Paul Schrader on How to Activate Viewers with Dead Time
Paul Schrader on How to Activate Viewers
with Dead Time
Have you tried writing a film that leans toward poetry? It’s hard. In 2017, people will laugh at you for doing it and investors will close their doors. And yet, those same films that spend a second too long on something and that are not chasing the external action to maintain our poor concentration span, are the ones that come often in the lists of most impactful films.
Ida by Paweł Pawlikowski is one of those alien that somehow got made, seen, acclaimed, and will leave a mark if you take the time to watch it.
But how do you get that touch of magic? What are the tools to create boredom not to bore the viewer, but on the contrary, to shake her?
In 1988 writer-director Paul Schrader wrote Transcendental Style in Film, where he deconstructs and “analyzes the film style of three great directors—Yasajiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer—and posits a common dramatic language by these artists from divergent cultures. Unlike the style of psychological realism, which dominates film, the transcendental style expresses a spiritual state with austere camerawork, acting devoid of self-consciousness, and editing that avoids editorial comment.”
I have not read the book and until today, I had not heard of this official technique. But thanks to TIFF short video below, I got introduced to the concept and found it inspiring. The thing is, even if you are not planning to make the next Ida, you might want to find cinematic and impactful ways to activate your viewer, and going against the flow at key moments, or through a subtle read thread can be a way. It is also a perfect counterpoint to the Dumptruck Directing Style that plays safe and literally bores you.
Here is what Paul Schrader has to say about Transcendental Film Style:
“If you come to expect action, well you’re not going to get it. Transcendental Style is essentially a withholding device. You’re going to hold on shots too long, you’re not going to cut. You’re creating dead time. And what happens during that time when you’re instructed to watch nothing? Now in real life, you don’t watch that time. De Sica in Umberto D famous shot of the maid striking the match three times. It was no longer about the activity of striking a match, it was about how long you are going to sit and watch. The filmmaker is using the power of cinema itself against itself to get you into a sense that you have to participate.
Most movies lean towards you aggressively with their hands around your throat trying to grab every second of your attention. This type of film lean away from you and they use time and boredom as techniques.
Eventually, if you’re smart enough on how you use these techniques now, you’re doing something really rare. You’re activating the viewer. And once a viewer starts to move on his own it’s so much more powerful.
When you use boredom as an aesthetic device, when is it effective and when is it simply boredom? If you consistently withholds, and the viewer is leaning towards you, now you have to think at a certain moment: “Freedom”. Do something unexpected.
In Ida, it is the teaching shot at the end. With Bresson, it’s just a burst of music. You show a movie for 2 hours with no music at all and all of a sudden at the end, boom, big blast of Mozart. What are you going to do with something that aggressive?
The trick with someone who can use Transcendental Film Style is that it suddenly frees them. So, for instance, the characters in Ozu’s films never show any emotions and all of a sudden they are in a big burst of emotions. What are you going to do with it now that he has totally conditioned you not to expect it?Does it put you off or is it going to knock you up a notch? And that’s the idea of a decisive action, you get that action and then after that: silence.”
Thanks to TIFF