This is something that has evolved from being something that had much more of a strict censure to it, and I think it not only applies to our kind of filmmaking but also to journalism in general, where there was a journalistic code where you didn't step over this line or that line. And now I think journalism is a bit more blurry. And I think in terms of our filmmaking I don't have any strong rules. At the same time, I am interested in giving people the real experience that I felt in some way. But I know that these films are constructions and works of the imagination, so to say they're like film truths can't be true just from the nature of what we're doing, so I don't like to get pigeonholed into it.
And I think that the whole documentary cinema verite style has gotten a lot looser. People are using music. Barbara [Kopple] uses music in a very . . . almost television way, in a very manipulative way in her films, not in a bad way. And we are using music a lot more in our films, too. Things that I think weren't done as much in the sixties.
But, in general, I don't need to have strong rules about what we do. I think what we find works with our style is to let a story play out itself and have the audience be able to experience what goes on. We try to use little or no narration if we can, because I think it draws you out of the film in a different way. We tend not to interview people very much while we're making a film—in the beginning I tend not to do it because it makes people think that's what we want from them, because people are used to being inter-viewed—like, okay, do the interview and go away. And I don't want to establish that as the type of relationship that we want to have with our subjects. We want it to be, "Okay, we're just going to be there hanging out with you as much as we can, following you around." But later on, we interview if we want to because that has been established. But again, when you stick an interview in the middle of a film it sticks out. So you have to use that in a certain way. In certain places, like in a car, it's a very easy way to interview somebody, but make it look like it's part of your movie, so there are certain tricks that you can do to use those methods, but keep the film style.
I was always very affected by the way Flaherty just used the camera to watch. [Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1921) has no conventional plot but tells the story of an Eskimo community through phenomenal black-and-white images of landscape and life.] And I know I heard stories about how he cut the igloo in half to get the light in it. I'm less interested in whatever tricks he may have had to do to give that quality. But just watching somebody do something that he does well or knows how to do, I think that's the highest kind of effort a camera can make. Because you can't argue with it. It's not like a writer telling you what it's like to be in the North Pole. You 're getting it secondhand. This way, you're seeing it and you're feeling it even though there was no sound in it. You could just hear that wind and hear that whole feeling of being up there in that kind of condition. I guess I always wanted to use the camera in that way.
You know, it never occurred to me to ask Dylan why he changed his name from Zimmerman, and I'm sure that would be interesting, if you could get him to tell, but I don't think that that's my place. I don't see that as what I was supposed to be trying to do. I think that that extends pretty much to all our films—that it's more interesting—I think in the end you get more.
In Down from the Mountain, there's a lot of people in there and that's always a big problem for the documentary filmmaker, especially in a film where there is going to be a concert, or all the people are going to come together. Everybody looks alike in any movie, whether it's fiction or documentary, because you don't know them very well, so you confuse people— people say, "My God, how can you do that? He's blonde and now this guy's dark-haired? " Well, you notice certain things and not other things and you get them confused. People in television land, where they can't stand a moment's confusion, they put the names underneath the picture, so part of the picture is the name. Well, that's not a real picture anymore. That's a sign—like an advertisement of some sort, so I hesitate ever putting names under pictures, even though I know it's frustrating not to know who you're looking at. I sort of feel I'm not going to leave it to chance, I'll give every possible aid I can. I'm gonna take the best portraits of these people and put them in the beginning of the film—try to have it so before I even get on stage, you know the differences and you've got ways of remembering the differences before you're asked to sort it out. And I think a filmmaker can do that work; it's hard and it takes a lot of thinking to do it, but I think when you do it, it's a stronger film if you leave those names off.
I don't feel we have any moral high ground at all. I mean, there are things like where you ask somebody to do something again. I don't think that you've taken a lower folder. It's just that I think you lose; I think you give up something. The only reason for us for any of these rules is that in the beginning we didn't know how else to do it, and the rules were if you asked somebody to do something again, then you lost them. They didn't have time for your movie. They had time for their movie. So if they felt it was going to be their movie from the start, then they did whatever they wanted and you had to follow, and it was your tough luck if you missed it. The minute you start saying, "No, no, it's not my tough luck at all . . . this is an expensive process and I'm going to make you do it right because we need to have the shot," you've lost them and they don't give a damn about your process. They've got their own lives to live. I think most of the rules that came into this all probably came as a result of some sort of objective aspect of the filmmaking.
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