleeping, and separates me from my family, provides the fuel for my creative life at night, but also leaves me exhausted during the day. For someone who prides himself on being able to explain things, why I made WIDE WAKE at this moment of my life still remains a mystery.

Maybe WIDE AWAKE was the next step in my evolution as a filmmaker, a subject that could take me deeper and deeper into the laboratory of my life, searching for larger truths about the human condition. I’ve made enough films by now to understand what I want (and need) to do as a filmmaker: to make intensely personal work that transcends the specificity of my particular story, and stimulates (I wanted to use the word “dares”) you to re-think and reflect upon the circumstances of your own life.

Maybe I wanted to go to a place in my life and in my work that really scared me. This is probably a healthy instinct for artists to have at some point in their lives. But it also takes a little bit of recklessness, some foolishness, and a lot of blind faith to enter the dark forest of your fears.

I think what also attracted me to making a film about insomnia is that it allowed me to translate all of my sleep problems, my obsessions and my neuroses into the language of cinema: a mind that is unable to shut down at night is a mind that won’t fade to black; that can’t dissolve into silence; that can’t throw itself out of focus. Insomniacs are people who can’t edit themselves to sleep. I keep asking myself: how can it be that someone who believes that editing is the most aesthetically crucial (and most enjoyable) element of filmmaking, cannot “edit” himself to sleep?

But the challenge of inventing a vocabulary of sounds and images able to convey the complex (if dialectically opposed) experiences of sleep and sleeplessness also captivated me. How could I create a uniquely cinematic language capable of evoking the metaphors, the symbols, the ironies, the epiphanies and the poetics that best convey my true experience of insomnia? How could I translate my experience of the futility of trying to fall asleep, the blissful state of being asleep, the surreality of dream logic, the annoyance of waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, the frustration of being unable to fall back to sleep, and the exhaustion of waking up after a sleepless night – all in a way that you can understand, and even more importantly, recognize.

So beautifully written piece that precisely captures his experience.

Patience and Passion


In one emotionally charged sequence that occurs midway through the film — a shot of my grandmother walking down the front steps of her house — the image suddenly freezes. Another step. Freeze frame. A distinct typewriter key hit articulates the freeze frame for each of her six footsteps. At her final step, a voice-over says, “She had a nervous breakdown… Alan.” Her solemn frozen image remains on the screen for two more seconds, allowing the emotional weight of this revelation to linger with the viewer.

This moves me.

Interview on Editing

Does the personality develop after this string of accruals is made?

It’s hard to say exactly when it happens. Remember earlier I mentioned the importance of listening? There are actually many different qualities or types of listening, because editing requires several different modes and phases of thought. There’s a type of listening that occurs early on in the editing process, when all of your uncut film material, your dailies, scream out with promise. You have to listen to the many, often competing potentials of your material, all glowing with possibility, and set your focus-with broad strokes, decide what you can and what you cannot include. This is, of course, often painful and usually requires intense resolve. Later on, you engage a different type of listening. You must be much more specific. Rhythmic and structural qualities become primary issues. The way the story is told and the development of a formal strategy require continual alignment. (I guess I’m talking like an auto mechanic.) Some people feel you have to try everything a million ways. I often feel that first impressions, first visceral responses, tend to be valid; if something makes initial sense to me, I trust it. If something looks right, sounds right, if a rhythm or contour feels right, if I’m drawn in, if there’s a mystery, I’m willing to go with it. I tend to work very quickly, but by no means do I mean that I’m rushing. I like to think that I’m just very focused. I always like to reserve the last week of a project not for questioning the whole structure or entertaining lingering doubts, but for another mode: I call it “polishing.” I start to deal in minutiae. Faster? Slower? Longer? Shorter? Louder? Softer? Hard-cut? Overlap? The mind’s eye becomes an ever finer sieve, often dealing with one- or two-frame increments. You can do a lot with a few days of intense noticing at that level.


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