Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Primitive Film: What Is It?

Continuing from last week's reprint of my 2006 article on Primitive Film.

Primitive movies are more than just independent. Movies with multi-million dollar budgets, big stars and major studio distribution deals somehow still get called "Independent" these days. We need a new label to separate the mini-majors from the kids in Kansas with a DV camera.

Primitivism begins as all great works begin; with a deep desire to do the best work possible. There is a lot of heart in these movies, and one gets the feeling these filmmakers aren’t trying to look primitive. They are truly making the best of what they have. I would actually hate to see this style catch on to the point that Steven Spielberg decides he wants to make a Primitive Film. Not that he wouldn’t do a good job of it, but the audience knows that he has all the resources in the world to tell his story. He should use them – just as the primitives uses all of the resources that they have available.

Along with technical limitations, Primitives face talent limitations. I’ve often said that a good picture of bad acting makes for a bad picture. Then some filmmaker will find a person who is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an actor, but they are honest.

I had an acting teacher in college who told us, "If you’re born to play the part, then you won’t need a thing I teach you, but if you’re a professional actor, you have to play the part you're given – whether it speaks to you or not."

A trained actor works hard to be as honest and relaxed in whatever role they play. In primitive films, people who don’t have the least bit of talent are often cast in roles that they are born to play – sometimes literally! It can take a while for someone who isn’t used to watching primitives films to get used to this, but if the filmmaker has done their job right, by the end of the movie, you couldn’t picture anyone else playing those parts.

Other departments, such as: art, wardrobe and sound, are often just getting by with what they can – though here talent can make up for lack of resources. In EAST OF SUNSET, for example both the art and wardrobe heads clearly had concepts that were noticeable to the trained eye, and invisible to the casual viewer – both an indication of a job well done.

I could name a hundred examples of fine Primitivism in film, such as: WHAT’S BUGGING SETH, ALICE’S MISADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, AMERICA 101, ATTACK OF THE BAT MONSTERS, MAKING MAYA, PURGATORY HOUSE, SELF LIFE, LOVE AND SUPPORT, TRUE RIGHTS, and so many more. And this list is just from a quick glance at the Dances With Films archives. The trouble is, unless you’re very much up on your truly independent films, you haven’t heard of any of these movies – so examples are hard to share. Which brings me to my final, and perhaps most important point.

Which I'll get to next week.

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