Day 125: Jean Renoir on Directing

Jean Renoir on Directing

Posted an observation called Jean Renoir’s Camera.

Today I borrowed a book from the amazing Lane Cove Library. It’s the best library I’ve come across. Hundreds of great, rare, films on DVD, and hundreds of great books on film. I borrowed one called Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, edited by George Stevens, Jr, hoping it might mention something about Renoir; and a French book (translated into English) called Cinema, by Alain Badiou.

I was reading the interview with Renoir tonight when I think I finally understood what it means to allow the audience to participate in the film. I’ve read so much about where a director positions the audience and I think I understand that we can tell a viewer everything or we can leave aspects of the film, the story, the narrative, open to them to conclude.

Once someone came up with the idea that we don’t tell the audience everything and explain it – that’s where we engaged the audience to participate in the film. I wonder who that person was who decided to withhold information from the viewer. To give them partial information, and then give them more later.

It has been part of telling a story in a novel, for decades – even centuries. With film, in the early days particularly, the fact that what we see on the screen is a realistic replication of real human beings, we accept it as truth. In the early days of cinema, that truth became the thing that an audience could rely upon. When a filmmaker broke the pact with the audience that s/he would show the truth, that’s when the (wonderful) unsettling brilliance of cinema came into its own.

Things that deceive our senses make us second guess ourselves. Humans believe our sight, our hearing, our touch, our taste and what we can smell. If that’s impaired, then we become anxious. Thrillers and horror revel in that fact.

As much as directors choose not to explain things in an accumulation of scenes, that’s how much scope they’re allowed the audience to come up with their own conclusions, on a scene by scene basis, as it unfolds.

That is, what I think is called open cinema. I’ve heard it said that an audience is needed to complete a film.

I suppose a film like Mulholland Dr. (2001), which doesn’t have easy explanations, is one of the ultimate examples. An earlier example was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). By taking away all the explanatory things that Kubrick originally filmed or had in the main screenplay, it made 2001 into a frequently misunderstood, but enigmatic, film.