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February 28, 2016

Three years ain't long enough

Last night in partnership with Sundance I screened ATBS at a university in Orange County. I didn't watch the movie. The last time I saw it in full was in Cannes in 2013, and the last time I watched any of it intentionally was a few months later in Karlovy Vary, when I sat in the aisle of the theater for the first forty minutes and enjoyed the movie just enough to know it was time to turn away from it. It wasn't going to get any better than that.

Since then I've kept it out of mind. I don't read reviews or comments about it, I don't take look at the ratings on iTunes or Netflix or Letterbox. I definitely don't watch it. My relationship with it is such that I am very grateful I got to make it, I am content that it exists, I'm proud of what we accomplished, I am happy it is out there and even more happy that some people genuinely love it - and I need to not think about it or I'll drive myself nuts.

This relationship, though intensely personal, is nothing novel. It's a time honored tradition, sometimes honored in more volatile fashion than others. I know that this movie exists in no one's mind in so ignominious a fashion as it does mine. Everyone else will take note of these problems or not, let them take precedence over their opinion or not, like the movie or not - and then be done with it. It remains a constant only for me.

When I was at the Sundance Festival this past January, I found myself turning over one specific edit in my head. It's a cut from an exterior to an interior, from outside a bar to inside. I hadn't thought about this scene in a long time, but that night, perhaps because I was so physically close to the movie's point of origin, it hung over my head, taunted me with its unalterability and left me unable to sleep, perplexed as to why I didn't just let the damn scene breathe, to let it live the way we'd shot it. I know I was the only human being in the entire universe thinking about that edit, much less losing sleep over it, but hindsight and proper perspective never make good bedfellows.

(I think of the movie now and recall how terrified I was to bore people, how eager I was to please and to live up to expectations, my own included. I think about the same filmmaker a few years prior delighting at the idea of spending an entire minute of running time watching kids silently pick at peeling wallpaper, and try to plot out the exact moment I lost my nerve.)

One day - I tell myself it'll take ten years, which means seven from now - I'll be able to like the movie. Just as the ardors of production have become wrapped in pinkish-blue nostalgia, those creative choices that pain me now will become charming in their naiveté. The good that came of the film will outweigh my mixed feelings towards it - as it already should, but somehow doesn't! - and the picture itself will have gained a context in which I can look at it with affection, an imperfect but beautiful piece of me and all of us who participated in it.

Lately I've wondered if that day might come sooner. It's faded just enough. I can't quite remember what scenes or bits of scenes are in the movie any more, or what order they come in. Certain decisions whose memory I cringed at just six months ago no longer bother me. I remember why I made them, and can see how they sorta-kinda make sense.

But today, right now - after hearing the muffled music through sound-proofed walls last night and stepping into the theater just in time to see the handwritten credits fade away and later on the drive home getting lost in a quagmire of detours and shut-down on-ramps and broken-down highways (closed I later learned on account of four people who died in a pile-up the night before, in case I wanted to take another shot at some perspective) and catching myself jamming my tongue into the back of my teeth in typical anxious fashion, my face all tight and constricted and the could-have-would-have-beens flying this way and that - I know it's not quite time yet.

Posted by David Lowery at February 28, 2016 1:24 PM