Back at film school this week, kicking off the final semester with absolute
boredom stardom. Poet and documentary filmmaker Jørgen Leth showed us clips from some of his many films and talked about his method. Leth is quite the celebrity in Denmark, both through his films but also as a commentator during Tour de France, in my opinion another study in absolute boredom. I don’t watch sports at all, but I have yet to see something as utterly dull to watch, than people riding bicycles for weeks on end. Almost every other sport at least has the courtesy to be over in a couple of hours.
Leth talked about his approach to film as a way of getting to know the world, going in with an open mind. About authenticity, simplicity and slowness as working methods. Of setting up rules to narrow down the number of choices in filmmaking, as a way to allow coincidence to appear.
One rule Leth mentioned, was the “Show, don’t tell” rule, which we all know about. A good rule of thumb in screenwriting too. Unless it means “Have nothing to say, just put a bunch of scenes in random order and let people make up their own minds”.
It’s a fascinating approach, to go in with absolutely no prejudices and just try to depict things as they are, with a fixed camera. I’m going to get on my soap box and say this: If you want me to sit still during your movie, you better have something you want to tell me.
I know I’m laying myself open to all sorts of critizism here. Like the guy in the museum who “just don’t get it” looking at a piece of abstract art. Yeah, I’m that guy too. But I can still enjoy it for a minute and then move on. A movie – or a book, a short story, a graphic novel or even a speech at someone’s wedding – better have a story, or I’m outta there. I’m not saying it should have a clear message, I like it when there’s room for interpretation. But you as the writer must have a reason, something to tell me. At the very least, you should want me to be somewhat entertained.
For the first time at my Film School course, I skipped out and left during the coffee break. Sorry, Jørgen. Again it’s a question for me of how best to spend my time. While you are reading this, Jørgen Leth is probably still in the auditorium talking or showing movies with people sitting at a table looking at the camera with a blank expression.